John Francis Wooster

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The Adventures of John Francis Wooster of New Zealand   Tree
By Ray Wooster

A father, pastry cook, labourer, thief, basher, liar, deserter, divorcee, drunk, criminal, Digger, casualty of WW1, survivor and insane.

John Francis Wooster (JFW1) was the 4th child of 10 children born 4th July 1884 Blenheim, New Zealand (NZ) 3 weeks after his parents (assisted immigrants) arrived in Nelson, NZ aboard the ship British King on 13 Jun 1884. His parents were Joseph Wooster born before 07 March 1856, Bushey, Hertfordshire and Margaret Carroll was born circa 1859, Vauxhall, London.1

The Okaramio Tavern, run by Joseph and Margaret between 1912 and 19202


Joseph Arthur Wooster, b. Bef. 9 May 1880, Hammersmith, England. d. 3 Jan 1909, Napier, NZ
Rebecca Rose Wooster, b. 5 Sep 1881, Fulham, England. d. 28 Sep 1963, Nelson, NZ
Elizabeth Wooster, b. Abt. 1883
John Francis Wooster, b. 4 Jul 1884, Blenheim, NZ
Charles Lawrence Wooster, b. 1886, Wairau, NZ. d. 26 Aug 1953, Hamilton, NZ
Albert Henry Wooster, b. 1887, Blenheim, NZ. d. 7 Nov 1918, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, England
Robert Wooster, b. 1892 Picton, NZ. d. 1951
Ada Mary Wooster, b. 1893 NZ. d. 23 Jan 1975
Edith Pestell Wooster, b. 8 Jul 1897, Blenheim, NZ. d. 24 Sep 1957, Blenheim, NZ
Cora Wooster, b. 1899 Wairau, NZ. d. 29 Oct 1985, Wellington, NZ

Marriage & Children1
21 Mar 1907 JFW1 married at Havelock North, NZ, Ida Maud Sands, born 19 Aug 1886, Hastings, NZ, they produced four children, all born on the east coast of north island of NZ spread over 325 Klm or 202 miles

Children, as recorded in the NZ historic BDM
21 Nov 1907 John Francis Wooster Jnr, b. Hastings NZ
1911 Lillian Cora Wooster, b. Tokomaru Bay NZ
17 Apr 1909 John Joseph Wooster, b. Blenheim NZ 1912
Robert Henry Charles Wooster, b. Napier NZ

On JFW1's military record John Frances jnr name is recorded as Arthur Hastings Wooster he and his younger brother John Joseph are recorded as residing in the Napier Boys home.3
Most unusual to have two living sons with the same first name

24 Nov 1920, they divorced at Napier, NZ

Marriage 2
21 Sep 1932, JFW1 married Vera Esther Annie Greaves she was 28 years younger than he. Vera's older sister Gwendoline (Gwen) Millicent Sarah Wooster nee Greaves (born 11 Sep 1907 Tangihanga, Patutahi, New Zealand) married the son of JFW1, John Francis Wooster Jr.
John Frances Jr therefore becomes a brother in law to his dad and his step mother is also his sister in law.

A most popular lad with the police & courts5

Between June 1909 and August 1915, JFW1 had numerous court appearances for debt, assault, failure to pay maintenance to his wife and theft. Contemporary newspaper reports can be found on the internet, most notably on the PapersPast website, some examples of which are presented here:

25 June 1909. Before Mr Scott-Smith, S.M Judgment by default was granted for plaintiff in the following undefended civil cases with costs - W. Ching v JFW1 £2 13s. MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS, VOLUME XLIII, ISSUE 152, 25 JUNE 1909

30 July 1909, JFW1 charged with assaulting Albert Coleman with a bottle on Thursday evening. Mr McNab who appeared for JFW1 asked for a remand until Wednesday next, because it was a very extraordinary case, and he had not had time to go into it. His Worship granted the application, admitting accused to bail in one surety of £25 and himself in £25. MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS, VOLUME XLIII, ISSUE 181, 30 JULY 1909

22 February 1913, A young man, JFW1, arrested on warrant from Napier, was charged at the Police Court this morning on a charge of failing to provide his wife and children with adequate maintenance. He was remanded to appear at the Napier Court on Wednesday next, bail being allowed. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME III, ISSUE 60, 22 FEBRUARY 1913 & POVERTY BAY HERALD, VOLUME XXXX, ISSUE 12989, 22 FEBRUARY 1913.

