William Joseph Cunningham 11422

New Zealand Medical Corps No 1 Field Ambulance

William Cunningham was born on 25 April 1882 at Burrawang to Thomas and Alice Cunningham. He attended Avoca Public School and until the age of 20, worked on the family farm at Yarrunga. In 1903 he and his older brother Jack decided to try their luck in America and sailed on the SS Sonoma for San Francisco, but after a rough passage across the Tasman Sea landed in Auckland and went no further. They began farming and their parents and two younger brothers joined them later that year, the family eventually settling in Tauranga in 1910.

William enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in January 1916 and sailed for England. He was posted to the 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment in France, but only eight days later, was severely wounded and evacuated to England for treatment. He was determined to return to the front, but it would be nine months and many operations on his shoulder before he was fit enough for further service. He arrived back in France in June 1917 where he transferred to the NZ No 1 Field Ambulance, a dangerous job as the medical corps often suffered heavy losses as they worked in exposed positions to treat and rescue the wounded.

William Cunningham died during the Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October 1917.  There were 13,000 Allied casualties on that day alone, a day that remains the blackest in New Zealand’s military history with 845 dead and more than 2,000 wounded. William’s childhood friend at Burrawang James Cleary, serving in the 19th Battalion AIF, had died three days earlier, true Anzac comrades in arms.

The Cunningham family retained their connection with Avoca through their wider family who remained in the district, and so William was recorded on the Honour Rolls at Avoca and Moss Vale.