ANZAC Day in New Zealand
By John Felton
PAIHIA, NEW ZEALAND — It was still pitch black at 5:30 this morning when more than 500 people gathered at the waterfront of this small town in northern New Zealand for the annual sunrise service commemorating Anzac Day — April 25.
On this day in 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, at the southwestern edge of the-then Ottoman Empire, as part of a plan to force the Turks to quit their alliance with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The first day of the campaign was a complete failure: Of the 3,100 New Zealand troops who landed, some 650 were killed or wounded. The second day’s results were similar — and so it went for nearly eight bloody months until the British commanders finally recognized the futility of transforming a narrow foothold on the Dardanelles into a major strategic victory that might hasten the end of World War I.
For New Zealand, still a part of the British Empire, Gallipoli was a rude introduction to its emerging role as an independent nation. Nearly 3,000 New Zealanders would die in what turned out to be an entirely failed campaign. About five times that many died in the main theater of the war: the Western Front.
This morning’s speaker at the service here in Paihia reminded his audience that nearly one-half of all households in New Zealand suffered casualties during the war: men killed or wounded far away from the country’s peaceful shores. But those losses, painful as they were at the time and still remain today, were necessary, he insisted: “We cannot defend our country from our goal line.”
These days, New Zealand’s military commitments are primarily in the realm of peacekeeping. The country has contributed military and police forces to some 40 UN-led missions since the late 1940s, including in several places where the United States has refused to get involved. New Zealand also sent troops and police to Afghanistan and Iraq — for both Gulf wars, as this morning’s audience here in Paihia was reminded.
Despite the passing of a century, Gallipoli has come to represent a major turning point for New Zealand as a new nation, one anxious at times to take its place on the world stage despite its small size and remote location.
Reminders of Gallipoli are common, from the red poppies worn today to the various tributes that can be seen around the countryside to the men and women who served in the war. An extraordinarily popular exhibition at Te Papa, the national museum in Wellington, tells the history of the Gallipoli campaign in graphic detail, using the stories of soldiers who survived and those who did not. A more long-lived tribute is the planting of 18,166 trees in a World War I Memorial Forest on the ruggedly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean east of Auckland: one tree for each serviceman who died in the war.
As this morning’s speaker told his audience: “We will remember.”