Posted by Ancestry Australia and New Zealand on November 11, 2011 in New Zealand

To mark Armistice Day today, the anniversary of WWI’s end, we are 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, we are giving free access to select military records so that Kiwis can find out whether they are one of the mystery soldier’s descendants, or even to just explore your own family’s military history.

The soldier in the photo (shown above) 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.

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. We are hoping 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.

If you think you may be related to John, we would love to hear from you! You can email us at or contact us on Facebook.

You can search 500,000 New Zealand military records plus more from Australia, the UK and Canada for FREE* until this Sunday 13 November. Visit and start searching today!


  1. lorraine brown

    There is a Penn McKay an assistant editor he works for the Classic Car magazine as a journalist.
    Could be related? Phone the magazine 09 3601480

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