We remember them!

By Jackie Frizelle ,

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Jackie Frizelle

New Zealand High Commissioner Remarks at ANZAC Breakfast

Tenā koutou katoa e huihui nei, ki te whakamaumāhara i te rā o ANZAC.  Kia ora tātou katoa.

At dawn one hundred years ago today, the first ANZAC day was celebrated. On 25 April 1915, a year earlier, the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps had landed at Gallipoli.

Instead of the surprise attack and rapid advance they had been hoping for, the ANZACs met fierce Turkish resistance. After eight months of heavy fighting, the ANZACs were withdrawn. They had suffered over 10,000 casualties, and with hindsight the campaign achieved little of military value. 

Even in stalemate, the troops forged a reputation for courage, comradeship and maintaining a sense of humour under the most trying circumstances. It was the first time a large body of men from either country had been together in a foreign country, and their experience was integral to the formation of national identity in both countries and for the bonds between them.

And so, a year after that fateful landing on a beach in Turkey, Australians and New Zealanders gathered to mourn the dead and honour the living. In their encampments in the Middle East, and training grounds and hospitals in England, the survivors of Gallipoli and their comrades-in-arms gathered in remembrance. 2000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers marched through London, and a newspaper of the day labelled them the ‘Knights of Gallipoli’. 

Across Australia and New Zealand, the day was given over to memorial services, wreath-laying, picnics and parades. For many, this first ANZAC day was a memorial service for loved ones who had departed overseas 18 months earlier, and whose bodies now lay in unmarked graves in a distant land.

Sadly, the losses suffered at Gallipoli turned out to be only a prelude for what was to follow. By 1916, the bulk of Australian and New Zealand forces were transferred to Europe. This included soldiers from Samoa, Tonga, Niue and Rarotonga serving in the Maori Pioneer battalion and elsewhere in New Zealand forces.

Across northern France and Belgium, the German army faced off against France and Britain, and their respective allies. By 1916, the Western Front had become a bloody stalemate, where the tactics of the 19th century collided brutally with the military technology of the 20th. On 1 July 1916, Allied commanders launched what became known as the Battle of the Somme.

Even a century later, the stark mathematics of the battle invite disbelief. On the first day of the Somme, the British Army alone lost 60,000 men; 20,000 killed and 40,000 wounded.

Despite this horrific toll, the battle continued for another four and a half months. By December, the combined casualties on both sides amounted to 1.2 million killed and wounded, or about 8500 for every day of battle. The total Allied advance after all this bloodshed was around 12 kilometres – no further than a soldier could march in a couple of hours.

Australian troops were the first to join the fray, coming in as reinforcements in late July. In two weeks of heavy fighting around the village of Pozieres, three Australian divisions suffered 24,000 casualties, including 6700 dead. War correspondent C.E.W Bean described the village as “more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.

The New Zealand division went into battle in September, with 15,000 troops committed to battle. Over half of these were killed or wounded. 

For both Australia and New Zealand, this was the bloodiest battle of the First World War.

Most Pacific men in the New Zealand army served in the Pioneer Battalion, whose task was to build and maintain the trenches, roads and telegraph lines needed to keep the army functioning. While theoretically operating behind the front line, the Pioneers routinely worked under artillery fire, and suffered 54 casualties at the Somme.

Another challenge for the Pacific troops was the climate. As the battle dragged on through the autumn and temperatures dropped towards freezing, disease began to take its toll. Many soldiers found themselves in military hospitals in France and England, and the following year most were transferred to the warmer climate of the Middle East.

Although the focus of the first ANZAC Day was on the Army, 2016 is also a special year for the Royal New Zealand Navy. This year marks the 75th year since the founding of the RNZN as an independent naval force. 2016 is also the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the major naval battle of the First World War. In the thick of that battle was HMS New Zealand, a battlecruiser bought by donations from the New Zealand public and gifted to the Royal Navy.

The ship, with a mixed crew of British and New Zealand sailors, had a reputation as a ‘lucky ship’ coming through three major battles without a single casualty. New Zealanders in the crew sometimes attributed this to the presence of a pounamu hei-tiki, a carved greenstone pendant presented by a Maori chief to the ship’s captain to bring them luck in battle.

I’d like to acknowledge the presence of any former sailors here today, as well as the Royal Australian Navy personnel responsible for helping support Samoa’s Pacific Patrol Boat.

2016 is also the anniversary of two other battles where Australia and New Zealand fought side by side; the Battle of Crete 75 years ago, and the Battle of Long Tan 50 years ago.

While recognising the courage and sacrifice of soldiers on this day, it is also appropriate to reflect on the failures of diplomacy and statecraft that led to such a long and bloody war. 

Since the First World War, New Zealand and Australia have strongly supported peaceful solutions to international disagreements. Both were strong advocates of the League of Nations after the First World War, and the United Nations after the Second World War.

New Zealand and Australia have contributed to peacekeeping forces in the Pacific and elsewhere, and regularly use our defence forces for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Since becoming an independent state in 1952, Samoa has also been a strong advocate for international peace and cooperation, and has sent police officers to assist in UN operations.

New Zealand is a current member of the United Nations Security Council, and is using this role to bring more attention to the security challenges of small island developing countries.  Prime Minister Tuilaepa gave a powerful opening speech at the UN debate on this issue last year. 

While the meaning of Anzac Day may have evolved over time, one thing has remained constant – our respect for what we call “the Anzac spirit” – the qualities of courage, compassion and comradeship.

As we stand here today, one hundred years after our forebears first gathered on the first Anzac Day, we keep the memory of our fallen men and women alive, and look to the future with gratitude and hope.

Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou – we will remember them.

 


© Samoa Observer 2016

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