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Speech

New Zealand National Service

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 25 April 1990
Speaker: 
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

From the top of this hill and on a clear day you can see the straits of the Dardanelles. Chunuk Bair they call this place. It means "a hill of war" and that is exactly what it was for the New Zealand troops who battled so hard to take and hold Chunuk Bair on 8 August 1915. Strong counter attacks by the Turks meant that after three days the New Zealanders had to withdraw.

The difficulties were immense. The rough terrain of gullies and ridges made it hard to climb; the New Zealand Commanders were divided over tactics; the Turks were tenacious and brave.

All this happened 75 years ago. But strangely Gallipoli has remained a hidden piece of history. It is only within the past 10 years that the diaries of New Zealanders who fought on Gallipoli and Chunuk Bair have been studied extensively.

The diaries and records show that the New Zealand forces reflected provincial New Zealand as it was at the beginning of this century. One young man living on a remote farm rode his horse for two days in order to enlist. There were groups from Otago, North Auckland, Wellington, Hawke's Bay and so on.

For them what started off as an adventure became a disastrous campaign. Suddenly life was transitory, death was more than likely and bone weariness was a constant companion.

But as these men talked about Ashburton, Ponsonby, the farm or their families they discovered the country they had left had made them who they were. They were not British or Australian. They were New Zealanders. They discovered their own survival depended as much on their mates as on themselves.

So Gallipoli is one of the milestones along the unending road that leads towards a New Zealand identity or nationhood. There have been other milestones: the Treaty of Waitangi, Kate Sheppard and the vote for women, the Depression of the 1930s. Doubtless some more milestones lie ahead as we explore the heritage of the Maori or test out our Pacific relationships.

Men lived and died bravely on Chunuk Bair and Gallipoli. We honour them but we don't glorify war. Our response must be to minimise those things which cause wars. That means working for justice and equity within our nation and between nations.

But this is a powerful place. There is something here which is unmistakably us. In John Mulgan's words, we can feel part of a community, which has "lived through the same times, had the same fears and held the same beliefs."

Kemal Ataturk wrote a tribute to the Anzacs. Let his be the final words. "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace."

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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