25 October 1913, Napier resident, named JFW1 arrested at Gisborne on a charge of wife desertion will come before the Court at Napier. JFW1 was arrested at Ohangai on Friday afternoon on a warrant from Napier charging him with disobeying an order of the Court. He was brought before Mr H Graves J.P. and remanded to Napier. HAWERA & NORMANBY STAR, VOLUME LXV, ISSUE 0, 25 OCTOBER 1913.

29 October 1913, Before Mr. S. E. McCarthy. S.M for failing to comply with a maintenance order made in favour of his wife and children (arrears £41 5s) JFW1 was convicted and sentenced to six months hard labour. No warrant will be issued if JFW1 complies with the order. MAGISTRATES COURT. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME III, ISSUE 267, 29 OCTOBER 1913

4 May 1915, Before J. G. L. Hewitt, Esq, S.M. JFW1 charged with stealing two razors valued at 17/6, one metal watch valued at 7/6, the property of Robert Berry, on remand for sentence, was sentenced to three months, in addition, to one month on a separate charge last court day. GREY MAGISTRATES COURT GREY RIVER ARGUS, 4 MAY 1915

24 August 1915, Before Mr. S. E. McCarthy. S.M JFW1 pleaded guilty to failing to obey a maintenance order. Senior-Sergeant Eales said the accused had been arrested at Greymouth for disobeying a maintenance order of 25/- per week towards the support of his wife, who was very delicate and had several children to keep. He had served several sentences in gaol. JFW1 pleaded his excuse that he had just got out of gaol when arrested. His Worship: That is no excuse. You owe £156 10/- maintenance. You will be sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and let me tell you that it does not wipe out the debt, MAGISTRATE'S COURT. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME IV, ISSUE 443, 24 AUGUST 1915

GAOL time
It appears that between 13 October 1913 & August 1915 JFW1 was in and out of gaol, immediately upon release he was sentenced to a further 6 months which brings us to circa February 1916 at which point he, apart from a single entry in the newspapers of 1917 disappears from "public" life.

A volunteer or volunteered?
1 February 1916 JFW1 undertakes a pre enlistment medical board for the New Zealand Expeditionary Forces (NZEF)3. JFW1 was NOT conscripted as conscription commenced September 1916 however given the repeated appearances before the courts was he volunteered? JFW1 enlisted to the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifles) Brigade, this unit saw heavy action during JFW1's period. NZ suffered a loss of about 1.64% of its total population in the war, at the Somme in 1916 alone 2100 deaths and 6000 wounded whilst at Messinnes & Passchendaele 1917 deaths, 5000 wounded 13000.
According to JFW1's military service record he served 1 year and 96 days in France and Belgium.3,4

Army Service3,4

A review of JFW1's military service record reveals a continuum of offences including AWOL, overstaying leave, drunkenness and escaping the detention barracks. On 9th August 1917 he was wounded in action, and the following report appeared in the Marlborough Express:

30 August 1917, Rifleman JFW1 son of Mr J. Wooster, of Okaramio was wounded on August 9th. This is the second son of Mr Wooster who has been wounded in the recent fighting. Note the recorded injury in his file is severe shock. PERSONAL NOTES, MARLBOROUGH EXPRESS, VOLUME LI, ISSUE 205, 30 AUGUST 1917

On 18th August 1917 he was transferred to hospital in Arques, from which he absconded on 2nd September. Ten days later he was found and transferred to hospitals at St Omer and then Wimeraux. On 29th September he underwent a final Medical Board examination and was declared insane and suffering from mental confusion.

Documents from his medical examination3:

On 1st January 1918 he embarked for England and was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley in Hampshire, a military hospital built in 1856 and used extensively for treating soldiers wounded in WW16. At the time of construction, the hospital's main building was the longest in the world and its design was heavily criticised. A line engraving from Southampton Water in 1857 by T.A. Prior is shown below (Image - Wellcome Collection, London)6,7

On 3rd February 1919 JFW1 embarked on the Athenic at Liverpool for return to New Zealand and on 27th July 1919 he was discharged as physically unfit for active service.

