Lance Corporal Robert Wismans travelled to the Western Front to visit the resting place of his fallen great-great-uncle who fought and died at the Battle of Messines
26 April 2015
Hamilton local Lance Corporal (LCPL) Robert Wismans has travelled to the Western Front to visit the resting place of his fallen great-great-uncle and to commemorate 100 years since the Anzac Day Landings in Gallipoli.
Hamilton Boys High School old boy LCPL Wismans is a member of the Catafalque Guard in 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.
LCPL Wismans’ great-great-uncle Sergeant William Leonard Johanson fought and died in the Battle of Messines on 8th July 1917, he has no known grave but is memorialised on the NZ Memorial to the Missing in Messines.
"Visiting the battlefield where he fell and seeing the sheer scale of all the cemeteries on the Western Front is a humbling experience," says LCPL Wismans.
The Battle of Messines saw New Zealand Division capture the village of Messines alongside British and Australian troops. The attack was meticulously planned and successful but the New Zealand casualties in the battle still amounted to 3,700, of these 700 were killed and now rest in Messines.
During the wreathlaying ceremony at Messines Ridge Cemetery and New Zealand Memorial to the Missing LCPL Wismans read the Anzac address in front of the panel where his great-great uncle's name is engraved. In his address he read the citation published in the London Gazette when his great-great-uncle was awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry.
"For Gallantry and devotion to duty in April 1917 Sergeant Johanson on three separate occasions showed unusual initiative and command of men. This Non-Commissioned Officer has previously shown good service in Gallipoli and since the Battalion came to France he has on all occasions shown resource and coolness under fire."
"It was an honour to read his citation and recount his actions in the First World War at the place where he now rests. I'm proud to be related to a man with that much courage," says LCPL Wismans.
The NZDF contingent participated in numerous commemorations on the Western Front in the lead up to Anzac Day including a Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate in Ieper on the 24th, 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.