Porirua war sto­ries make for com­pelling read­ing

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By TESSA JOHNSTONE

Sol­diers’ sto­ries of­ten start and end at rail­way sta­tions, and Al­lan Dod­son’s own labour of love is no ex­cep­tion.

The Plim­mer­ton man is doc­u­ment­ing the sto­ries of the 100 or so men and women from Porirua who con­trib­uted to the coun­try’s World War I ef­forts.

‘‘It’s just a typ­i­cal story. Ev­ery small area has men who went away and it im­pacted on all those lit­tle vil­lages,’’ Dod­son said.

While work­ing with a group restor­ing the Plim­mer­ton Rail­way Sta­tion in 2010, Dod­son heard the story of a marine who stepped off the train at Plim­mer­ton, smelled smoke, and ended up sav­ing the sta­tion from fire.

‘‘ It oc­curred to me rail­way sta­tions have been the start and the end of a large num­ber of sol­diers’ and fam­i­lies’ sto­ries, as they go off to war.’’

A few years into the re­search, which is be­ing pub­lished on a com­mu­nity web­site, Dod­son has un­cov­ered a few gems – a let­ter home to Mum which asks for more honey but says the cakes are get­ting mouldy, and the last let­ter ever writ­ten by the town’s name­sake, John Plim­mer.

‘‘ There are some things you leave it to [fam­i­lies] to find out though, like were they ad­mit­ted to the VD [vene­real dis­ease] ward, or you can po­litely say he had trou­ble with dis­ci­pline.’’

The 30- odd sto­ries so far in­clude that of a fa­ther who ac­com­pa­nied his son to war in an at­tempt to pro­tect him – the son, Les Thom­son, was killed on the Western Front in 1918 and in his grief his fa­ther, Frank, built sev­eral stone walls and paths in Sun­set Pde in Plim­mer­ton in his mem­ory.

One re­mains. It is in­scribed with the name Les, his reg­i­men­tal num­ber and date of death.

Dod­son is cur­rently fo­cused on gath­er­ing the sto­ries of the 48 staff from the Porirua Men­tal Hos­pi­tal who signed up, many to the med­i­cal corps. Some were killed, some re­turned to Eng­land, some moved back to New Zealand.

‘‘Be­fore the war it was a very large in­sti­tu­tion. It pro­vided em­ploy­ment to Porirua and had a large num­ber of sin­gle fit men.’’

In April, Pataka is host­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of 25 sto­ries and pho­tos of men and women who were at Gal­lipoli.

Dod­son spends up to 15 hours a week on the re­search, but said it was ‘‘ an ab­so­lute labour of love’’ and that there was sat­is­fac­tion in keep­ing the sto­ries of peo­ple’s loved ones alive.


Mak­ing his­tory: Al­lan Dod­son with a few of his pho­tos of Porirua sol­diers.

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