A lot of the time no one ever sees what we do. We value our clients' privacy. Some of what we do changes their lives forever.
So sometimes when something we do leads to change or a happy ending, we love to tell you about it.
We wrote about William Lee in an earlier story. He died from his injuries after being pinned to his bed during the Esk Valley flood.
We tracked him down to an unmarked grave at Napier’s Park Island Cemetery. But it’s not going to be unmarked for long. The New Zealand Remembrance Army checked our research and confirmed it was him.
Now he’s about to get a headstone. A ceremony will be in November and we will update you if you wish to come along.
Hawke’s Bay Today reported on it last week - here's the story:
He survived the horrors of World War I, only to die as floods and landslips hit Napier.
Now the New Zealand Remembrance Army is trying to raise funds for a proper headstone befitting the returned serviceman buried in an unmarked grave in Park Island.
There is little information about how William Lee, born in 1870 in Ireland, came to be buried so far from home.
In 1915, aged 45, he enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, where he served in the Otago Infantry Regiment with the 12th reinforcements until 1918.
He was injured in Egypt and shot in both arms, before being discharged via a medical board and sent back to New Zealand.
His next of kin was listed as Henry Lee, a butcher in Whangārei.
Despite living in Wellington, Lee was caught in the Hawke’s Bay floods in April 1938, when three days of heavy rain caused significant damage across the East Coast.
Napier recorded 274mm of rainfall during this time, 169mm of which fell over a 24-hour period.
A historical Niwa catalogue of the event states “scarcely a hill from the north of Gisborne to the south of Napier was free of slips”.
“Slipping on hillsides occurred at a spectacular scale. The majority of the slips were shallow and were the culmination of sheet erosion and heavy rainfall.”
This caused widespread damage to property and infrastructure, along with flooding, with two men drowning in Gisborne.
A newspaper clipping from the time suggests Lee was pinned to his bed by a fallen beam in a house in Northe Rd which was hit by a huge landslip.
“His plight was not discovered for some time,” the clipping reads.
“The house was moved 20 feet from its foundations and two other houses on the top of the hill were left in very precarious positions.”
A few months later, on August 4, Lee died as a result of injuries sustained in the landslip.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Napier’s Park Island cemetery and seemingly forgotten until his case was picked up by the New Zealand Remembrance Army this year.
The group was started about three years ago by Simon Strombom, a veteran, to restore service headstones and memorials of returned servicemen and women.
“It’s all about remembrance and respect.”
While cleaning graves, the group soon realised there were amazing stories behind them and also began raising funds to put in headstones for those buried in unmarked graves.
He said Hawke’s Bay had a rich military history, but Lee’s was a particularly “interesting story”.
“He joined quite late [in his life]. Something happened while he was [in Egypt] where he was injured quite badly. He came back and was living in a pub in Wellington. He’d gone to Napier for work and been caught up in the 1938 floods and a landslide.”
Strombom said Lee was buried without a headstone and forgotten, “just lost in time”.
The Remembrance Army has now purchased a gravestone and has been trying to contact any remaining family for a potential unveiling ceremony to be held with the Taradale Services Association this year.
“It just takes that heartache away and they can focus on celebrating their relatives,” Strombom said.