National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

WWI Soldier’s Personal Name Tag Reunited with Family

James Beattie’s tag. Image source: NZ Army

National Army Museum Te Mata Toa Archivist Dolores Ho was honoured to deliver the news to a NZ family that their ancestor had served in WWI and that his personal name tag had been discovered in France. The tag belonged to 32498 Gunner James Beattie and was recently returned to the family during a ceremony in Christchurch, May 2017.

The personal name tag was first discovered by an adjutant/reserve chief of the French Gendarmerie while out enjoying his hobby as a metal detector enthusiast on 8 October, 2016. It was found not far from his house at ‘les cinq rues’ Hazebrouck, France. In the hopes of returning the tag to James Beattie’s descendants, several organisations were contacted to trace the family in New Zealand.

In early March 2017, Dolores was contacted by Captain Shaun Fogarty, Defence Attaché in Paris to assist with the search. Extensive research was carried out by Dolores in an effort to locate James’ next-of-kin, made all the more difficult through uncovering that James himself had no direct descendants. However, it was in tracing the lines of James’ siblings that Dolores began to make progress. After a period of several weeks researching, she was finally able to make contact with James’ great-grandnephew, a member of the Trevella family in Christchurch. The Trevellas are descendants of James’ niece Joan Mary Meadows, the daughter of James’ eldest sister Maggie Meadows (nee Beattie).

Dolores feels it was an honour to deliver the news to the family of their Great Great Uncle. “To research, to trace the family history and to be able to find the family is a big achievement and being able to tell the family about James’ history and other family history they didn’t know about is an amazing feeling.”

“The family had no ideas that a member of theirs had served in the Great War, it was a big surprise to them, they had no clue at all,” said Dolores.

Trevella family during presentation of James’ personal name tag in Christchurch, May 2017. Image source: NZ Army

With the help of Colonel (Rtd.) Ray Seymour, Dolores was able to establish an idea of how James’ movements during service may’ve led him to the Hazebrouck area where the tag was found. Based on information provided and a timeline summary of his unit’s whereabouts, Colonel Seymour has ascertained that the only time James Beattie was anywhere near this area was on 25 February 1918. It was at this time when the entire New Zealand Machine Gun Corps came out of the line and concentrated together at Hondeghem, near Hazebrouck. Whilst at Hondeghem, the unit conducted active training after spending three months, under trying conditions, in front of Polygon Wood. The weather was perfect whilst they underwent this training and morale was greatly lifted.

“It is rare to find such as tag. It is very small and hardly noticeable, especially when it has been covered in dirt for nearly 100 years. I know the family will treasure it,” said Dolores. Though his tag was lost in the fields of Flanders, James Beattie survived the war and returned to New Zealand in 1919. 

James Beattie died in Christchurch on 9 August 1955, aged 62.