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Bright Williams - last of a generation

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/04/2017

Bright Williams was still having WWI shrapnel removed from his body in 1999.

Mr Williams, the son of a blacksmith, was born on February 27, 1897, in Rissington, near Napier.

He was the last survivor of 100,444 New Zealanders who served overseas from 1914-18.

Serving on the Western Front after enlisting in March 1916, Mr Williams was hit by three machine-gun bullets while working as a battalion messenger at Passchendaele, Belgium, on October 12, 1917.

Moving forward in front of a German machine gun post, he and officer were peppered with bullets. The officer was killed while Mr Williams remained out overnight in a shell hole with three bullet wounds, one of which had shattered his thigh.

He survived and was eventually shipped home, where he returned to farming in Hawke's Bay.

In a rare interview in 2001, Mr Williams recalled the 24 hours of pain in mud and freezing rain, seeking shelter in a ditch with the decomposing remains of German soldiers. Asked if he thought he was going to die, he said, "Hell no -- I didn't go there to die -- I never once thought about it."

Mr Williams received the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur from the French ambassador at the Napier RSA in 1998, and told Fairfax Media he wore "it on parade to honour men who did not come back from France, who were buried there in known and unknown graves".

He survived an operation in 1999 to remove the last shard of metal from his thigh.

Mr Williams died a fortnight before turning 106 after complications following a fall.

In April 2010, Mr Williams' great-great-great nephew Conor Donohue, a 17-year-old Tawa College student at the time, was chosen to attend Gallipoli commemorations after winning a year 13 competition by writing a diary of what he imagined Mr Williams endured on the Western Front.

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