Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Memorial at last for executed NZ soldier

A New Zealand soldier executed for mutiny during World War I will finally be commemorated at a war memorial in Britain after a dogged campaign by an amateur Wellington historian.

Before the war, Cecil John "Jack" Braithwaite was the "black sheep" of a prominent Dunedin family.

The self-titled "Bohemian journalist" and raconteur had a taste for alcohol and nose for trouble.

When the dark days of The Great War came, and his younger brother Horace was badly wounded during the Anzac landings at Gallipoli, he volunteered for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

But Private Braithwaite was far from a model soldier. After a year in the army, he lost his lance corporal stripe for being absent without leave and twice trying to escape.

The 34-year-old was sent to a British army military prison in northern France where, on August 28, 1916, he became embroiled in a row with a boisterous Australian prisoner.

Braithwaite stuck up for his Anzac comrade, later claiming he was trying to pacify the situation, but was court-martialled for mutiny.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death. At dawn on October 29, 1916, Braithwaite was executed by firing squad.

Five New Zealanders were executed during the war. The Australian Government did not allow death sentences.

After years of campaigning, Private Braithwaite was posthumously pardoned by the New Zealand Government in 2000 and by Britain in 2006.

A Shot at Dawn memorial, remembering those executed by their own side during World War I, stands at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England.

Private Braithwaite's nephew David visited in 2005. He wandered around all 306 memorial stakes but there wasn't one for his uncle. He was bewildered why he had been forgotten. "I was told he didn't qualify because his crime was mutiny," said Mr Braithwaite, a former Mayor of Hamilton.

Mr David Braithwaite pictured in front of a photograph dating back to 1903 of his uncle, Private Jack Braithwaite, who was executed by the British Army on a charge of mutiny in October 1916.
Mr David Braithwaite pictured in front of a photograph dating back to 1903 of his uncle, Private Jack Braithwaite, who was executed by the British Army on a charge of mutiny in October 1916.

"I began to try and right that wrong but found it a very tiring business."

Last year, Waikanae Beach amateur historian Geoff McMillan phoned him out of the blue. He, too, had been shocked during a visit to the memorial by the private's omission.

After a year of relentless campaigning, the memorial's landscape and memorials committee has agreed to Mr McMillan's calls to have the shot soldier's name included.

"It's been a long battle as mutineers have been treated as something akin to murderers but this is a very positive result," Mr McMillan said.

Geoff McMillan at Alrewas National Memorial in England in 2015. Amateur historian Geoff McMillan was instrumental in getting Jack Braithwaite recognised at the Shot at Dawn memorial.
Geoff McMillan at Alrewas National Memorial in England in 2015. Amateur historian Geoff McMillan was instrumental in getting Jack Braithwaite recognised at the Shot at Dawn memorial.

David Braithwaite, 79, is delighted with the news. Growing up, his family never spoke about Jack, one of 16 children to Joseph Braithwaite - bookseller and Mayor of Dunedin in 1905-06. Five sons served in the war. Two were killed and another died of his injuries after coming home.

"We had a proud family history in the war but when Jack was executed, his father died a few months later of a broke heart. No doubt about that," David Braithwaite said.

"Jack was the black sheep, a black mark on the family, which is a terrible shame."

The dishonourable burden caused the once highly respected Braithwaite family, to "disintegrate", he believes.

But news that Jack's tragic story will be properly recognised has helped to reunite the family.

"We do not eulogise Jack. He was a rascal and certainly not the greatest soldier but he did not deserve to suffer the fate he did."

Lost medal reunited with owner

It's an Anzac story with a happy ending - a woman who found a military medal in a gutter has returned it to its rightful owner.

Karin Cunningham was hopping into a taxi at Palmerston North Airport on Monday when she saw in the gutter the bronze medal with a blue, green and red ribbon.

She took a photo of the regalia - a New Zealand Defence Service Medal with a coat of arms on its rear, and posted it to Facebook. She contacted the army as well, and the social media post was shared almost 2500 times. Hundreds of retired servicemen and women messaged her with tips to find the owner.

She said the Royal New Zealand Air Force finally pinpointed the owner as Ohakea 24-year-old Sam Angliss, who plans to wear the medal at the dawn parade on Monday.

- NZ Herald

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