Today we visited the Hororata War Memorial, where both the Big T’s great uncles are remembered. A very solemn moment shared with the solitary honour guard.
The Big T’s great uncles:
— Pte Eric Andrew Gray, died in the Somme Valley, France, March 1918
— Lt Harry Marshall Wright, died at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, August 1915.
Commemorated alongside other servicemen and women from the Canterbury region at the Field of Remembrance, Cranmer Square, Christchurch.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.— Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen”
April 25th is Anzac Day in New Zealand and Australia; our most important national day of remembrance, for all Australians and New Zealanders:
“who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; a term – and an entity – that came into existence in World War One.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day, and its role in our national culture has, if anything, grown in recent years. It is not uncommon for whole families to attend dawn services, not only at our major war memorials, but even in the smallest local communities.
The Fields of Remembrance Project has been set up to honour New Zealanders who lost their lives in WWI. White crosses are being placed in locations all around the country; each one bearing the name, rank and service number of one of this tiny country’s 18,200 dead.
The Auckland Museum’s Field of Remembrance has 1684 crosses (and currently two Stars of David); bearing the names of those who died in 1915 or 1916, and who served with Auckland regiments or came from the wider Auckland region.
Next year, the names of those who died in 1917 will be added to the Fields; the same will happen in 2018 for those who died in the final year of WWI — including the Big T’s great uncle Eric.
I have no connection with the men commemorated above. Their names appear prominently in these images mainly because of the way the Field was laid out and the practical considerations of taking a photo.
But it seemed wrong to share them without trying to know a little about the men whose names they bear. Most of the biographical information that I found has come from Online Cenotaph, a project undertaking as part of the WWI commemorations, by the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
This project not only collates official information about our war dead, it is also open to family members and other researchers to add information, images and memories. As a family historian, I am hugely excited by this clever (and very user-friendly) application of technology to help preserve the memories of those who died in the service of our country.
As a personal plea to my NZ readers; if you have family members who served in the NZ military, and you haven’t already explored the Online Cenotaph, please click on the link and take a look. This is our resource, and a wonderful opportunity to contribute to our nation’s collective memory.
ANZAC Day has past; the poppies are gone from lapels, the wreaths cleared from the cenotaph steps. The medals of long-dead grandfathers are back in their boxes and the business of remembering is packed up for another year. The crosses are gone now too. A Field of Remembrance on the lawn in front of the Auckland Museum commemorating the men and women from the Auckland region who went to war and did not return.
I watched people walk amongst those crosses. Some were looking for a specific name; a grandfather or great uncle. Others were simply curious. Older people walked slowly, children ran between the rows, enjoying the sunshine and the experience of something different.
It is 100 years since a disastrous military campaign at Gallipoli robbed thousands of men of their lives and stole from as many families their sons, brothers and fathers. For New Zealanders, Gallipoli was the first large-scale loss of life in World War I; the first inkling that following the “mother country” (Britain) into war mightn’t be a great adventure — “over by Christmas.” Almost a fifth of the Kiwi troops who landed at Gallipoli died there.
Many, many more were to die in Europe — on the Somme and at Passchendaele — and in the Middle East. Those who survived suffered wounds, sickness and psychological damage that largely went undiagnosed and untreated. And of course, their suffering rippled outwards, changing the lives of the women and children they returned to. Women’s suffering in wartime is so often ignored.
Many years ago I read Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain (recently made into a movie). Vera Brittain served as a VAD (voluntary aid detachment) nurse during WWI, tending the sick and wounded while her brother, fiance and their friends who had volunteered to serve in the British Army were all killed. I took the title of this post from her poem Roundel, written for the loss of her fiance, Roland Leighton. I’ve included it below.
(“Died of Wounds”)
This is my last post (no pun intended) on the subject of ANZAC Day — at least until next year (honest, I promise) — but I did want to share these photos of visitors to the Auckland Field of Remembrance, and Sally’s weekly photo challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally seemed a good place to do so. You can see Sally’s images, and those of others who have taken part in the challenge here.
25 April 2015
Yesterday was ANZAC Day. Always the most important day of remembrance for Australians and New Zealanders, this year it assumed particular significance as the 100th anniversary of the event ANZAC Day directly commemorates – the beginning of an Allied campaign against the Turkish Army at Gallipoli.
I’ve written about Gallipoli and ANZAC Day here and here so will only reiterate that the campaign was an unmitigated disaster costing an estimated 120,000 lives — Turkish, British, French, Indian, Australian and Kiwi — with as many as 300,000 more left sick and wounded. After eight months, the Allies withdrew, having failed in their objective of capturing the peninsula.
This year, unsurprisingly, ANZAC commemorations have been huge. Auckland’s cenotaph is located at the Auckland Museum, and this has provided a focal point. The lawn in front of the museum has been turned into a Field of Remembrance, with white crosses (and one Star of David) and poppies representing everyone from the Auckland region who lost their life in WWI. Wandering amongst these, I noticed the names of three nurses: Staff Nurses Mary Helen Rae, Nora Mildred Hildyard and Marion Sinclair Brown.
