A Levin woman has devoted countless hours documenting the sacrifice and service of Horowhenua soldiers involved in two World Wars so they will never be forgotten.

Linda Fletcher has spent more than a decade researching the history of Horowhenua servicemen involved in both World War I and World War II and painstakingly pieced it together in recently released books.

Levin woman Linda Fletcher has spend more than a decade researching the war effort and stories of soldiers who served from Horowhenua in war.
Levin woman Linda Fletcher has spend more than a decade researching the war effort and stories of soldiers who served from Horowhenua in war.

In what can only be described as a "labour of love", there was already a World War I book Horowhenua and the Great War 1914-1918 released, with the World War II book Remembering...Horowhenua and the Second World War ready for publishing.

In between times Fletcher had also documented the history of the Returned and Services Association in Horowhenua, just in time for its centenary celebrations early next month.

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Fletcher said she was uncomfortable with the term author and deliberately referred to the work as a compilation, rather than writings.

"I haven't said I am an author. I have just compiled it. I couldn't call myself an author...I have had so much help," she said.

She thanked all those who were involved, and people who had come forward with photos and stories of their family members.

"How many hours? I couldn't say, sometimes four or five a day, sometimes eight - always at night," she said.

"It's a cliche but all my work has been a labour of love."

Her journey was one of discovery with many untold stories coming to light when putting together the books, especially the second book as some World War II veterans were still alive at the time she began collecting information.

"They all had fantastic stories to tell. There were many "aha" moments as they shared things that had never been told," she said.

Initially she set out to document those who had died in battle in World War I, then to include those who were awarded medals. But she soon realised any publication needed to cover all those who served.

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"So many people would say to me "what about the ones who came back?" She said.

The Cenotaph at the Levin War Memorial.
The Cenotaph at the Levin War Memorial.

That meant covering all of Horowhenua - Foxton, Shannon, Manakau, Moutoa, Tokomaru and the Weraroa Peace Gates, and honours boards in churches, schools and community halls.

A feature of the World War II book was the inclusion of many stories that Fletcher had managed to find and compile that made for astonishing reading and conveyed without pretence the tragic circumstances in which many young men died.

Of the 49 names on the Roll of Honour at the Levin RSA were 21 men who died in the Royal New Zealand Airforce. The youngest was 20. The oldest, just 30.

The idea to document the stories of these men was born in 2006 when former Horowhenua Mayor Sonny Sciascia suggested an Adopt an Anzac campaign at the end of Anzac Day service.

In her preface to the World War II book, Fletcher tells how Sciascia lost an uncle in World War I, Charles Sciascia, and a brother, Leslie, in World War II.

Sciascia said he had known his brother, but knew little of his uncle, and he suggested more should be done to learn about men who had served and died to make them "real people" before it was too late.

The Adopt An Anzac group was born, with then Mayor Brendan Duffy and special projects officer Dennis Cole calling a meeting of interested people.

A memorial at the Levin RSA clubrooms
A memorial at the Levin RSA clubrooms

Fletcher said the challenge for the group was to have the names on Cenotaphs become more than just letters and initials. Their memory deserved more, and so began the task of documenting their history.

At the time, Sciascia had said "my brother was always a real person because I knew him. My uncle is now a real person to me".

Fletcher said the group was grateful for the contributions families and others had made in sharing stories and photographs.

Fletcher's late father Alex was a World War II veteran who served in Egypt and Italy in the 27 (Machine Gun Battalion).

Alex Fletcher joined the Levin RSA in 1947 and was president from 1950-1959, a time when his three children were born, and remained active within RSA as patron and with other community organisations until he died two years ago, aged 96.

Fletcher said she often found herself wishing her father was still around to help her as she gathered information for the books, as he was a wealth of knowledge.

Linda Fletcher's car and garage. She has a personalised number plate that said We Will REMEBR Them, and a New Zealand flag flying in her backyard.
Linda Fletcher's car and garage. She has a personalised number plate that said We Will REMEBR Them, and a New Zealand flag flying in her backyard.

"I would sometimes swear at him for not being alive now," she said, which only served to highlight how important the memories she had already gathered were.

Because of her father's service she was brought up with an acute knowledge of the sacrifices that New Zealand soldiers had made, and although never forced, as a child she remembered attending Anzac Day dawn services.

"I grew up with an appreciation of their war. We just grew up with it," she said.

Fletcher said after World War I each town erected cenotaphs to remember those that had fallen, and the first book featured a chapter dedicated to those memorials.

After World War II many War Memorial Halls were built instead of cenotaphs, which were documented in a chapter in the World War II book.

Meanwhile, the 100-year history of the local RSA was captured in a 44-page booklet that Fletcher was busy fine-tuning in time for the May 10 celebrations.

Researching the history of the RSA proved difficult as many archives were ruined when an undetected leak in the roof of the building destroyed boxes of documents.

The first 75 years were well-documented though with a feature in the Horowhenua Chronicle in 1994 detailing much of its history. The rest required searching through significant dates in archives of newspapers.