Southland farmer appeals for Stratford sleuths' help to identify unknown soldier

Southland farmer appeals for Stratford sleuths' help to identify unknown soldier

A Southland sheep farmer is appealing for help in identifying a Stratford soldier.

Iain Davidson is a sheep farmer, historian and collector and the person behind the Unknown Warriors of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force Facebook page. The page aims to identify unnamed New Zealand soldiers and nurses as well as telling their stories for future generations.

Iain says he is “a bit of a collector”, owning thousands of photographs of soldiers from World War I as well as badges, uniforms and other items of interest.

Iain says WWI is an “incredibly significant” time in New Zealand’s history.

“It was something that impacted so many lives. I think remembering the sacrifices made is important, especially as our generation haven’t had to know war on that scale. Ten per cent of the population went overseas to serve and another 15,000 were serving in New Zealand itself. It represents such a huge piece of our history, so identifying these soldiers is important as it recognises the service they gave.”

Iain says he lives with a daily reminder of our modern world’s connection with the past.

“I have a constant reminder, as I live and work on the same farm my WW1 veteran grandfather once did, and to that I am very grateful.”

Over the years, he has purchased collections of photos at auctions, and tries to put names to the faces in them, or in some cases, faces to the names. At present Iain is assisting the Onward Project in identifying a couple of hundred unknown soldiers.

The Onward Project seeks to locate and publish a photograph of every member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force who served overseas during the WWI. The photos are captioned with the name and service number of the individual, along with a note identifying the source of the photo, and put into volumes.

The project has led to nearly 20,000 soldiers being identified so far. Identifying the people in the old photos isn’t always easy, he says.

“The soldiers were sending these photos back home, to family and friends who knew them, So they didn’t often write their name on the back of the photo, as their family knew who they were. In some cases, it is a group photo and while it might be attached to a letter or have one name on the back, it doesn’t identify which person in the photo is the person who sent it.”

That is the case with a photo Iain is hoping Taranaki people might be able to help with. The photo is from Matt Pomeroy’s collection, and Iain has been asked to help with identifying the soldiers in the photo.

“In this case, the photo says Ernie Rodgers on the back, but it is a group photo and we don’t know which person is Ernie, or who the other people in the photo might be.”

Iain’s research on Ernie revealed he was a Stratford lad and Iain suspects the other soldiers in the photo might be from the same area too.

“I think it was a final leave photo, meaning they had it taken during their last leave before they went to serve overseas, so chances are the others in the photo were from Stratford or nearby too. Hopefully, someone will recognise someone in the photo, and be able to give us their names as well as help identify which of the young men pictured is Ernie himself.”

Iain has photos from his own collection he believes have a Stratford connection, and hopes Stratford Press readers might be able to shed some light on the identities of those soldiers as well. We will print those photos in a future edition of the Stratford Press.

If you can help identify Ernie Rodgers in this photo, or shed light on the identity of any of his comrades pictured with him, contact Iain by email: ikdavidson@ruralinzone.net or via his Facebook page: Unknown Warriors of the NZEF

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