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CLIENT NEWS: KCE Tree of Light to shine for ANZAC Day

KCE Tree of Light to shine for ANZAC Day

The KCE Tree of Light on Te Kuiti's Rora Street is set to shine red this ANZAC Day (25 April) to commemorate all New Zealanders killed in war, and to honour returned servicemen and women.

And although many locals will flock to see the Tree glow as the sun goes down, the tree's colour has extra special meaning to 87-year-old local man, Leo Dempsey.

Leo's connection with ANZAC Day is decidedly personal.

"In 1941, during the Battle of Britain, my brother went to England as a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force," Leo said.

"On the day he was set to leave, my younger sister, older brother and I said goodbye to him and walked off to meet the school bus.

"On the way I decided I wasn't going to school. I wanted to say goodbye to him again, so I went home.

"The last thing he said to me was "I'll be back". But it wasn't to be."

On 15 December 1941 Sergeant (Pilot) Dennis James Dempsey was killed at Whittlesey Mere during a night cross country training exercise. That flight was his final training flight.

Dennis, 21-years-old at the time of his death, was buried in Royal Air Force station Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire; across the world from his family-of-thirteen back in New Zealand.

"At the time my family and I lived on a farm in Te Mapara near Piopio. I received a phone call from the local Post Master asking to speak to my father, who wasn't home at the time.

"I can remember my father taking a drink of water before he returned the Post Master's phone call. And I can remember my mother; she hoped and hoped there had been a mistake," Leo said.

His brother's funeral took place on Leo's 13th birthday.

"It was a very sad time for my family. Especially being so far away. Though we got a photo of his Bassingbourn funeral and a letter from the priest."

Leo and his wife finally had the opportunity to visit Dennis' Cambridgeshire grave in 1995.

"My wife and I did this together. She has been with me for 61 years and always a wonderful support."

To this day Leo always commemorates ANZAC Day.

"I have never been in any of the services, but many years ago the treasurer of the RSA asked if I'd do him a favour by joining the committee. I have been on there ever since; about 25 years or so."

Every year Leo also sells ANZAC poppies in Te Kuiti's commercial area.

"Last year I thought sales were quite good, and this year they have been great. As usual, the local community is always a marvellous support."

Leo said his brother's name is featured, along with other locals, on the memorial in PioPio Town Hall and on the Te Kuiti War Memorial Bridge.

And this year, Leo will also visit the KCE Tree of Light to honour his brother and others lost during war time.

"The Tree of Light is a very good initiative from KCE," he said.

"Locally, many people - young and old alike - support ANZAC Day by attending the parades in Te Kuiti and Piopio. And now we have another wonderful way to commemorate together."

KCE community relations manager Helen Peacock said the purpose of the Tree of Light is to highlight special occasions and awareness events throughout the year which are important to local people.

"As the months go by KCE will light the Tree in different colours to show community support for different special occasions and awareness events.

"Our hope is that, over time, the Tree will shine a light on hundreds of worthy causes and events, like ANZAC Day, that need profile in the King Country region and nationwide."

Mrs Peacock said KCE wants the tree to be an initiative that community members can "be a part of" in an ongoing way.

"There will be many others in the community who have a connection to a particular cause or event, like Leo does with ANZAC Day. We encourage community members to email with the causes they want to see recognised by the tree in coming months."

Leo estimates there may be about a dozen returned servicemen and women still in the Waitomo area.

"There's two airmen; one in his mid-90s and one 103-year-old. There's also another woman who was a nurse in the war; she is 104 years old!"

"It's wonderful for us that our community is still making an effort - via the Tree of Light, parades, and poppies - to remember ANZAC Day in 2016. I hope it continues for many years to come"

The KCE Tree of Light will shine red for ANZAC Day from Friday 22 – Monday 26 April. The local community is encouraged to visit.

Visit to see how else you can recommend a cause or event for the KCE Tree of Light to shine for.