Visit a chance to honour war dead


Returning home to New Zealand on a trip researching family history included a special visit to a historic Dunedin war memorial arch this week for Janet Statham and her partner Paul Gandell.

The couple, who live near Sydney in Australia, spent time on Monday at the old war memorial arch on the former High St School site — now part of the Toiora Cohousing complex.

Among the names of World War 1 dead listed on the memorial are those of MsStatham’s grandfather and great-uncle Frank Statham and Clive Statham, killed at Gallipoli in 1915, and that of her grandmother’s cousin Eric Summers Smith, killed at Passchendaele in 1917.

Having seen the war memorial 10 years ago, when it was in poor condition, Ms Statham was pleasantly surprised to see it looking much improved during Monday’s visit.

“The memorial is looking great, and the names are so much easier to read,” she said.

“It is overwhelming to see it restored like this, and it is so nice to feel that the history will not be lost.”

Ms Statham and Mr Gandell also met with Toiora Cohousing resident Kristin Jack, who is working on developing a peace garden around the war memorial, along with fellow residents Pip Ross and Gay Buckingham.

Alongside existing plantings, the group is about to plant white and red poppies, which will bloom underneath the arch in spring.

Ms Statham began researching her military ancestors during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. She has put the information into a Statham Family History book.

Brothers Major Frank Hadfield Statham (35) and Corporal Clive Statham (23), were killed together, along with Sergeant-Major Porteous and six or seven other men, by an exploding shell at the height of the battle of Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, in August, 1915. The shell almost certainly came from inside the Anzac lines.

Writing to their father, C.H. Statham, Lieutenant L.G. Wilson of the Otago Battalion said “the major, as an officer among officers, was placed on the highest pedestal of respect and admiration, by the men was loved and was a born leader”.

“In every operation in which our battalion engages, it was the Major and his Company who led the offensive.”

Ms Statham said her own father, Bill Statham, was just 4 years old when his father and uncle were killed at Gallipoli, and had been affected by it his whole life.

A fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force in World War 2, Bill Statham sponsored a Turkish girl, Melek, through the Red Cross in an act of healing.

He often spoke of Chunuk Bair, and encouraged his daughters to visit the site, which they did during their OE in their early 20s.

In 2015, on the exact centenary of her grandfather’s death, Ms Statham visited Chunuk Bair and stood on the summit to read her own tribute to Frank and Clive.

“It was a chilling and emotional experience,” she said.

Through her family history research, Ms Statham also discovered her relationship to another name on the war memorial — that of medical student Eric Summers Smith, who was killed at Passchendaele in 1917. Smith was her grandmother’s cousin, and so is also a relative.

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