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Seeking Wallis family to return prayer book

A leather-bound Book of Common Prayer dating back to 1887, found in an old East Coast homestead, may have belonged to an Englishman who was killed in World War 1.

Retired man Max Stevens brought the well-worn Anglican prayer book in to The Herald saying he wanted to give it back to any identifiable descendants.

He said he found the prayer book in a deserted homestead on Hauturu Station, inland from Te Puia Springs near the Raukumara Range, in about 1956 or 1957.

The homestead where he found the book had been located in Mata Road, but was later moved to Ihungia Road.

Mr Stevens’ wish was complicated by the handwritten name inside the prayer book being difficult to read.

A quick survey among Herald staff deciphered the name as John Hubert Wallis.

The accompanying date of February 19, 1887, did not help as a search of electoral rolls did not reveal a Mr Wallis.

Google came to the rescue as it revealed a man who is probably the Mr Wallis in question.

Hubert John Wallis was born in Bexhill in Sussex, England, on January 19, 1887, suggesting the date in the prayer book may have referred to his christening.

According to the Google source, Mr Wallis went on to “farm sheep with his brother Arthur Henry Wallis at Tiniroto, Gisborne near Auckland in New Zealand.”

This Hubert John Wallis was found on Gisborne’s electoral roll for the 1911 general election.

Mr Wallis, the son of Dr Fredric Michael Wallis, a surgeon and Mary Emily (nee Willett) Wallis of Barrack Hall, Bexhill, returned to England in 1915 to enlist in the British Army.

On October 26, 1917, his 14th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was detailed to attack the Polderhoek Chateau in the infamous bloodbath of the Passchendaele region of Belgium. Many New Zealanders were also to die at Passchendaele in 1917.

At 4am the British made their way forward following white tapes which had been laid out to help them find their way in the dark.

At 5.40am they went over the top into No Man’s Land.

Between October 24 and 27, the battalion lost 78 officers and men, another eight died of wounds and 162 were wounded.

Private Wallis. aged 30, was one of those killed on October 26.

He is honoured on panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery near the town of Leper, Belgium, which bear the names of 35,000 British and New Zealand soldiers who have no known grave, nearly all of whom died between August 1917 and November 1918.

The Herald will contact the Bexhill-on-Sea Observer in an attempt to locate Mr Wallis’ descendants.

The seaside town of Bexhill has a population of 43,000.

140-YEAR JOURNEY: This prayer book was presented to John Hubert Wallis as a christening present in 1879. It was found on a farm station in 1958 and was recently returned to Mr Wallis’s family. Picture by Liam Clayton