Saturday April 25 2015 marks 100 years since ANZAC troops landed on the shores of Gallipoli during WWI. It also marks 100 years since the death of Nat Williams in the fighting that ensued. In honour of Nat, who played First Class cricket for Hawke’s Bay and won the Hawke Cup with South Auckland, we present his story as part of our exhibition On A Foreign Field. To read the stories of Nat’s cricketing colleagues, visit the Basin Reserve to see the exhibtion.
Nat Williams has one of the more remarkable backgrounds for a New Zealand First Class cricketer. Born into privilege, Williams was the son of a British Member of Parliament and an old boy of both Eton and Oxford. He made at least two trips to New Zealand, the second enforced by his father who had grown weary of paying Nat’s gambling debts.
In 1902, Nat was in Auckland when Lord Hawke’s XI toured New Zealand. The team’s captain, Pelham Warner, knew of Williams from his Eton and Oxford education so, when one team member suffered sunstroke and another went fishing, he was drafted in to the team. Williams played several games with his best score being a hard-hit 48 against Manawatu in January 1903. In December of the same year he made his only New Zealand representative appearance, helping Hawke’s Bay to victory over Wellington.
By 1904 he was back in England and, in 1904-05, played for Dorset in the Minor Counties League before, in 1905, playing for the MCC. In 1908 he played three games for Gloucestershire and in 1910 played, again, for Dorset. While he was playing cricket in England, Nat was also amassing large gambling debts. When his father decided he would no longer repay these on Nat’s behalf, he was sent back to New Zealand, exiled from his family but with their financial support. Throughout his second stay here he was working as a metallurgist for the Grand Junction Mining Company in Waihi. He played cricket for South Auckland from 1912 to 1914, with his career highlights including victory in the Hawke Cup in 1912-13 and a drawn game against the Australian team of 1913-14.
When WWI broke out, Nat joined the Auckland Regiment Sixth Battalion (the ‘Haurakis’) in late 1914, and took part in the Gallipoli landing of April 25 1915. Through the memoir of a close friend of Nat’s, we know that he loved playing bridge, liked a drink with his friends and was calm and collected under pressure.
That last quality would have served him well at Gallipoli. It was here, under constant fire, Nat and six of his company made it off the beaches to begin ascending the Peninsular’s steep slopes. When one of the men was shot, Williams dressed his wounds. As he leaned forward to ask how the dressing was, Nat was also shot. Although an attempt was made to carry him out, his would-be rescuer was shot, dropping Nat and his body was never recovered. In that soldier’s memoir, the cricketer Nat Williams’ final word is recorded as “out”.
John (Nat) Nathaniel Williams | Born January 27 1878, London, England | Died April 25 1015, Gallipoli
Thanks to Devon Mace (@DVMace09) for his assistance in researching Nat William’s cricketing life while in Waihi.