The magic word ‘Anzac’

On 25 April we will stop to remember those who served in the conflicts New Zealand has participated in, from the world wars to Iraq and Afghanistan, via Korea, Vietnam and others, and not forgetting New Zealand’s 19th century wars and the Boer War.

“Indian Troops at Gas Mask Drill.,” by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2017, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/3616.
“Indian Troops at Gas Mask Drill.,” by Unknown. The Imperial War Museum via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2017, http://ww1lit.nsms.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/3616.

There is much to remember, and this year the focus will be on the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of Messines in June and Passchendaele in October, in particular 12 October which saw more than 800 New Zealanders killed in a single day.

As the First World War disappears from living memory, we are fortunate to have access to historic newspapers either on microfilm at Central Library Manchester or at Papers Past. They can show us how Anzac Day has been commemorated and represented over the past century. An editorial from The Press on 25 April 1917 explains that the “magic word ‘Anzac’… tells us how Australians and New Zealanders fought and died shoulder to shoulder in the cause of freedom” and that “time has not yet mellowed the memory of that day.”

CoverThe editorial also makes a passing reference to some of the Indian troops who served during the Gallipoli campaign. Around 16,000 individuals from the Indian Army served during the campaign and their neglected story is well told in Die in battle, do not despair: the Indians on Gallipoli, 1915 by Peter Stanley.

Ever growing access to different sources and new publications means that we can uncover and share more stories than ever about the First World War and other conflicts New Zealand has been involved in.

Lord Jellicoe inspects the First Canterbury Guard of Honour, ANZAC Day, foundation stone ceremony, Bridge of Remembrance [25 Apr. 1923] CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0023
Lord Jellicoe inspects the First Canterbury Guard of Honour, ANZAC Day, foundation stone ceremony, Bridge of Remembrance [25 Apr. 1923] CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0023

Anzac resources

This article was published in issue 3 of our quarterly magazine, uncover – huraina. Read it online.

Remembering the Somme

September the 15th marks the day the New Zealand infantry joined the battle of the Somme, and this year marks exactly one hundred years from that catastrophic day. It was our first major experience with the Western Front, a very, very different kind of battle to the ones we had experienced in Gallipoli, and would turn into the largest loss of new Zealanders lives in our post-1840 history.

More New Zealanders lost their lives on the Western Front than in Gallipoli, although Gallipoli still overshadows the Somme in the public memory. Today, let’s look at some of the local boys who lost their lives that day, and remember them, and the thousands and thousands of others that would follow them.

Frederick Everard Turner signed up in the very early days of the war in August 1914. He was an Anglican lad, who lived on Princess Street on Woolston. Though he survived the Gallipoli landings of the 25th of April, 1915, he was shot and killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. When he died, he was 25 years old.

Frederick Everard Turner, Canterbury Times, 18/10/1916, CCL-TurnerFE
Frederick Everard Turner, Canterbury Times, 18/10/1916, CCL-TurnerFE

Thomas Arthur Raxworthy grew up in Upper Riccarton, and was living in London Street, Richmond, when he enlisted. He worked for the Christchurch City Council, and married his wife Margaret in November, 1912. He was killed when he was 23 years old, on the 15th of September, 1916. His two children, Edith and Thomas, were still only toddlers.

Frederick Reginald Ashworth
Frederick Reginald Ashworth , Kete Christchurch

Frederick Reginald Ashworth grew up in Hornby and went to Hornby School. He and his brother John, who was also killed, were from a well known and highly respected family. Frederick enlisted in October, 1915, but less than a year later, on the 15th of September, he was killed in the Somme. He was 23 years old.

Travis Armitage grew up in New Brighton and went to New Brighton School. He had two younger sisters, Constance and Mary. When he enlisted, he was living up in the Manawatu with Ninna, his wife of four years. He was killed by a shell on the 15th of September. His friend, William Scott, witnessed his death. Travis was 27 years old.

In the days that followed, many more were lost. Edmund Lincoln Gate from Addington was killed the second day; Thomas Henry Ellis from Spreydon was wounded on the 19th of September and died the next day; Cyril Bigthan Cooke from New Brighton was only 20 when he died on the 1st of October, the same day that we lost Bernard Gabriel Joseph O’Shaughnessy from Halswell. The list goes on and on.

You can read more about these soldiers, and more, by searching ‘Somme’ on Kete Christchurch.

More information

Remembering a disastrous day – The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme lasted from July to November 1916. The New Zealand Division became involved on 15 September at Flers-Courcelette, which was their first major action on the Western Front.

New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130341
New Zealand trench mortar officers on the Somme. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association :New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013112-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23130341

While the casualty figures for the whole battle are horrendous for all nations involved, those for the opening day of the battle for the British Army and Newfoundland forces are truly staggering – over 57,000 wounded and more than 19,000 killed. It was truly a disastrous day and only the Fall of Singapore in 1942 saw more casualties for the British Army – although the majority of those were prisoners of war.

What makes 1 July even more devastating is that so many British and Newfoundland soldiers were going into action for the first time, many in what were known as Pals Battalions where men from local communities joined up together. Not surprisingly, this had disastrous consequences for these communities which were often in working class, industrial areas.

There are a couple of excellent and contrasting histories of this day. Martin Middlebrook’s First Day on the Somme is a classic military history which looks in great depth at the formation of the British units on the Somme and tells the story of the battle through the of a number of soldiers. Andrew Macdonald’s recent First Day of the Somme explores in great detail how the battle plan evolved and analyses the tactics of the army formations involved to show how they failed or partially succeeded.

Cover Cover

Over the next few days and months I will be thinking of those who fought on 1 July and throughout the rest of the battle, in particular the 7th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who went into action near Fricourt late on 2 July.

Do you have any connection to the first day of the Somme, 1 July 1916?

Our newspaper and magazine archives are a great way to explore historic events as they unfold. Log in with your library card number and password / PIN.

Anzac Day in Christchurch and Canterbury 2016

Monday 25 April 2016 is Anzac Day. All our libraries will be closed on this public holiday. Read our page on Anzac Day and Gallipoli to find out more about this commemoration.

Commemorative services often begin before dawn with a march by returned and service personnel to the local war memorial, where they are joined by other members of the community for the Dawn Service.

Assembling for the Anzac Day Parade, 301 Halswell Road. Photo by Ellenor Waters. CCL-HP2015-EW-DSCF2940 Photo from The Halswell Project.
Assembling for the Anzac Day Parade, 301 Halswell Road. Photo by Ellenor Waters. CCL-HP2015-EW-DSCF2940 Photo from The Halswell Project.

Christchurch services and events

The following information is from Christchurch City Council:

Dawn service at Cranmer Square

  • 6am–6.15am: the people gather
  • 6.15am: the parade begins from the RSA building on Armagh Street
  • 6.30am: the service begins centred around the memorial cenotaph
  • 7.15am: the service concludes with wreath-laying

Organised by the Canterbury Branch of the Malayan Veterans Association in conjunction with the Christchurch Branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) and Christchurch City Council. Mayor Lianne Dalziel will lay a wreath on behalf of the citizens of Christchurch.

Citizens’ Service: 10am – ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral, Latimer Square

Organised by Christchurch City Council in conjunction with ChristChurch Cathedral and the RSA. It will be attended by representatives of the Defence Force, Consular Corps and local youth groups.

Find more Anzac Day services

The RSA website features a Find an Anzac Day service resource.

More Anzac related events

Fields of Remembrance

In 2015, the Canterbury Province Field in Cranmer Square contained 632 crosses commemorating the men and women of Christchurch who died in 1915. That number will be added to in 2016.

Field of Remembrance
Field of Remembrance, Cranmer Square [2015] Flickr 2015-03-27-IMG_6781

Exhibitions and displays

  • Canterbury Mounted Rifles regiment display – 18 to 30 April at Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre. Joe Dixon talk on the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, Tuesday 19 April, 2pm.
  • ANZAC: Photographs by Laurence Aberhart at the Canterbury Museum
  • Anzac display Brighton Gallery
  • ANZAC Commemoration Linwood Cemetery (Sunday 24 April)
  • Linwood Community Arts Centre (corner Worcester and Stanmore Road). Anzac Exhibition 2016 Monday 11 April – up to and including Anzac Day. A multi-media participatory experience on the theme, “We honour, we remember, we reflect”. Photographs, artworks, installations, talks, readings, poetry and prose, printed and audiovisual material.

Troops watering horses in the Avon River near Carlton Bridge, Christchurch [23 Sept. 1914]. CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0069
Troops watering horses in the Avon River near Carlton Bridge, Christchurch [23 Sept. 1914]. CCL PhotoCD 7, IMG0069
Find out more:

The diary of Lester Priest, 1915

It will be a change to do something instead of sitting in a trench. I believe it will be our last scrap here as the men need a month’s or two month’s holiday and I believe the General has definitely promised the NZ & A troops a spell. They need it.
(Priest’s diary, PCol-Priest-084)

Image of Priest diary

Recently added to our digital collection: Arthur Francis Lester Priest : Diary 1915

A diary kept by Arthur Francis Lester Priest (1893-1915) from late 1914 to August 1915. The diary documents his experience in the first World War. The collection includes some memorabilia kept with the diary: a letter, newspaper clippings, postcard and photograph.

