Victoria Cross Corner
Sunday 29 January 1956, when the Victoria Cross Memorial was unveiled, was a memorable day in Dunedin, New Zealand – everyone was there, dressed in their best.
The unveiling of the memorial, outside the main entrance to the Dunedin RSA on the corner of Burlington Street and Moray Place, was a grand occasion attended by the Governor-General of New Zealand Sir Willoughby Norrie and Lady Norrie.
A plaque lists the names of the 22 recipients of the Victoria Cross, nine of whom were in attendance that day, and one of them – the Reverend Keith Elliott – dedicated the memorial. Reflecting the language of the time, the plaque pays tribute to soldiers of “the Maori War 1864, South African War 1899 – 1902, The Great War 1914 – 1918 and The World War 1939 – 1945”.
New Zealand Nurses at Amiens
Ida Willis’ service as a nurse during WWI saw her involved in virtually all the theatres of war in which New Zealand forces served. In these excerpts from two radio interviews recorded in the 1960s, she recalls the long hours involved in treating wounded men in northern France, especially when a battle was underway.
First day on the Somme for Kiwis and tanks
On the 15th of September 1916, the New Zealand Division saw their first major action on the Western Front. In the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, they joined British forces as part of the continued effort to attack German-held territory around the river Somme in northern France.
A new element was also introduced on September 15 with the arrival of tanks in battle for the first time. British military leaders hoped that these new armoured machines, initially known as land-ships, would be able to straddle enemy trenches, break through barbed wire entanglements and end the stalemate of trench warfare.
But Lindsay Inglis, a New Zealand officer involved in action that day, recalls the tanks he saw were less-than-impressive.
“The horrible smell of burnt flesh”
Wellington-born William Fell was a 19-year-old midshipman on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite in 1916. He took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War. The Warspite was hit several times and 14 of her crew were killed.
In a 1961 radio programme, ‘First War Sailor’, Captain Fell (as he later became) vividly recounts his experience. He was a 'snotty', as the teenaged junior midshipmen were called in Navy slang, and his position at the transmitting station meant he was locked in the bowels of the ship as the battle raged above.
Good to Go / E pai ana, Ka haere
The Second Māori Contingent is shown parading at Narrow Neck Training Camp in Auckland before leaving for the front on the SS Waitemata on 19 September 1915. According to the waiata “Te Ope Tuatahi”, composed by Apirana Ngata, the recruits of the Second Contingent were drawn mainly from the East Coast tribes of Ngāti Mahaki, Ngāti Hauiti and descendants of Porourangi. Among them was Second Lieutenant Hēnare Mōkena Kōhere of Ngāti Porou. Kōhere died of wounds on 16 September 1916 following the Battle of the Somme. He is mentioned in the sixth verse of “Te Ope Tuatahi” with the phrase: I haere ai Hēnare, I patu ki te pakanga, Ki Para-nihi ra ia. ("Farewell, O Hēnare,Me tō wiwi, and your 'clump of rushes' who fell while fighting in France". The ‘clump of rushes’ is thought to refer to the men under Kohere’s command who died alongside him.)
Treating Gallipoli’s wounded – Dr Agnes Bennett
The Australian-born and New Zealand-based doctor Agnes Bennett refused to let routine sexism keep her out of the war. She offered her services to the New Zealand Army as soon as war broke out but was turned down because she was a woman. Undeterred, she paid her own passage to Europe, intending to join the French Red Cross. In May 1915 she was sailing through the Red Sea when word reached the ship of the casualties arriving in Egypt from the Gallipoli campaign. She disembarked at the next opportunity and began working in the over-stretched military hospitals of Cairo, with the status and pay of an army captain. Dr Bennett recalls her wartime experiences in this recording, made in 1959.