Paying respects to the war dead
Descendants have paid tribute to a former Waihi serviceman who never returned from the Great War.
Private Ben Thorn’s story is one of the 12,500 soldiers and nurses who fought during during World War I.
Ben was part of the New Zealand Medical Corps deployed on the Western front in Belgium helping rescue soldiers from the front line with other stretcher bearers.
He went to war with his brother, Tom, who made it back home.
On November 20, 1917, 22-year-old Ben was killed in action by shrapnel while saving the lives of others and was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for his act of bravery.
Last week, the Waihi Armistice100 group met with two of Ben’s descendants, Ashley Smith of Katikati and Danny Thorn of Auckland, to talk about Ben’s story.
Waihi RSA secretary and treasurer Cliff Hayward MBE along with the 6 Hauraki Association president in Tauranga, Des Anderson, also spoke to the audience on Wednesday at Banana Pepper.
Danny’s father was Ben’s half brother, and he had very little information about him before he started to investigate.
“Both Tom and Ben had written postcards to their little brother Georgie, my father, who kept them all those years in a battered old shoe box under the bed. There was a photo of them, standing side by side, in their crisp new military uniforms. They looked smart and similar, but not the same.”
Danny travelled to Ypres in Belgium last November for the centenary of his uncle’s death. There he found no grave but Ben’s name was on the Roll of Honour among the Cloisters.
“I retraced his final steps those few hundred metres up from Scott’s Post to the foot of the butte.
“Today one can still clearly see the outline of the openings into the tunnel and the spot where he was killed. It’s on the left side.
“From up on top of the butte one overlooks the entire scene,” he said.
Great nephew Ashley has also retraced Ben’s journey during World War I with the help of a cousin.
He then travelled to the Western Front with friends, who all went to pay respects to their ancestors lost in the Great War.
“Ben and Tom went to war together, and the sad part is that Ben was killed when the war was nearly over. Terribly sad.
“Being in Passchendaele, you see how war is really stupid, with so many lives lost,” he said.
Along with nearly 10,000 other soldiers, Ben’s portrait will be displayed during the Armistice special Centennial commemoration from November 9-11 at Waihi Memorial Hall.
More than 2000 poppies have been knitted by community groups and individuals across town.
Speakers and organisers of the talk (from left) Krishna Buckman, Cliff Hayward MBE, Danny Thorn, Ashley Smith, Robyn Ramsay and Des Anderson.
Private Ben Thorn’s Military Medal No 1 Field Ambulance.