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  • Claire Jordan

"Please Feel That He Is Amongst Friends"

Six months into the Great War, on 18th February 1915 at New Zealand’s Masterton Show on North Island, the winner of the rodeo event Bain’s Buckjumping Championship at the town fair was a 22 year old Maori lad named Hemi te Miha, or in English: Jimmy Danger.

He was presented with a silver cup, which was later donated to the National Library of New Zealand along with family papers and his dog tags.

Seven months later, after basic training at Auckland’s Narrow Neck Camp and now styled Private James Danger of the 2nd Maori Contingent NZEF, he had swapped his cowboy hat for a lemon-squeezer, embarking on the troopship SS Waitemata for War.

Back home in Greytown, North Island, Aunt Eria, his next of kin, could do nothing but look after his latest rodeo trophy til he came home and trust that if anyone could come through this, it would be her dauntless cowboy nephew.

He was to join the Maori Pioneer Battalion as a reinforcement, after their blood-soaked stint at Gallipoli. Now in France through the wintery early months of 1916, Jimmy and the Maori Pioneers dug drains, laid railway lines, buried cables and put up wire entanglements.

They built endless support and communications trenches, usually further back but closer to the front, they dug under cover of night.

By May 1916, as the great offensive on the Somme inexorably approached, Jimmy Danger and his mates were carrying out trench work closer and closer to the enemy lines, and casualties were frequent.

On 29th May, Jimmy and some mates were on a brief R&R in Armentieres, billeted by the railway station, when the swimming baths close by were heavily shelled with high explosives; he and four others were wounded.

Private Danger was hit by shrapnel in the left arm and was evacuated to England to recuperate for a month in a Sheffield war hospital, where I imagine the young nurses found it almost impossible not to fall a little bit in unspoken love with the cheerful, colourful, exotically-accented rodeo star in their midst.

Perhaps he excelled in showing them his collection of other scars which this new one would join, legacies of the old boyhood buckjumping days.

As a wise man once said, it’s not how many times you get knocked down but how many times you can get back up.

With Jimmy now promoted Corporal, a year later on 12th July 1917, Aunt Eria back home in Greytown, with her heart I’m sure thudding, opened a telegram which read that her nephew had been gassed on 24th June, but was back with his unit by 28th.

He just kept getting straight back on the horse.

But then a month later came the day, 17th August, when there could be no more horses for Jimmy Danger.

That autumn, Aunt Eria at home in New Zealand would receive a letter from a very kind Matron at 2nd Australian General Hospital at Wimereux on the French coast.

Dated 3rd September, Matron wrote:

“Dear Madam

Your nephew Cpl J Danger was admitted to our hospital on August 26th … with a bad wound in the buttocks, which perforated to the abdomen.

He was operated on last week but he is still very ill indeed.

Everything that we can possibly do for him will be done.

Please feel that he is amongst friends.”

By the time Aunt Eria opened this letter, she would some weeks before have received the telegram telling her that Jimmy had died of his wounds on the day Matron wrote that letter, 3rd September 1917.

Perhaps Matron had to write many such letters and needs must be succinct, but she was clearly also smart and empathetic and she liked Jimmy, who bore up with characteristic good heart as he sank under the weight of the un-survivable wound.

I’m not sure she could have found a more poignant or I hope more comforting thing to write than that final line.

Dear Jimmy, you are Not Forgotten.

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