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Switzerland Remembers New Zealand Servicemen

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getting into place, from left to right, British, Swiss and Commonwealth representatives getting into place, from left to right, British, Swiss and Commonwealth representatives

Peter Martin reviews a Neutral Armistice Commemoration

Switzerland was neutral in both WW1 and WW2. However, as a result of an initiative in 1916 by the the Red Cross, Switzerland gave humanitarian hospitality coupled with internment to some thousands of badly wounded prisoners of war, from both sides, in hospitals, sanatoria, and private homes and hotels from 1916 until the end of the war .

Some of these British and Commonwealth wounded died in Switzerland and after initial burial where they had died, in cemeteries all over the country, were re-interred in the only Commonwealth War Graves site in Switzerland, in the beautiful, wooded, hillside cemetery of St Martin's Lutheran church above the railway in Vevey on Lake Léman or Lake Geneva as it is known to the British.

In WW2, the Swiss interned escaped prisoners of war, principally from Italy after the capitulation in 1943, and also airmen from shot down allied aircraft on their way to and from Northern targets from Italy which strayed into Swiss airspace.

A total of 136 servicemen from both World Wars are buried at Vevey but, judging by the visitors ledger, it is relatively little visited and the only fresh crosses seen today on any graves were placed by your correspondent on the graves of the only two Guardsmen interred there, Private Tommy Fitzhenry of the Irish Guards in WW1 and Guardsman Cyril Richardson of the Coldstream Guards in WW2.

However, there are the graves of four New Zealand servicemen, three from WW1 and one from WW2. The list is neither alphabetical nor chronological but here it is.-

    25453 Private Ernest Bunn, Auckland Regiment NZEF, died September 1918.

    26516 Private Alfred Stanaway, Auckland Regiment NZEF, died November 1918.

    26/1107 Rifleman John Barr, NZ Rifle Brigade, NZEF, died December 1918.

    412471 Flight Lieutenant William Esquilant, RNZAF, died August 1946.

It must be assumed in the absence of any medical records, that those who died after the ending of hostilities in both wars were wounded and probably still receiving treatment. Only a comprehensive programme of research into combat and other records might show us more.

There was an impressive line up of Allied, Swiss, and Commonwealth military and diplomatic representatives and Germany was also represented by the German ambassador and military attaché.

The whole ceremony was organised principally by the Ministry of Defence assistant at the British Embassy in Berne to a non-existent military attaché as that formal role has been discontinued in the interests of economy. This civil servant has been organising the commemoration for some 20 years as she is now permanently locally employed in Berne.

.There was an impressive flypast by the Swiss Air Force in F5-E fighter jets, timed to arrive noisily almost to the millisecond at 11.00 despite a very low cloud base.

  • This Release From: The MSCNewsWire Reporters Desk