Remembering the fallen of Flanders fields

SENSE OF DUTY: Historian and New Zealand admirer Dominique Cooreman is pictured at the Auckland War Memorial Museum with her book La Basse-Ville 1917: New Zealand Voices from Flanders Fields. Her book was “a small way of giving back for the huge sacrifices that New Zealanders and their familes made during and after World War 1, Maori and Pakeha alike.” Picture supplied
ON THE MAP: The previously forgotten World War 1 battle site of La Basse-Ville in Belgium is now easier for Kiwis to find. La Basse-Ville was part of Warneton, located at the southern end of what was known during World War 1 as the Ieper Salient. The battle at La Basse-Ville resulted in the death of 1001 New Zealanders. Picture supplied
Dominique Cooreman. Hawke's Bay Today picture

BELGIAN woman Dominique Cooreman has an affinity with New Zealand and a sense of duty to those Kiwi soldiers who fought in her homeland during World War 1 a century ago.

The publication of her book La Basse-Ville 1917: New Zealand Voices from Flanders Fields, the culmination of 12 years of research — including many trips to this country — has not stopped her ongoing diligent research into the original diggers.

That diligence brought her to the home of Gisborne identity Marcus Williams just before Christmas.

Mr Williams thought he was familiar with the World War 1 exploits of his maternal grandfather Henry (Toby) Clyde Nolan.

That was until Ms Cooreman showed him a photograph of his grandfather.

The photograph was dated December, 1918.

The photograph and other personal belongings of her grandmother, Marguerite Brumagne, were given to her by her uncle last year.

“Until then no one had ever mentioned any New Zealand connection to her,” she said.

“I had to find this (New Zealand) family — and here I am.”

Her grandmother lived in Britain for about a year before World War 1 and, unlike her parents, could speak English.

Henry Nolan served in Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in Germany on post-war occupation duties.

He was awarded the Military Cross.

Mr Williams said that no one really knew of the connection between the two youngsters in Belgium in 1918.

There may have been some sort of relationship, he said. But it was too late for inclusion in the book.

“It’s a mystery but I’m still researching it,’’ said Ms Cooreman.

Ms Cooreman believes Mr Nolan was “passing through” and was billeted in her grandmother’s home of Huy as the New Zealand Division made their way to Cologne to serve as part of the British occupation of the Rhineland.

Mr Nolan was born in 1893 and farmed near Gisborne before and after the war.

His father was a founding partner of Nolans law firm, originally Nolan and Skeet, which still exists today. He also served as Gisborne’s first Crown prosecutor.

Mr Williams said his grandfather, Toby Nolan, declined an opportunity to serve as an aide to Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, commander of the New Zealand Division.

Sir Russell married Gertrude Williams, the sister of Marcus Williams’ paternal grandfather H.B. Williams Snr.

“These paths do intertwine,” Mr Williams said.

After World War 1, Mr Nolan was severely injured when he was kicked in the chest by a cattle beast.

He was immediately rushed to Gisborne and later transferred to Christchurch for further medical treatment.

Doctors diagnosed that he had several broken ribs, one of which had penetrated his heart. Mr Nolan was told to lie flat for three months.

Later, he suffered from what he thought was ongoing indigestion and self-medicated.

It turned out that he was suffering heart attacks that eventually killed him in 1959 at the age of 66.

The New Zealand attack at La Basse-Ville was a feint for a major British attack. However, 1009 New Zealanders died fighting in the hamlet from mid-June to the end of August, 1917.

The New Zealanders fought there after the Battle of Messines, and before the blood bath of Passchendaele.

The battle for La Basse-Ville was a major New Zealand battle, said Ms Cooreman.

But it is a forgotten one.

The hamlet was known by only a few old people, now all deceased, and by descendants of the New Zealand soldiers who fought, and in some cases, died.

Ms Cooreman said the New Zealand soldier who sparked her research was Sergeant Charles Rangiwawahia Sciascia.

He was the son of an Italian father and a Maori mother, and played for the Maori All Blacks.

He served in Gallipoli, France and Belgium.

When Ms Cooreman lived in Porangahau, Hawke’s Bay, she met a Maori woman who told her of her great uncle who had been killed in France in World War 1.

Her father had been named La Basse after the French location where his uncle was thought to have been killed.

Ms Cooreman realised the woman’s father had been named incorrectly.

Her long and detailed research showed he was killed at La Basse-Ville in Belgium.

She was moved when she realised that Sgt Sciascia died at the age of her older son.

“Charlie found me,’’ she said.

