Thursday, 21 April 2016

ANZAC Cousins in Arms

A Family’s Ultimate Sacrifice

  Fourteen members of one family made the ultimate sacrifice

                                                               (Eric Hansen)
As Anzac Day once again draws closer, our thoughts will increasingly turn to the contribution and sacrifice made by the many young New Zealand and Australian troops who fought in a war far overseas.

Over a four year period, 100,444 New Zealand men served overseas, out of a total population of just over one million people. Of these troops, 16,697 were killed and 41,317 were wounded during the war, and another 507 died during training. A further 1,000 men died within five years of the war ending as a result of injuries suffered. 

Australia made a similar contribution and also paid a similar cost. A total of 331,814 Australians served overseas, representing 18% of their male population. Of these, 61,859 troops were killed or died during the war.

New Zealand, as a small outpost of the British Empire, took pride in its contribution to the British war effort and the part it played in winning the war. Within New Zealand, one particular family had cause to be prouder than most. The Hansen family had the distinction of providing 42 young men to serve in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the Australian Imperial Force.

All 42 men were the grandchildren or great grandchildren of Thomas Hansen and his sister Hannah King, New Zealand’s first permanent European settlers. They had arrived in the Bay of Islands from Australia, on board the brig Active in 1814, and lived side by side at Hohi and then Te Puna for all their married lives. Together with their 23 children, they became known as the First Family.

By 1914, Hansen family descendants had spread throughout New Zealand, and across to Australia. When Britain declared war on 4th August, the young men of the Hansen family, along with thousands of other young New Zealand and Australian men, saw it as their patriotic duty to enlist in the Army.

Like other families throughout New Zealand, the Hansen family also suffered its share of tragedy during the war. Of the 42 young men who chose to serve their country in the war, 14 made the ultimate sacrifice; a rate of one in three. This was twice the national average of one in six.

While this was a very high casualty rate for any family, one branch of the family suffered even more. Four sons of Phillip and Ella Baker, from Russell, served in the NZEF on the Western Front. Two of them, Varley and Phillip died in France; Varley was killed in action and Phillip died from disease. A third son, Theodore, died from his wounds upon being invalided home to Okaihau. Of their four sons, the Bakers lost three to the war.
Two of the 42 cousins who served in the war were decorated for bravery in the field. Ira Theodore Hansen and Herbert Nolan Flowerday were both awarded the Military Medal. 

Theo won his Military Medal during the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917. As a linesman attached to Battalion Headquarters, he went out on numerous occasions under fire to repair telephone wires.

Herbert Flowerday won his Military Medal in March 1918. As a stretcher bearer, he went out under fire on numerous occasions into No Man’s Land to bring back wounded soldiers.

Theo’s younger brother, Bert Hansen, had the distinction of being the only Kiwi soldier to successfully escape from German captivity, not once, but twice, on the Western Front. His first escape was from a prison hospital in Belgium, and the second time was from a railway station in Liege, where he was minutes away from being transported to Germany to stand trial as a spy. He was still being sheltered by the Belgian Underground when the Armistice took effect on 11th November 1918.

Surprisingly, many of the First Family cousins fighting in the NZEF and the AIF did not know they had other relatives also serving on the Western Front. Often they only found out they were related when they were talking to other soldiers and discovered that they had the same surname or that they shared a common relative. In today’s age of instant communication, it is easy to forget that in the early 20th Century the only way to maintain contact with others was by writing letters. As a result, it was easy for people to lose contact with their extended family, especially those in distant parts of the country or in Australia.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915, followed by the Anzacs’ much longer involvement on the battlefields of France and Belgium. This has been especially evident in the increased numbers of young people participating in Anzac Day parades, or taking trips to Gallipoli and northern France. As the centenary of World War One draws closer, interest in the war is certain to increase even further.

As the young men of 1914 – 1918 have long since passed away, the main source of information for today’s generation of young people is from books and from old photos and films taken at the time. Most of these deal with the broad picture of the various campaigns during the war, and very little is available about individuals and families involved in the war.

It is this lack of information that led family historian Kath Hansen to write a book about the 42 young men of the First Family. Her interest was triggered by reading the memoir of her father in law, Bert Hansen. Originally she was only going to write about soldiers with the Hansen surname. But it quickly became apparent that they had many first and second cousins who also served in the war, both in the NZEF and the AIF.

The product of Kath Hansen’s research was the production of her book, In The Field. At the book launch in September 2012, she received the following message from Brigadier John Gray RNZIR (Ret);
 “I want to congratulate you on a very real achievement. It is the fruit of prodigious research and features considerable scholarship.
It must be unique as a family military memoire for many reasons but particularly by its scale, and its detail. I doubt that any other extended family sent 42 cousins into action, and as I have commented, the ratio of one in three dead is twice the national average. The name of Hansen (and its derivatives) is steeped in honour as a result.”

Chris Finlayson, Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage also attended the book launch, and said;
‘‘This book makes it clear just how much of an impact World War I had on the families of New Zealand, and how that conflict touched the whole of this very close-knit nation,’’

The contribution of the First Family cousins was significant for many reasons. All 42 men were descendants of Thomas Hansen or of his sister Hannah King, New Zealand’s first European settlers. In addition to several sets of brothers, they were all related as first or second cousins. Few families in New Zealand would have contributed as many men. During the war, family members in the NZEF would have often been fighting in the same battles as their cousins in the AIF, making them Anzac cousins in arms.

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