Death etched into mem­ory

Kapi-Mana News - - FRONT PAGE - By KRIS DANDO

The words etched into stone out­side a home on Plim­mer­ton’s Sun­set Pa­rade give clues to a heart­break­ing tale – one in which a fa­ther and son went to war, and only one re­turned.

The story is one which Plim­mer­ton Res­i­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion mem­ber and his­tor­i­cal sleuth Al­lan Dod­son has im­mersed him­self in as he gathers in­for­ma­tion on lo­cal men who fought in the Great War.

Much of the data, like war records, is on­line, but he also re­lies on in­put from fam­ily mem­bers of those who served.

‘‘I did an ar­ti­cle for the web­site [ plim­mer­ton. org. nz] on the war me­mo­rial at Pau­ata­hanui, and a lit­tle while af­ter that I started see­ing Plim­mer­ton com­ing up on the ca­su­alty lists. We live in a lit­tle vil­lage and some of the things I was find­ing were quite poignant.’’

A hand­built stone wall out­side 16 Sun­set Pde still bears the traces of a tribute to Les­lie Thom­son, a shop as­sis­tant who was 16 when he en­listed in April 1916. He had told the Army he was 20.

His fa­ther Frank, aged 37 at that time, en­listed two months later so he could look af­ter his son.

Both were mem­bers of the New Zealand Ri­fle Brigade and saw ac­tion in France and Bel­gium.

Frank was wounded and evac­u­ated be­fore one of the black­est days in New Zealand mil­i­tary his­tory – the Battle of Pass­chen­daele on Oc­to­ber 12, 1917, which saw 2700 Kiwi ca­su­al­ties.

Les­lie fought there and sur­vived, but was killed just months be­fore the war’s end when Ger­many launched its last of­fen­sive.

A lance-sergeant, he died in ac­tion on July 16, 1918, near He­buterne, France, and is buried in a ceme­tery there.

Frank, af­ter he was dis­charged in 1919, re­turned to his wife Maggie and three re­main­ing chil­dren.

He in­scribed Les­lie’s reg­i­men­tal num­ber, nick­name and date of death – ‘‘18719, LES, 16.7.18’’ – on walls and paths around the fam­ily home.

Frank’s grand­daugh­ter Carol Bow­den, his only de­scen­dant still liv­ing in Plim­mer­ton, says she knew Les­lie had gone to war and was killed.

Mr Dod­son has brought a part of her fam­ily’s his­tory to life and she is grate­ful to learn more about their time serv­ing over­seas, she says.

‘‘He hauled these rocks and built walls around here as part of his grief. I live just down the road and I keep an eye on the writ­ing on the wall, but noth­ing more. It’s a fam­ily story but it’s been turned into a re­al­ity. I think it’s awe­some there’s some lo­cal in­ter­est around it.’’

Mr Dod­son says ‘‘ pulling the threads to­gether’’ is very grat­i­fy­ing, and he hopes Plim­mer­ton res­i­dents will con­tinue to con­tact him with al­bums, let­ters and mem­o­ries.

He is sure at least six sol­diers killed in World War I were from Plim­mer­ton, with an­other six or eight wounded.

‘‘We’re slowly build­ing a re­source that peo­ple can use, and there has been a surge in in­ter­est, es­pe­cially as we come up on 100 years [an­niver­sary of the Great War].’’

To round out the Thom­son his­tory, Mr Dod­son in­tends to re­search more on Frank’s in­volve­ment in the build­ing of Cen­ten­nial High­way and Maggie’s role as a mid­wife.

Go to plim­mer­ton.org.nz to con­tact him or read more of the sub­urb’s his­tory.

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