Rifleman Oscar Needham (26/877)

4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 3rd New Zealand (Rifles) Brigade, New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Malvern Commemoration: St Matthias Malvern Link,

Burial/Commemoration: Rotorua Public Cemetery, New Zealand

Nature of Death: Died of meningitis at Roturua, New Zealand 19/2/1919

Age: 30

Next of Kin: Son of William Bass Needham and Jessie Needham, of Brynmelyn, Manby Road, Malvern

Education: Durham University

Previous Employment: Farm hand in New Zealand

Capbadge of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Early Years

Oscar Needham, born in Worcester, the son of William Bass Needham, an agricultural merchant and his wife Jessie.  One of ten surviving children, the family lived in various large houses in Droitwich, Worcester and Malvern prior to the outbreak of the First World War.  One of Oscar’s brothers, Alfred Owen Needham held a territorial commission with the 8th Worcestershire Regiment, parading in Malvern before moving to Lancashire.

Oscar studied at Durham University and was a member of the University Officer Training Corps.  In 1911 he was an assistant teacher at a school in New York Terrace, York.  However shortly after he and emigrated to New Zealand.

New Zealand

In 1914 he was employed as a farm hand at Mataugi, Raglan on the North Island and his last employer before enlisting was given as Mr Ernest Bulmer at Waitou.  He enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Grentham, along with his boss’s son, on 13th October 1915 and was sent out with the 4th Battalion,  New Zealand Rifle Brigade in February 1916.  Initially he was posted to ‘A’ Company, but was transferred to the signalling section in January 1916.   

War Service

Oscar disembarked at Suez, Egypt with the 4th NZRB on 15th March 1916.  On 7th April 1916 the battalion departed for France aboard the Alumania.  

The 4th NZ Rifle Brigade took part in fighting during the Battle of the Somme 1916 and in mid November they were holding trenches in front of Fleurbaix.  On 28th November a patrol of 7 men and one NCO left the New Zealander’s trenches, crossed No Man’s Land and entered the enemy trenches at a position known as “Corner House”.  These trenches were held by men of the 78th Landwehr Regiment and a sharp fight ensued in which 4 men were wounded.  

Oscar Needham received multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, leg and arm in this action.  As a battalion signaller he may have accompanied the party to maintain communications.  He received treatment in the 16th Stationary Hospital, Boulogne.  His treatment and convalescence continued in the United Kingdom until May 1917, when he was evacuated to New Zealand for discharge aboard the Marama.  He arrived in New Zealand in August 1917 and was discharged from the army in 22nd November 1917.

Discharge from the NZEF

Sadly Oscar suffered ill-health after discharge.  He was admitted to the Rotorua Sanatorium in April 1918 suffering with problems with his feet and sciatica.  A tendency to flat-footedness had been noted when he was examined on enlistment, however at this time he was able to walk without any difficulty and was passed fit for service.  However by 1918 he was suffering considerably.  In the autumn he received electrical and massage treatment to help stimulate nerves in his leg which had been damaged when he was wounded.  

Tragically, while still undergoing treatment, Oscar contracted meningitis and died the King George Orthopaedic Hospital, Rotorua on 19th February 1919.  He was 24 years old.

Oscar Needham's Grave at Rotorua Cemetery

The author visiting Oscar Needham’s grave at Rotorua Cemetery in February 2013.

New Zealand Casualty Roll [Ancestry]
New Zealand, World War I Army Roll of Honour, 1914-1919
New Zealand, World War I Army Nominal Rolls, 1914-1918
New Zealand, Electoral Rolls, 1853-2010
Soldiers Papers, Wellington Archives NEEDHAM, Oscar - WW1 26/877 - Army

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