Ex­pe­ri­ence rip­ples across the cen­tury


With the one hun­dredth an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele last week, I felt com­pelled to share a lit­tle of my own whanau’s his­tory with the Great War.

Both sides were touched by the war.

On my Dad’s side, when the war broke out most of the Salmons fam­ily were liv­ing in the same area of Essex, near Lon­don, where they had been for gen­er­a­tions.

The el­dest broth­ers, Joseph and Christo­pher, were al­ready pro­fes­sional sol­diers by 1914. My great-grand­fa­ther Al­fred was only 16 when he ‘took the king’s shilling’ with the Essex Reg­i­ment. Another brother, Wil­liam, lived in Aus­tralia and joined a reg­i­ment from Bun­der­burg.

The Salmons boys all fought in dif­fer­ent reg­i­ments, but of­ten on the same front.

On Mum’s side, four broth­ers of the Miller whanau from Pu­rakaunui signed up to fight.

Ge­orge, David and Peter left early in the war with the Ma¯ori Pioneer Bat­tal­ion, but my great­grand­fa­ther Thomas, the el­dest, had not long mar­ried and had his first child on the way.

Thomas signed up later but never made it to the front. The sol­diers were hit hard by the flu while he was at Waiuru. It was so bad the men took bets on who would die next.

All bar two of my an­ces­tors came home from the war.

Peter Miller fell on New Zealand’s dark­est day; in the mud at Pass­chen­daele, fight­ing to take Messines Ridge. He never came home to his sweet­heart, Jemima.

Christo­pher Salmons died at Ar­changel, Rus­sia. He was gunned down while charg­ing the Soviet Red Army’s lines on Ar­mistice Day. He never came home to his wife So­phie. They are both still over there. Al­fred didn’t talk about the war much, only shar­ing the odd tid-bit of in­for­ma­tion with my Dad as they snuck a smoke to­gether. He spoke of how he was shot three times, a bit about his reg­i­ment, and the time a du­dround landed mere feet away from him.

But part of war’s im­pact was clear.

Be­yond leav­ing his home­land, he also re­fused to at­tend An­zac Day ser­vices. Too much ‘King and coun­try’ go­ing on for his tastes. He blamed the royal fam­i­lies of Europe for the war. That stuck with us, gen­er­a­tions later.

Find­ing out the sto­ries of your whanau his­tory is re­ward­ing. It pro­vides you with an in­sight into who and what formed you, about who you are.

My fam­ily used a few ways to get in­for­ma­tion. My Dad used those smoke breaks with Al­fred and Ancestry.com to ac­cess Bri­tish Army records. The in­for­ma­tion about my Mum’s side comes from his­tory com­piled by Te Ru¯nanga o Nga¯i Tahu on sol­diers of the iwi who served, post­cards sent home and my Nan’s memory.

While she talked to me, some­thing she said struck home.

‘‘I just wish I could go back and talk to them, find out what they were think­ing back then. When you come to want to know, it’s too late. They’re gone.’’

If you’ve got the op­por­tu­nity to speak to your kauma¯tua (el­ders) about your fam­ily’s his­tory, take it. Record it.

Know­ing even a lit­tle bit about those sto­ries makes me happy. It gives me con­text for my own ex­is­tence.


Re­search­ing his fam­ily’s his­tory, in­clud­ing their part in WWI, has brough Matthew Salmons closer to un­der­stand­ing his place in the world.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.