Donald McNaughton Stuart Finch – #32649

Posted on March 23rd, 2017

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Is his grave known only unto God? – by Robert Findlay

DONALD FINCH (left) died on 12th October 1917 Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele, Belgium, aged 33.

He was one of eleven children of George and Jessie Finch of Tokomairiro, Otago. Of the five sons, two others are known to have served their country: William John “Jack” Finch (to the left), served in the 2nd Anglo Boer War in the 9th Contingent; and David “Davey” Thomas Alexander Finch, # 39202 (soldier to the right). Another son, James “Big Jim” McGrouther Finch, possibly served with the Australians. His name is on the Kaitangata Roll of Honour.

At the age of 28, Donald married Frances McKinlay, aged 22, at Stirling on 11th September 1912. Sadly, he was widowed just 10 months later on July 24th, 1913 when his wife died during childbirth. On the headstone of his wife Frances’ grave at Faifax Cemetery in Tokoito, it reads “In loving memory of Donald Finch killed in action in France” – which of course should read Belgium. This was a common error at the time throughout New Zealand!

Donald enlisted three years later, his service record shows:

10th June 1916 – Enlisted at Kiatangata.

27 July 1916 – Attested at Trentham Military Camp.

15 Nov 1916 – Embarked on Maunganui from Wellington#

2 Jan 1917 – Marched into Sling camp. England

1 Mar 1917 – 2nd Otago Co. proceeded to France & Etaples Camp France 3 Mar. 1917.

21 May 1917 – Joined Otago 1st Battalion, posted to 10th Co. in the field. #1 of the 1036 men of the 19th Reinforcements, Otago Regiment 1st Battalion N.Z. Expeditionary Force, D Company.

12 Oct 1917 – Killed in action in vicinity of Bellevue Spur, Passchendaele.

12th October 1917 – SO WHAT HAPPENED?

Preparations for the Dawn attack could not be completed in time because of the mud and atrocious conditions. As a result, the creeping barrage was weak and ragged. Some of the shells dropped short, causing casualties among the New Zealanders waiting to advance. To make matters worse, the earlier artillery bombardment had failed to breach the obstacle presented by the German barbed wire. Another key target, the Germans’ concrete pillboxes with their deadly machine-guns, were also left largely undamaged.

Although Donald Finch was killed and listed as Missing in Action and has ‘no known grave’ he is in fact buried on Bellevue Spur. This was revealed when scrutinising the service record form NZE no 2 below (please click on the photo for a higher resolution) – 

The letters/numbers D4 D20 and 20 & D9 turn out to be trench map coordinates showing where he and 11 others were killed and where he was buried. Unfortunately, when the remains were to be recovered, it was found subsequent artillery fire had obliterated the burial site and no remains were recovered.

Hence Donald Finch is commemorated on the Central Aspe (panel 3) at the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery & Memorial to the Missing at Passchendaele, this is where those with no known grave are commemorated.

But where he was killed and buried is known when the trench map coordinates are converted to GPS coordinates on Google maps (click on the photos).







The 13897 B refers to Pvt. Herkulean Farquharson of D Company who identified the body. He was a cheese maker, whose father was Henry Calder Farquharson, also of Stirling. He and Donald would have known each other coming from the same place.  Sadly, Herkulean also lost two brothers, Gladestone 8/3254 and Henry 8/1730 did not return home.

Apart from Tyne Cot in Belgium,  Donald is remembered on a number of memorials here in New Zealand:

–          The Milburn School memorial gates

–          The Tokomairiro District High School Honours board

–          The Milton Presbyterian Church

–          The Bruce district war memorial, Milton

–          The Balclutha War Memorial

–          The Kiatangata War Memorial hall, honours board


Some of Donald’s siblings named children after him as a LIVING MEMORIAL:

–          William Donald Stevenson (1915-1978), son of Eleanor Finch, nephew of Donald.

–          Robert Donald Robertson (1918-2009), son of Lillian Finch, nephew

–          Donald McNaughton Finch Findlay (1918- 2011), son of Elizabeth Finch,[i] nephew

–          Donald Finch (1938-). son of George Finch, nephew

–          Donald Vincent Cuttance (1943-2013), grandson of William ‘Jack’ Finch, great-nephew

–          William Donald Oliver (1944-       ), grandson of Elizabeth Finch, great-nephew

–          Donald Matthew Robertson (1946-    ), grandson of Lillian Finch, great-nephew

–          Donald Lawrence Finch (1968-    ), grandson of George Finch, great-nephew.


A SAD STORY about Donald’s sister Elizabeth “Elta” Findlay (nee Finch):

At the wharf side 15 Nov. 1916 to farewell the Maunganui that day was Donald’s sister Elizabeth. She had travelled from Masterton with her 8-year old son William “Willie” Findlay. That was the last time any of Donald’s family saw him as he was not to return. Four months later she named her new son Donald McNaughton Finch Findlay after her brother. He subsequently served during the WW2. He posted a card from Italy which read:

To my Mother;

Someday when war is over,

I’ll come back to thee,

When peace once more shall bless the earth

I’ll safely cross the sea.

Thy loving eyes with joy will beam,

Thy heart with pleasure beat,

When home again,

In sweet content I claim that vacant seat


Sadly it was not to be as his Mother passed away before he arrived home.


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