Students tell tale of fallen old boys

By Elizabeth Binning

Sacred Heart College students Sean Durkin (from left), Nicholas Garelja and Paul Marcenac. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Sacred Heart College students Sean Durkin (from left), Nicholas Garelja and Paul Marcenac. Photo / Paul Estcourt

When the Last Post sounds on Sunday, a group of Sacred Heart College boys will be transported back to France where they stood at the graves of past students who gave their lives for their country.

They will remember the eerie silence as the early morning sun filtered through the leaves, the way the dew glistened on the grass and the names etched into headstones that represented lives lost so young.

Those names were of past students who have been brought back to life thanks to three years of research by current students. The research, which included speaking to descendants, has culminated in a film which tells the stories of six fallen students and will air on Maori television on Anzac Day.

Junior School director Margaret Graham, who led the project, said the idea came to her about three years ago when she was sitting in the school's chapel which has the names of 144 students killed at war, etched on the walls.

"It just suddenly hit upon me that each one of these has a story."

Knowing that "all those wonderful stories are nearly passing out of living memory" Mrs Graham began a project which involved more than 100 students and a trip halfway around the world to the fallen soldiers' graves.

It started with Year 8 students who researched 30 of the fallen past students but an opportunity to take it a step further presented itself when senior students went on a French history trip. During the poignant journey students sought out the graves of fallen college old boys. Dressed in formal uniform and carrying Anzac poppies and crosses that had been made at Sacred Heart, the students went between graves - praying, performing the haka and singing the school song in front of each final resting place.

Many of the students, like Sean Durkin, had researched a specific former student before the trip so finally seeing their resting place was a moving experience.

"It was early in the morning and the sun was filtering through the leaves of the trees and the dew was glistening so it was that surreal feeling," said Sean. "You see images of it here but when you get there it's completely different because there's the whole emotional side because all these soldiers are not much older than us."

Sean had researched the story of Francis O'Brien who died in Le Quesnoy. The Waiheke man, who died from an infected wound four days before the end of the war, was buried in the Caudry British Cemetery.

Like in many of the stories researched, Sean said Mr O'Brien's descendants didn't know much about what happened to him.

"They are so grateful for it because they now know more about the history."

Sacred Brotherhood premiered at the college last night. Many of the soldiers' descendants travelled from around the country for the screening.

The film will be screened on Maori TV at 8am on Sunday.

Send us your messages and memories of loved ones who have served in past wars or to people currently serving in the armed forces.

You can also post a message directly in the Auckland War Memorial Museum's official Book of Remembrance.

- NZ Herald

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