Friday, 24 April 2015

Missing. Believed Killed in Action

Its ANZAC day here in New Zealand tomorrow and the whole country is in a very interesting state of self contemplation and unity of thought. As the 100th anniversary of the landings that marked the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign, this year's commemorations are especially poignant.

To mark the centenary, I've organised the family to go to the dawn service at the newly completed National War Memorial park in Tory Street. It is also the location for the Peter Jackson WW1 museum the team and I were lucky to help put the 54mm Chunuk Bair diorama together. As parking nearby will be about as well organised as the actual Dardanelles campaign itself, we decided to avail ourselves of the free accommodation at my parent's place - only about 200m down Tory street from the ceremony. While eating dinner with Dad, he bought out our own family history of WW1.

I was vaguely aware of Grandad telling me about his uncles who served in the war but it was 30 years ago and I had forgotten most of it until Dad showed me the bits and pieces he still has.

I had two great-great uncles who served in WW1. Edgar Keeffe served with the Canterbury Mounted Rifles and his brother Alex Keeffe was in the Canterbury Regiment of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Alex joined up in 1916 and was sent to France. There he wounded, losing an arm, at Passchendaele. He was invalided back home on the famous hospital ship, the Maheno, making it back to Timaru in January 1917. The tough old bugger died in 1971, a couple of years before I was born.

Edgar however, joined up in 1915 and was sent to Egypt and then Gallipoli. On the 21st of August 1915, near the end of the campaign the Imperial forces tried one last attempt to link the ANZAC positions with those of the British IX Corps in Suvla bay. So was fought the battle of Hill 60. Another chapter in a long history of military cockups was written that day. Edgar was listed as missing once the battles ended and not long after, was officially listed as killed in action. No body was ever found but he has a grave marker, so I am told, in the Hill 60 memorial on Gallipoli.

King George's letter to fallen servicemen

The large medallion is a memorial medal. It came with the letter and reads:
He died for freedom and honour; Edgar Joseph Keeffe.

Also pictured is a letter from Edgar. It is strangely dated 1917, but refers to the trip out to Egypt, so must have been transcribed from an earlier letter home.

Edgar's picture in the Timaru newspaper, listing him as Missing. Picture of Edgar in his NZMR uniform with some friends (seated at back on left).
     I'm not going to get soppy now, I'll probably have a blub tomorrow. I'm happy to be able to share this with everyone though.



  1. Have a good bulb tomorrow mate - we will remember them.

  2. Fantastic post Simon, great that your family has these items and that the story behind them is being passed on.