Wellington family honoured their ancestor is face of WWI commemorations

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A photo of the Bridge Brothers, with Hugh Bridge on the right. Hugh is one of four faces of WWI soldiers being used on banners around Wellington as part of the centenary commemorations.

Another image of Hugh Bridge. Hugh was died by sniper fire soon after the battle at Passchendaele, killed along with seven of his nine brothers.

Frederick Smith survived the war. He was shot in the hand before it ended and returned home a year after the armistice.

Norman Cummins was discharged from the army at his request in 1915, but re-enlisted. He died on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

Leslie Hawker survived influenza onboard his ship, but the signing of the armistice allowed him to avoid the battlefield.

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Their faces have become familiar around Wellington, but most of us don't know their names.

For Brian Smythe, though, seeing his ancestor on banners around Wellington is a source of pride.

His grandfather, Hugh Decimus Bridge, is one of four faces being used as a centrepiece in Wellington's World War I commemorations, along with Frederick Smith, Norman Cummins and Leslie Hawker.

Brian Smythe poses under an ANZAC banner featuring his grandfather Hugh Bridge's portrait. Bridge is one of four ...
Cameron Burnell/Fairfax NZ

Brian Smythe poses under an ANZAC banner featuring his grandfather Hugh Bridge's portrait. Bridge is one of four Wellington soldiers to feature in the banners as part of the centenary commemoration for World War I.

Photos of the four soldiers are on banners around the city ahead of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Smythe said Bridge was given the name Decimus because he was the youngest of 10 brothers, and was known as Deci. Of the 10, only two survived the war.

The use of Deci's image in the anniversary campaign was a "vindication of what he did". There was quiet pride among the family that, "even though we never knew him, his image and his reputation lives on".

Bridge was a successful athlete who held junior championship titles. He grew up in Oriental Bay and attended Roseneath School.

When war broke out, he was newly married to Joyce Jackson, which is probably why he delayed enlisting until 1915, leaving behind his wife and a new daughter.

He survived the battle at Passchendaele, but was killed by sniper fire soon afterwards, aged 27.

His letters, many of which are in the Turnbull Library, tell a story of love for his wife, while he revealed some of the horror of war to an uncle when he wrote that, to those at home he "made light of everything, but it was really Hell".

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"He imagined himself coming back [home] and life blossoming from there," Smythe said.

Bridge's wife died three years later, and daughter Peggy was raised by her grandparents.

Smythe said Bridge was "the epitome of a volunteer citizen soldier, not there for glory or anything, just there to do a job".

"Deci and his brothers were always sort of held up as true-blue New Zealanders who fought for King and country."

He hoped people looked at the banners and felt admiration for what the soldiers sacrificed, while also having "a deep-seated revulsion of that kind of war".

"It's not a celebration, it's commemoration, and that needs to be stressed and restressed."

Dilys Grant, Wellington City Council's First World War centenary programme project manager, said the four soldiers on the banners were chosen from among 10 Wellingtonians featured in the WW100 project Lest We Forget, which included eight soldiers, a conscientious objector and a nurse.

"They were carefully researched and chosen by historian Hannah August, who spent a lot of time hunting through the city's rich archival collections. We chose these four particular men because of the quality of their images, but we have become rather attached all of them as the project has progressed."

The other soldiers from the banners:

Frederick Smith

Born in February 1896, and grew up in Karori. He was working as a storeman when he enlisted in 1917, probably influenced by his uncle William Hardham, a well-known Wellingtonian who was awarded a Victoria Cross during the Boer War. He was sent to France as a gunner, and was shot in the hand a month before the war ended.  He finally returned home a year after the armistice, and married Constance Priscilla Luxton in 1926. He died in 1971.

Norman Cummins

Born in April 1893 and grew up in  Newtown. When the war started he was working as a packer at the Wellington branch of Alexander Cowan & Sons, paper merchants. He enlisted five days after the outbreak of the war in 1914. He helped to reclaim German Samoa, and at his request he was discharged from the army in 1915. However, later that year he re-enlisted and was sent to Egypt. He became one of 1500 New Zealanders to die in the Battle of the Somme, being killed on the first day of fighting, aged 23.

Leslie Hawker

Born in 1989, and grew up in Mt Victoria. Because of his age, he didn't enlist until 1918, when he was 19, leaving behind a job as a hardware assistant. He arrived in England in October 1918, but his ship had been struck by influenza, killing 68 people onboard. He survived and continued his training. The signing of the Armistice meant he avoided the battlefield and returned to New Zealand, where he married Shelagh Isabel Coghlan in 1923. He died in 1982.

 - Stuff


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