Forty years ago, Roger McKinlay was digging a trench at his Glenfield home when his spade struck something. Picking through the North Shore clay, he found an old medal, dented by his unintended blow. McKinlay never stopped wondering who its rightful owners were. He got in touch with Ian Martyn, who specialises in reuniting medals with families. And yesterday, on the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele where the medal was won by Te Aroha cheesemaker Albert Everitt, the finder and the fixer met Everitt's descendants for the first time. Kurt Bayer reports.
Albert Everitt was no model soldier. To have later been awarded the Military Medal, an esteemed decoration for gallantry on World War I's Western Front, his exploits must have been truly heroic. The rakish, fresh-faced soldier who came from a long line of gold seekers and boat-builders had been a marked man early in the war - by his own side.
Private Everitt upset his superiors in March 1917 after he "absented himself without leave (AWOL) for 9.5 hours" in France.
He received 14 days of field punishment where offenders were placed in fetters and handcuffs and attached to a gun wheel or fence post for up to two hours per day.
But despite his run-ins with his commanding officers, Private Everitt was a fearless soldier. As a teenage member of his local territorial militia, the Te Aroha Rifle Volunteers, he had enlisted in 1916, landing in France months later.
And he was just 20 years old when the order came to take a ridge outside the small town of Passchendaele. Within just a few hours, 846 young Kiwi men were dead, though Everitt came through unscathed. His action during the main attack even caught the eye of his superiors who recommended him for a Military Medal for acts of gallantry.
After review and consideration in London, he was granted the Military Medal a month later. His citation reads: "For conspicuous good work during the attack on Passchendaele Ridge on the 12th October 1917. He took a prominent part in the fighting for the enemy's strong point known as the Cemetery, and afterwards made valuable reconnaissances under conditions of difficulty and great danger."
Ian Martyn, who researched Everitt's pre-war and military history, says Everitt's bravery at Passchendaele saw him promoted to Lance Corporal and given two weeks leave in England.
But on June 7, 1918 Everitt's luck ran out in France when he was mortally wounded by gunshots to his head, chest and right thigh.
May Everitt received her son's Military Medal at a ceremony at Auckland Town Hall in June 1919.
But what happened to it over the next 50 years remains a mystery.
The next time it appears is when McKinlay struck it with a spade in his back yard.
"I phoned the RSA at the time, wondering what to do with it, but they weren't too interested. I wonder if they would be more so these days," McKinlay, 62, said.
A grandfather served at Passchendaele and McKinlay researched his ancestor. But when he tried to do the same for the name etched on the back of the medal, he kept drawing blanks.
Eventually, he found Martyn's Medals Reunited website and made contact.
Martyn began the painstaking task of tracking down Everitt's relatives. An obituary notice put Martyn on the right track, and he traced great nephews, Terry and Tony Everitt.
Yesterday after a service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum's WWI Hall of Memories commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele, the finder, the fixer, and the brothers all met for the first time.
"It's just magic, such a long chance, how things have just all lined up," said Tony, a 65-year-old from Morrinsville.
Terry and Tony Everitt never knew about their war hero ancestor.
But thanks to Martyn's forensic examination, they are delighted by the addition to their family history.
"I can't thank these two guys enough," he said after meeting Martyn and McKinlay.