Names on monuments brought to life

23:00, Oct 09 2014

A book that recalls Horowhenua's role in World War I will be launched next week.

Compiled by Linda Fletcher, Horowhenua and the Great War 1914-1918 is the culmination of a research project, begun in 2006, to identify all the casualties named on Horowhenua's war memorials.

The book details the lives of all 188 men from the district who died in the war, telling their stories through letters from the front and newspaper obituaries.

The details were gathered by the Adopt an Anzac group, inspired by an Anzac Day speech in Levin's centenary year by the former mayor, the late Sonny Sciascia.

Volunteers set out to identify all the men named on Horowhenua war memorials - Levin, Foxton, Shannon, Tokomaru, Moutoa and Manakau - as well as honours boards in schools and halls. Working from online databases, and with information from families, they accumulated biographical details and photographs of the men.

"Being able to put a face to a name makes a big difference in any situation and it became vital for our researchers, making each man a real person as Sonny had suggested in his speech," Fletcher said.

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While Fletcher was writing the book the Levin Chronicle from 1910 to 1920 came online through the National Library's Papers Past.

"It was an amazing source of information about our men," Fletcher said. "I found lots of personal details about them through their obituaries and from letters written home by their mates. The newspapers printed anything in those days, including some quite graphic information about how the men died.

"As a journalist I was fascinated by what I was reading and decided it was a good way to tell the men's stories."

Fletcher said she was the odd one out in the group of genealogists who were doing the research.

"While they were finding out family links and the ships the men had been transported on, I was more interested in their stories.

"Without being morbid, I was really interested in knowing how they died.

"I think if I had been a mother or a sister with a soldier fighting in the war, I would have wanted to know what he was doing when he died."

The book includes chapters on Horowhenua men who won gallantry awards during WWI and men with connections to the district who were not named on local memorials.

An appendix lists the men who served and returned safely.

The book was written and published thanks to two grants from the WW100 Lottery Grants Fund. The foreword is by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae.

Horowhenua and the Great War 1914-1918 will be launched at Te Takere in Levin on Wednesday, October 22, at 7pm. Fairfax NZ

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