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Following in the footsteps of family in France

Royal New Zealand Air Force Sergeant Raymond O’Brien is participating in the Battle of the Somme Centenary commemorations in Longueval, France, with the New Zealand Defence Force Māori Cultural Group.
Royal New Zealand Air Force Sergeant Raymond O’Brien is participating in the Battle of the Somme Centenary commemorations in Longueval, France, with the New Zealand Defence Force Māori Cultural Group.

14 September 2016

Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Sergeant (SGT) Raymond O’Brien will remember his great great uncle, Charles Toihau Bluett, when he participates in the Battle of the Somme Centenary commemorations in Longueval, France, on 15 September.

SGT O’Brien, an Aircraft Technician, is part of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) Māori Cultural Group.

“It is a fantastic opportunity to follow in the footsteps of one of my tūpuna, who served at the Somme,” he said.

Private Charles Toihau Bluett, who fought in the final offence of the Western Front, was part of the 2nd Battalion Auckland Infantry Regiment and was killed in action at the Somme on 27 March, 1918. His name is recorded on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in Grevillers Cemetery in Pas-de-Calais, France.

SGT O’Brien, from Auckland, said nothing could prepare a person for the feeling of seeing a family member’s name on a memorial.

“It was very emotional to see his name on the wall with the other New Zealanders who have no known grave,” he said.

Working for the NZDF is a family affair for the O’Briens, with nearly the entire family serving at some time.

“My wife is in the Royal New Zealand Navy, I have cousins in the RNZAF and a few in the Army. I have uncles who have served in the Army, my father served in the RNZAF for 33 years and my mother served in the RNZAF too.

“I would recommend joining the NZDF to others in a heartbeat. For me it is not a job, it is a lifestyle,” he said.

The Battle of the Somme was New Zealand’s first big engagement on the Western Front. It took a huge toll on the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who were involved.  The New Zealand Division sustained 8,000 casualties and 2,111 soldiers were killed in action at the Battle of the Somme from 1 July - 18 November 1916. The New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery lists 1,205 names.

WW100 is a programme established by the New Zealand Government to mark the World War I centenary through a range of activities from 2014 to 2019, in New Zealand and overseas.

For more information about WW100, visit WW100.govt.nz.

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