William Fraser - Son of Jane Fraser nee Smith and Alexander Fraser

Excerpts from Te Ope Whakaora; Pgs 29, 42, 206 (photo), 399-401. The Army that brings life. A Collection of documents on the Salvation Army & Maori 1884-2007. Edited by Harold Hill 2007.

 'One Maori officer did make a significant mark in the 1920s and 1930s. Major William Fraser was an outstanding field officer, who commanded successfully all the largest Corps in the territory but sadly died when he was only 55 years in 1934'.

After the establishment of New Zeland as an independent Salvation Army territory in 1912, one might have expected a long-term well-thought-out plan to emerge for Maori work. However, aprart form the lone work of the Moores in the Tauranga area, nothing was done during the following two decades, although one very fine Maori officer, Major William Fraser, did make his mark. Coming from Bluff in Southland, he toured as a young teenager with some of Armstrongs's parties in 1901, and, greatly influenced by the life and personality of Lt. colonel J. Toomer he became an officer in 1914. He and his wife had a most successful career as field officers, commanding all the largest corps in the counry. Fraser's premature death in 1934 was a severe loss to the Army as he had the potential for leadership at a high level.

William and Marion Fraser

Mirama, Marion Lenna William and baby Joyce Fraser

William Fraser was born in 1878 and was for some years Corps Sergeant Major at Bluff, where he worked for the railways as a tally clerk and with the Bluff Harbour Board. In 1901 he also travelled with Armstong's Maori Concert Party. He and his wife entered training as Salvation Army officers in 1914 at what was then the unusually late age of 36 and after only 3 months in which Fraser served as Cadet Sergeant, they were commissioned and appointed to Milton. the conventionally short-term appointments of the time saw them move through commands at Part Chalmers, Cambridge, Marton, and Hastings. In 1919 they were appointed to Christchurch City corps and in 1921 - after seven years officership - to Wellington City. In the course of his 21 years officeship Fraser also commanded Dunedin City, Linwood, Wanganui, Hamilton, Fielding and Palmerston North (twice).Widely respected and known throughout the country, his early death was a tragic loss for the Salvation Army in New Zealand. Numerous tributes were given in the pages of the War Cry. Lt. Colonel Fred Burton, the Field Secretary, wrote that, 'Letters and telegrams have poured in from all parts of the Dominion, not only expressing sympathy with the bereaved, but testifying to the good infuence and the service for God rendered by this promoted Warrior. One of the most striking of these came from Wanganui Prison, and over the signature of the Govenor of the gaol expreseed the feeling of the men incarcerated there, who druing the years enjoyed the ministry of the late Major. It speaks of him first as a Christian gentleman, then as a sower of the good seed and testifies to the fact of many a life being changed within prison walls because of the Major's uplifing and helpful service.

Very little mention is made in extant records of the fact that he was Maori. His Salvation Army officer 'career card' had a note to that effect, and "English" and "Maori" were recorded under the heading "Languages spoken". Althought Fraser's service was given wholly within the mainstream world of Pakeha corps, he evidently maintained Maori links.

A 1934 Fielding photograph shows that he produced a play of musical there entitled "Scenes from Pah Life": quite an undertaking for a very sick man. Lt. Colonel Fred Burton, Field Scretary, in a letter to Major George Moore dated 3 January 1935, made the following statement: "Sir Apirana Ngata spoke one day with the late Major Fraser on this subject (Salvation Work with Maori) and suggested to him that he thought the Army's method of work would make a new and instant appeal, if definitely undertaken. Major Fraser had been with him to one or two Pahs, and during the visit had conducted an Army meeting or two - the first the Gentleman mentioned had attended." Curiously, in the extensive War Cry report of Fraser's death and the many tributes paid to his memory the only reference to his Maori heritage came in the penultimate sentence of a short report copied out of the Manawatu Evening Standard: "Major Fraser's grave, as is Maori custom, was lined with ferns."

Mrs Major Fraser served a further six years of active officership after being widowed and died in 1967.

They had 3 children: Lenna Wakefield Cosgrove, Miriama and Joyce Hall.

Page last updated 18 Aug 2011