Bonjour tout le monde,
My name is Shani McMullan, and I am super excited to be part of the Young Ambassador’s group for 2018!
To me, being an ambassador is about relationships. I went on a high school French trip two years ago, and as part of it we visited a school in Nice. It was so interesting to meet young people like us, yet who lived completely different lives. I didn't have too much of a chance to bond with any of the students then, but this time round I’m hoping to make more lasting friendships with people that I can keep in touch with far into the future. I’m interested to see how the way we’ve bridged gaps between cultures throughout history compares to the way that we can approach it now, with the social media and platforms we have available to us today. New Zealand and France both have such beautiful yet totally different cultures, and I’m so excited to be part of something that helps bring the two worlds a little bit closer.
But it is not merely the formation of new relationships that is important, but also the discovery and remembrance of old ones. When my French teacher first told me about the application process for the young ambassadors trip, I was super excited. It seemed like everything I was passionate about, rolled into one amazing opportunity - but it didn’t seem relevant to me, as I didn’t think I had any relation who had fought in WW1. While trawling through the blogs of previous ambassadors, I ended up reading one of the posts from 2016. Abigail Marshall’s blog piece “Ma Decouverte” told the story of how she had begun her journey believing that she had no direct ancestors in WW1, and shared the research that led her to find a relative that had fought in the Battle of the Somme. This story inspired me to do some research of my own.
I won’t recount all the dead ends I chased, but after signing up to Ancestry.com, I happened to stumble upon a list of an Australian WW1 platoon, and found a certain lieutenant by the name of Leslie Duesbury. I knew that Duesbury was my Nana’s maiden name, so I excitedly gave her a call. All she could tell me was that her family came from New South Wales, and she recalled the few aunties and uncles that she could remember. I followed his ancestry profile to find that he also lived in New South Wales, and the names of his listed relatives matched the names my Nana had given to me.
I had found Second Lieutenant Leslie Sydney Duesbury, member of the 33rd Battalion of the 9th Division of Australia, who fought in the First Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, the One Hundred Day offensive, and the Battle of Passchendaele - and was my Nana’s first-cousin. This trip is about ‘Following Family Footsteps’ but for me, it was about discovering footsteps that we had no idea existed. It was particularly cool for me to tell my Nana all about the family tree I had unearthed as she had never known much about her family. As the year progresses I hope to discover more about this Leslie Sydney Duesbury, and I plan to learn as much as I can about WW1 before we head off. In particular I’d like to learn more about the Battle of Passchendaele, which I am currently studying in history at the moment. I can’t wait to meet everyone March 17th, and begin our projects and preparation for the crazy year ahead.
See you all soon!