The Athenic6

Summary of Army Service Record3       Medical       Logistics

Date Action Date Action
01 Feb 1916 Medical 30 Jul 17 AWOL until 04 Aug. Recommended suspended sentences be activated.
08 Feb 16 Attestation 09 Aug 17 Wounded in action
26 Feb 16 AWOL. 5 Days Confined to Barracks 10 Aug 17 Admitted (NYDN) - field hospital
08 Mar 16 Overstaying leave. 8 Days' pay 18 Aug 17 Admitted (NYDN) - Arques
18 Apr 16 Overstaying leave. 6 Days' pay 02 Sep 17 Absconded from hospital
02 May 16 Overstaying leave. 14 Days Confined to Barracks 12 Sep 17 Found and readmitted to hospital
04 May 16 Breaking camp. 14 Days Confined to Barracks 12 Sep 17 Transferred to no 7 General Hospital - St Omer
19 May 16 Breaking camp, drunkenness, making use of another man's pass. 7 days Confined to Barracks 14 Sep 17 Evacuated from no 7 General Hospital to hospital at Wimeraux
26 May 16 Drunkenness, escaping detention barracks. Detention. 3 days' pay 15 Oct 17 Medical Board declare insane and suffering mental confusion
27 May 16 Embarkation at Wellington 01 Jan 1918 Embarkation to England
09 Jul 16 AWOL from ship (Cape Town). 28 Days' pay. 02 Jan 18 Admitted to Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley
13 Sep 16 AWOL. 168 hrs detention, 5 days' pay 21 Jan 18 Absconded from hospital. Returned on 23 Jan. Forfeits 3 Days pay
23 Sep 16 Absent from roll call? Being on railway platform without a pass. 7 Days' pay. 29 Jan 18 Transferred to Brockenhurst
26 Sep 16 Left for France 02 Feb 18 Transferred to Brocton camp
27 Sep 16 Arrived (?) Etaples 11 Mar 18 AWOL until 13 Mar. 2 days' pay.
21 Oct 16 Joined Btn. Posted to "B" bay 20 Apr 18 AWOL until 23 Apr. 4 days' pay.
06 Nov 16 AWOL for 12 days whilst proceeding to the trenches 27 Jul 18 Transferred to discharge depot at Torquay
25 Dec 16 Sentenced to 15 yrs penal servitude 07 Aug 18 Overstaying leave from 7 Aug to 25 Aug. Forfeit 19 days' pay plus 19 days detention.
17 Jan 1917 Hospital (influenza) 10 Aug 18 Classified as unfit by Medical Board and placed on NZ Roll
28 Mar 17 AWOL in field until 03 Apr. 2 yrs. imprisonment. Suspended on 26 Apr 22 Oct 18 Illegally absent from camp for 55 days. Forfeit 55 days' pay (later cancelled)
08 May 17 AWOL in field until 20 May. 2yrs imprisonment with hard labour. Suspended on 11 Jun 03 Feb 1919 Embarkation on Athenic at Liverpool for New Zealand
22 Jul 17 WOAS (neglect of duty whilst on active service) AWOL for 1 day, apprehended by MP. 8 Days' pay 27 Jul 19 Discharged. Physically unfit for active service

Post War Popularity5

Back in civilian life JFW1 had many further appearances in court over the next two decades. In 1920 he was sentenced to one year's hard labour and was divorced by his wife the following day:

27 September 1920 Before Mr. F. R. Hunt, S.M., JFW1 was fined 10s for breaking his prohibition order, and 20s for refusing to quit the Cambridge Hotel when requested to do so. EVENING POST, VOLUME C, ISSUE 76, 27 SEPTEMBER 1920

1 November 1920, At the Napier Police Court Donald Fletcher and Benjamin Meiklijohn were again remanded, and will appear tomorrow, in company with JFW1 to answer charges of stealing two suit cases and contents, valued at £60, the respective properties of F. Pears and C. Verne, They were stolen at Dannevirke. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME X, ISSUE 244, 1 NOVEMBER 1920

2 November 1920, At the Napier Police Court before Mr. R.W. Dyer, S.M. Benjamin Meiklejohn, Donald Fletcher and JFW1 were charged with theft of suitcases. The former were charged with stealing two suitcases of the value of £95, the property of Frederick Pears and Cecil Verne respectively. JFW1 was charged with the theft of one case valued at £70, the property of Pears at Danevirke. Detective Sergeant Butler prosecuted. Mr. H.V. Lusk represented Fletcher and Meiklejohn. The case for the prosecution alleged that JFW1 took the cases to Waipawa where the other two accused were let into the affair. Fearing he was going to lose the whole, JFW1 hid some of the contents of the bags on the river bank. When the men recovered soberness Meiklejohn and Fletcher burnt their material. At the conclusion of the evidence the three accused pleaded guilty and were remanded for sentence at the Supreme Court in Napier. Bail was allowed in £100 each with one surety each of £100. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME X, ISSUE 245, 2 NOVEMBER 1920.

