Please find below some pictures of the remembrance organized by the Friends of the In Flanders Fields Museum Ieper on Thursday 8 June 2017. The remembrance took place for Jim Allan who died on 7 June 2017, the first day of the Battle of Mines at Messines. Jim Allen is still missing and he is mentionned on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at the entrance of the cemetery.
My name is Diana Manson and I have come here today from New Zealand as a representative of my family to remember and honour James Marshall Allan, my great uncle. James Allan - I will call him Jim as his family did when he was growing up, was born in April 1896, he grew up in Dunedin in the province of Otago. Jim was the oldest of 4 children and my grandmother Julia's big brother.
On February the 1st 1915, Jim then aged 18years enlisted in the army in the NZ Engineers Corps. He went to training camp and in April of that year left New Zealand on a troopship bound for Egypt. His family were very proud of him for "Doing his bit for King and Country" as we would say. His mother worried about him - did he have enough to eat, was he sleeping well? All the things mothers worry about when their children leave home for the first time. She writes - "Dad is very proud of you Jim, always bear that in mind and shun bad company". He reassured her he was fit and well and he quotes their motto "Where Fame and Glory Leads" and says "from what I can see of the chaps here I think they will act up to it".
He survived Gallipoli and arrived in France in May 1916. He wrote home regularly - letters were always eagerly awaited and he enjoyed recieving letters and the parcels which sometimes accompanied them. He was a good correspondant and wrote to all the family - he even wrote to his younger brother Matt in morse code. His mother kept all his letters and passed them on to Matt, recently Matt's daughter Christine Sheard has published these letters into a book called "Our Brave Soldiers". I had always known of Jim's death and how devastating it was for his family but reading the book & his letters gave me a very real sense of who Jim was as a young man and a soldier - his war and how it was affecting him & his family.
In October 1916 he was stationed in Fleurbaix which he enjoyed, he writes of the Dumortier family who were kind to him and gave him food and coffee. He became friends with their youngest daughter Marie-Louise and corresponded with her after he left Fleurbaix. He promised that he when the war was over he would take her to New Zealand to meet his family, sadly this never came about but Marie-Louise continued to write to the family until 1929. Last saturday I was fortunate to meet Marie's daughter & grand daughter & hear them talk of their mother and how the war affected their town of Fleurbaix. The families had exchanged broaches - our family has one of Armentieres which we treasure and I am wearing one today which Jim or his family gave to Marie-Loiuse and which her daughter Claire kindly gave me last saturday to return to New Zealand and the family there.
Jim enjoyed being a soldier - he says "This soldiering life agrees with me and has made a man of me alright, you wont know your 6ft Sapper when he comes home." Towards the end of his correspondence you get a real sense of his longing for home and his family. I can only imagine how his family must have been feeling at home- anxious and waiting for news, the war having lasted longer than anyone thought it would. They would have been seeing lists of casualties including local boys from Dunedin - at one point Jim writes that he is the only one left from home in his section - all the others are dead or wounded.
In June 1917 the family recieved the news they had ben dreading - Jim had been wounded, his mother writes "My dear son, we got a great shock on Wednesday morning when we recieved a telegram to say you had been wounded. I hope that you were not too badly hurt and that you will be alright by the time this reaches you. We never know how or when the mails come and go but don't stop writing my dear boy as Dad and I simply long for news of you. This is a very bright and sunny day. It is very hard to be here in such peace and quietness and to think of you amid the horrors of battle".
This letter was eventually returned to her stamped recipient deceased as on the 7th of June after being wounded Jim had gone back out into the field and was wounded again this time fatally. I would like to read the letter Harry Foote his Lieutenant wrote to the family about Jim's death.
Dear Mr Allan,
I am writing to you to convey the very sincere sympathy we have for you in the loss of your son Jim. Truly for the victory we have to pay a big price. Our own loss is great for your son was the most popular man in the Section and in him we have lost a courageous soldier and a true comrade. I cannot pen words to express either our own sense of loss or our very deep and sincere sympathy with his folk at home but perhaps I can tell you how he met his end.
On the morning of the 7th our Division attacked Messines, and I with selected party among whom was your son was told off to follow the advance and locate and if possible open up any sources of water supply in the village. I took my party to the outskirts of the village and left them in Jim's charge while I and a couple of other N.C.O's went forward to reconnoitre. The enemy was shelling heavily and I didn't wish to expose more men than essential to the carrying out of our duty.
We had a very hot time in the village and I returned to where Jim and his party were waiting about 1pm and as it was impossible to carry our any work instructed him to take his party further to the rear and await further instructions as I was going into the village again to continue my search. About 2.30pm I had completed about as much of a search as was possible and returned to look for the party but could not find them. However this did not concern me greatly for I had every confidence that Jim would have them well under cover, and would in due course, not hearing anything from me, bring them back to Camp.
Unfortunately after seeing his party safe and waiting some time he got concerned for the safety of myself and party and set out to look for us which was quite a natural enough thing to do but he went alone and his party returned to Camp without him. I immediately sent out a search party but we found no trace of him that day. Next day we continued the search as well as the demands of our time permitted and his body was eventually found. It appears he had gone into the shelled zone and been wounded; had his wounds dressed and was making his way back when he was struck again and killed outright. We bought his body down to the foot of the hill and he was buried there alongside the Steenbeck River in what before the advance was No Mans Land and which is now a graveyard for quite a few of our brave lads. Padre Dobson of the Canterbury Regiment read the service and we his sorrowing comrades stood round, with our own shells screaming overhead and the enemy's bursting on the Ridge above, and along the roads to either side of us. We did all that was possible for the poor lad. As soldiers we may shrug our shoulders and say, 'Another gone West' but deeper down are the feelings which we do not express for we all have dear folk at home and god only knows what our Fates may be.
Personal suffering and death are not things which matter to us, it is the misery of those at home for the loss of their dear ones that we feel which nerves us to carry on but the price of victory is oft-time hard to bear. Not a man in the section but feels poorer for Jim's loss while those who have shared the hardships and dangers of the campaigns and the happier interludes of a soldier's life with him, and known him for the sterling lad he was feel his loss very keenly indeed. Once again permit me on behalf of the section generally and also on my own behalf to extend you and to all of Jim's folk our very real and deep sympathy. Believe me, yours very sincerely.
Harry A. Foote, Lieut. No 3 Section
Family members of Jim Allen were present at the ceremony.
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