“I was not looking for anything and I never wanted anything to do with the war.”

Sgt Sciascia, like the majority of WW1 casualties, has no named grave, but due to Ms Cooreman’s efforts he now has a memorial in the vicinity of the place where he was killed.

Sgt Sciascia is the only New Zealand casualty in Belgium to have his own private memorial.

Ms Cooreman said her continued discoveries in archives, lengthy interviews with descendants of the soldiers and people living near to where La Basse-Ville once stood, all meant she could not write a book just about Sgt Sciascia.

Her book covers the life story of Sgt Sciascia and other New Zealand soldiers, in addition to information on the battle for La Basse-Ville, but is more encompassing than that.

Other topics covered include the names of every New Zealander killed in the battle, decorations including the Victoria Cross awarded to Leslie Andrew and the psychological effect of war.

The book also covers the controversial safe sex campaign of New Zealander Ettie Rout, who campaigned on sexual diseases, as well as Maori support and opposition to participating in the war.

There are also excerpts from the unpublished diaries of a German officer based in the area since 1914.

Ms Cooreman said Kurt Zehmisch, who survived the war, was a school teacher who could speak French and English and was a sensitive man.

The book also covers the war’s significant impact on Belgium, which is still felt today.

Gisborne-East Coast men referred to in the book include:

  • Pekama Kaa, a trainee solicitor with the Public Trust Office was killed on August 14, 1917.
  • Henare Kohere, Kaa’s cousin, killed a year before, who gave instructions for Kaa to take command of his platoon.
  • Autini Kaipara, Maori All Black and captain of Poverty Bay, killed on August 4, 1917.
  • Alex Ormond, of Mahia, killed in 1916 while serving in the British Army.

An excerpt from the book, published in the then Poverty Bay Herald, quotes a letter from Walter Ovenden, of Turenne Street, writing from England while recovering from wounds.

He writes that 22 out of 60 men in his unit were killed in a raid on La Basse-Ville.

When his unit was withdrawn, they were “jolly glad to get out of it”.

Ms Cooreman said her book is a tribute to the New Zealand soldiers and their families.

She thanks “my boys who became men while fighting the war, for allowing me to become their voice”.

“I hope I have responded appropriately and adequately to meet their expectations.”

BELGIAN woman Dominique Cooreman has an affinity with New Zealand and a sense of duty to those Kiwi soldiers who fought in her homeland during World War 1 a century ago.

The publication of her book La Basse-Ville 1917: New Zealand Voices from Flanders Fields, the culmination of 12 years of research — including many trips to this country — has not stopped her ongoing diligent research into the original diggers.

That diligence brought her to the home of Gisborne identity Marcus Williams just before Christmas.

Mr Williams thought he was familiar with the World War 1 exploits of his maternal grandfather Henry (Toby) Clyde Nolan.

That was until Ms Cooreman showed him a photograph of his grandfather.

The photograph was dated December, 1918.

The photograph and other personal belongings of her grandmother, Marguerite Brumagne, were given to her by her uncle last year.

“Until then no one had ever mentioned any New Zealand connection to her,” she said.

“I had to find this (New Zealand) family — and here I am.”

Her grandmother lived in Britain for about a year before World War 1 and, unlike her parents, could speak English.

Henry Nolan served in Gallipoli, on the Western Front and in Germany on post-war occupation duties.

He was awarded the Military Cross.

Mr Williams said that no one really knew of the connection between the two youngsters in Belgium in 1918.

There may have been some sort of relationship, he said. But it was too late for inclusion in the book.

“It’s a mystery but I’m still researching it,’’ said Ms Cooreman.

Ms Cooreman believes Mr Nolan was “passing through” and was billeted in her grandmother’s home of Huy as the New Zealand Division made their way to Cologne to serve as part of the British occupation of the Rhineland.

Mr Nolan was born in 1893 and farmed near Gisborne before and after the war.

His father was a founding partner of Nolans law firm, originally Nolan and Skeet, which still exists today. He also served as Gisborne’s first Crown prosecutor.

Mr Williams said his grandfather, Toby Nolan, declined an opportunity to serve as an aide to Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, commander of the New Zealand Division.

Sir Russell married Gertrude Williams, the sister of Marcus Williams’ paternal grandfather H.B. Williams Snr.

“These paths do intertwine,” Mr Williams said.

After World War 1, Mr Nolan was severely injured when he was kicked in the chest by a cattle beast.

He was immediately rushed to Gisborne and later transferred to Christchurch for further medical treatment.

