Family grateful for tin helmet
The opportunity to take part in centenary commemorations for the liberation of Le Quesnoy, France proved a tremendous draw for Richard Swarbrick and his sister Kate Jones.
The Te Awamutu siblings were joined for part of the event by their brother Philip, who resides in the UK, as they visited the part of the world where their grandfather Henry Augustus Swarbrick almost lost his life.
Henry was the second generation lawyer in the Te Awamutu firm founded by his father Arthur.
Richard says it is the first time anyone from the family has been to a war zone.
“The family didn’t talk much about war involvement,” he says.
Richard remembers his grandfather well and says when he started doing more research into the family he was able to establish, that Henry was wounded in the lead up to the Le Quesnoy offensive — in fact on November 3, 1918, the day before the troops went over the wall.
Henry was initially not selected for active overseas duty, although he served at home.
But as the war drew on, and men were needed, he was assessed as being suitable and was a Lieutenant in the Field Artillery.
Henry was stationed outside Le Quesnoy in November and during a battle took either a bullet or shrapnel to his head — saved only by his helmet, which the family still has.
He was evacuated to hospital and family folklore says he slept until Armistice Day.
Henry made a complete recovery back home in Te Awamutu.
Richard say there is no blood in the helmet, so his brother, a paramedic, believes he was lucky to only have suffered a serious concussion.
Richard said the significance of Henry’s survival on their very being was not lost on the siblings.
As part of Richard’s research, he contacted the Defence Force and it was this relationship which resulted in the trip to Le Quesnoy and invitation to the functions.
Richard and Kate say it was an amazing feeling to be so welcomed on the other side of the world, 100 years after the liberation.
“It was quite overwhelming how much appreciation the townspeople still have for the Kiwi troops,” says Richard.
He and Kate had read about the Cullen family through our newspapers, but didn’t know the sisters.
It was Kim Coltman and Sue Graham who recognised them and they spent some of the time together.
Richard says once they meet the sisters they kept seeing other locals they knew, including catching up with Te Awamutu couple Andrew Brown and Linda Miles.
He says there were probably 500-600 Kiwis in the town for celebrations on November 4 — ‘it was incredible’.
Part of the celebrations were at the building which is the proposed museum.
Richard says the idea behind the museum is very sound, and he wholeheartedly supports Waipa¯ making a financial contribution.
He and Kate say the trip gave them a whole new respect for what the men and women who went to war sacrificed.
“We realised how many local families have been affected by this war,” he says.
“Our ancestors travelled 12,000 miles to fight for King and Empire.
“We cannot forget that.”
Richard Swarbrick with his grandfather Henry Augustus Swarbrick's WW1 helmet, complete with bullet or shrapnel hole, which saved his life on November 3, 1918 at Le Quesnoy, France.
Lieutenant Henry Augustus Swarbrick.