Walter (Wattie) James Tattersfield (1908 – 1997) 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force

This account is largely based on material kindly supplied by James Linton (Jim) Tattersfield, (born 1941 in Invercargill, New Zealand), younger son of Walter James.

Walter, always known as “Wattie”, was born on 16 June 1908 in Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand. He was the third child of James Henry Tattersfield (1877-1938) and Elizabeth Smith Miller (1879-1973). He was descended from Henry Tattersfield (1850-1928), who emigrated from Warwickshire, England in 1871, and whose descendants are on Chart 7.

Wattie attended school in Invercargill from 1922 to 26. He was athletic, in the First XV in 1926, and Champion Gymnast in both 1925 and 1926.

He then went to Canterbury College, where he graduated as Bachelor of Engineering in 1933. After graduation, he found work on the Homer Tunnel construction on the remote Milford Road, a Public Works project to provide employment during the depression. In 1937 he moved to Invercargill City Council, and, in 1946, to Southlands Catchment Board, as a civil engineer. He spent most of his career working on river and flood control.

Under the name of Walter, he married Florence Myrtle Whiteley (1910-1981) in 1936 in Christchurch. They lived for many years at 64 Selwyn Street. They had sons Stuart Lloyd in Dec 1936, and James Linton (Jim) in Dec 1941.

The photograph below shows Wattie, with Jim, Stuart and Florence. The apparent ages of the boys suggest it was taken about 1943 or 1944.

Walter (“Wattie”), Jim, Stuart and Florence.

Wattie did not talk much to his family about his war service, and little has been found in the written records. The photograph shows him in uniform, but with no stripes, suggesting he had newly enlisted,

The New Zealand Government began to call up men under National Service Emergency Regulations 1940, using a ballot system. The Ballot List in the New Zealand Gazette of 24 June 1942 includes Walter James Tattersfield as civil engineer, of 64 Selwyn Street, with Service Number 483920 in the Territorial Force.

He graduated from the 13th O.C.T.U. of the Corps of New Zealand Engineers, to become a Temporary Lieutenant of the Territorial Force, on 27 Jan 1943. He was appointed to 2nd Lieutenant on 25 June 1944.

The Online Cenotaph Records of Auckland War Memorial Museum list Walter as of 64 Selwyn Street, and his Next of Kin as Mrs F M Tattersfield, of the same address. He enlisted in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force, (2NZEF), Nominal Roll 13, and the subsequent embarkation, presumably to the Middle East or Europe, was in the quarter 1 Jan- 31 March 1944. He was at that time in the 2nd NZ Divisional Engineers, with the rank of Sergeant.

Specific postings in the war have not been found, but he saw action in Egypt and Italy as a Field Engineer, 2NZEF. Jim recalls him mentioning Maadi, Cairo, Tripoli, Messina and Cassino.

Maadi was a suburb some 12 miles up river from central Cairo. It was the site of the main overseas base of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1939-46. 76,000 NZ soldiers were stationed in it over the years, of whom 29,000 were eventually among the missing, wounded, or dead. Wattie told Jim he was at Maadi Camp on 30 and 31 December 1944, when Cairo was subjected to a massive storm and flooding. The nearby New Zealand camp of Digla was devastated, and the flood rushed into Maadi, causing the rain trap system to collapse. When it was finally over, 35,000 cubic metres of deposited silt had to be removed, with boots, pots, uniforms and blankets mixed in. It is ironic that Wattie, who spent much of his life as a flood control engineer, should have witnessed such an event, powerless to do anything about it.

Jim recalls that his father had many small black and white photos of the Maadi flood, and also of bridges blown up in Italy, and of Bailey bridges.

Wattie was a fine musician, and played saxophone and clarinet for many years in an Invercargill dance band, and oboe in the local orchestra. He also played the piano accordion.

Wattie’s war service ended in 1946. He received the following medals, issued by the NZ Ministry of Defence: 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45, NZ War Service Medal.

Wattie was a long time stalwart of the Returned Servicemen’s Association (RSA), and they provided a guard of honour at his funeral. He retired about 1968. He died on 7 September 1997 in Gore, NZ, aged 89, and is buried in Eastern Cemetery, Invercargill, Southland, NZ, with his parents James Henry and Elizabeth, and his wife Florence.

The Family Grave including that of Walter James Tattersfield