Joy as WWI medal finds its way home

The New Zealand Herald - - NEWS - Picture spe­cial A14-15

Forty years ago, Roger McKin­lay was dig­ging a trench at his Glen­field home when his spade struck some­thing. Pick­ing through the North Shore clay, he found an old medal, dented by his un­in­tended blow. McKin­lay never stopped won­der­ing who its right­ful own­ers were. He got in touch with Ian Mar­tyn, who spe­cialises in re­unit­ing medals with fam­i­lies. And yes­ter­day, on the cen­te­nary of the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele where the medal was won by Te Aroha cheese­maker Al­bert Everitt, the finder and the fixer met Everitt’s descen­dants for the first time. Kurt Bayer re­ports.

Al­bert Everitt was no model sol­dier. To have later been awarded the Mil­i­tary Medal, an es­teemed dec­o­ra­tion for gal­lantry on World War I’s Western Front, his ex­ploits must have been truly heroic. The rak­ish, fresh-faced sol­dier who came from a long line of gold seek­ers and boat­builders had been a marked man early in the war — by his own side.

Pri­vate Everitt upset his su­pe­ri­ors in March 1917 af­ter he “ab­sented him­self with­out leave (AWOL) for 9.5 hours” in France.

He re­ceived 14 days of field pun­ish­ment where of­fend­ers were placed in fet­ters and hand­cuffs and at­tached to a gun wheel or fence post for up to two hours per day.

But de­spite his run-ins with his com­mand­ing of­fi­cers, Pri­vate Everitt was a fear­less sol­dier. As a teenage mem­ber of his lo­cal ter­ri­to­rial mili­tia, the Te Aroha Ri­fle Vol­un­teers, he had en­listed in 1916, land­ing in France months later.

And he was just 20 years old when the or­der came to take a ridge out­side the small town of Pass­chen­daele. Within just a few hours, 846 young Kiwi men were dead, though Everitt came through un­scathed. His ac­tion dur­ing the main at­tack even caught the eye of his su­pe­ri­ors who rec­om­mended him for a Mil­i­tary Medal for acts of gal­lantry.

Af­ter re­view and con­sid­er­a­tion in Lon­don, he was granted the Mil­i­tary Medal a month later. His ci­ta­tion reads: “For con­spic­u­ous good work dur­ing the at­tack on Pass­chen­daele Ridge on the 12th Oc­to­ber 1917. He took a prom­i­nent part in the fight­ing for the en­emy’s strong point known as the Ceme­tery, and after­wards made valu­able re­con­nais­sances un­der con­di­tions of dif­fi­culty and great dan­ger.”

Ian Mar­tyn, who re­searched Everitt’s pre-war and mil­i­tary his­tory, says Everitt’s brav­ery at Pass­chen­daele saw him pro­moted to Lance Cor­po­ral and given two weeks leave in Eng­land.

But on June 7, 1918 Everitt’s luck ran out in France when he was mor­tally wounded by gun­shots to his head, chest and right thigh.

May Everitt re­ceived her son’s Mil­i­tary Medal at a cer­e­mony at Auck­land Town Hall in June 1919.

But what hap­pened to it over the next 50 years re­mains a mys­tery.

The next time it ap­pears is when McKin­lay struck it with a spade in his back yard.

“I phoned the RSA at the time, won­der­ing what to do with it, but they weren’t too in­ter­ested. I won­der if they would be more so these days,” McKin­lay, 62, said.

A grand­fa­ther served at Pass­chen­daele and McKin­lay re­searched his an­ces­tor. But when he tried to do the same for the name etched on the back of the medal, he kept draw­ing blanks.

Even­tu­ally, he found Mar­tyn’s Medals Re­united web­site and made con­tact.

Mar­tyn be­gan the painstak­ing task of track­ing down Everitt’s rel­a­tives. An obit­u­ary no­tice put Mar­tyn on the right track, and he traced great neph­ews, Terry and Tony Everitt.

Yes­ter­day af­ter a ser­vice at the Auck­land War Memo­rial Mu­seum’s WWI Hall of Mem­o­ries com­mem­o­rat­ing the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele, the finder, the fixer, and the broth­ers all met for the first time.

“It’s just magic, such a long chance, how things have just all lined up,” said Tony, a 65-year-old from Mor­rinsville.

Terry and Tony Everitt never knew about their war hero an­ces­tor.

But thanks to Mar­tyn’s foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion, they are de­lighted by the ad­di­tion to their fam­ily his­tory.

“I can’t thank these two guys enough,” he said af­ter meet­ing Mar­tyn and McKin­lay.

The bloody fight­ing at Pass­chen­daele claimed the lives of hun­dreds of young Kiwi men.

Al­bert Everitt won the Mil­i­tary Medal but did not sur­vive the war.

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