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Final resting place of New Zealand Army captain killed in WW1 found after 103 years

The final resting place of a New Zealand Army captain who died in World War 1 has been found in a first for the New Zealand Defence Force.

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Ernie Parry died at the Battle of Passchendaele and 103 years later he's been found in a historic first for the NZDF. Source: Seven Sharp

The remains of Ernie Parry has been found 103 years after he died at the Battle of Passchendaele

Paper and ink were the only clues left in the hunt for Parry, a painter and decorator from Paeroa who had been married with two little boys.

Parry left Paeroa and his young family in 1915, fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Quickly promoted to Captain, in 1917 he found himself at Passchendaele.

"It was a large attack, it was extremely high risk,” New Zealand Defence Force historian Matthew Buck told Seven Sharp.

Parry survived and then ventured out once more to make sure his men were accounted for.

He didn't return. His death was recorded in a telegram on October 6, 1917.

When the graves concentration units swept through after the war collecting remains, Parry's insignia identified him only as an unknown New Zealand captain.

"Nobody actually recorded where he was buried," he said.

Back in Paeroa, the news hit his wife, Mary, hard.

"I was left with two small sons and having nothing other than his war pension to provide for their upbringing, I was forced to sacrifice a great deal," she wrote at the time.

Thousands of our World War 1 casualties have no known grave, with Captain Parry a mystery among mysteries.

But then, his file landed on Buck's desk, and he began poring over maps, service records and field diaries.

“You have to be skeptical,” he explained. “If you’re wrong, we’ve robbed some other family of a result like that.”

Finally, there was a new clue – a letter sent to Parry’s wife in 1917 and printed in Paeroa's local newspaper, the Ohinemuri Gazette.

"It was from an unknown comrade talking very warmly about Ernie and saying what a brave officer he was”.

It tied Captain Parry to Sergeant Donald McLean, whose battlefield burial had been mapped.

"This particular correspondent had just rejoined the battalion, having been away after the attack, and had gone looking for his friend. What he reports was what the patrol said they found, which was that Parry and the sergeant were lying dead together, killed by same shell."

“We have reason to be proud of Ernie, I was told by his brother officers that he acted gallantly right throughout the advance," the letter read.

Sadly, there was more to come for Mary.

"Captain Parry's two little boys grew up, they joined the Air Force. Very unfortunately one of them, Joseph, was killed while flying a bomber command in 1941. He was never seen again. He has no known grave either."

Mary never gave up hope her son was alive.

"When I receive the cheque from you, I will pay it into my Post Office account, as I still hoping my son will be found safe somewhere," she wrote.

Joseph was never found but now his father has been.

"He lies in a very little pretty cemetery close to the town of Ypres."