Home' The Mirror Central Otago : April 24th 2013 Contents 24.4.13
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MARKING ANZAC DAY
History: Cousins Neville Hansen, from Alexandra, left, and Ron Stilwell, from
Cromwell, with a copy of the book written by their aunt Kathleen Hansen about
their ancestors who served in World War I.
Photo: EMMA DAWE 627870168
Dark days:The church, in France, where Bert Hansen -- Neville and Ron's grandfather -- was kept prisoner by the Germans
in 1918. He is circled in red.
The sacrifice of NZ's first family' uncovered
By EMMA DAWE
Thousands of people across the
nation will spend tomorrow
honouring the many who fought
for their country.
Among them will be two Central
Otago men who will be remember-
ing the ultimate sacrifice made by
14 members of their family.
Neville Hansen, of Alexandra, and
his cousin, Ron Stilwell, of
Cromwell, are descendants of
what is known as New Zealand's
''first family'' -- the country's first
permanent European settlers.
Forty-two men who were either
grandsons or great-grandsons of
Thomas Hansen and his sister
Hannah King, who arrived in the
Bay of Islands from Australia in
1814, served in the New Zealand
Expeditionary Force and the
Australian Imperial Force during
the First World War. A third of
them -- 14 -- never came home.
While Mr Hansen and Mr Stilwell
grew up knowing ''bits and
pieces'' about their family history,
it wasn't until their aunt and
uncle, Kath and Stan Hansen,
started researching in depth that
they became truly aware of their
''Anzac Day has always been a
special day for our family, but it
has become more relevant since
Kath and Stan started working on
the family history,'' Mr Hansen
And while there were some
amazing stories about many of
their ancestors who went to war,
the story of their grandfather,
Bert Hansen, was perhaps one of
the most incredible.
After going to war in April 1916,
he was captured by the Germans
in France two years later and
managed to escape, not once, but
twice, before the war ended.
He was first captured in April 1918
when he and his platoon were
forced to surrender after coming
under attack by the Germans and
subsequently running out of
Seven weeks and five different
prisons later, Bert managed to
escape after he became friendly
with a German sergeant who
shared his last name and believed
they may have been related.
Bert convinced the sergeant to let
him go to a hospital in Belgium to
recover from illness.
While he was there, he managed
He experienced freedom in
Belgium for 99 days before he was
caught again. Again he managed
to escape, this time while he was
being transferred to Germany,
and he remained free until the
war ended in November 1918.
Following the war, Bert spent two
years in France learning the
bakery trade, before returning to
New Zealand, marrying and
starting a family.
He died from cancer in his 50s, so
his grandsons never got to meet
Mr Hansen said his grandfather
never talked to his children about
the war, and it was only 90 years
later, when his memoirs were
found and Kath and Stan Hansen
began their research, that the true
horror of what he experienced
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