Revealed: poignant history behind mystery war photos

By Anne Penketh

Marguerite Beaufve in 1939 (inset left); Alic Beaufve in 1915 (inset right); grandson Alic Merlivat. Photo / Alic Merlivat collection, Anne Penketh
Marguerite Beaufve in 1939 (inset left); Alic Beaufve in 1915 (inset right); grandson Alic Merlivat. Photo / Alic Merlivat collection, Anne Penketh

A long search to identify a mystery woman photographed in a garden of the Somme during World War I, wearing a Kiwi lieutenant's uniform, has laid bare a family history of wartime love and tragedy.

The photos of the woman, saluting in uniform or sitting in a long dark skirt and white blouse on the knee of a New Zealand officer outside a villa in Hallencourt, were published by the Herald in July.

Thanks to an interview with her grandson in the shuttered red-brick house outside which the couple posed, and to military records held by the NZ Defence Ministry, the poignant story of two families can at last be pieced together.

The woman in the pictures taken almost 100 years ago was Frenchwoman Marguerite Lefebvre, whose father ran a decorating business in Paris. She was sent to the house of her grandparents in Hallencourt, a village about 50km behind the front lines of the Somme, after her family became concerned that Paris might be targeted by the Germans.

Marguerite and Alic Boeufve in the garden of the Villa des Acacias in Hallencourt, France, after their marriage in 1917. Photo / Alic Merlivat Archive
Marguerite and Alic Boeufve in the garden of the Villa des Acacias in Hallencourt, France, after their marriage in 1917. Photo / Alic Merlivat Archive

In Hallencourt, Marguerite fell in love with Alic Beaufve, from Wellington, who enlisted in February 1915 and served in Egypt before reaching the Western Front with the Otago Mounted Rifles in 1916.

Lieutenant Beaufve and Marguerite Lefebvre were married in Paris in May 1917, when Marguerite was 20. The photos in the garden were taken around that time as Marguerite is wearing a wedding band.

The couple - who moved back to Paris after the war when Lieutenant Beaufve was discharged - had a daughter, Aliette. But in 1928, 11 years after their marriage, Lieutenant Beaufve leapt to his death from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

Mr Beaufve's mother Ida was a colourful character married to Robert Beaufve, the French consul-general in New Zealand in the early 1900s.

Lieutenant Beaufve was mentioned in dispatches for his "devotion to duty" as a divisional claims officer in France. His "tact and judgment" which fostered friendly ties between the Kiwis and the Allies - presumably owing to his Franco-New Zealand background - were of "direct and material benefit to the service".

His grandson Alic Merlivat posed for a picture outside the house in the very spot where his grandparents had been photographed.

The house is now owned by the Hallencourt mayor, Pierre Martin, who dug out other documents linking the village to New Zealand. New Zealander Private Frank Hughes was shot for desertion during World War I. He is buried in the local cemetery. In 2006, a delegation came from Wellington with an official pardon.

- NZ Herald

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