This got me thinking about how much attention has been given in the news and popular culture to men’s experiences of war. Films like Peter Weir’s Gallipoli and Maurice Shadbolt‘s brilliant play (later a movie) Once on Chunik Bair focus on the experiences of fighting men at Gallipoli, but women also served in the campaign — as nurses on board hospital ships and in field hospitals.
The first New Zealand hospital ship — the HS Mahino — arrived off Gallipoli on 25 August 1915 with fourteen nurses aboard, and was immediately innundated with casualties from the last main offensive of the campaign – the Battle of Hill 60.
The Mahino, and others like it, were equipped to treat the wounded and sick while ferrying them to field hospitals in Greece, Malta and Egypt. It seems that Kiwi nurses had been prepared to serve earlier in the war, but the NZ government was advised by the British, who were in charge of the campaign, that our nurses would not be required!
In total 626 nurses served in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service in WWI. Twenty one were were killed during hostilities or died from illnesses contracted during their time of service. Ten of those nurses — including the three named above — lost their lives on 23 October 1915 when a German U-Boat torpedoed the transport ship Marquette. The sinking of the Marquette cost 167 lives, 32 of them New Zealanders.
It seems that, unlike the hospital ships, which were painted white and were therefore distinguishable to enemy ships and U-Boats, the Marquette was painted grey and therefore “fair game.” To make matters worse, an empty hospital ship had departed the same port as the Marquette on the same day. If this had been used to transport the wounded and the medical personnel, those people would in all likelihood have survived their journey (Ten NZ nurses lost in Marquette sinking, 23 October 1915. New Zealand History.net)
The ten were:
22/104 BROWN, Marion Sinclair
22/108 CLARK, Isabel
22/118 FOX, Catherine
22/73 GORMAN, Mary
22/125 HILDYARD, Nora Mildred
22/130 ISDELL, Helena Kathleen (matron of Kumara Hospital)
22/133 JAMESON, Mabel Elizabeth
22/161 RAE, Mary Helen
22/160 RATTRAY, Lorna A
22/175 ROGERS, Margaret
The bodies of nine of these nurses were never found, and they are remembered on the Mikra Memorial, at the Mikra British Cemetery in Thessaloniki, Greece. This memorial commemorates “almost 500 nurses, officers and men of the Commonwealth forces who died when troop transports and hospital ships were lost in the Mediterranean, and who have no grave but the sea.” (Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Mikra Memorial). The tenth, Staff Nurse Margaret Rogers is buried in the Mikra Cemetery – her body having been found in a lifeboat.
All ten are also remembered on a panel in the Christchurch Hospital Nurses’ Memorial Chapel located on the Christchurch Hospital site. Although damaged in the Feb 22 2011 earthquake, the chapel has survived. (‘Christchurch nurses’ memorial chapel‘, Ministry for Culture and Heritage).
I’m not sure why Nurses Rae, Hildyard and Brown are commemorated in the Auckland Field of Remembrance as all three were from the South Island. I am glad however, that they are and that in some small way we remember the women who also travelled across the world and endured much the same hardships and suffering as the men they cared for and treated.
April 25th in ANZAC Day here in New Zealand and Australia; our most important national day of remembrance, for all Australians and New Zealanders
A bit of history you can skip over if you already know it
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps; a term – and an entity – that came into existence in World War One. The ANZACs first major engagement was the ill-fated and disastrous attempt to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula, in what is now Turkey, from troops of the Ottoman Empire – with whom the British Empire was at war.
The Gallipoli offensive – involving troops from Britain, India, Canada and France as well as Australia and New Zealand – began at dawn on April 25, 1915 with thousands of soldiers landing along the rugged, hilly coast of the peninsula. The objective was to charge Turkish posts (which unsurprisingly were on high ground), and capture key points along the landmass. That offensive, and each subsequent attack over the following EIGHT months, failed to capture significant ground. The defeated and exhausted remnants of the Allied expeditionary force were finally evacuated in January 1916.
Around 120,000 troops lost their lives during the Gallipoli Campaign (Allies and Turks); 8709 of them were Australian; 2721 were Kiwis. That may not sound like a lot, but remember that New Zealand’s total population at that time was only about a million people.
ANZAC troops fought and suffered terrible casualties in all the major WWI European battles too, but Gallipoli shaped our national psyches like no other.
What ANZAC Day means to me
I’m a child of the ’60s, a mother, an internationalist rather than a patriot. Yet I commemorate ANZAC Day, not out of glorification of war, but because it is such a stark reminder of human suffering. The Allies failed at Gallipoli; and in sending wave after wave of soldiers ashore, their commanders killed and maimed almost 200,000 mainly young men. ANZAC Day reminds us, not of boys-own, gung-ho, biff, pow, comic-book war, but of mud and blood and fear and misery. And in that, it has become a force for peace.
