BENJAMIN OSBORNE FINLAY – ‘Coin’ reunited with Finlay family of Ngatea.

34352  L/CPL Benjamin Osborne FINLAY – 20th Reinforcements, NZRB, NZEF

20150713_110852_resizedIn October last year I received an email from Coral B. of Tauranga telling me that she had found what she initially thought was  a coin in what had been her deceased father’s collection of coins and general bits ‘ n’ pieces acquired over his lifetime.  The “coin” she discovered was actually a WW1 British War Medal, minus its ribbon suspension clasp and ribbon.  Given the suspender and ribbon were missing from the medal, it was understandable its appearance would very easily pass for that of a coin.  The medal was named to 34352 Lance Corporal Benjamin Osborne Finlay.  Coral had no idea if there had been any connection between her father and L/Cpl. Finlay.  So Coral contacted me in the hope the medal might be reunited with a Finlay family descendant.

The Finlay (Finley) family had their roots in Ireland and latterly in the mid 1800s in Peterborough County, Canada.  The immigrant Finlay’s were predominantly farmers in and around the Auckland,  Clevedon and latterly Waikato areas.  Benjamin Osborne Finlay ‘s immediate family comprised his father Francis Parker Finlay, mother Martha (nee Crocker), and siblings Hazel Olive, James Cecil, and Francis Charles Finlay.  Benjamin was born in in 1896 at Manukau in Auckland and had worked as a farm labourer until voluntarily enlisting with the 1st Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment in late 1916.  Prior to enlistment he had also spent a number of years as a part-time soldier with the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles.  

Pte. Benjamin Osborne Finlay embarked for London and war service in January 1917 on board HMNZT 73 with the 20th Reinforcements of the Wellington Infantry Regiment.

On 14 June 1917 Pte Finlay was reported wounded whilst at the front in France, sustaining a severe shrapnel wound to his face, lip and head.  He was evacuated to Hornchurch Military Hospital in England, recovering sufficiently to be returned to the front.

Pte. Finlay was again wounded in October 1918, this time by a gunshot wound to his left thigh.  Evacuated again to England and the London Military Hospital, he found himself again convalescing at Hornchurch until he was finally returned to his family farm in Clevedon in April 1919 –  a total of 2 years and 65 days of overseas service.  In 1951, Benjamin took the plunge and married Edith Eleanor Kidd (nee Meredith) a widow, however no family resulted from the union. 

A scan of the family Finlay ancestry files and the electoral rolls of the Clevedon (Manukau electoral area) from 1900-1930 showed the family had been resident farmers in that area.  After this time, they had concentrated in the Ngatea (Hamilton) area while still farming the land.  Such a concentration of Finlay family members with little apparent movement away from the location of their early farming days made it a logical punt to take that there may still be descendant Finlay’s in the Ngatea area to this very day.  In fact there were several and together with another calculated guess that the name “Francis” which was carried through three generations, may still be  in evidence, soon had me talking to Benjamin’s nephew, Francis (Frank) Ivan Finlay, the son of Francis Charles Finlay who was Benjamin’s younger brother. 

Frank Finlay is retired now but still living on the family land up the Opua Road in Ngatea, surrounded by the subsequent generations of Finlay descendants.  Frank was somewhat puzzled when I contacted him regarding the medal but as soon as his daughter Susan H. became involved as my point of contact for the return of the medal, the family’s interest and excitement of the return of their family heirloom was obvious. 

Frank Finlay has now received his nephew’s medal and will have it restored to its original condition for wearing on appropriate occasions.  My thanks to Coral for placing her faith in MRNZ to get the ‘coin” back to its rightful owner family, and especially to Susan H. and her ‘TEAM’ for the unprecedented contribution to the research.

 

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