Death etched into memory
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.