Art and remembrance
Art makes some of the clearest and most powerful statements about the world. Art which draws on, and references the military can be particularly powerful.
NZ Sculpture OnShore is a biennial sculpture exhibition that raises money for Women’s Refuge. It is held at Fort Takapuna, a Historic Reserve that was once part of New Zealand’s coastal defense and has a long association with the military. In this blog post I’ve looked at some of the artistic responses to the site over the last few exhibitions.
To me, these are beautiful and poignant works. I’d like to know what you think.
It was ANZAC Day last Wednesday (25th April). Outside of Australia and New Zealand (and increasingly the UK, for reasons I’ll explain later), not many people have heard of ANZAC Day. Fewer still understand what is all about.
Here in the Antipodes, ANZAC Day is possibly the most significant NATIONAL holiday we have. National in the sense of being specific to our country – rather than a reflection of our wider cultural adherence to broadly Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter.
I know that the Australians also have Australia Day and we New Zealanders have Waitangi Day; both of which commemorate events that represent the beginnings of the formalisation of European dominance over the indigenous peoples of the two countries. But increasingly ANZAC Day has come – for many on both sides of the Tasman – to better represent each country’s sense of nationhood.
I’m going to quote Wikipedia here, because it’s a pretty succinct account of what ANZAC Day is:
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.”
The date is the day, in 1915, when Australian and New Zealand troops landed, as part of the Allied Expeditionary Force, on the Gallipoli Peninsula in what is now Turkey, in an attempt to capture it from the troops of the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with Germany in World War I.
Gallipoli was a monumental military cock-up. Instead of the envisaged swift, decisive Allied victory, fighting continued for eight months before those Allied troops left alive were evacuated. Forty four thousand (44,000) Allied troops died at Gallipoli (from the British Empire and France); eighty seven thousand (87,000) Turkish troops also lost their lives. For two relatively under-populated countries in the Pacific, the 8,500 Australians and 2,721 New Zealanders who died represented an enormous loss (remember too, that thousands more were fighting and dying in muddy battlefields in France also).
ANZAC Day then, has come to symbolise a moment in time when two of Britain’s newer colonies felt themselves emerge as distinct nations – shaped and scarred by terrible suffering.
When I was a child, ANZAC Day was a public holiday, but most people I knew regarded it as little more than a welcome day off work. Those who attended the dawn parades seemed to mainly be returned servicemen and women, their families and those in the military.
Ironically, the further we have travelled from the actual Gallipoli landing, the more people feel the need to remember. There are no WWI veterans left to take part in the parades and services; and dwindling numbers of WWII veterans. Now it is their descendants who rise before dawn, pin the medals of grandfathers and great grandfathers onto their own or their children’s chests and go out in the cold to take part in increasingly well-attended commemorations that are held all around the country. That includes the small city-fringe community I live in, where the gates of the local park serve as a war memorial, naming the dozen or so farm boys who left very rural Greenhithe to go to war but did not return.
ANZAC commemorations have traditionally also taken place at ANZAC Cove itself, and increasingly in the UK as young Kiwis and Aussies on their OE (overseas experience) join with other ex-pats to remember not only the sacrifice of their forefathers, but affirm their own cultural identity.
2015 will be the centenary of Gallipoli. Already it’s been announced that there will be a ballot for places at the ceremony at Anzac Cove, such is the interest amongst Antipodeans young and old. In Auckland where I live, the mayor has announced a programme of remembrance, which includes funding for memorials, museum exhibitions and events. New Zealand – and likely Australia too – are preparing themselves for a momentous occasion.
While interest and participation in ANZAC Day has grown, there has always been discomfort with the notion of defining nationhood in terms of military sacrifice. Amongst other things, it highlights the way different conflicts have been perceived – something that’s central to the beautiful and moving installation, Strange Fruit, by Turtle Donna Sarten, currently at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wellington.
I’ve written about this installation in another blog, so won’t repeat myself here except to say that Strange Fruit consists of 3890 military dog tags; each of which has been hand-inscribed with the name of one of the New Zealanders who served in Vietnam during the period 1964-72.
Unlike in earlier conflicts, Vietnam veterans did not return home to parades celebrating their sacrifice. They experienced the embarrassment, silence and sometimes hostility of a public which had comprehensively turned against the war. In New Zealand, veterans have lobbied tirelessly for recognition not only of their service, but even more importantly, of the physical and psychological damage they suffered – including exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and PTSD.
In the stillness of a stark white gallery, Donna Sarten has invited visitors to contemplate war and sacrifice and remembrance, through the lens of a recent conflict that in many ways divided this country as much as World War One united it, and perhaps re-defined our sense of nationhood as much as Gallipoli originally formed it.