Perseverance sorts local soldiers' stories

By Lin Ferguson

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FOUND: Marton historical researcher Pat Simpson found and corrected information on the town's complement of WWI soldiers. PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON
FOUND: Marton historical researcher Pat Simpson found and corrected information on the town's complement of WWI soldiers. PHOTO/LIN FERGUSON

PAT SIMPSON became a researcher for the Marton and Districts Historical Society by accident.

She had been helping the former owner of the Rangitikei Mail, Paul Melody, with filing.

"After he retired he had continued collecting newspaper articles, researching and had amassed a huge number of documents and they needed sorting out, so I said I'd help," she said.

When Mr Melody died suddenly in 2007, Pat decided she might as well carry on.

"So I kept sorting out files and indexing files to make it easier for people to find what they're looking for."

Pat said she found it easier to write the details in an exercise book first.

"Never, ever write on old pieces of loose paper. You must write very neatly, because when you start to type, then you can't read your own writing.

It's very annoying and means you waste time rechecking the details."

Pretty soon Pat had the whole historical filing operation under way and the local people loved her for it.

She works away at her home on the computer checking sites such as Ancestry.com.

Her work on World War I soldiers in the district took a lot of patience, she said.

First she sorted out and indexed all the names in all the newspaper clippings that were stuffed in the boxes. The old clippings were of ballot lists, farewells to the men going to war, men home on leave, men returning home, wounded, killed etc, she said.

Then she started with the 86 names on the Marton Park Cenotaph and the 186 names on the Marton Primary School Roll of Honour and found to her amazement that only about half of those listed were actually local men.

She also found that many of the names had either been spelled wrongly or had the wrong initials.

"You'd think they would have carved right into concrete in the first place."

She also researched 79 names on the embroidered Returned and Services Association (RSA) flag.

Some were also on the Cenotaph and the primary school rolls of honour.

"These men were at Gallipoli. Now all the names and details are in separate folders and easy to find."

Two weeks ago, a Kapiti Coast woman, Robyn Taylor, wrote to the Chronicle hoping someone would recognise an old photograph of a young WWI soldier she believed came from the Marton area.

Mrs Taylor was hoping someone could name him.

She wrote: "My grandmother, Pearl Nagle, died at a good age in 1976. We found buried deep among her possessions a photograph of a nameless young soldier. At the outbreak of WWI, Pearl was living in Marton, so we assume this soldier was from there also."

Pearl, who moved to Wellington, had treasured the photograph for 50 years. It had a note with it: "Just for old times sake - J.P. (Egypt)".

Pat said as soon as she saw the story in the paper she went to her files.

She found "Jack" John Potter, the young man in the photograph, and his brother, Joseph.

Sadly, Jack was killed on the Western Front but older brother George had returned home after a distinguished career for which he was awarded the Military Medal.

Mrs Taylor was thrilled Pat had traced the family's mystery soldier.

"It was all down to Pat Simpson's huge efforts listing fallen soldiers. We are so very grateful."

Pat said she was very happy for the family. "It didn't take me long at all to track him down, so that was good."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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