Today, 100 years ago, the first Anzac Day services were held in New Zealand to mark the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. The New Zealand government announced the establishment of Anzac Day as a half-day holiday on 5 April 1916.
The holiday and their accompanying services provided a way for communities to come together and remember those who lost their lives and the scale of the impact the conflict had on our small population (approx. 1.1million in 1915).
Over the last 100 years we have continued to remember those who served, not only at Gallipoli but in many other conflicts, including those who have served in peace-keeping efforts.
Anzac Day today isn’t just about attending a service – people use the day to spend time with their families, to help neighbours or their local community, or to relax.
As well as the national service at the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park there will be services across the country to mark the anniversary.
While there are no soldiers alive who served in the First World War, the experiences of New Zealanders from that war are relevant to us today.
The announcement of war had attracted thousands of men to enlist. With a sense of duty and adventure, New Zealand men rushed to sign up to fight for King and country. They were eager for a paid trip overseas as one of “Massey’s Tourists”; crossing the globe to reach the European battlefields before an anticipated “short war” ended.
The reality of Gallipoli is hard to imagine. 2779 New Zealand deaths occurred during the 8 months of the campaign, about one-fifth of the nearly 14,000 New Zealanders who served there. New Zealand lost many more men on the battlefields of the Western Front in Belgium and France. This was a profound loss to communities all over the country. The memorials in towns all over the country are an indicator of the scale of the impact of the war on every community.
New Zealand entered the First World War on a wave of positive national opinion, to protect the British Empire. Soldiers expected to be home by Christmas. The scale and impact of this global conflict would alter many of our preconceptions. In the face of appalling experiences, the war brought out in New Zealanders the qualities of endurance, courage, friendship and commitment to a sense of decency and shared values.
In September we will mark the anniversary of New Zealand’s involvement in the terrible Battle of the Somme, where our forces were exposed to the new horrors of gas and mechanised warfare.
It was on the Western Front (France and Belgium) that New Zealand made its most significant contribution to the First World War, and also where New Zealand suffered the greatest loss of life.
A popular, enduring view of the significance of the war on New Zealand society was summed up by Ormond Burton who went from being a stretcher-bearer at Anzac Cove to a highly decorated infantryman on the Western Front. He famously said that “somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme New Zealand very definitely became a nation”.
The contribution that New Zealand made in France during the First World War in 1916 will be commemorated overseas with three services on 15 September in Longueval, France, where New Zealand forces first entered the Battle of the Somme.
More than 12,000 New Zealanders died in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1919 at places like Longueval, Messines and Passchendaele.
The WW100 Programme is also focused on the impact of the war on the Home Front.
The First World War affected the lives of every New Zealand family, whether it was through fundraising efforts, farewelling family members, comforting the grieving, or the impact of the state on their civil liberties.
At home the focus was on supporting the war effort. People at home contributed through their involvement in farming, manufacturing and other industries. New Zealand’s contribution to the British Empire’s war effort included its meat, dairy and wool products, which were delivered to the United Kingdom.
In 1916 conscription for military service was introduced to maintain New Zealand's supply of reinforcements, with more than 30,000 conscripts enlisted by the end of the war.
As we mark this Anzac Day it’s important to continue to honour the contribution of our veterans to the peace, freedom, and security our country enjoys today. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who gave service for New Zealand.
Lest we forget.