Six long months after he was last seen alive on a battlefield in northern France, Mrs Elizabeth Longney of Drews House, Longney had final confirmation from a court of enquiry that her boy, her youngest boy was dead. And had been dead for over six months.
His name: Graham John Longney
First reported Missing. Then reported Prisoner of War. And finally reported, confirmed Dead. A casualty of the Great War.
Graham had travelled a long way to die on a battlefield in France on April 16th 1918.
Though born and brought up in the village of his name, Longney in rural Gloucestershire sitting beside the bank of the river Severn; Graham had sought new opportunities. His father Frederick John died early 1914 and he must have left for New Zealand there after. His elder Winifred and younger sister Effie were already married and resident in New Zealand and his only other brother Frederick had already left for a new life in Canada.
In 1914, he left for a new life in New Zealand as a farmhand. He appeared on a reserve battalion list in 1916-1917 as a dairyist, Greenwood Road, Mangere on the outskirts of Auckland on the north island of New Zealand where his sisters lived. New Zealand, like Britain, had a compulsory service list; otherwise known as conscription. In New Zealand it meant men who were natural-born British subjects between 20 and 45 years old, unmarried or married since May 1915 and had no children under sixteen by a previous marriage, widowers with no children under sixteen, or divorced men with no children under sixteen. These men, like Graham, were placed on reserve lists.
Called up in July 1917, he was at first placed in D Company, Otago Regiment of the NZEF but wound up in the New Zealand Entrenching Battalion, 2nd Battalion, New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). He left New Zealand bound for Liverpool in November 1917 and arrived in January 1918. The war had months left to run.
Graham left for France from the UK March 20th 1918 and marched into Etaples training camp on the 24th March 1918. In May 1918, he was listed as missing some where between the 12th and 19th April and a Court of Enquiry believed that he had been taken prisoner of war. Finally on October 18th 1918, a Court of Enquiry confirmed his death the previous April. It seems the cruellest blow of all, that someone arrives and within days dies.
The 2nd New Zealand Entrenching Battalion was asked to support the line around Meteren as the largesse of the German army hammered forward as part of their grand Spring Offensive. Gaps in communication meant that the 2nd were left with little ammunition and no support when large numbers of Germans began attacking; they were left with little option other than to surrender and hope to be taken prisoner of war. It appears that Graham must have been killed in this phase of the Battle of Lys; unfortunately for many New Zealanders that were taken prisoner, they were taken to the ‘Black Hole’ as the prison at Lille was affectionately referred. 210 POWs were taken from the 2nd NZ Entrenching Battalion, 2 officers and 40 other ranks were killed, 9 officers and 139 other ranks wounded. It seems unsurprising that Graham was lost to record that day.
No 64538 Private Graham John Longney, 2nd New Zealand Entrenching Battalion and Otago Regiment sits proudly on the New Zealand Roll of Honour; killed in action April 16th 1918. After all that, he was buried at Meteren Military Cemetery in northern France, some 20 kilometres from Ypres. At some point after the war, his remains were discovered marked by a cross and he was re-buried next to the man he was found buried near; an unidentified soldier of the Black Watch, a kilt all that was left to show who he was.
But in St Lawrence Church in Longney, his name rests, a little faded now, below his father’s name.
In affectionate remembrance Graham John Youngest son the above and Eliza Who made the supreme sacrifice in France in 1918 aged 35 years “They loved not their lives unto the death and they overcame by the blood of the lamb.”
In 1936, the vicar of Longney parish church gave a sermon to his parishioners; it was Armistice Day. Some eighteen years since the bells had tolled for the ceasefire of the Great War. The vicar read out the names of the men on the Longney Roll of Honour and the War Memorial.
Alfred James Base Samuel George Boyce Walter Havard James Thomas Panting Edwin James Parry Wintour Edward Webb Frederick Thomas Wixey and Graham John Longney.
His mother had moved away and died, his sisters were now living in other countries and other areas, his brother was in Canada. There was no direct family still living in Longney. I suspect there were few who still remembered the men on this list but the vicar spoke of many things; correct and honest things of peace and war, of obligation and honour. He added:
‘If those who had absented themselves from service had thought a little about the rain, wind, mud, slush and squalor that these men had to contend with, perhaps they would have made an effort to come and honour the memory of those who should be looked on as village heroes.’
Born in 1881, Graham John Longney in Longney , he was 36 years of age when he was killed in France in 1918. He was 5 foot 8 inches tall, he had brown hair and blue eyes. Born a Glostershire boy but he died a New Zealander.