Remembering World War I

Columns
Friday, October 31, 2014

A century ago this weekend New Zealand troops and their Australian friends sailed together for the battlefields of World War I.  In Invercargill, this was re-created a few weeks ago with the train journey to Dunedin commemorating the departure of Southland troops to the war.

Prime Minister John Key and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott are marking the occasion in Albany, near Perth, where that first contingent of troops left from. It was the first time New Zealand and Australian troops had ever deployed together.

On 1 November 1914 nearly 8500 Kiwi men were aboard the convoy of New Zealand and Australian ships that departed for Egypt. The Albany Convoy Commemorative Event honours them and the more than 90,000 other troops and nurses who later followed in their footsteps during the 1914-1918 First World War.

The Australians and New Zealanders from this first convoy went on to fight on the Gallipoli Peninsula. More than 2700 New Zealanders lost their lives serving as part of the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) that landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

Anzac Day next April will be a key milestone of New Zealand’s centenary commemorations for World War I, which was one of the most significant events of the 20th Century and had a deep and lingering impact on New Zealand society. Ten percent of our population of one million served overseas – more than 18,000 died and over 40,000 were wounded or fell ill. Nearly every New Zealand family was affected.

Our centenary commemorations include the opening next year of the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. The park will be our lasting legacy to all service men and women who have fought for this country.

To date, there are almost 500 projects and activities scheduled over the course of the centenary from re-enactments of troop departures, theatre and musical performances, museum and art gallery exhibitions to academic lectures, digitisation of family mementoes, and television documentaries and dramas.

The centenary is not only an opportunity to remember and reflect on all New Zealanders’ service and sacrifice during World War I, it is also a time to better understand what we stood for and why.

Through our experience in this conflict, New Zealand’s identity and values became more distinct at home and abroad.

I encourage all New Zealanders to take part in the centenary programme to better understand our past and how it still shapes us today – whether you reflect on the nature of war, remember family members who served, visit a memorial, or think about how your community was affected by events long ago.

It is also an opportunity to pay tribute to our more contemporary veterans, recognising the courage and commitment of all men and women who have served for our country.