Family memories a winner

23:58, Mar 11 2014
Emily O’Connell
REMEMBERING THEM: Garin College’s Emily O’Connell will compete in the national finals of an RSA speech competition.

Despite having never met them, Garin College student Emily O'Connell feels a genuine connection to her ancestors who fought in World War I and II - and she can make an audience feel it, too.

On Sunday Emily, 17, won the regional section of the RSA's annual ANZ RSA Cyril Bassett VC speech competition with a talk inspired by her great-great-uncle Edward Fitzgerald, who was killed while fighting on the front line at Passchendaele during World War I.

Mr Fitzgerald was 25 when he left his Tuatapere home in Southland to enlist in the army. He was killed in 1917.

In addition to his sacrifice, Emily said both her grandfathers fought in WWII and made it home alive, although they died before she was born.

She said she asked people in her family for their memories of Mr Fitzgerald, and she also used the internet to research him on the Auckland War Memorial Museum's website.

"It's always been the family way, remembering past generations," she said.


Nelson RSA district president Derek Nees said there had been a fantastic level of interest in the competition, which began in 2010.

Garin head of English, Glynis Woodhead, said she thought Emily's speech stood out because of the personal connection the student had conveyed.

Emily is school captain of Christian service at Garin, and headgirl.

"Normally when I'm hearing those speeches, it's about other people and abstract ideas," Ms Woodhead said.

Emily was very good at speeches, she spoke beautifully, she said

Emily will compete against seven other regional finalists for the national prize at Wellington's Government House on April 4. The winner will receive a trip to Gallipoli, plus cash and technology prizes.

Emily and Garin College each received $1000 for her regional win.