Waihi Arts Centre & Museum

2nd Battalion Auckland Infantry Regiment
35th Reinforcement ‘A’ Company
Serial number: 70203

14 May 1880 - 09 September 1941

Alexander Yarr, known as Alex, was born 14th May 1880 at Glenavy, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, the sixth son and seventh of the eight known children of Richard and Jane nee Lennon. The 1901 Northern Ireland census shows Alexander, unmarried and living with his family at Lurgill, Antrim. His religion was Episcopilian and he could read and write.

Sometime around 1902, Alexander made a decision to travel to New Zealand. The New Zealand Company’s S S Ruapehu passenger list, noted his occupation as farmer and that he travelled steerage. The Ruapehu arrived in Auckland 8th January 1903 via Capetown, Hobart, Lyttelton and Wellington. A friend, J.S. McWatters (born c1873) and a Miss M (?Maria) McWatters travelled with him. Not on the passenger list but listed in the Christchurch Press dated 26th December 1902 is a T. Yarr, Alexander’s older brother, Thomas born 1872.

The Waihi Gold Mining Company Time and Wage books record that Yarr commenced work 12th September 1903. The 1905/06 Bay of Plenty and 1911, 1914 and 1941 Ohinemuri electoral rolls, record him as living in Waihi, occupation, miner. In July 1914, Alexander Yarr aligned himself to a proposal to revive the Waihi Liberal League. At this meeting, A. Yarr was elected to the executive committee.

On the 1916/17 WW1 Army Reserve roll, Yarr was living at Cape Runaway in the Bay of Plenty, occupation: labourer. Yarr attestated three times, the first, 5th May 1917, then 23rd February 1918 and finally, 18th September 1918. He is recorded as single, 5ft 6 inches in height, light brown hair, blue eyes and living at the Lady Bowen Hotel, Thames and declared medically fit.

Yarr applied in September to the Military Appeal Board for an exemption appeal. The exemption was allowed until 18th October. According to the NZ Defence Force archivist, a large number of miners applied for exemption from service in September 1917. In 1917, Alexander Yarr described himself as a self employed miner. It is not recorded why the exemption was applied for, but he was 37 years so perhaps age was a factor. Yarr commenced active service 23rd February 1918 and served one year and fifty-four days. A letter on his file records that his will, a requirement before serving, was lodged with Joseph McWatters, the same McWatters noted on the Ruapehu manifest.

Yarr’s army service noted:

1918: 8th January, overstayed leave. Forfeit nine days pay.

1918: 2nd March, embarked and sailed on the SS Tofua (HMNZT 101), with 932 troops from 35th Reinforcements NZ Expeditionary Force and 27th Reinforcements Maori contingent via Suez, Marseilles and LeHavre.

1918: 8th April, disembarked Southampton, Hampshire, England.

1918: 15th May, proceeded to Sling Camp, Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain.

1918: 29th August, marched in from Sling.

1918: 10th September, proceeded overseas.

1918: 16th September, joined 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment

1918: November, at the Suez, contracted Measles.

1918: 23rd December, evacuated sick.

1919: 2nd February, detached…on duty

1919: 8th February, forfeit 14 days pay plus 7 days due to overstaying leave.

1919: 22nd April, returned to New Zealand on the Corinthic, docking at Christchurch.

1919 22nd May. Termination of engagement.

Once back in New Zealand, Yarr briefly stayed with his friend, Joseph McWatters in Ngatea. From here he temporarily returned to his previous occupation in Waihi as a miner. In 1919 he is registered on the Auckland Central Electoral roll as living at 40 West street, occupation, water-sider. Yarr next appears on the 1925 Hawkes Bay electoral roll, occupation, tunneller. He was living and working at Esk railway works during the construction of the Napier-Wairoa railway, where nine tunnels were built. By 1935 Yarr had returned to Waihi and mining.

Alexander Yarr made the headlines in July 1941 as a result of a mine accident. According to newspaper reports he was killed when he fell down a 90ft winze[i] in the Waihi Gold Mining Company’s mine on 9th July. An inquest was held before Mr. W. M. Wallnutt, coroner and past mayor of Waihi and six jurors. The jury and coroner visited the scene prior to evidence being heard. Apparently Yarr and his mate, Albert Pennell, were repairing the winze for the purpose of using it as a mullock[ii] pass and this necessitated putting in a door and grid, and taking out the two pent-houses in the winz. Yarr went out of the drive for some fishplates[iii]and on return fell into the winze. Pennell was not in the drive at the time. Dr. L. R. Hetherington gave evidence that he went underground to No 1 level and found Mr. Yarr suffering severely from shock and haemorrhage and about to die. He described the injuries received and said in his opinion death was due to shock and a fracture at the bottom of the skull.

The Mine manager and assistant superintendant, Mr. Alexander F. Lowrie, said Yarr was a careful and cautious man. He felt that coming from bright sunshine and back into darkness was the cause. Mr. Alec Edwin Waite, shift boss in charge of the job, gave similar evidence and added that it was difficult to see despite one’s lamp when entering the drive from sunlight.

George Moffatt and John Seath gave evidence that they were working at No 1 level and heard a noise. On investigating they found Yarr badly injured and did what they could for him until help arrived. The coroner commended them on their actions

A discussion ensued between the counsellor and coroner as to whether it was a coroners hearing or an inquiry. The coroner pointed out that it was necessary for the jury to consider any evidence that might have a bearing in order to avoid a repetition of what had occurred.

In reviewing the evidence the coroner suggested the mine inspector, mine manager and workmen’s inspector confer on the best type of grid to be used in passes. The Jury returned a verdict of accidental death by walking into a winze and were satisfied Yarr was carrying fishplates at the time. A rider was added that temporary barriers should be erected to stop similar accidents happening and agreed with the coroners’ suggestion that a conference of officials be held.

The coroner extended the sympathy of the court to his brother, Thomas, and family members living away from Waihi.

Full military honours were accorded to Yarr and the funeral left St John Anglican Church, Waihi for the Waihi cemetery. Representatives of the Waihi Mines and Batteries Union and Waihi Branch of the Returned Soldiers Association were among the many, from all sections of the community, who attended at the graveside where the service was read.

Alexander Yarr was described as having a cheerful and unassuming disposition. He never married. Despite a letter he wrote and located on Yarr’s WW1 file, that his will was with his friend, Joseph McWatters, Yarr died intestate. He left £105.00.

Alexander Yarr, is buried in Waihi cemetery, section ANG block F lot 429. Thomas, his brother is also buried in the Waihi Cemetery.

Placed in the New Zealand Herald in-memorial column, 9 July 1942: YARR – In loving memory of my dear friend, Alex. Accidently killed at Waihi, July 9 1941. Always remembered. – Inserted by Margaret.

There is no indication that Alexander Yarr was acknowledged on any WW1 memorial.


[i] A small-section shaft sunction by working downwards from the level, using a hand-held jackhammer-drill. A compressed-air-operated which was mounted on a platform at the top and a bucket used to remove the spoil, which was tipped from the platform into a truck. The men took turn about excavating in the winze and driving the hoist. The main hazards were: the danger of the bucket or a piece of rock falling; premature explosion while a man was climbing out of the winze; or drilling into an unexploded charge. Ventilation was supplied to the winze by a venture and ducts. Ref: Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952 by J.B. McAra

[ii] Waste rock not rich enough for treatment Ref: Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952 by J.B. McAra

[iii] The plates used to bolt lengths of rails together. Fish plates were used only in long-term workings. Ref: Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952 by J.B. McAra