67 The Great War was over. Lance Corporal Cyril Beattie was on a demobilisation train crossing Germany.
The mood in the chilly compartments must have been buoyant as the soldiers finally were leaving the battlefield. Ahead of the men from the New Zealand Division lay a journey through Belgium then France before crossing the English Channel for ships that would take them home.
It was March 25, 1919 and Beattie, a young Northland farmer, was on board train No25, one of a convoy that had left Cologne that very day.
Beattie, who enlisted with the Auckland Infantry Regiment and joined Kiwi soldiers in Europe six months earlier with another wave of reinforcements, had been in the occupation zone since December.
Many of the New Zealanders were billeted in Mulheim on the banks of the Rhine. Mixing with Germans was forbidden. To keep the soldiers on the straight and narrow, troops were encouraged to attend education classes which taught practical subjects such as farming.
Behind the instruction lay an intention to get the troops thinking about returning to civilian life and future careers.
For the first three months of 1919, troops left the theatre of war in their thousands. Drafts of 700 to 1000 men packed trains from Europe for England. As the ranks thinned, units were combined to keep soldiers on their toes in the event of trouble.
Cologne, where the division was under the control of the British Second Army, headed by General Sir Herbert Plummer, was orderly. Other parts of defeated Germany, however, were riven by political upheaval and economic despair.
As Beattie's train passed the town of Buir, a fire started in his carriage. The cause of the blaze was unclear, but one explanation in Beattie's military file states that rubbish gathered from a corner of the carriage and tossed into the warming stove contained some sort of explosive, possibly cordite.
In the smoke and confusion, it appears that Beattie fell from the moving train through an open door and fractured his skull when he hit a bridge. No one in his carriage noticed he was missing until the train reached Duren a few kilometres further on.
Beattie was taken unconscious to hospital but died from his injuries.
Four days later in the French town of Rouen, a Court of Inquiry heard from three soldiers who were on the train.
One, who produced a piece of cordite at the hearing, told the three-member panel that he had not noticed anyone missing until the train stopped at Duren.
Another soldier said he alerted officers at Duren that a soldier had fallen from a carriage. Both witnesses insisted that when they saw Beattie at Cologne before boarding the train he was "perfectly sober".
The final witness, riding a different carriage to Beattie, said he saw a man fall from the train. As he hit the ground, the soldier's head hit the concrete structure.
In its decision the court found that no one was to blame for Beattie's accidental death. He was buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery. His name is inscribed on the Hokianga Arch of Remembrance, Kohukohu.