Porirua war stories make for compelling reading
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.