PTE Appleton forms part of the Catafalque Guard at the Anzac Day Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper, Belgium
26 April 2015
Rotorua local Private (PTE) Samuel Appleton is the first ever relative to be able to trace the footsteps of two of his great-great-great uncles who died on the Western Front during the First World War.
The Rotorua Lakes High School old-boy is a member of the Catafalque Guard for a contingent of twenty New Zealand Defence Force personnel who have travelled to Belgium and France. They are there to mark 100 years since the Anzac Day landings in Gallipoli with commemorations on the Western Front.
The Western Front accounts for the majority of New Zealand casualties from the First World War. The 12,483 men who died rest in cemeteries or are named on memorials to the missing in both France and Belgium.
"Visiting the battlefields where they fell and seeing the sheer scale of the cemeteries on the Western Front has been one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had," says PTE Appleton.
PTE Appleton's great-great-great uncle Sergeant Allan Bertie Durnett and his brother Private Robert Durnett both died within months of each other in separate battles on the Western Front.
21 year-old PTE Appleton was the first family member to visit Allan's grave at Masnieres British Cemetery in France. He was also a part of the Catafalque Guard during a wreathlaying ceremony at the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Messines where Robert Durnett, who died in the Battle of Messines, is memorialised.
"Knowing that none of my family has ever been able to see him before me was pretty emotional, I'm honoured," says PTE Appleton.
PTE Samuel Appleton is a full time student at Otago University studying applied science and a Rifleman in the New Zealand Defence Force Reserve Forces.
"It's surprising to me that there aren't more reservists at university. It's the best of both worlds for me, especially when I get opportunities like this while studying," says PTE Appleton.
The NZDF contingent have participated in numerous commemorations on the Western Front in the lead up to Anzac Day including a Last Post Ceremonies at Menin Gate in Ieper, wreath laying ceremonies at all New Zealand memorials in Belgium and an Anzac Day Dawn Service with the Australian Defence Force at Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood.