Mystery of the unknown soldier

Literary buff Glen Pettit with “The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade.”

Who is, or was, ‘Thos. Purves’?

The handwritten name and service number No. 69724 4th  Br. NZRB – or Fourth Brigade New Zealand Rifle Brigade – is inscribed on the flyleaf of this copy of ‘The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade’.

“Not a rare book,” says Glen Pettit, a literary buff who ferrets through offerings for the annual Harbour City Lions book fair every October, “but you don’t see many copies because people who have them in their collection don’t tend to part with them.”

Glen sorts the valuable books and ‘The Official History…’ will be on the collectors’ table. “It’s of significant interest to a collector or a student of WW1 history rather than just a reader,” he adds. 

However, the vivid first-hand account of the Somme might hold broader fascination. “The sights and sounds of struggle and carnage burnt upon our memories could never be entirely obliterated,” writes Lieutenant Colonel W.S. Austin DSO, who compiled ‘The Official History…’

“Fragments of the all-pervading mud and filth of the battle area, over which we had fought and struggled, still clung to arms, equipment and clothing and even to the very pores of the skin, and conspired with the weariness of mind and body to again recall the horrors our recent experiences.”

Did Thos. Purves serve in the Somme? He is not mentioned in the several pages chronicling the Brigade’s WW1 killed in action, wounded or missing. Perhaps he returned home safely to buy the book and reflect.

Glen is researching the value of the book as he talks to The Weekend Sun. Auction documents tell of sales between $126 and $225 some years ago. Dealers have them listed between $345 and $550.

“These figures are only proof of value,” says Glen, “and although this book is in fine condition, no-one’s going to pay retail at a book fair.” So the book will be tagged at the realistic lower end of the spectrum. 

There is another sad story about a son, a husband or a father. “Report on raid of the enemy trenches by a party of the 2nd Battalion 3rd NZRB. 

“11:51pm – up until this time there had been no casualties but while withdrawing, an enemy bomb being carried by one of the men, Rifleman McPhee, exploded killing him and wounding three others.”

Just one book in a myriad at the Harbour City Lions book fair - science fiction, satire, drama, action and adventure, romance, mystery, horror, self-help, health, children’s, history, religion and spirituality.

All very affordable and with all proceeds going to worthy local causes. The Harbour City Lions book fair is on at Tauranga Racecourse from Friday, October 26, from 5-9pm, and again on Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 5pm.