He went ashore at Gallipoli early on the first day of the landings and during his time ministering to troops in the terrible conditions, he became greatly respected and admired by all soldiers, whatever their rank or religion. Another chaplain wrote “No place was too hot for him. He carried water, he helped the wounded to the beach, he was up night after night doing good”. His health suffered terribly and he spent some weeks recuperating in Egypt before returning to Gallipoli. When he was invalided home in October 1915, his enlistment weight of 67kg had dropped to less than 44kg.
After a period of recuperation in New Zealand, Fr McMenamin returned to England where he spent the rest on 1916 as a chaplain in New Zealand military hospitals in England.
In January 1917, Fr McMenamin returned to frontline duty in France, attached to 2nd Battalion on the Canterbury Regiment. 8 June 1917, Father McMenamin, New Zealand chaplain, had been called to theburial of a Catholic soldier near Messines. While he was reciting the final commendation at the gravesite, a shell blew up near him and killed him although his death is recorded on memorials as 9 June because this is the date his family was given.
Col H Stewart, Commanding Officer of the Canterbury Regiment wrote: “Whilst engaged in these last solemn rites of the battlefield, a shell killed the Rev JJ McMenamin, a man of the highest character, unsurpassable courage and kindly disposition who showed to perfection that shrewd judgment tempered by charity of men and things, characteristic of the best type of Roman Catholic priest.”
This very zealous chaplain, who was held in high esteem by his soldiers, was, on the wishes of this Parish Priest, brought to Nieppe where he was given solemn funeral rites.
Fr Raphaël Vandaele, Parish Priest of Nieppe, wrote: “The mayor gave permission for this priest to be buried in the parish priests’ vault. This act of goodwill was made known to and very appreciated by Archbishop O’Shea, Archbishop of Wellington (New Zealand).”
Fr McMenamin was initially buried in Messines but was later reinterred in the curé’s vault in Nieppe.
Remembrance Service in Nieppe and Messines
Father McMenamin's "battlefield chalice" will be arriving with the New Zealand Defence Force contingent and will be returning to NZ with them.
The chalice was presented to him by parishioners before he left for war and was returned to the parish after his death here. The boys at a local Catholic school have made a case for the chalice to travel in from New Zealand native woods.
We are planning to put it on display at Messines.
A number of parishioners from Sacred Heart are coming across for the June 7 and June 8 services.
Father Brian Fennessy, who is coming across to represent Cardinal Dew, the Archbishop of New Zealand in Wellington, and also a Belgian and New Zealand Padre together with the Priests of Nieppe and Messines will do the service in Nieppe at 4 pm and also the Holy Mass at Messines at 7.30 pm on 8 June 2017.