Pay­ing re­spects to the war dead

Waihi Leader - - News - By ME­LANIE CAMOIN [email protected]­

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.

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