On a street in Johnsonville stands an old fashioned-style lamp with a plaque on it - dedicated to one of the first soldiers of New Zealand to die in an overseas conflict.
Trooper Leonard Greenwood Ritter (Len) was born on December 19, 1878 to Frederick and Martha Retter in Johnsonville, early settlers in the area.
Frederick himself was born in Wadestown in 1849 and ran a blacksmith shop in the main street Johnsonville. Blacksmithing was a family affair with three of his sons including Leonard working in the shop and then another they opened.
Three of the boys, Claude, Darcy and Leonard were listed as farriers when they joined the New Zealand Mounted Rifles.
They and others sailed for South Africa to take part in the Boer War.
Leonard was assigned to Colonel Garrett’s column in the Eastern Transvaal. With constant skirmishing, there were fatalities.
In what was called the Bloody Battle of Bothasberg, Leonard was fatally wounded. His brother Darcy was in the trench as him, holding him as he died.
He was buried in the Vrede Cemetery, Free State, South Africa.
Initially his personal effects were packed up to be returned to his family but things like his wrist watch was stolen in transit and all his family got back was a knife and fork.
The family did receive the Queen’s South Africa medal.
At first a plaque was created to commemorate Retter and only later was attached to a lamppost on Main Road - now Johnsonville Road. The lamp was originally kerosene, then gas and now electric, made by a Wellington iron foundry company E W Mills and Co.
In 1953, a reversing truck knocked it over and took a while to be put back up. Then in the 60’s there was talk of demolishing it before it was moved to the gates of Johnsonville memorial park on Frankmoore avenue, then moved to Moorefield Road in 1986.
It is not the only lamppost memorial - there are others in Christchurch, Feilding and Marton.
Retter was buried in the Vrede Cemetery, Free State, South Africa.
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