Taihape researcher on Sullivan's ID trail

By Roger Moroney

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Jacob Poulain  holds a framed photograph of Sergeant Sullivan and is keen to give it back to his family if he can find them. Photo / Warren Buckland
Jacob Poulain holds a framed photograph of Sergeant Sullivan and is keen to give it back to his family if he can find them. Photo / Warren Buckland

The search for the "soldier in the photo" has taken a step forward with a Taihape-based retired colonel and military researcher coming up with a possible full name for the man marked only as "Sullivan" in the framed picture uncovered by Hastings man Jacob Poulain about 15 years ago.

"It sounds interesting so we will have to see - it is something I would like to see solved so I hope someone comes forward," Mr Poulain said after hearing what historian Raymond Seymour had to say.

Mr Poulain bought the painting unknowingly at a garage sale - as then it was covered by a tapestry work and he was more interested in the oak frame.

Only when he took the tapestry off he was startled to see the photo of a soldier which simply has the words "Sergeant Sullivan" on the back.

Mr Poulain approached Hawke's Bay Today and the photo, with the few details he had about it, was published last Saturday.

Which was when Mr Seymour spotted it while he and his wife were enjoying a coffee in Havelock North.

"As a military researcher I couldn't resist the challenge to see if I could solve it," he said.

After arriving back at his home he began digging through his extensive archive material and said he was "reasonably confident" the soldier in the picture could be 25/240 Sergeant Eugene Francis Sullivan who while born in Auckland had his last address listed as Dannevirke where he had been working on a farm before enlisting in 1915 at the age of 30.

"Without examining the photograph, in order to attempt to identify any other clues that may not be that apparent to a casual observer, all I had to go on was that he probably was a 'sergeant' and that he was in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade," Mr Seymour said.

"Armed with these two factors, I identified that there were 12 'Sullivans' in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and from this I was able to research them all which resulted in finding just one of them being a 'sergeant'."

Mr Seymour's research revealed he had been born in Auckland on October 1, 1885, and gave his next-of-kin as his father, a Mr J Sullivan who also worked on a farm in Dannevirke.

He embarked for service aboard the troop ship Ulimaroa in February 1916 with 3 Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade and disembarked in Egypt on March 13.

He was then posted on to France and on July 1, 1916, was wounded in action and his injuries were so severe he was sent to England to recover.

On April 15, 1917, he was transferred to 15 Company of 3 Battalion and appointed "acting sergeant" - and while wearing the three stripes of that rank did not receive a sergeant's pay.

He returned to France in May and a month later, on June 13, was again wounded in action, suffering injuries to his head, a hand and a shoulder.

The following day he died of those injuries and was buried in the Trois Arbres Cemetery at Steenwerck in northern France.

"But in the short time I have spent on the research I was unable to locate any leads on relatives," Mr Seymour said.

While he had a birth date there were no other details or reference to his birth.

"It's very interesting so we will have to wait and see," Mr Poulain said, hoping someone would recognise the full name, and also recognise his face in the painting.

"I would like to pass it on to family or otherwise to the RSA perhaps."

- Anybody with any information about "Eugene Francis Sullivan" is asked to contact Hawke's Bay Today.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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