Arthur Francis Lester Priest served from 1914 to August 1915. He was killed at Gallipoli on 8 August 1915. Lester was mistakenly reported killed in June 1915, but then reported wounded several weeks later. The Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser reported on his death in August in November 1915:

After weeks of anxiety Mr and Mrs J. S: Priest of Chorlton have found that their youngest son, Lieut Lester Priest was killed at Gallipoli on August 8th. It appears that Lieut Priest was wounded in the terrible action held that day and was being carried down to the base hospital on a stretcher when a shell wounded the two stretcher bearers and wounded Lt Prtest mortally. He lived for a quarter of a hour after the disaster and asked for a cigarette while smoked. Chaplin McMenamin who returned by the Willochra last week was with him when he died and speaks in high terms ol his great bravery. He said he knew he was dying, but it was the death he would have chosen above all others. In June last his death was reported and he read his own obituary notioe. The sad part of the whole thing is that in some way his real death was not officially reported and his relatives were only told he had been wounded a second time. Since that date they had been enquiring in every hospital and naturally were unable to locate him. The late Lieut Priest was 21 years of age …

Looking at the Anzacs

As Anzac Day approaches, we have some interesting First World War displays for you to explore:

The Changing Face of Veterans (exhibition at Upper Riccarton Library until Monday 4 May). This photographic exhibition is about New Zealand’s war veterans since the First World War – our changing perceptions of veterans, and how we remember them. It’s a collaborative community project by Rannerdale Veterans’ Care, Upper Riccarton Library, and Riccarton High School.

There is also a poppy blanket display.
ANZAC display with poppy blanket

ANZAC display with poppy blanket. Flickr Upper-Riccarton-Displays-ANZAC-Display-2015.JPG

World War One at home and at the front (exhibition at Central Library Peterborough until Sunday 24 May) – A display of uniforms, equipment, photographs, publications, badges and letters, and even gas masks – all generously loaned by Barry O’Sullivan, private collector. Read Alina’s post to get a flavour, and view the O’Sullivan collection online.

The New Brighton Boys (exhibition at New Brighton Library until the end of May)
Staff from Christchurch City Libraries, have put together a display of the stories of the 62 soldiers with strong links to New Brighton, who served and died in the First World War. The display includes stories of each soldier and some photographs. Find out more about the New Brighton Boys on Kete Christchurch.

First World War talks

We will also host a series of talks on First World War subjects:

Find out more:

Anzac Day in Christchurch and Canterbury 2015

Saturday 25 April 2015 is Anzac Day.

Commemorative services often begin before dawn with a march by returned and service personnel to the local war memorial, where they are joined by other members of the community for the Dawn Service.

25 April 2015 also marks a hundred years since Gallipoli. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops first landed on the beaches of the Gallipoli Peninsula, in Turkey on 25 April 1915.
New Christchurch RSA Building, Armagh Street

Library hours

Check our library hours over Anzac weekend. All libraries are closed on Saturday 25 April, but open as normal on Sunday 26 April. On Monday 27 April, Linwood, Papanui and South Libraries and our telephone service 941 7923 will be open from 10am to 4pm. All other libraries will remain closed.

Christchurch services and events

The following information is from the Christchurch City Council community events page.

Dawn service

The dawn service will be held in Cranmer Square.

  • 6am–6.15am: the people gather
  • 6.15am: the parade begins
  • 6.30am: the service begins centred around the memorial cenotaph
  • 7.15am: the service concludes with wreath-laying

Organised by the Canterbury Branch of the Malayan Veterans Association in conjunction with the Christchurch Branch of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) and Christchurch City Council.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel will lay a wreath on behalf of the citizens of Christchurch.

Citizens’ Service: 10am – ChristChurch Transitional Cathedral, Latimer Square

Organised by Christchurch City Council in conjunction with ChristChurch Cathedral and the RSA. It will be attended by representatives of the Defence Force, Consular Corps and various Christchurch youth groups.

Find more Anzac Day services

Other Anzac events

Fields of Remembrance

The Canterbury Province Field in Cranmer Square will contain 632 crosses commemorating the men and women of Christchurch who died in 1915. The Fields of Remembrance Trust has researched the names of men and women from each region who died on active service in 1915 and subsequent years. Download the list of names for Canterbury 1915 [103KB PDF]

Concerts

MainPower Season of ANZAC Rangiora Town Hall

Gallipoli 100 – ANZAC Remembered 2015 Woolston Brass’ special ANZAC concert marks the 100th anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. Featuring The Christchurch City Choir, the concert will be held at the Charles Luney Auditorium (St. Margaret’s College) Saturday 25 April 2pm.

