‘From Little Towns in a Far Land’

Photograph of Julian Cornelius Brook from the Auckland Grammar School chronicle. 1918, v.6, n.2. Courtesy of the Auckland War Memorial Museum

Julian Cornelius Brook was an aspiring young lawyer from the North Island of New Zealand, but now lies buried in the Adanac Military Cemetery, on the Somme battlefields of France. He is one of more than 18,000 New Zealanders killed in the First World War. In this guest blog post, Rob Kirk of Lochnagar Crater Today shares his poignant story.

 

  • Julian’s wartime experiences

Julian came from the little township of Waipu, just off State Highway 1 between Auckland and Waitangi. His father was Headmaster of the local school. Julian won prizes at Auckland Grammar and a scholarship to Auckland University College, where he was a keen sportsman and orator.

He enlisted with the Auckland Light Infantry, and was wounded twice at Gallipoli; he was mentioned in a national newspaper report when it was discovered he spent seven months on active service with a bullet in his head. Julian transferred to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and died in France, in action near the Canal du Nord, on 2 September 1918. He was 28 years old.

Photograph of Julian’s grave, Adanac Military Cemetery, France. Courtesy of Auckland War Memorial Museum

 

  • Remembering Julian in his hometown

Scattered in the centre of Waipu, you find a series of information boards, dedicated to some of the people who joined the war effort. You read about their backgrounds, families, careers – and what happened to them in the war. Most poignantly, many of the boards are placed outside the buildings where these young Kiwis lived as children or when they joined up, or where they worked; Julian’s memorial is outside the house where he was born. It is an extraordinarily intimate commemoration in a little town which, according to one report, lost more men in the war per head of population than any other town in New Zealand.

The stories of [these] soldiers … allows us a form of connection with the trauma of those battlefields

Lieutenant Brook’s great-nephew, also named Julian, has reflected

“The photos and memorials recall people were just as we are today, with daily lives, intimate relationships and aspirations, before being cast headlong into what for so many was a mire of endurance so very far from the lives they left behind. We can never hear, smell or experience the pain of the battlefields, but the back stories of those soldiers who did, I think, allows us a form of connection with the trauma of those battlefields, and so many lives unfulfilled.”

  • National Remembrance

The First World War was a defining period in the New Zealand national story, and memorials of one kind or another are everywhere, throughout the country.

Oamaru war memorial. Photograph courtesy of Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 15 July 2013

One of them, in the centre of the town of Oamaru by the Pacific coast in the South Island, is inscribed with this evocative quotation from Rudyard Kipling:

From little towns in a far land we came,

To save our honour and a world aflame,

By little towns, in a far land we sleep,

And trust those things we won to you to keep.

On Lives of the First World War we pay tribute to the many thousands of men and women from New Zealand who, like Julian Brook, played their part in this global conflict.

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