A desire to know more about a family member's wartime sacrifice led Waikanae resident Gavin Wilson all the way to the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

Wilson's passion came from the feats of his great-uncle who fought and died in World War I, in August 1915.

James Michael Hagerty, known as Uncle Jimmy to Wilson, was a champion boxer world-famous in Timaru.

Often called "Little Jimmy"' by his grandmother, Wilson made a trip to Gallipoli in 2014 to see where he fell.


"My passion is the war. I researched all about it, read all the books I could find but I wanted it to be more personal, because it was family."

Going on a week-long tour of Gallipoli, Hill 60 was not on the itinerary, however the guide was more than happy to go there for Wilson after hearing about Uncle Jimmy's story.

Jimmy was the reigning New Zealand professional featherweight and lightweight boxing champion and a former champion steeplechase jockey.

His popularity in his hometown of Timaru was such that upon leaving for war he was carried on the shoulders of men down the Timaru train station platform as a final salute before the troop train left for war.

James Michael Hagerty, right, with trainer Jack Fitzsimmons before World War I.
James Michael Hagerty, right, with trainer Jack Fitzsimmons before World War I.

His successes led to a film being made about him called The Kid From Timaru.

Jimmy was in the front line of mounteds, sheltering in the trenches when he was mortally wounded by shrapnel while attacking a Turkish trench 60 metres away.

Before this happened he said to a friend who had been wounded, "I won't get back to New Zealand, good luck old man" and an hour later he was dead.

Wilson visited the exact spot on Hill 60 where the trenches were, metres away from where Jimmy would have fallen.

"They just buried him where he fell. The percentage they buried in cemeteries was very small. For most they just dug a hole, they didn't have time to move them.

"When we arrived we came to a clearing and there was this small obelisk. Nobody really knows it was there but his name was on it so I put a poppy there and did a haka for all those boys. It was a very emotional time.

"I asked the other guys on the tour to leave me for a bit because I just needed to say to these guys 'We haven't forgotten you'.

"While Gallipoli is so far away and was a hundred years ago, you realise these are the guys who built our country.

"It was a very emotional trip. I shed a few tears when I was at that obelisk for all those young men.

"Everywhere you go it's death. There's a feeling about it you can't escape, you just feel that desolation, death.

"It's a beautiful place, Gallipoli. The water is crystal clear, the sunsets and the sunrises are just unbelievable but then you turn around and look at the hill and you see the death."

Standing within metres of where his Uncle Jimmy fell it is only now, later in life, that Gavin Wilson has become interested in his family history.

Making the trip to Gallipoli is something he thinks everyone should do.

"It was an amazing experience. I think everyone needs to experience it but I don't know if I could go back. When it's your own family it's pretty touching.

"What you feel in that place, it can't be described."