Remembering 100 Years On

Since July 2014, remembrance ceremonies have been taking place all around the world, to mark 100 years since the start of the Great War.

In October our family played our own small part, in commemorating the untimely death of our Great Uncle Ellis Eugene Harrison.

Private E.E. Harrison was a simple farm boy, born in the Taranaki and sadly killed on the 1st October 1916. He his first day at the front. He was only 22 years old.

A few years ago, while on holiday, our family drove to the Somme to visit his memorial in Northern France. Unlike the rest of battleground, the landscape around the village of Longueval is benign and scant, still struggling to recover from the decimation a century ago. There are no quant buildings of note, no classic French architecture, nothing at all curious to the eye.

But amongst all this green desolation stands Caterpillar Cemetery. The gardens are respectful, pristine and manicured. And Ellis’s name stands engraved on the memorial wall: there is no individual headstone for him, another poor soul lost to the winds of war.

How do you acknowledge an unknown ancestor killed on the other side of the world a hundred years ago? To linger in the Caterpillar Cemetery, and read the names of these young men, and their New Zealand origins, is not easy; even on holiday our mere presence here evoked a strange longing for home. But eternity has no scale here and you do not want to leave, for fearing of turning your back on Ellis and his mates, here alone in this foreign sanctuary. So we recognised him the best way we could do at the time, ran our fingers through the engraved letters on the wall name and tied our All Blacks flag in the nearest tree, leaving it to flutter in the breeze as a reminder of his origins.

On the night of the 100th anniversary of his death a few of the family went out for a meal, and we had a toast for Ellis. Like every family gatherings we had a few good laughs at one another’s expense. If Ellis had been anything like the rest of the family he too should have grown old, enjoying the warmth of family, grandkids and gatherings like ours. Alas it wasn’t to be. One can simply hope that in another 100 years another group of our family get together and remember Ellis and his mates, and have a drink for him. It would be unthinkable to forget.

 

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