Clifton's huge contribution

20:29, Apr 23 2015
John Lilley
LOST SON: Private John Lilley, killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917.

Seven men from the Lilley family at Clifton went away to fight in the Great War.

Not all of them made it back.

Lilley family
FULL FAMILY: Members of the Lilley family from Clifton, back row from left: William Lilley, John Lilley, and Martin Campbell Lilley. Middle row from left: George Walter Lilley Jnr, George Walter Lilley Snr, James Alexander Lilley, Jane Lilley (nee Campbell), and Hugh Lilley. Front: Walter Lilley.

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Walter Lilley was the first to leave his mother, Kate.

A member of the Otago Infantry Battalion, Walter left Port Chalmers near Dunedin on October 16, 1914, bound for Suez in Egypt.


Tyne Cot Cemetery
AT PEACE: Memorial wall at the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium, the final resting place of Invercargill man John Lilley.

Not quite a year later, on October 9, 1915, his brother Ernest followed, also landing at Suez.

Over the next few years, Lilleys from two generations would also make the arduous voyage across the seas to fight in Europe. Ernest and Walter would be joined by two brothers Harry (left New Zealand June 5, 1918) and John Arthur (March 2, 1918).

Their older brother, George, had three sons who would also fight in World War 1 – Hugh left New Zealand on June 12, 1917. Martin, a labourer, and John, a contractor, both made the journey to Europe together, leaving Wellington on September 23, 1916.

Clifton War Memorial
SALUTE TO SERVICE: The Clifton War Memorial gates.

Martin and John joined the 17th Reinforcements, Otago Infantry Battalion, Company D, and left Kiwi shores aboard the Pakeha, which arrived at Devonport, in England, on November 19.

Of the two brothers who made that voyage aboard the Pakeha, only one survived.

More than 2500 Kiwi men fell near Ypres, Belgium – among them, Private John Lilley, killed in action on October 12, 1917. His name is one of those on the Clifton Memorial gates.

Waianiwa woman Barbara Lilley, whose husband Owen was the son of Hugh Lilley, said John died during one of the "big blitzes" at Passchendaele.

His friend Colin Hall died during the fighting that day and is remembered on the gates at Clifton School.

John's name is one of those on the memorial register at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium – the final resting place of more than 11,000 Commonwealth servicemen who lost their lives in the area during World War I. John's is one of the unmarked graves.

Barbara, who has been researching her family's genealogy since the early 1980s, once visited the cemetery with her sister-in-law.

"It was wonderful, absolutely fabulous. After [researching] it all this time, I never thought I'd get there," she said.

The cemetery overlooked a quiet patch of sugarbeet and potatoes.

"It was such a peaceful place."

An article in The Southland Times the day after the Clifton gates were unveiled said the memorial had its beginnings in 1915, but funding problems prevented it from being built until the 1920s.

The chairman of the Southland Education Board, which had helped pay for the gates, Mr H. Smith, unveiled the roll of honour and declared the gates open.

"In doing so, Mr Smith said that he could imagine no more appropriate setting for a Soldiers' Memorial, standing as it did at the entrance to the pathway the boys had trod in days gone by on their way to school and through which the succeeding generations would pass ... They hoped that the people would see that [the gates were] cared for, and that it would not only serve as a reminder of the sacrifice of those who had gone at the call of King and Empire, but that it would also be an incentive to live as they did, not for their own benefit, but for that of their country."

For a small district, the number of names on the gates was "rather surprising", the article said.

The Lilleys were not the only family in Clifton to send away their boys and reclaim only some.

Four Angus men left behind their lives in Southland – three came back.

One of two of both the McAras and Wards would never return.

Four Meffins left behind another.

Two each of the Ross and Williams families were not followed home by a third. Ten McKenzies returned from battle during World War 1, not 12. – Sources: Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database, Barbara Lilley


The gates standing guard at the now-defunct Clifton School, between Invercargill and Bluff, were unveiled on June 7, 1925.

The Southland Times reported on Monday, June 8, 1925, that the gates cost a total of just under £250.

The service of 88 men from the area, who fought in World War 1 between 1914 and 1918, is commemorated. Of those men, 14 were killed in action. – Information: New Zealand History Online, Ministry for Culture and Heritage

The Southland Times