Oscar Needham was born on 31 March 1889 at Worcester, one of six sons of twelve children born to William Bass and Jessie Ann Needham. William was a prosperous corn and coal merchant and by 1891 while he, Jessie and their two elder sons Edward Francis and Harry Weaver were living in Worcester running the business, the rest of the family headed by 18-year-old Jessie Roberts Needham with six of her siblings including 2-year-old Oscar Needham were living at Hill Top Farm, Martin Hussingtree, with a governess, housekeeper, nurse and farm bailiff.
In 1901 Oscar and his brother Alfred Owen were boarders at the Grammar School in Market Bosworth. He matriculated in the Michaelmas term of 1908 and then joined Hatfield Hall, Durham University for the academic year 1908-1909. He studied Euclid and Greek towards an Arts degree, and was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps and the Hatfield Choral Society. There is no record of him passing any examinations. By 1911 he was an assistant teacher at a school in York.
He sailed on the S.S. “Paparoa” in April 1913 to Wellington, New Zealand. His brother Harry Weaver had already gone there in 1897: he would serve in and survive the war, but died in 1922. Oscar was an agricultural labourer at Waitoa when he enlisted with the 4th Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade on 13 October 1915. His service records note that he was 6 feet 2 inches tall, with black hair and blue/grey eyes.
In February 1916 the 4th Battalion sailed for Europe, but paused for training at a camp in Suez. The Canadian Expeditionary Force had trained on Salisbury Plain and found the mud and wintry conditions a problem so the Anzac forces had set up camp in Egypt. They landed in France in April 1916.
On 28 November that year, after the New Zealand Division had taken part in the battles of Flers Courcelette, Morval and Le Transloy on the Somme, Rifleman Needham received multiple severe shrapnel wounds to his chest, leg and arm. He was evacuated via Boulogne to the New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst in Hampshire. Needham was on sick leave for a month in April 1917 when it is likely he visited his family who now lived at Malvern, and then returned to Brockenhurst and then the New Zealand Convalescent Hospital at Hornchurch in London for nerve suture and further treatment. He sailed back to New Zealand in August 1917 on the S.S. “Marama” and was discharged with a pension in November 1917.
In October 1918 he was admitted to the Sanatorium Hospital at Rotorua in the centre of the North Island to have electrical treatment and massage (physiotherapy) for the nerve damage and paralysis of his left leg. The chest injury had healed and the arm damage was recovering. As part of his treatment he would have bathed in the thermal pools. Anyone using a geothermal pool in New Zealand nowadays is warned to not put their head under water because of the danger of amoebic meningitis. Oscar died at King George V Orthopaedic Hospital of cerebral spinal meningitis on 11 February 1919 and is buried at Rotorua Public Cemetery. He is commemorated on the Auckland Museum cenotaph, on a reredos in the Church of St Matthias at Malvern (his parents’ parish), and the Durham University Roll of Service (1920).