Soldier's life celebrated

02:22, Aug 19 2014
Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop's headstone
PAYING RESPECT: Members of the New Zealand Defence Force surround Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop's headstone at Waikumete Cemetery during his service today.

A family tale that became lost and distorted as generations passed has unfolded as a fascinating part of New Zealand history.

As Nelson resident Sue Atkins, 61, began researching her family tree, the story of her great uncle, World War I serviceman Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop developed.

Hislop died a hundred years ago today, aged 21, after falling between the sleepers of Parnell's railway bridge.

He is among six other New Zealand World War I soldiers that were added to the New Zealand and Commonwealth War Graves Commission's official rolls of honour last Wednesday.

Further research revealed Hislop was also the first member of the New Zealand Armed Forces to die as result of his service during the war.

Friends, family and members of the New Zealand Defence Force gathered at Hislop's grave at West Auckland's Waikumete Cemetery today to commemorate his life.

Atkins said it's been an extraordinary journey uncovering his story.

''It's not only a part of our family history but New Zealand's as well,'' she said.

Hislop was representing the North Island Railway Battalion and was guarding the bridge when he fell, suffering serious injuries including two broken legs.

He died in Auckland District Hospital six days later. His nephew John Hislop, 73, also attended the ceremony.

The Half Moon Bay resident says it's comical that after a hundred years he now knows the correct series of events that lead to Hislop's death.

''For years I thought he had fallen off the back of a truck along Grafton bridge,'' he said.

John Hislop said his uncle would have been ''most proud'' of today's ceremony and feels deprived to have never met him.

''It's absolutely wonderful that friends, family and the military could be here to celebrate his life,'' he said.

Hislop's service was put together by the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, as well as his family.

Defence Force chief Tim Keating said the decision to include the servicemen on the rolls of honour comes after ongoing research into service personnel files. 

''In the majority of these cases, the military authorities at the time acknowledged their deaths were as a direct result of their service with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force but, for various reasons, their names were not entered on the rolls of honour. 

"It is important that these soldiers are now formally recognised,'' he said.

The other soldiers listed are Private Arthur Joseph Best, Private David Falconer, Trooper Matthew Gallagher, Private Percy Hawken and Private Lester Edward Quintall.


Robert Hislop
YOUNG SOLDIER: World War I serviceman Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop.
John Hislop
MOMENT OF SILENCE: World War I serviceman Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop's nephew John Hislop, 73, front, reflects on his uncle's life.

Western Leader