Spanish flu: Anglesey search for New Zealand family of flu victim

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image copyrightNational Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy
image captionPhilip Gannaway (left) on the SS Demosthenes in 1916, when it was being used as a troop ship

An appeal has been made to trace the family of a sailor from New Zealand buried more than a century ago on an island off Anglesey.

Lt Philip Gannaway had recently married his wife Muriel when he enlisted during World War One.

He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, serving on motor launches on the Menai Strait.

But he died aged 32 during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, and is buried on Church Island in the strait.

Local historian Bridget Geoghegan says she has already had responses following a story about Lt Gannaway on the New Zealand news website Stuff.

However, she is still waiting to hear from his direct relatives.

"I have met family members of some people I have researched, and that is always a delight - a bonus," she said.

image copyrightBridget Geoghegan
image captionThe grave notes Lt Gannaway's military service with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Lt Gannaway's funeral took place on 9 November 1918 with full naval honours, just two days before the armistice that brought fighting to an end.

Newspaper reports found by Ms Geoghegan said more than 200 men and officers joined the procession, with shipyard work pausing as a mark of respect.

"I found he had married his sweetheart not long before volunteering and coming over to UK," she said.

"It seemed like a bitter end to a love story."

He is buried at St Tysilio's on Church Island, which is linked to the rest of Anglesey by a short causeway.

image copyrightBridget Geoghegan
image captionThe Australian and New Zealander are both remembered on the war memorial

But Lt Gannaway is not the only man on the island buried so far from home.

Remembered alongside him on the war memorial is William Connington, a 23-year-old corporal in the Australian Flying Corps who died with flu in Buckinghamshire.

"Connington had family in the area - his father must have emigrated to Australia," Ms Geoghegan said.

"His aunt and cousin lived in Menai Bridge. I think it likely that he had been up to stay with the family and when he died his aunt brought him back to Menai Bridge from Aylesbury so that he would be buried amongst friends."

image copyrightGeograph / Gordon Hatton
image captionSt Tysilio's sits on Church Island in the Menai Strait

For several years Ms Geoghegan has joined others in researching and commemorating the people named on local war memorials and graves.

Before the latest lockdown restrictions, she created a walk for Church Island with the stories behind the names.

"I devised a walk round St Tysilio to include the graves of those lost and the family commemorations for their loved-ones buried elsewhere or lost at sea - the pain is almost palpable," she said.

The inscription from Lt Gannaway's parents to their "beloved son" reads simply: "In peace he lived, in peace he died".

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