5 November 2018
Royal New Zealand Air Force’s (RNZAF) Leading Aircraftman Ellie Mullin was following in her great-uncles’ footsteps when she was in France for the final New Zealand First World War overseas commemoration.
Leading Aircraftman Mullin was a member of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contingent conducting the official ceremonies to mark the 100th anniversary of the liberation of the fortified town of Le Quesnoy on Sunday, 4 November.
As well as preparing for the commemoration, Leading Aircraftman Mullin, who was born in Taranaki, was also on a personal journey of discovery. Just before she joined the NZDF contingent, she attended a family reunion that left her with a riddle to solve.
“I knew I had two great great-uncles who served and died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916,” she said.
“But at my family reunion my uncle said there was another brother who served and survived but was terribly affected by what he experienced.
“I initially thought my uncle was confused with other family members but I had to find out if it was true.”
Brothers Claude and James Furze enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the same day and died two days apart on the Somme. Their bodies were never identified and their names are memorialised on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in Caterpillar Valley cemetery in Longueval.
The third brother, George, enlisted after his two younger brothers had died and was sent into the field just after the Battle of Messines in Belgium in 1917.
His service record states that he was dragging another soldier out of a trench when a shell exploded nearby. The shockwave from the explosion rendered George unfit for duty and he was evacuated to the No.1 New Zealand General Hospital at Brockenhurst, England.
The day after he arrived he was discharged as medically unfit, suffering from neurosthenes, commonly known as shellshock, and sent back to New Zealand.
“So my uncle was right,” Leading Aircraftman Mullin said. “There was another brother, who survived the war but was never the same.
“I can’t imagine what it must have been like for their mother to have two sons killed and another so badly damaged by his experience.
“My great-great grandfather was the only son left. If he had enlisted, well, I might not be here.”
During her trip Leading Aircraftman Mullin was able to visit Caterpillar Valley cemetery to pay respects to her great-great uncles’ memorial.
“I’m so proud to be representing the NZDF during the commemorations and to get to visit Claude and James’ final resting place on behalf of my family. It’s been a tough journey for me but there’s no place I’d rather be,” she said.
The 100th anniversary of the liberation of Le Quesnoy was marked in Le Quesnoy, France, on 4 November. The official commemorations included the National Commemorative Service at 11am (11pm NZ time) and a Last Post Ceremony at 5pm (5am Monday NZ time).