Last year, 2016, the New Zealand government commemorated the centennial of the entry of NZ troops into the Battle of the Somme, near Longueval, and the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. As I read news accounts about this, I realised that James Riordan was killed around this time. I knew that he had died of wounds in a military hospital, but as the Etaples Cemetery was a long way from Longueval, it did not seem likely to me that he could have been in this battle. Still, the timing was close.
A few weeks ago at the NZSG conference I spoke to one of the historians at the NZ Defence Force stand. He checked the details on James Riordan's casualty form with me, and when he looked at the date he was wounded, and the fact that James was a Rifleman, he said it was quite likely that James Riordan did take part in the Battle of the Somme. He also told me that because he was wounded in the thigh he possibly got gangrene from bacteria and died as a result.
The historian told me that the Somme was a huge long battlefront, but that the battle the New Zealanders entered was at Flers-Courcelette. He gave me a brochure with the web address where I could check the unit's history. I found the website, then the NZ history link, leading to a WW1 link, and then to a link for the NZ Rifle Brigade history. This history detailed the battle around Flers that the Rifle Brigade was involved in from September 15th. There were heavy casualties, and James Riordan must have been wounded in action as part of this battle, before being moved back to a military base hospital at Dannes-Camiers, near the Etaples Military Cemetery.
Coincidentally, John Joseph, another Reardon from Darfield, the son of Bartholomew and Maggie Reardon, was killed in action in the same battle, and is buried at the Caterpillar Valley New Zealand Memorial. Both men are listed on the cenotaph in Darfield, Canterbury.
I have visited the grave of James Riordan in Etaples Cemetery, and hope I might return there one day. It is comforting to read, from the NZ Tablet, 26 July 1917, that the graves of many of the NZ soldiers were visited by their comrades, including the grave of James Riordan.
|From the Papers Past website, NZ Tablet, 26 July 1917.|
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them."