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At 3 PM on 5 August 1914, the Governor of His Majesty’s British Dominion of New Zealand, Lord Liverpool, stood on the steps of parliament to announce the declaration of war on the German Empire, to the enthusiastic cheers of a crowd of 15,000 loyal citizens. An all-volunteer New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) was formed, with a Māori Contingent of 500 soldiers from around the country including several men from Rāpaki. By October 1914, the NZEF Main Body comprised 8,454 soldiers from Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, and Wellington. They embarked on ten troop ships from Wellington, including the Tahiti and Athenic out of Lyttelton Port, on 16 October 1914 bound for Suez, Egypt. Arriving on December 3, they established camp at Zeitoun. Shortly after, the British Empire declared war on the Ottoman Empire.
On 8 December 1914, the Australian and New Zealand forces united as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under British senior command, joining the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in the Middle Eastern theatre. On 25 April 1915, the ANZAC troops landed near Ari Burnu on Turkey's Gallipoli peninsula, establishing a beachhead under heavy Turkish fire at what is now Anzac Cove. The Dardanelles offensive, conceived by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, aimed to cut off Turkey's commitment to the German war effort in Europe. However, the British and French forces were unprepared for the modern Turkish Army's defence, resulting in heavy casualties.
The military disaster became apparent as the initial New Zealand Defence Department casualty lists were published weekly under the ominous headline "ROLL OF HONOUR" that began in May 1915 following the Gallipoli landings. Organised by battalion and naming the next of kin, the growing list of casualties affected every region and township across both islands, including communities from around Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour. To name just a few:
ROLL OF HONOUR
KILLED IN ACTION
June 18. 6-962, Sergeant Percy Kent Irvine (Mrs WJ Irvine, 7 Selwyn Street, Lyttelton, mother).
August 6. 16-189, Private Waitere Manihera (Miss Elizabeth Manihera, Rāpaki, sister).
BELIEVED TO BE DEAD
WELLINGTON MOUNTED RIFLES
17 February 1916 (Previously reported wounded, now missing, believed to be dead, August 9, 1915).
Major Norman Frederick Hastings (Mrs NF Hastings, Petone, wife).
BELIEVED TO BE DROWNED
ARMY NURSING SERVICE
October 23. Nora Mildred Hildyard (Mrs BA Hildyard, Lyttelton, mother).
Disembarked at Malta August 12.
Private Henare Paipeta (Mrs G. Paipeta, Rāpaki, mother).
Severely, gunshot wounds, arm and thigh.
Lyttelton Times 1915 via Papers Past – https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz
Sergeant Percy Kent Irvine was the fifth son of Mr and Mrs Irvine of Selwyn Terrace, Lyttelton. Just 25 years of age, he was killed in action at Gallipoli on 31 May. He had been a joiner by trade and a corporal in the New Zealand Garrison Artillery Volunteers, No. 4 Company, Lyttelton.
Private Waitere Manihera (Ngāti Wheke, Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahukura, Ngāti Kuhungunu) was a well respected young Māori, just 24 years of age, when he was killed in action at Gallipoli on 6 August. His 30 year old uncle, Private Henare Paipeta, also of Rāpaki, was fighting alongside Waitere when he died, and Henare was himself severely wounded in the same action at Chunuk Bair.
Their teacher at Rāpaki, Mr Evelyn Hastings, lost his son Major Norman Hastings just three days later in the very same battle. Initially listed as wounded and then missing, it took over six months for his death to be declared.
Nora Hildyard was lost at sea along with nine other nurses of the Army Nursing Service when the troopship Marquette was sunk by a German torpedo in the Aegean Sea on 23 October. This loss was keenly felt in Te Waipounamu South Island where most of the nurses came from.
The reality of modern industrial warfare was brought home with the wounded when the hospital ship Willochra docked at Lyttelton Port on 17 July 1915. After just three months at Gallipoli, total New Zealand casualties had reached 3,300 with 760 dead. By 20 December, when the ANZAC evacuated Anzac Cove, Churchill’s military adventure in the Dardanelles had cost 7,500 New Zealand casualties including 2,779 dead. While it is said that the ANZAC action at Gallipoli and the impact it made at home was a defining moment in Aotearoa New Zealand’s sense of nationhood, its ‘Roll of Honour’ was just the beginning, with the list of dead and wounded growing inexorably through the next three long years on the Western Front.
Of the 100,000 NZEF mobilised overseas, including 2,200 Māori, 500 Pacific Islanders, and 550 women of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, 18,000 died, including 59 men and 1 woman from Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour. Of those who survived, 41,000 were wounded. Private Alex Miller embarked on 16 February 2017 and served with the 2nd Canterbury Battalion in Belgium. He was severely wounded in action on 8 August 2017 at La Basse Ville and lost a leg. Upon discharge, he ran his grandfather's Lyttelton business, J. Miller Boatbuilding and Shipwrights, and was a keen yachtsman. He passed on in 1971 at the age of 75.
It is perhaps hard to fathom the nation-defining shock that engulfed that generation of New Zealanders and Australians. You can see it in the ANZAC cenotaphs they left behind to commemorate their dead. If you’re old enough, you could see it in the Great Uncles who survived the horror of the trenches and returned home only to die young of misadventure or suicide; in the Great Aunties who never married or raised a family for lack of men to marry; and you could see it in the stoicism of a generation of those who then endured the 1918 Flu Pandemic, followed by the 1930s Great Depression, only to be confronted by the nightmare of yet another war in Europe just 20 years after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’.
Lest We Forget