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The plaque no soldier wanted their name on

It has the name of a ‘dead man’s penny’ and honours the life of a soldier lost in the Great War. The Wairarapa Archive has one of these memorial plaques and MARK PACEY tells the story of the man named on it.

Quinton McKenzie was born on 22 July 1894 to the McKenzie family at Woodlands. Quinton is first mentioned in the newspapers as attending his sister Helen’s marriage to Ross Jackson.

When war broke out, Quinton was working on the family farm. He was called up for service in late 1916 and due to his family needing him to work the farm, the decision was appealed. He was granted a stay of two further months.

The newspaper recorded the day when Quinton departed. “The following left Masterton for Trentham Camp by train this morning, being played up to the station by the Silver Band.”

Forty-two names were then listed which included “Q. McKenzie.”

At the end of January 1917, Quinton was in Trentham, starting his basic training. The following month he was in Featherston and he joined the 25th Reinforcements. He trained in Featherston for two more months before making his way with his unit to Wellington. He arrived at the docks on April 26 and boarded the Turakina.

There have been several ships by the name of Turakina. The one that Quinton sailed on didn’t have much time left in its life. Shortly after dropping off the New Zealand troops, it was sunk by a German U-boat off the Cornish coast in England.

A later vessel also called the Turakina was sunk in 1940 by the German raider Orion.

Quinton disembarked safely on July 20, 1917 at Devonport and from here was sent to Sling.

Sling Camp is up near Stonehenge in the Salisbury Plain. It was here that the New Zealand troops did their more advanced training. There were trenches to practice in and they used real gas in attack training. During this time, he found some time to write a letter home to his sister Beckie.

In it he wrote of his unit leaving for France and that he stayed behind after catching measles for the second time.

In military camps, sickness quickly spreads.

He was in Pennings Camp to recover from his illness and would have to stay there until he recovered.

In the confusion of war mail is often lost or misplaced and this was the case with Quinton who forlornly remarked “I have not received a letter from you at all.”

On 18 October Quinton left for France and arrived at Etaples Camp, the main British camp for soldiers entering the Western Front.

It was here he found out which unit he was joining.

Each New Zealand group lost men as the war progressed and it was the reinforcement groups that refilled their ranks. Quinton was to join the 3rd Battalion of the New Zealand 3rd Rifle Brigade. After just a month he joined the tunnelling corps for three weeks before rejoining his original unit.

For a year Quinton endured the hell that was the Western Front. In a postcard home at the end of 1917, he wrote of the differences between England and the front, saying he had a great time in England “but it is not so good over here.”

During this time, he would have experienced the awful conditions of the trenches and taken part in the assaults against the German lines. The New Zealand Rifle Brigade took an active part in the Hundred Days Offensive, in which the Allies pushed back the recent gains the Germans made in their Spring Offensive.

As 1918 was ending, the New Zealand forces approached the town of Le Quesnoy in Northern France. This town had been under German occupation since the start of the war. On 4 November the New Zealanders attacked, scaling the walls of the town with ladders they overwhelmed the German garrison. Quinton’s brigade and other New Zealand forces also advanced further east and on that one day they captured 2,000 Germans and 60 field guns.

But this was not without loss.

On a day described as the New Zealand Division’s most successful of the war, 140 New Zealanders lost their lives, 80 of whom were members of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

Amongst them was a farm boy from Woodlands. The war was just one week away from ending but Quinton would not see it.

He is one of more than 12,000 New Zealanders who died on the Western Front.

He was just 24 years old.

Following the war Quinton’s medals were issued to his family.

Also sent was a memorial plaque which commemorated Quinton, the item referred to as a ‘dead man’s penny.’

Today, Quinton rests with 106 of his countrymen in Romeries Communal Cemetery Extension which contains 832 burials. Of those, 129 have never been identified.

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