Honouring the fallen

Friday, May 8, 2015

Published in: Seasons Magazine, May 2015

April 25, 1915, is a date enshrined in New Zealand’s history.

On that fateful morning, thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, to take the fight to the Ottoman Empire, but the navigational error that saw the ANZAC Forces land two kilometres north of their objective resulted in an eight month campaign against impossible odds as they held on to a tenuous perimeter in the face of relentless Turkish attacks.

By the time British military leaders admitted defeat and evacuated the ANZACs in December, 44,000 Allied soldiers had been killed, including 2,779 New Zealanders, a crushing loss for a small nation with a population of just one million people. Although more New Zealanders ultimately died on the Western Front, it’s Gallipoli that resonates as a defining moment in our history.

One hundred years on, the story of Gallipoli is still an important history lesson for our children and a source of solemn pride for us all. It is a story that helped to shape our national identity. First observed in 1916, the date of the landing has become a time for remembering with pride and gratitude not only those who died at Gallipoli, but all who have served New Zealand in our armed services.

This Anzac Day was especially poignant as we marked the centenary of Gallipoli, honoured the fallen, and gave thanks for all who have defended the freedom we cherish and the values that bind us in military conflicts. I was proud of the way New Zealanders commemorated the anniversary, both locally and around the world.

Each of the ceremonies in Hamilton attracted strong support. In the hush before dawn, returned servicemen and women, current members of the armed forces, cadets and emergency services, dignitaries, and proud descendants wearing relatives’ medals, solemnly marched across Victoria Bridge to the cenotaph for the dawn ceremony. It was the biggest crowd ever seen at that event and most of us were crammed respectfully on Memorial Drive as it was impossible to fit such a large crowd in the park itself.

It was heart-warming to see so many people, of different ages and cultures, coming together as one to remember and give thanks. Children were rugged up against the cold morning, aware of the solemnity of the occasion, and indicating that future generations will continue to honour the significance of Anzac Day. The civic ceremony later in the morning was also well attended and an equally moving occasion.

I was very fortunate to attend the official openings of two significant local events on the eve of Anzac Day. The Ieper (Ypres) Memorial Garden project evolved from Hamilton’s strong relationship with the city of Ypres, Belgium. It is a site dedicated to the memory of military personnel who have died in combat, and is particularly evocative of those who fell at the Western Front. It is a beautiful, peaceful location in the heart of Memorial Park and a superb permanent reminder of all it symbolises.

That evening, Waikato Museum’s superb WW1 exhibition, “For Us they Fell”, which honours Waikato men and women whose lives were touched by the war, was launched. It is a fascinating and powerful combination of still image, video, music and artefacts that is a tribute to the courage, strength and resilience of our forebears. This magnificent exhibition runs until April 2018 and I warmly recommend it.

Last month, the long-awaited unveiling of a sculpture honouring Sapper Horace Moore-Jones, occurred on Hamilton’s Victoria Street. The celebrated WW1 soldier and artist is also remembered for his heroic efforts on the night of the 1922 Hamilton Hotel fire which claimed his life in 1922 as he rescued others.

The sculpture by Captain Matt Gauldie is outstanding, and rests on a magnificent plinth carved from Gallipoli, which was generously donated by the people of Turkey.

A highlight for me was the performance by Hamilton Girls’ High School of their beautiful anthem, “Welcome Home”, commissioned for this event and subsequently repeated by popular request at our civic ceremony on Anzac Day. I hope it will become a regular feature at such commemorations. Equally impressive was the spine-tingling haka performed by a large group from Hamilton Boys’ High School as the sculpture was about to be unveiled. Both schools did the city proud. In every respect, it was an event those of us who were privileged to attend will always remember.

Congratulations and warm thanks are due to all who helped to secure each of these magnificent additions to our city’s heritage.

“We will remember them.”