Thursday, 24 November 2016

In Memoriam - John H Gray

John, lecturing on 23/09/2016 in Zonnebeke-Passchendaele
for MMP1917 guides
It is with deep sadness I let you know that John H Gray passed away suddenly on 22 November.
He was 88 years old.
He was recently visiting the WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium on his own which went well and he greatly enjoyed it.
We have been together a couple of days in the Passchendaele area and he was lecturing about the New Zealand involvement in France and Belgium during WWI for the MMP1917 guides in Zonnebeke.
We have been in contact since, almost every week. last week almost every day. 
John was such a good friend but also a wise and talented man.
He had the special gift that he could explain complex matters in a way everyone could understand.
He learned me and many others a lot about WWI.
Also his books are outstanding and he will live further for many people including myself thru his books. His research about Nicholas VC and his story about the New Zealand involvement at Polderhoek Chateau is a reference used by many other authors and guides.
I feel so privileged and honoured to have known John but also grateful to call him a real Friend.
John H. Gray, CBE (Civ), OBE (Mil), ED, JP is a retired City Manager of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Born in 1928, he volunteered for the Territorial Force of the New Zealand Army as a private soldier in 1949, enlisting in the New Zealand Scottish Regiment RNZAC. Commissioned in 1951, he retired in the rank of Brigadier in 1974.

He was the senior national officer in the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (Kashmir) in 1963-1964, and from 1965 to 1968 commanded the 3rd Battalion, (Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and Northland), Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

Posts as deputy commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade Group, and of Field Force
Command followed, and finally he was Territorial Force Advisor to the Army General Staff, the most senior post open to an officer of that Force at the time.

He has a long-standing interest in New Zealand military history and has made a detailed study of the role of The New Zealand Division in World War I during battlefield visits since 1997.

John Gray is best known for his book, published in 2010; From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: The New Zealand Division on the Western Front 1916-1918. A History and Guide to its Battlefields. He has also written Quid Non Pro Patria, a monograph on Sergeant H.J. Nicholas, VC, MM and the Great War section of Auckland Infantry .Tales of three campaigns - 12th (Nelson) Company NZEF and The Silent Division & Concerning One Man's War have also been edited by John H Gray.

John is a respected member of the Passchendaele Society, the New Zealand Military Historical Society, the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps Association and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association.
But above all, he was a very good friend and his passing will leave a huge gap in the lives of his family and friends.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

HE Dr. James KEMBER, NZ ambassador to France on Pilgrimage in Flanders

On 19 and 20 October 2016, HE Dr. James KEMBER, New Zealand Ambassador to France was on pilgrimage together with Mrs Allison KEMBER and the DA Captain RNZN Shaun Fogarty, MNZM and Mrs Foagrty to the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.
Both Flanders have been visited because one cannot see history separated by today's border. During the war, the only border was the front line.

At the grave of Baroness de La Grange
On 19 October he visited the Somme, Longueval and Flers in the morning, Morbecque and La Motte au Bois in the afternoon. The NZ involvement at the Somme is well known, however Morbecque and La Motte au Bois are a forgotten page in history.
The Chateau of Baroness Ernest de La Grange has been a HQ for many units during WOI, including units and members of the ANZAC Corps and the NZ Division. Part of the (Maori) Pioneer Bn was also there working as foresters together with French, Australian and Canadian foresters.

In the early evening there was a visit to La Basseville (Comines-Warneton) and Messines.
the New Zealand Soldier in Messines

Photo Last Post Association
In the evening HE James KEMBER was the guest of honour under the Menin Gate where he read the Ode and was laying a wreath.

Photo Last Post Association

On 20 October they did a battlefield tour in the Passchendaele area with a visit of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Tyne Cot Cemetery, 's Graventafel, Wieltje, Frezenberg and Polygon Wood.
Memorial for the Missing Tyne Cot

At the grave of Captain Neville Arden on Tyne Cot

In the British trenches at MMP1917

In the  early evening there was a visit of Cité Bonjean Cemetery and a visit to the local museum of the UACA volunteers in Armentieres.
Paying respect to a fallen New Zealander

With volunteers of the UACA in their museum

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Hansen Family visits Flanders Fields

Kath and Stan Hansen with Dr. Ken Baker

On 12 October Kath and Stan Hansen came to visit the battlefields in Flanders, in the trail of their family members who came here and died on 12 October 1917.

