Sisters retrace grandpa’s steps
Two Te Awamutu sisters are travelling to Le Quesnoy, France, for centenary commemorations of the town’s liberation.
It will be an emotional journey for Kim Coltman and Sue Graham, who plan to discover more about their grandpa, John Raymond (Ray) Cullen, who was involved in the legendary World War I battle.
They hope to retrace the same steps their grandpa took after he was saved in an act of kindness 100 years ago when wounded in the Mormal Forest of Le Quesnoy.
Le Quesnoy had been in German hands since the beginning of the war.
Ray, a farmer from Kihikihi, was one of the New Zealand soldiers involved in the battle and subsequent liberation of the town.
On November 4, 1918 he was the sole survivor of a seven-man machine gun post hit by a German artillery shell.
“I was lying there on the ground when a batch of surrendered Germans came through,” he later said in recordings by family.
“Some fellow noticed that I was still alive… he lay down beside me — no mind we were enemies before that — and said, ‘Can’t you make it, mate?’”
The German officer — Heinrich Held — made a stretcher and carried Ray to the clearing station with the help of two other German soldiers.
Heinrich gave his wallet to Ray and stayed on to talk with him — he spoke perfect English — sharing their bitterness about the war.
“I am the only one left to tell the tale,” Ray later said in letters home.
After healing from 17 shrapnel wounds, Ray returned to
New Zealand and raised two sons, Garth and David, on the family farm with his wife Hilda.
Growing up, Sue and Kim, along with their siblings and cousins, treasured their Grandpa’s war stories.
Sue has told her Grandpa’s story in a book and will write the second part after her trip to Le Quesnoy.
“Revisiting his trail will be an emotional journey,” Sue says. “It will be a very humbling trip filled with a lot of reflection.”
During their time in Le Quesnoy the sisters will stay with local families and attend commemorative events.
They are looking forward to watching a play by the Bimberlot Theatre Group, in which their grandpa’s story will be re-told.
Their relative, Private Hayden Cullen, a great-grandson of Ray, will also be visiting Le Quesnoy with the New Zealand Defence Force army band.
November is a big month for Waipa¯ as Cambridge prepares to mark the centenary of the liberation its sister city and the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.
Te Awamutu sisters Kim Coltman (left) and Sue Graham will visit Le Quesnoy for the 100-year commemorations of the liberation of the French town.