Doctors diagnosed that he had several broken ribs, one of which had penetrated his heart. Mr Nolan was told to lie flat for three months.

Later, he suffered from what he thought was ongoing indigestion and self-medicated.

It turned out that he was suffering heart attacks that eventually killed him in 1959 at the age of 66.

The New Zealand attack at La Basse-Ville was a feint for a major British attack. However, 1009 New Zealanders died fighting in the hamlet from mid-June to the end of August, 1917.

The New Zealanders fought there after the Battle of Messines, and before the blood bath of Passchendaele.

The battle for La Basse-Ville was a major New Zealand battle, said Ms Cooreman.

But it is a forgotten one.

The hamlet was known by only a few old people, now all deceased, and by descendants of the New Zealand soldiers who fought, and in some cases, died.

Ms Cooreman said the New Zealand soldier who sparked her research was Sergeant Charles Rangiwawahia Sciascia.

He was the son of an Italian father and a Maori mother, and played for the Maori All Blacks.

He served in Gallipoli, France and Belgium.

When Ms Cooreman lived in Porangahau, Hawke’s Bay, she met a Maori woman who told her of her great uncle who had been killed in France in World War 1.

Her father had been named La Basse after the French location where his uncle was thought to have been killed.

Ms Cooreman realised the woman’s father had been named incorrectly.

Her long and detailed research showed he was killed at La Basse-Ville in Belgium.

She was moved when she realised that Sgt Sciascia died at the age of her older son.

“Charlie found me,’’ she said.

“I was not looking for anything and I never wanted anything to do with the war.”

Sgt Sciascia, like the majority of WW1 casualties, has no named grave, but due to Ms Cooreman’s efforts he now has a memorial in the vicinity of the place where he was killed.

Sgt Sciascia is the only New Zealand casualty in Belgium to have his own private memorial.

Ms Cooreman said her continued discoveries in archives, lengthy interviews with descendants of the soldiers and people living near to where La Basse-Ville once stood, all meant she could not write a book just about Sgt Sciascia.

Her book covers the life story of Sgt Sciascia and other New Zealand soldiers, in addition to information on the battle for La Basse-Ville, but is more encompassing than that.

Other topics covered include the names of every New Zealander killed in the battle, decorations including the Victoria Cross awarded to Leslie Andrew and the psychological effect of war.

The book also covers the controversial safe sex campaign of New Zealander Ettie Rout, who campaigned on sexual diseases, as well as Maori support and opposition to participating in the war.

There are also excerpts from the unpublished diaries of a German officer based in the area since 1914.

Ms Cooreman said Kurt Zehmisch, who survived the war, was a school teacher who could speak French and English and was a sensitive man.

The book also covers the war’s significant impact on Belgium, which is still felt today.

Gisborne-East Coast men referred to in the book include:

  • Pekama Kaa, a trainee solicitor with the Public Trust Office was killed on August 14, 1917.
  • Henare Kohere, Kaa’s cousin, killed a year before, who gave instructions for Kaa to take command of his platoon.
  • Autini Kaipara, Maori All Black and captain of Poverty Bay, killed on August 4, 1917.
  • Alex Ormond, of Mahia, killed in 1916 while serving in the British Army.

An excerpt from the book, published in the then Poverty Bay Herald, quotes a letter from Walter Ovenden, of Turenne Street, writing from England while recovering from wounds.

He writes that 22 out of 60 men in his unit were killed in a raid on La Basse-Ville.

When his unit was withdrawn, they were “jolly glad to get out of it”.

Ms Cooreman said her book is a tribute to the New Zealand soldiers and their families.

She thanks “my boys who became men while fighting the war, for allowing me to become their voice”.

“I hope I have responded appropriately and adequately to meet their expectations.”

Contact the author at labasseville1917@gmail.com

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Dominique Cooreman - 1 year ago
Dear Joe,
I am delighted to be able to give you some more information.
Unlike mentioned in the article, I do not think La Basse-Ville was a major battle. But it was a proper battle, not a skirmish as some people have been dismissing it. The fact a VC was granted shows the importance at the time, even though it was a "decoy".
Your father was wounded in La Basse-Ville! Not in Messines. Isn't that amazing?
I searched through your father's war records and that is how I can say this. He was wounded while part of 1st Auckland Regiment end of June (Messines is beginning of June 1917).
If you email me at: labasseville1917@gmail.com we could get in touch if you desire? Thank you for your support.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Do you support the gun law changes announced this week, and signal of further tightening?