A World War 1 tragedy has led to a friendship developing between a Glenavy man and Belgian teenager.
Léandre Leterme, a volunteer tending a North Otago World War 1 soldier’s grave in Belgium, emailed the Oamaru Mail to ask to be put in touch with Murray Frew, whose story of two great-uncles killed in the war featured in Anzac coverage last year.
Mr Leterme (18) said he was passionate about his region’s history, especially relating to WW1. His community was heavily involved in centenary commemorations from 2014 to 2018 and “organised symbolic adoption of soldiers’ graves to preserve the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during this conflict”, he said.
“Thus, I decided to adopt a soldier.”
Mr Leterme chose the small cemetery called Mud Corner and asked for a randomly-assigned grave so it would be “a true symbolic act without any discrimination against those men who died”.
“The soldier’s name was James Henry Frew. So, basically, I swore to keep the memory of this man, but also of all the others who fall for our freedom.
“To help me sustain the memory of this man, I did a lot of research (past life, military service, family, etc).”
That led Mr Leterme to the Oamaru Mail story with the headline wartime history’.
“I was so happy to actually find a living member of the Frew family,” Mr Leterme said.
As proof it was not a prank, he attached a photograph of an official certificate of adoption of Sergeant Frew’s grave.
Having received the Distinguished Conduct Medal after the Gallipoli campaign, Sgt Frew went with the Auckland Battalion to the front lines in April 1917. He was killed three months later and buried at Mud Corner, about halfway between Ypres and the French town of Armentieres.
His younger brother, John Frew, was buried a short distance away at the Cite Bonjean Cemetery on the outskirts of Armentieres.
Murray Frew, a Glenavy upholsterer, was delighted to learn of Mr Leterme’s approach and spoke to him and his father, Bertrand, by phone on Wednesday.
Mr Leterme is studying chemistry at university and his father works in the electronics industry.
They told Mr Frew how their area was flattened by nearly four years of fighting during WW1, and that commemorations were still a big part of life there. New Zealand guests have featured in annual services.
Mr Leterme asked how Mr Frew reacted to news of his adoption of Sgt Frew’s grave.
“Very surprised,” Mr Frew said.
“I’m very grateful.”
He hoped the Letermes would send him photos of themselves. He would reciprocate with photos of the official documents he has relating to his great-uncles’ deaths.
The Letermes would also send Mr Frew more information about their town and the battles that took place there.
“It’s in our culture,” Bertrand Leterme said.