It might seem that a travel blog focusing on “a different New Zealand” is a strange place for a post on Anzac Day. But with the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day coming up on April 25, I would be remiss to not mention it.
When England declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, its empire was at war, too. Men throughout New Zealand and Australia volunteered to fight for God and Empire.1 Troops from New Zealand and Australia were first sent to the Middle East, where it was expected they would fight the Ottoman Empire. Instead, they were combined into the Australia New Zealand Army Corps, i.e., Anzac, and on April 25, 1915, they landed at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles.
The idea was Winston Churchill’s2, among others. Movement on the Western front was stalled. If the Allies could invade the Ottoman Empire and take Constantinople, thereby securing the Bosporus, they could open a supply route to Russia. Supplies to Russia could relieve pressure on the Western front. Except it didn’t work.
The invasion was a disaster. The Anzac troops were trapped on the beach. The conditions were terrible; the casualties appalling. After eight long months, they withdrew. Of the 8450 New Zealanders who landed at Gallipoli, 2721 were killed and another 4752 were wounded. That is a casualty rate of 88%. From there, they went to the Western front, where things were just as bad. On one day, October 12, 1917, 2740 New Zealanders were killed or wounded at Passchendaele.3 Out of a country with a population of just over one million people.
Many New Zealanders believe that the experiences in World War I helped forge the identity of the New Zealand nation, and the invasion at Gallipoli on April 25 was the beginning of it. Anzac Cove, where they invaded, has become a sacred site for many from New Zealand and Australia.
(These pictures were taken by my wife and son, who visited Gallipoli in October of 2011.)
Anzac Day is now a national holiday in New Zealand. There are ceremonies at dawn all over New Zealand. Even though the World War I veterans are gone now, the ceremonies continue. The young attend as much as the old. I suppose an American analogy, though I am not sure it is appropriate, might be Memorial Day and 9/11, with a touch of the Fourth of July.
There are memorials to those who fought in World War I all over New Zealand. Here are several. The one is in Queenstown:
This one is on a suspension bridge in Clifden:
Finally, there is a plaque in the Dunedin Train Station.
1 Women volunteered, too. Over 3,000 women from New Zealand and Australia volunteered to be nurses during World War I. Their story is beautifully told in the book Anzac Girls: The Extraordinary Story of Our World War I Nurses by Peter Rees. A six-part TV series, “Anzac Girls,” is based on the book. It is available in the United States on DVD. It is also on Acorn TV. It is a fantastic show. I strongly recommend it. TV doesn’t get much better than this.
2 When we were in New Zealand, we were told that, because of Gallipoli (and Greece and Crete at the beginning of World War II), Winston Churchill is not thought of as highly in New Zealand as in England or the United States.
3 These casualty and population numbers are from Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003), p. 299, 300, 302.