October 24 will mark 100 years since Lance-corporal Robert “Bob” Brown, of Inch Clutha, while fighting in France during World War 1, sent a letter back home to his friend Jack Rutherford.
The letter detailed the many horrors he was up against, with the deaths of many of his friends from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade 2nd Battalion, and his own injuries to contend with.
“I can hardly realise it yet that Jim is gone and also poor Andy, but God knows what is best for us all .. I am in hospital and have been in five days with pains in my shoulders and a bit of a cold but do not think that I will be long here as the rest treatment is helping them already.”
Stanley Rutherford, Jack’s grandson, read this letter to a gathering in Kaitangata at this year’s Anzac Day.
“The more we looked into this Bob character, the more tragic the story became,” Mr Rutherford told the Clutha Leader
The concluding lines of the letter read “Well, Jack, I hope these few lines find you all in the best of health as it leaves me as stated and tell Jeannie not to worry about me as I am still in God’s hands and he knows what is best. With love to the children. From Your Old Friend Bob.”
The Jeannie mentioned here was Stanley Rutherford’s grandmother, Jack’s wife, who was believed to have worked as a housekeeper in Bob’s parents’ house, and also that of a close family friend.
Bob was about 32 when he went to war, a farmer with no children. He never made it home.
He died in the battle for the liberation of Le Quesnoy on November 4, 1918, one of New Zealand’s most celebrated victories during the conflict.
Mr Rutherford said: “I went there to visit his grave, and people still come up to you and thank you, as a New Zealander, for what was done there.”
In a cruel twist of fate, Bob’s death came only days after he was released from hospital, and days away from the end of the war.
The Armistice was signed on November 11 in Compiegne, France.
After being called up at the beginning of the war, Bob’s brothers James and Mathew lodged appeals with the Military Appeals Court, explaining they had a farm to look after.
This ultimately failed and both men were sent off to fight.
Bob volunteered, under what Mr Rutherford called “extreme pressure.”
Jack Rutherford was too old for war when it came around, in his 40s by that time, so he stayed behind.
Mr Rutherford said it was important to him to remember and share this story so people could really understand how life was in that time.
“These were ordinary men dealing with a horrible situation. They were put under tremendous pressure to go off and fight this war.”