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3News: StAC Students Visit WWI Brockenhurst hospital

3News: StAC Students Visit WWI Brockenhurst hospital

by Sam McNeill -
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When we think of the effort of New Zealand soldiers during World War I, the overwhelming story is of those 17,000 who didn't survive.

But in a small village in southeast England, there's a place that helped send at least 20,000 Kiwi soldiers home alive.

This week the descendants of some of those soldiers went back to the site where their ancestors were saved.

Harrison Cooper is not the first of his family to stand in the graveyard of the church in England's New Forest.

When his great-grandfather, James, was there just under 100 years ago, there was a danger it could be his final resting place. He'd been wounded on the Western Front and sent to the New Zealand hospital in Brockenhurst.

"My great-grandfather must have been one of the last to leave Brockenhurst", Mr Cooper says.

His great-grandfather was more fortunate than his brother, who had been killed six days into battle in Gallipoli.

Students from St Andrew's school in Christchurch have travelled to Gallipoli, the Western Front and now England to follow the journey of those lucky enough to survive.

"It's actually very nice coming here, especially seeing the contrast to where he was on the Western Front," says Mr Cooper. "[It] was a very loud and horrible place full of death, and coming here where it's very quiet and peaceful and hearing that even though everyone was injured, they were all still happy and looked after extremely well."

Now that the hospital site has been turned into a community centre, you'd hardly realise the significance the area 100 years ago. Back then it was called Tin Town because it was just a series of corrugated iron sheds - sheds that were operating theatres to treat the soldiers.

Of the estimated 20,000 Kiwi troops treated in Brockenhurst, 93 died.

Lucia Kennedy believes she has found the grave of a great-uncle - a discovery that comes just a few days after finding his brothers' name on a war memorial in northern France.

"It was quite a shock. I started crying. I was really sad. It hit me it was the reality," Ms Kennedy says.

The Lynch family from Christchurch happened to be visiting Brockenhurst the same day as the school group. Thirteen-year-old Will says visiting the place where his great-grandfather was treated puts the ANZAC centenary in perspective.

"It makes it more important to us and I think that's what's needed. We need to really think about and reflect on how big an event it was and the lives that were lost. We have to remember them and I guess that's what's been realised coming here today," he says.

It's a reminder too of those who survived, often reluctant to share their stories afterwards, but their tales of heroism are still remembered in tiny corners on the other side of the world.

3 News

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