24 November 1920, JFW1, who pleaded guilty to the theft of luggage from a railway platform, was sentenced to one year's hard labour. Benjamin Meiklejohn and Donald Fletcher, charged in connection with the same theft, were admitted to probation for two years and £25 restitution. TARANAKI HERALD, VOLUME LXVIII, ISSUE 16900, 24 NOVEMBER 1920

24 November 1920 At the Napier Supreme Court, Ida Maud Wooster proceeded against JFW1 for divorce on the grounds of habitual drunkenness and failure to maintain. JFW1 is the man who was sentenced yesterday to 12 months' imprisonment for theft. The parties had been married for 13 years. The decree nisi, to be made absolute in three months was granted. HASTINGS STANDARD, VOLUME X, ISSUE 264, 24 NOVEMBER 1920

28 March 1923 Before Mr H. Y. Widdowson, JFW1 pleaded not guilty to a charge of having used obscene language on the Christchurch Railway Station. Accused stated that he was drunk and knew nothing of the occurrence. The Magistrate imposed a fine of £3 and costs, in default, one month's imprisonment. PRESS, VOLUME LIX, ISSUE 17724, 28 MARCH 1923

4 January 1932 in the Gisborne Police Court, JFW1 aged 47 was charged before Mr J. H. Ormond, J.P, with disorderly behaviour while drunk on Boxing Day. JFW1 having once previously been convicted of drunkenness within six months. JFW1 according to the police officer had been making a nuisance of himself and was arrested by Constable Strawbridge. He was a labourer, and was in regular employment in the country. In view of the season of the year, JFW1 was convicted and discharged, but was warned that he would be punished severely for any repetition of his conduct. OTAGO DAILY TIMES, ISSUE 21533, 4 JANUARY 1932

2 December 1938 One second offender for drunkenness, JFW1 was convicted and fined 10s, in default 48 hours imprisonment, by Mr. W. H. Coy, J.P., in Mount Cook Police Court EVENING POST, VOLUME CXXVI, ISSUE 153, 2 DECEMBER 1938

In 1940 JFW1 was sentenced to imprisonment for two months for disobedience of a maintenance order. Was this sentence for failure to pay maintenance to his second wife. Given that Ida Maud Wooster (nee Sands) remarried to Charles Harry Clarke 1939?

10th August 1940, Before Mr E. C. Levvey, S.M. JFW1 (Mr J. K. Moloney) was remanded till August 19, on a charge of defaulting at Gisborne in the payments of a maintenance order. £366 7s, being due in arrears up to February 12. PRESS, VOLUME LXXVI, ISSUE 23095, 10 AUGUST 1940

20 August 1940 Before Mr E. C. Levvey, SM. JFW1 was sentenced to imprisonment for two months for disobedience of a maintenance order, a warrant to be suspended provided £10 is paid off arrears forthwith. PRESS, VOLUME LXXVI, ISSUE 23103, 20 AUGUST 1940.

12 May 1942 Before Mr F. F. Reid, S.M. John Francis Wooster, a cook, aged 57, for drunkenness, a second statutory offence, was fined 20s and ordered to pay costs, in default imprisonment for 48 hours. PRESS, VOLUME LXXVIII, ISSUE 23635, 12 MAY 1942

Other Notes and thoughts

  • Digger is a term to describe an Australian or New Zealand soldier
  • Knowing the immense carnage, urgent need for troop replacement and rallying to the call of the King and Empire did the Army recruiting medical officer overlook a pre enlistment psychological problem and declare him fit to face the bombardments and trenches of the Western front?
  • A thorough review of his service records indicate that his pre enlistment "problems" continued. One wonders if the exposure to the western front exacerbated his decline, PTSD?
  • After 1942 no further newspaper articles on JFW1, why is this so? Had he at last seen the errors of his ways?
  • Given he lived in Hawkes Bay and in November 1920 hid his stolen stash from the luggage theft at Waipawa, did he know, was he known by the other Wooster family of Waipawa i.e. that of Thomas Brandon Wooster?
  • Prior to discharge he was diagnosed with severe shock directly attributed to bombing, upon being evacuated and admitted to hospital he "disappeared" and "no one was left to confirm his story of being bombed". On 29 September 1917 he underwent a final medical board and was found to be insane. On his official Army certificate of discharge he his recorded as "discharged on the termination of his period of engagement", there is no reference to his poor military service nor his recategorisation as medically unfit which is most unusual. Was this the army helping the digger and family, as they do?

  • Sources:
      1. Various. See the GWT
      2. Marleborough Express
      3. The National Library of New Zealand
      4. Auckland War Memorial Museum
      5. PapersPast
      6. Wikipedia
      7. Wellcome Collection, London



      Page last updated

      04 June 2019