Six days before the Armistice which ended the Great War, Private William McNeill was wounded with a bullet in his right thigh. Did he pray for an end to the pain during the twelve days he spent in hospital? Unlikely - his records show a rarity, with "none" recorded against "religion."
William served in the 4th Company, 2nd Battalion of the Otago Infantry Regiment. He was with the Battalion as it joined the enveloping movement around the town of Le Quesnoy preparatory to calling on the German garrison to surrender or, if that failed, assaulting the walls and bastions of the medieval defences. From the Official History of the Otago Infantry, covering November 5, the day that William was wounded:
At 1.30 a.m. on November 5th, 10th and 14th Companies of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment advanced from Herbignies to take up positions 200 yards in rear of the foremost troops of the 1st Battalion of Wellington. At 4 a.m. 4th Company, in support to 10th Company, and 8th Company, in support to 14th Company, followed suit. Three objectives were assigned to the Battalion—first, a road running north and south 3,000 yards from the starting point; second, a road running north and south 1,700 yards further ahead; and third, a road extending across the eastern edge of Mormal Forest; involving a total advance of approximately 7,500 yards, and the whole of it though densely wooded country.
The attack was renewed at 5.30 a.m. The supporting artillery barrage descended along a line 200 yards in advance of the foremost troops, lifted 500 yards and rested there ten minutes, repeated the lift and then died out. The leading Companies advanced in the formation of patrols supported by platoons; the support Companies followed on a three-platoon frontage. No enemy resistance was encountered until Forester's House was reached. The enemy was found to be occupying this position and the high ground in rear in some strength; the machine gun and rifle fire from these points causing a temporary check. At an earlier stage the direction and speed of the advance had been seriously threatened by the dense undergrowth. Lieut.-Colonel Hargest having then with characteristic dash galloped forward and personally restored the situation, continued with the leading troops until the original impetus of the advance had been regained and the resistance at Forester's House and locality overcome. To bring about the destruction of the enemy at this point, 10th Company threatened it from the right and 14th Company from the left. A patrol from the former Company succeeded in reaching within 50 yards of the house, but there came under machine gun and rifle fire, the patrol commander, 2nd-Lieut. R. A. Savage, and one other rank being killed. An attempt was then made against the left flank, and two platoons from 14th Company worked their way to the rear. It was now observed that the enemy was preparing to evacuate the position. At 11 a.m. its capture was effected, two machine guns and about 30 prisoners being accounted for.
The Headquarters of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment were now established at Forester's House. It was not long before the building became the target of accurate shell fire. Lieut.-Colonel Hargest was standing at the entrance as one of these shells burst, and was momentarily stunned; almost as he withdrew a second shell demolished the front of the house.
When Companies were reorganised, the advance was resumed. The line of the second objective was reached without material opposition. At this point there was occasion for further reorganising, the heavy undergrowth having made it host impossible to maintain connection and direction. It was also decided by the Commanding Officer to adopt a new formation. In accordance with this decision, the Battalion was disposed on a three-company frontage, with one Company, the 8th, and the attached Vickers guns in support. At 1.30 p.m. the Battalion advanced to the capture of the final objective. The left and centre Companies encountered very little opposition, but the right Company, the 4th, was obstructed by machine gun fire until the enemy was driven from his ground.
ROLL OF HONOUR
Mrs B. C. Presland received word on Thursday that her brother, Private William McNeill, died of wounds on the 20th. Private McNeill left New Zealand with the Otago section of the fifth Reinforcements. Within a few days of the, deceased soldier s arrival in England, his elder brother died of sickness in Walton-on-Thames Hospital. -Temuka Leader, 30/11/1918.