Could Kevin Milne's great uncle Ernie be New Zealand's unknown warrior?

Former Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne said the main thing was that 100 years later the medals were back with family. Photo / File
Former Fair Go presenter Kevin Milne said the main thing was that 100 years later the medals were back with family. Photo / File

Broadcaster Kevin Milne says he's always loved watching shows where families are reunited with long lost items of sentimental value.

So when he realised a set of medals from a soldier who fought in the battle of the Somme who was featured on Seven Sharp this week belonged to his great uncle, he felt like he'd won the lottery.

Milne, who presented Fair Go from 1983-2010, told Jack Tame on Newstalk ZB on Saturday that a friend had watched an episode of the TVNZ show and recalled that Milne had family members with the same last name as the mystery soldier who fought in World War I.

He sent Milne a link to the story online.

The medals and a plaque had been sent to Seven Sharp by Auckland man who was hoping they'd be returned to the soldier's family.

"I watched the story, and to my astonishment, Sergeant Ernest Joseph O'Donohue turned out the be my grandma's brother, Uncle Ernie."

"There was scant information," Milne told Newstalk ZB.

"The medals had the name Ernest Joseph O'Donohue on them and Government records showed, poignantly, that he had been killed in the battle of the Somme, on the first day of New Zealand's involvement, 100 years ago."

New Zealand infantry went "over the top" in battle of the Somme, in Northern France, at 6.20am on 15 September, 1916.

O'Donohue was killed in action.

Milne said records provided a photo of his uncle, a Christchurch address, the name of his wife and the fact that he had three kids.

Milne said he had the medals and plaques of his uncle's younger twin brothers Laurence and Leo.

The following day he received an email from his son with a follow up story on Seven Sharp, which Milne had also not seen.

It showed the memorabilia being presented to Ann Gregan, 80, Milne's great uncle's granddaughter, his second cousin.

"I love stories when long lost items are repatriated to their owners or relatives, but being someone who could solve the mystery was a surprising thrill that I'd never been through."

He spoke to his cousin and both of them said they'd had the same reaction - it was like winning Lotto.

"We don't know how the medals got separated, but Ernie's widow got married again after the war and we suspect the medals didn't mean quite as much to the children of that marriage."

He said the main thing was that 100 years later they were back with the family. "And we have a thoughtful Auckland man, who'd been given the medals by a collector, to thank."

Milne said the remains of his uncle were buried in an unmarked grave at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery Longueval France.

The remains of New Zealand's unknown warrior were exhumed from an unmarked grave at that same cemetery and taken to Wellington in 2004, he said.

"It's a long shot, but our unknown warrior could be Uncle Ernie, who died in the battle of the Somme and whose medals have now also been returned."

- NZ Herald

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