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.
Photo from ODT files.
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
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.