Soldier's cross found under pile of rubbish

BY SONIA GERKEN
Last updated 05:00 21/04/2010
David Kingsford
SONIA GERKEN/The Southland Times
PLACE OF HONOUR: Gore RSA president David Kingsford with a rare World War I cross that once marked the grave, in a cemetery near Flanders, of a fallen soldier.

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A rare historical artefact from World War I, found languishing among rubbish in a Lumsden church, has been preserved for future generations.

The hand-crafted wooden cross, which marked the grave of Captain Eric Buckingham Alley in a cemetery near Flanders, was believed to be one of only two crosses of its type in New Zealand.

It is to be hung at the Gore Returned Services Association rooms in time for Anzac Day, courtesy of a joint initiative between the RSA and the Gore District Council arts and heritage department.

As Gore RSA vice-president Bruce Cavanagh yesterday put it: "It's the result of a group of like-minded people preserving the past for the future and telling one of those stories that needs to be told, otherwise it would be lost".

Riversdale historian Dr Don Mackay, who tracked down the cross to Lumsden's old Anglican Church and researched much of its history, said he knew it was a significant artefact as soon as he saw it.

Very few of the original crosses were sent back to New Zealand and even fewer have survived, he said.

Inquiries at the Waiouru war museum have led him to believe the Alley cross was one of only two in New Zealand.

The cross had hung in the church for many years before being consigned to the foyer floor.

"When I saw it amongst the rubbish I almost fell over," he said.

Captain Alley, a brother of Chinese missionary Rewi Alley and All Black Geoffrey Alley, died of gunshot wounds after leading the first large-scale New Zealand raid on German trenches in Armentieres, in June 1916. The 1.2m-tall cross was made by the soldiers he had trained in special trench-raiding tactics.

The 23-year-old was buried in a cemetery in northern France, near the Belgian border, which fell into enemy hands during the German spring offensive in 1918. Following the liberation of the area, the cross was found blown out of the ground by shellfire and was replaced by a standard wooden cross, Dr Mackay said.

He acknowledged the work of Lumsden RSA, in particular president Evan Hankey, who ensured it was put under lock and key soon after it was found in the old church.

Captain Eric Alley's story and the cross will hang in a special case in the Gore RSA foyer, flanked by Great War roll of honour boards from two Gore primary schools, also new additions to the RSA.

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- The Southland Times

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