You can read the story about the Hansen family here:

At noon quick lunch at St Jef
Kath and Stan are flanking the NZ Ambassador to Belgium Greg Andrews
Wilfred Hansen was killed on 04/10/1917, his name is on the memorial at Tyne Cot
Stan is paying his respect while the piper plays a lament

we have been helping with the research for the Hansen family. Since one year a team of about 5 people in Belgium and some friends in France have helped to search the history about Bert Hansen, the only NZ POW in WWI who escaped twice from the Germans. He has been helped by Belgians, most of them noble families in and around Brussels and people from the Walloon part of Belgium.
you can read the story here:

Dr Ken Baker has been very instrumental in the research helped by Mrs Dany Kohl, Mrs Claire Dujardin and Freddy Declerck who was organizing this battlefield tour and a small ceremony. The same day of this visit, there was a meeting with HE the Ambassador of New Zealand, the Defense Attaché, people from the embassy and people who came from New Zealand Defense and Foreign Affairs to discuss the events for next year in Zonnebeke/Passchendaele. In the morning the Hansen family was doing a battlefield tour, in the afternoon there was a visit of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 followed by an official ceremony at Tyne Cot Cemetery. The NZDA was MC and we had luck to have a bugler (Bart Degroote) and a piper (Guido Smeyers).

MMP1917 Director Steven Vandenbussche and Passchendaele Society Chairman Marc Bulckaen were representing Zonnebeke, the Museum and the Museum Volunteers.
At 's Graventafel memorial

The official guests from the Embassy and from New Zealand have been with us for this ceremony. The last visit of the afternoon was Polygon Wood. In the evening the group came together under the Menin Gate to close the day with the Last Post.

Archibald Cruller was killed on 12/10/1917, his name is on the memorial in Tyne Cot
HE Greg Andrews and Stan Hansen are laying a wreath for all the NZ victims

waiting for the ceremony, also MMP1917 and the Passchendaele Society were present.

Stan Hansen reading the names on the memorial for the missing

NZ officials under the Menin Gate

Friday, 7 October 2016

Waimakariri Pilgrim in Passchendaele with a mission!

The headstone of Mark Thompson

Mark William Thompson was the Great-uncle of Simon Marham who is Manager Strategy & Engagement in the Waimakariri District Council. Waimakariri is twinning with Zonnebeke/¨Passchendaele. The family was not aware of what happens to Mark Thompson, they did not know if he was commemorated or if he had a grave. Mark Thompson died on 5 October 1917, no 99 years and 2 days ago. He was in the second wave of the 4th of October attack on 's Graventafel during the Battle of Broodseinde, part of the Battle of Passchendaele. On his right hand side was 2nd Auckland with Dave Gallaher. When they had reached the Blue Line around 09.20 am, the attack was a huge success.

Simon Markham at the NZ Soldier in Mesen
They were ordered to do a new attack in the afternoon against Adler Farm. Adler Farm was heavy defended by German machine guns and it was impossible to take that position. New Zealand suffered some casualties and Mark was missing. The day after, on October the 5th, he was reported as killed in action.

the place where his body has been found in 1919/1920
In 1919-1920 his body has been found near the place of the attack, exhumed, positively identified from a field grave and reburied on Tyne Cot Cemetery. The family was not aware of that and nobody came from the Uttermost Ends of the Earth to pay his respect until today.
Simon told me that he has known his great-aunt very well and she was 101 when she died. She always spoke about her older brother who was killed in Passchendaele and she was asking him to come and find out what happens.
In the MMP1917, proud to be a Kiwi
Simon, paying his respect to his Great-uncle
Simon was here today, between a conference in the USA and a meeting in the UK for a couple of days in Brussels. It was a huge privilege to help him and the family with the research and to show him around today, from Messines to Passchendaele. It was alos an emotional day, especially for him but I have to acknowledge that it was also an emotional day for me too. I have passed hundreds, maybe thousand times his grave and never knew what happens with this Kiwi who got for the first time a visit from his family in New Zealand.

A heavy emotional moment, the first time in 99 years, a family member is touching the headstone