b. 15/04/1895 Tarata, New Zealand. d. 09/12/1987 Hastings, New Zealand.
Harry John Laurent (1895-1987) was born in Tarata, New Zealand on 15th April 1895 where his parents – John and Mary – were farming. Harry went to Tarata School until the families left the district around 1907 for Hawera.
The family was originally French and Harry’s grandfather, Rodolphe de Saint Laurent, who arrived in New Zealand in 1852, had been an officer in the French Army.
After he left school Harry worked at several Hwera dairy factories then joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade in May 1915. He was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On September 12th 1918 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous bravery, skill and enterprise” during the Kiwi assault on Trescault Spur. Laurent’s patrol of 12 men had advanced well beyond the front line and attacked a German strongpoint. They killed 20 of the defenders and took 112 prisoners which the patrol then got back to Allied lines under German fire.
In July 1919 when Laurent returned to Hwera, he was given a hero’s welcome and he and the Mayor, Edwin Dixon, each planted an oak tree in the grounds of the Watertower. (Later in 1919, a third oak was planted by John Grant VC when he, too, returned to Hwera.) The three trees may still be seen in the Watertower grounds.
After the war Laurent returned to far less dangerous civilian life and worked in a grocery store and later as a commercial traveller in Hwera. Harry then served as an Area Commander in the Home Guard during World War II.
Harry died on 9th December 1987 in Hastings, New Zealand at the age of 92, the last of the World War I VC recipients to pass away. He was given a full military funeral and his ashes are interred in the Hwera Servicemen’s Cemetery. His medals including the Victoria Cross, 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, New Zealand War Service Medal, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977 are held at the Queen Elizabeth II Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QEII ARMY MEMORIAL MUSEUM, WAIOURU, NEW ZEALAND.
BURIAL PLACE: SERVICEMAN'S CEMETERY, HAWERA, NEW ZEALAND. ASHES INTERRED.
Archibald Nicholl painting
William Frater Ross painting
National Memorial Arboretum
Laurent (on left) with Leslie Andrew VC (centre) and John Gildroy Grant VC on the right