Merville Mentioned

Finally Found Merville Mentioned

It feels like I have searched forever for some newspaper report with Merville mentioned, but always to no avail. This small French town had yet to appear in any WWI report I’d managed to track down.

Have you ever done something that is quite outside your normal actions and wondered why on earth you did? That happened to me last week. I never thought about it being something unusual for me until my husband commented on it.

On ANZAC Day I saw a programme entitled “Dancing in the Sky” on Maori TV and decided to record it. The synopsis read that it was about William Rhodes-Moorhouse, the first airman to win the Victoria Cross. Yes, a very fitting programme to have play on ANZAC Day, but what interest did I have in some random airman who I’d never heard of?

A few days later I settled down to watch the programme, admittedly when I had nothing more exciting to do or watch. It was an interesting story about a speed-mad young man, born in England of a New Zealand born mother who had ties to the Ngati Ruanui.

It wasn’t until the story progressed to his entry into the Royal Flying Corps in 1914 that I suddenly sat up and paid extra close attention. So close that the replay button was hit numerous times least my hearing had deceived me. I jumped up to grab pen and paper and very slowly played and replayed a two or three minute segment which had captured me, furiously scribbling the details down.

I have searched on and off for years for some mention in old New Zealand newspapers of the French townships of Merville and Lille – after which my mother was named – but have yet to find any reference to either. (Learning recently that the Southland papers are now all on-line, hopefully this task is now possible to achieve from my home in Auckand.) But this random programme, which I had recorded on a whim, may have given me a link to how Merville in particular was likely to have been mentioned in news reports of the First World War.

In 1914 No 2 Squadron of The Royal Flying Corps had an airfield at Merville, in northern France. William Rhodes-Moorhouse was transferred there in March 1915 (two months after my mother’s birth) so the area was still in Allied hands at this time. Apparently aircraft were primarily used for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering at this early stage of the war, perhaps there were reports in NZ newspapers about such successful and vital information being available to the Army command. Perhaps I haven’t known what to look for.

I cannot describe the excitement I felt at this first mention of Merville in any WWI reports I had managed to read/hear of to date. Even visiting this beautiful town as it is today a few years ago did not give me a sense of understanding how or why my grandfather had chosen these names for one of his children.

Was the report of William Rhodes-Moorhouse’s bravery available to NZ newspapers? (He  was immediately awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) but less than a month after was posthumously awarded the Victory Cross for his bravery in destroying a vital supply rail link in Belguim between the German front lines and their supply network.} Or is this a red herring? No matter, I now have a different line to pursue in my search for a mention of Merville and Lille where my grandfather may have seen it.

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