Best day of my life

Photo from ODT files.
Photo from ODT files.
Continuing last year's Summer Times quest to find out what was the best day of people's lives (except the birth of their children or the day they met or married their partners), another eight Southern residents tell their stories.

DR AARON FOX

Military historian, Invercargill

I vividly recall one of the best days of my life - the day I first met my long-lost uncle. I had travelled half way around the world to see him, but I hadn't been able to forewarn him that I was coming.

Uncle Dene had ended up in France years before I was born, and none of the family had been in contact with him for a very long time. It would, therefore, be a day which offered much anticipation and excitement, tinged with apprehension - just how would the meeting go? Despite being a long way from home, the trip had gone well thus far - I hadn't missed a connection, the accommodation was excellent, and the locals were friendly.

I even had a map of the town, so it wasn't hard to see how to get to exactly the right place. I set out early, in order to better face the challenge of driving from St Omer to Longuenesse. The journey passed without incident, and I soon arrived at my destination, a pleasant tree-lined road with well-tended gardens, and chickens running loose along the footpath. I parked, and walked towards the gate with trepidation, uncertain how I might find him. And suddenly there he was, right in front of me: 411392 Pilot Officer T.

T. Fox, 485 (NZ) Squadron, killed on air operations, April 4, 1942, aged 21. Despite minimal combat flying experience in Spitfires, he was flying escort duty with Circus 119, a daylight bombing raid over the Pas de Calais, when he was shot down. His remains were respectfully laid to rest by German forces in what is now the Longuenesse Souvenir Cemetery. I cried when I found his grave, grieving for an uncle who had died brutally and too young.

Yet when I looked about the war cemetery, a picturesque site which is lovingly tended by local gardeners, I realised that Uncle Dene had been at peace since 1942. In truth, having rested in Longuenesse for 70 years, he is now as much a son of France as of New Zealand.

I hope that he was as pleased to meet me, as I was honoured to have helped restore his family connection to New Zealand. My Anzac Day is now no longer April 25 - it is April 4, the day our family lost a scholar, a sportsman and an uncle.