Battle of the Somme - young Kiwis pay respects to ancestors who fought there

By Kieran Campbell, in France

18-year-old Warrant Officer Class 2 Emma Kynaston's great-great-uncle Alfred Kynaston was in the first wave of Kiwis to go over the top at the Battle of the Somme.  Photo / New Zealand Defence Force
18-year-old Warrant Officer Class 2 Emma Kynaston's great-great-uncle Alfred Kynaston was in the first wave of Kiwis to go over the top at the Battle of the Somme. Photo / New Zealand Defence Force

It is a tiny badge but its significance is harrowing to comprehend.

Emma Kynaston of Nelson, an 18-year-old Warrant Officer of the New Zealand Cadet Forces, brought it with her this week to the Somme.

Here, 100 years ago it was pinned to the hat of her great-great-uncle Alfred Kynaston from Otago, who was among the first New Zealand soldiers to enter what was then the deadliest battle in the country's history.

"We went up and saw the exact fields he would have fought on and it was quite emotional," Kynaston said.

"I think back to what it would have been like 100 years ago and try to imagine the scene in front of me and imagine him on those battlefields.

"I would hope that he'd be very proud that we're still remembering him 100 years later."

Alfred Kynaston survived the war and returned home to New Zealand where he married his girlfriend.

Beth Sharp's family was not as fortunate.

Her great-uncles John, 42, Hugh, 33, Hubert, 31, and Richard, 30, - four brothers of the same Hughes family - all fought at Somme on the first day of battle.

John and Hubert both died in battle, one half way through writing a letter to their parents breaking the news that he had seen his brother killed.

Richard, who had fought in Gallipoli alongside Hugh, is believed to have been injured by the same shell that killed one of his brothers. He was evacuated to England where he recovered and eventually returned to New Zealand.

Hugh also survived the Somme but died less than 20 years after the war from complications caused by being gassed in battle.

"I think they were totally unaware of what they would be dealing with ... it was probably going to be an adventure," said Sharp, who has visited the Longueval memorial almost every year since her first pilgrimage for the 90th anniversary.

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Sharp said John, the eldest of the boys and a bachelor farmer from Pongakawa in the Bay of Plenty, famously attracted a field punishment for going AWOL only two days before the battle that would claim his life.

"It probably means he went down to a local village after a woman ... at 42 and a bachelor, you suppose he'd have a certain amount of freedom," Sharp says with an affectionate laugh.

"And I suppose, as it happened, if that's what he was doing, good on him ... he died two days later."

Today she will lay a wreath at the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery where John and Hubert Hughes are both remembered. Only John's body was identified. It is buried at Highwood Cemetery nearby.

- NZ Herald

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