Stephen John Verdun Wilson – the story behind a name

My father was given an intriguing name. Born a hundred years ago, on 1 March 1917 during the Great War, he was named Stephen John after his father’s brother, John Stephen Wilson. (He was always known as Stephen.) At this time, Stephen was serving with the New Zealand Division on the infamous Western Front.

My father’s parents added an unusual third name – Verdun. This gave him the initials S.J.V., which always seemed to make my father seem distinguished, at least to me. Verdun is not usually a person’s name, but rather a town in eastern France near the border with Germany. It is situated at a critical crossing point of the River Meuse. Consequently, an intense battle raged throughout 1916 in the area around Verdun. The Battle of Verdun was the longest and one of the most costly battles in human history. It is estimated that the French and German armies suffered nearly one million casualties. French forces eventually regained Verdun in December 1916, a victory that was an important step towards the eventual outcome of the war.

The news of this victory appeared in New Zealand’s newspapers around the time of my father’s birth. My father’s name ‘Stephen John Verdun Wilson’ unmistakably links his birth to the Western Front of the Great War and, although New Zealand soldiers did not participate in the Battle of Verdun, it shows that my grandfather held a deep respect for his brother Stephen’s voluntary enlistment.

Stephen’s war service was lengthy and terrible. He was the first of three brothers to enlist and the only one to endure the entire length of the war.

Continue reading the full article here: Albert and Stephen v2


This clipping from Otago Daily Times, 2 January 1917, illustrates the positive outlook resulting from the new tactics used by the Allies in the Battle of Verdun. Perhaps it was this new certainty of success that inspired my father’s parents to add ‘Verdun’ to his name.

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