Flag from war hero’s casket to go on school memorial wall

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A New Zealand flag which draped a highly decorated World War 1 hero’s coffin is among artefacts to be included on a planned memorial wall at Pukerau School.

Former Pukerau School principal Colleen Watt said Sergeant Dick Travis, who was known as “The King of No Man’s Land” and the “Prince of Scouts” during the war, was killed at Rossignol Wood in France on July 25, 1918.

Sgt Travis enlisted with the 7th (Southland) Squadron of the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment in 1914.

The Rev David Herron, a former Pukerau School pupil, performed the funeral service for Sgt Travis and fellow officer Second Lieutenant Charles Kerse, of Gore, in Couin, France, and on his return to New Zealand after the war, presented the flag to his school.

The memorial wall is to be officially unveiled on Anzac Day next year.

Sgt Travis was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honour, the Military Medal, and the Croix de Guerre from Belgium for his conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, she said.

Sgt Travis fought with his close friend 2Lt Kerse.

“They fought side by side and their graves lie side by side,” Mrs Watt said.

“On the 50th anniversary of World War 1, the flag was returned to Couin for commemorations and when it was returned to Pukerau, the French had gifted their flag, the Tricolore, in honour of Travis,” she said.

“Since then these two flags have been displayed in the school library in a small, glass-fronted case which gave little idea of just what the flags were like.”

It was thought the flag was the only one in New Zealand to have draped a coffin of such a decorated war hero.

She was keen to have the flags restored, preserved and recognised, Mrs Watt said.

“This will provide more prominent exposure, so that their significance is acknowledged by future generations.”

Each flag will be displayed in a locked, rimu case with conservation-quality glass fronts.

Included in the display will be World War 1 and 2 honour boards, which are also housed at the school, and photos of some of those who lost their lives in service to their country.

The Gore RSA and Venture Southland had each contributed $3000 to the project, she said.

It was estimated the project would cost just under $10,000, she said.

The flags were being prepared and repaired for casing, she said.

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum spokesman Sean Brosnahan said the museum intended to borrow the flags for an exhibition next year.

The flags would stay in Dunedin until the end of the year, Mr Brosnahan said.

The display would showcase Sgt Travis’ contribution to the war effort, he said.

The display would coincide with the centenary of the year he was killed, he said.

Mrs Watt has also put out the call for any photos of people named on the honours board or on the school memorial gates.