Soldier's identity disc returned after 92 years

Zoë Corselle with Richard Kemp's identity disc displayed on a map showing where she found it.

Richard Kemp's story

Richard Kemp's dog tag

Richard Kemp's identity disc

A century after the Battle of the Somme, it is still possible to find physical traces of the hundreds of thousands of men who fought and died there in 1916. In 2007 a French family unearthed an identity disc belonging to New Zealand soldier Richard Kemp, and in 2008 the disc was returned home.

Richard Kemp (Keepa Horo), of Te Aupōuri iwi, came from the small Northland settlement of Te Kao. When war broke out in 1914, he was in his mid-20s and working as a porter on the railways, based at Takapau in Hawke’s Bay.

He probably signed up with a group of mates­ — nearly a dozen men from Takapau sailed off to Egypt with the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 16 October 1914.

Richard served in the Wellington Infantry Battalion and was one of the few Māori involved in the initial landings on Gallipoli in April 1915. His battalion played a key role in the attack on Chunuk Bair in August 1915. He then joined the Engineers, and at some point was wounded and shipped to England for treatment. Back in Egypt at the end of 1915, Richard waited for the New Zealanders to return from Gallipoli.

Early the following year, he became a sergeant and transferred to the Maori Contingent. In February 1916 this was reorganised into the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion for service on the Western Front.

Richard Kemp

Notice of Richard Kemp's injury in NZ Free Lance, 13 July 1917

Based on the Somme from mid-1916, the battalion built communication trenches as well as cooking, cleaning and carrying out other tasks. As a bombardier (an artillery rank equivalent to corporal), Richard may have been involved in the difficult job of bringing ammunition up to the artillery. Day after day from mid-September, the New Zealand and German forces shelled each other. Perhaps it was during one of these attacks that Richard lost his identity disc; or perhaps he just slipped in the rain that often swept the area.

In early 1917, now a 2nd lieutenant, Richard headed north into Belgium with the battalion. Around Messines they built railway tracks and communication lines. It was here that Richard suffered wounds to the chest and back that saw him sent to hospital in England.

He was eventually declared permanently unfit for general service. Richard was promoted to lieutenant later in 1917, shortly before his transfer to a discharge hospital at Torquay. He embarked for home on 14 March 1918 and was discharged in April 1919. He married an English nurse he had met while in hospital, and they had one son. Richard Kemp died in 1964 and is buried in his home town of Te Kao. 

The identity disc was formally returned to the Kemp family in December 2008.

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