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Speech

Chunuk Bair National Ceremony

Issue date: 
Saturday, 8 August 2015
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

Rangatira ma e huihui nei

Koutou no nga Whenua o Te Ao 

Koutou o tēnei Whenua o Turkey me Ahitereiria

Tēnei e kawe i nga mihi māhana mai i Aotearoa.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa

Distinguished people gathered here

You from around the World

You from Turkey and Australia

I bring you warm greetings from New Zealand

Greetings to us all gathered

I specifically acknowledge, from Australia: His Excellency General the Hon Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Lady Cosgrove; Senator Hon Michael Ronaldson, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs; Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell and Corporal Mark Donaldson VC, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG, Corporal Daniel Keighran VC and Doug and Kaye Baird.

And from New Zealand, Hon Craig Foss, Minister of Veterans Affairs; Commissioner Mike Bush, New Zealand’s Commissioner of Police; Major General Timothy Gall, Commander Joint Forces, New Zealand; and Corporal Willie Apiata, VC. 

Two days ago, I was honoured to represent New Zealand at the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Lone Pine.  Today, we welcome our Australian comrades to New Zealand’s service at Chunuk Bair.

This is as it should be.  Our ANZAC experiences made us brothers-in-arms, family – and just as family attend family events, we are here for each other.

I can think of no more striking example of these bonds than Captain Alfred Shout VC – a New Zealand Boer War veteran, who like other New Zealanders, moved to Australia and became an Australian.  And, because of his extraordinary valour over many days of bitter fighting at Lone Pine, became Australia’s most decorated soldier.

It will be a poignant moment when New Zealand’s first Victoria Cross recipient from the First World War, Corporal Cyril Bassett, is acknowledged today in a reading by our most recent Victoria Cross recipient, Corporal Willie Apiata.  Bassett won his VC on these slopes in August 1915.

On this day, the 8th of August, New Zealanders remember the stand taken by our countrymen in the Battle of Chunuk Bair 100 years ago.  New Zealand military historian Ian McGibbon described the battle as “an epic of courage and determination” . 

On a previous visit to Gallipoli, I retraced a route taken by our men up the ridgelines to Chunuk Bair.  When you experience the terrain over which our men fought, and gaze across the gullies and ridgelines, one is overwhelmed by the enormity of their struggle.  One is stunned that men, weakened by months of malnutrition and disease, could still fight with spirit and ferocity. 

They were taking part in an offensive that was intended to break the stalemate on this peninsula and capture the Sari Bair range. 

The plan for this assault was complex and depended on successful coordination between the different units taking part.  

Things did not go to plan.  And yet, the men of the Wellington Battalion and the Auckland Mounted Rifles; and subsequently the Otago Battalion and the Wellington Mounted Rifles, held this ridge-line on the 8th and 9th of August.  

We must also remember the bravery of men from other units, including the Auckland, Canterbury and Otago Infantry Battalions and members of the Māori Contingent who were involved in the first stage of the offensive on the 6th and 7th of August.

When the Wellington Battalion first took this ridge at dawn on the 8th, they could see, for the first time, through a blue haze, the Dardanelles.   They were on the highest point reached by the Allied forces in the Gallipoli campaign.

The moment of triumph was all too brief.  Ottoman forces soon mounted an attack; the battle resumed.

The New Zealanders faced challenging odds: their supplies, including water, were limited; they were stretched thin and reinforcements struggled to get through to them; their communication lines were repeatedly cut; they were bombarded with artillery, machine gun and rifle fire from higher ground; and they faced hour after hour of counter-attacks in the blazing heat.

By about this time in the evening of the 8th, the Wellington Battalion had suffered appalling losses.  Undaunted, they had fought on under their charismatic commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone – until he too, fell in the late afternoon. 

As the casualties mounted the wounded loaded rifles for their mates; or dragged themselves, under fire, towards the slopes leading back to the beaches. 

Private Benjamin Smart described the western side of Chunuk Bair thus: “A most revolting sight; … a solid mass of dead men”.  

British reinforcements relieved the remaining New Zealanders on the night of the 9th of August, and then Chunuk Bair was lost to an overwhelming Ottoman attack at dawn the next day.

Today, we also acknowledge the bravery of the Ottoman forces who suffered terrible losses here.  We honour the tens of thousands of men who following Mustapha Kemal’s “I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die” command, lost their lives throughout the Gallipoli campaign, in the defence of the Ottoman Empire. 

This Memorial, built 90 years ago, could not have been built without the extraordinary generosity of spirit of the Turkish people.  We are indebted to them for enabling us to gather at this special place, where the remains of so many of our men lie.

We come here to remember some of the bravest men who have ever served our country – described by Malone as “cool, determined, enduring, clever, patient, kindly and cheerful”.   If we need words to describe the “Anzac spirit”, and seek worthy qualities to emulate, we could do no better than Malone’s.

The Wellington, West Coast and Taranaki colours flying here today provide a direct linkage to Malone, his men, their battalion and this place. 

When it is the bicentenary of this battle in one hundred years’ time, I hope our descendants will be here, learning about our history, looking at the names on this Memorial to the Missing and in the cemeteries nearby, and paying their respects to the men who Malone described as “gallant gentlemen … as splendid and brave as they make ‘em” . 

In this way, the men who never lived to see their loved ones, who never returned to the hills and valleys of their memories, will instead live on in our collective memory.

Moe mai moe mai - Rest in peace.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 8 August 2015

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