FAMILY is searching for John Penn - New Zealand's mystery WWI soldier

Friday 11 November 2011, 7:25AM

To mark Armistice Day on 11 November, the anniversary of WWI’s end, New Zealand’s leading family history website,, is on the hunt for descendants of a WWI soldier whose autographed photo was found tucked away in an antique shop in Cambridge, New Zealand.

From today until midnight Sunday 13 November,’s military records will be free for Kiwis to find out whether they are one of the mystery soldier’s descendants, or even to just explore their own family’s military history.

According to http://, the soldier in this photo is a man named John Rainsford Penn, born in 1893 to Englishman Arthur Valentine Penn and Mary Agnes Russell from Dunedin.

John Penn signed up for the First World War just shy of his 21st birthday in September 1914. After two years in the New Zealand Army Service Corps, he was wounded and was appointed to the Field Bakery as a Corporal.

John completed his service baking bread for his fellow soldiers, even rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant. When he was finally discharged in August 1919, four years and 51 weeks after he listed, John had earned the 14/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Content Director Brad Argent comments: “It appears that after John arrived home from the War, he married a woman named Annie Rowlands in 1921, and got on with his life. It would be interesting to uncover whether he has any descendants still alive in New Zealand, and how this photo ended up buried away in an antique shop in Cambridge.”’s military collections that will be free to explore online this weekend include:

· The Defenders of New Zealand
· New Zealand Army WWI Casualty Lists, 1914-1919
· New Zealand Army WWI Roll of Honour, 1914-1919
· Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., 1916-1919
· New Zealand Army WWII Nominal Rolls, 1939-1948
· New Zealand Army WWI Reserve Rolls, 1916-1917
· New Zealand Army WWI Nominal Rolls, 1914-1918
· New Zealand Army Medal Rolls, 1860-1919,
· New Zealand WWI Military Defaulters, 1919-1921
· ANZAC Memorial, 1914-1918,
· New South Wales, Australia, Cowra Military Camps Personnel Photo Index, 1905-1970
· Australia's Fighting Sons of the Empire: Portraits and Biographies of Australians in the Great War
· British WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920
· British WWI Service & Pension Records, 1914-1920

Brad continues: “Whenever we think of the sacrifice of war, we are with good reason drawn to think of those who paid the ultimate price. But it is also important to recognise those heroes who did their bit and were then lucky enough to make it home and be able to get on with their lives.”

If you think you may be related to John, we would love to hear from you. You can email us at, or visit to view his family tree.