Editorial: So let the record show ...

Last updated 05:00 09/06/2014

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History doesn't lack for revisionists. The tendency to reinterpret long-ago events through modern-day sensibilities is a very human one, though it's the source of more than a little lament among purists.

Reinterpreting the historic record is one thing; correcting it is another. Fixing mistakes of public record, be they large ones or small ones, is an honourable business.

So it's no small matter that longtime James Hargest College teacher Jonathan Tucker has produced diary proof that the Southland brigadier general after whom the school is named was on the Normandy beach on D-Day.

This blows to bits the the much-repeated contention that no New Zealander was there for one of the most significant landings in military history

In the wider community Tucker is perhaps better known for his involvement in matters fictional rather than factual, as witnessed by his decades of directing theatrical productions. Some might include his rugby refereeing decisions on that side of the ledger too.

But his knowledge of Hargest is informed by more than his decades at the school from which he is only nominally retired. He researched the subject for his play Brigadier and acquired Hargest's diary.

Is this extra fact significant? You could dismiss it as essentially inconsequential, given that Hargest hit the beach five hours after the invasion began, in an observer's role. But, for Southlanders especially, it adds to the understanding of a truly heroic man, one of this country's most distinguished World War I soldiers, seriously wounded taking a leading part in the Suvla Bay battle at Gallipoli, winner of the Military Cross at the Somme, a veteran of Messines, and at 26 a battalion commander, badly wounded, awarded a DSO and Legion of Honour and twice mentioned in dispatches.

Come World War II, he was initially deemed unfit for service on health reasons but appealed to Prime Minister Peter Fraser and in command of the Fifth Brigade performed a successful delaying action at Olympus Pass, painfully failed to hold Maleme Airport in the loss of Crete, was captured by Rommel in Libya, imprisoned in a castle near Florence, dramatically escaped, showed up again on D-Day, only to be killed in Normandy on August 12 1944.

It's a record worth bearing in mind. Not only by Southlanders, either.

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- The Southland Times

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