See our photos of the new Christchurch RSA building on Armagh Street, officially opened on 27 March 2015.

Find out more:

First World War Exhibition at Central Library Peterborough

Come on down to Central Library Peterborough to have a look at our genuine First World War memorabilia, kindly loaned by local collector Barry O’Sullivan. Featuring gas masks, cameras, soldiers’ kits, uniforms and a wide variety of other items from both home and abroad, this is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with life from 1914 to 1918. The exhibition runs until Sunday 24 May, so do pop in and give us a visit.

First World War

Cover of  Women Heroes of World War I 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and MedicsI’ve just finished reading Women Heroes of World War I. It includes Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings, radiographers in Italy. Among other things, they x-rayed gassed soldiers and discovered that their lungs shrivelled to about two inches in diameter. That sounds a little uncomfortable to me – all that stood between them and the gas was a flimsy hood soaked in glycerin and sodium thiosulphate. The German gas mask by comparison looks a lot more like the bug-eyed versions I’m familiar with, with goggles attached to a breathing apparatus.

Another exciting discovery is the possible connection between a camera in our exhibit and a roll of film donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. They have kindly provided some scanned copies of the photos taken on the camera which can be viewed alongside the exhibition.

    Title Vest Pocket Kodak, camera and case     Date [circa 1910-1920]      Image 5 of 6     Notes Examples of items soldiers carried with them. Marked with E. J. Jekyll, 7/740. 1 C.M.R. N.Z.M.R.      Source Barry O'Sullivan collection     Collection Description A collection of the types of items taken overseas by enlisted men from Christchurch.     Parent Collection Description Part of a selection of material from the collection of Barry O'Sullivan relating to the first World War. The digital collection includes personal effects of enlisted men from Christchurch, regimental badges, diaries, letters, letterhead paper, newspapers, photographs and postcards.     Collection Location Private collection

Vest Pocket Kodak, camera and case, [circa 1910-1920] Examples of items soldiers carried with them. Marked with E. J. Jekyll, 7/740. 1 C.M.R. N.Z.M.R. Barry O’Sullivan collection. CCL-O’Sullivan-1835-006

First World War information

Looking again at 1914 – an interview with military historian Peter Hart

pete03Peter Hart has been Oral Historian at the Imperial War Museum since 1981. He has written a number of books about various aspects of the First World War, including Gallipoli and aerial warfare. His latest book is Fire and Movement, which takes a fresh look at the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914.

In this book you look at some of the myths that have grown up around the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in 1914. How far do you feel that anything new can be said about the First World War?

It is not so much that anything new can be said – it is that ideas and concepts hitherto largely the province of historians and academics can be presented to a wider audience in a manner which is readable and entertaining. This is greatly helped by using carefully sieved personal experience accounts to bring the mingled drama, horrors and dark humour of the battlefield home to the reader. Popular histories often merely regurgitate myths based on wishful thinking and wartime propaganda. This is especially the case early in the war where we have the legend of the ‘Old Contemptibles’ of the BEF on the Western Front in 1914. Sheer nonsense that ignores what the Germans and French Armies – the main fighting forces during the huge Battle of the Frontiers and the Battle of the Marne – were doing in favour of nationalistic breast-beating myths. The real story of the BEF is far more believable and interesting. We should take pride in what people actually achieved – not in popular myths.

You mention that the British had prepared for war ‘but not for the type of war that faced them in 1914’. Why was the actual war different to what was expected?

There are a variety of reasons. It is always difficult to prepare for the unknown, armies nearly always reach back to their last major conflict for inspiration and a tactical guideline. In the British case this was the Boer War which proved sadly misleading. Little could be gained in preparing for a continental war with armies counted in millions, by analysing skirmishes with Boer guerrillas. The eventual British success based on fast-moving columns and blockhouse bases, led to a fixation with mounted infantry (later overthrown) and light artillery. Officers were thinking, developing their tactics and bringing in new weapons, but Britain had no large-scale training grounds on which to have full-scale realistic exercises. Budgetary constraints imposed by the government also meant that identified needs – such as more machine guns – were refused on financial grounds. Britain was not alone in this problem, but her situation was far worse as she had allotted most of the defence/war budget to the Royal Navy the force on which the whole British Empire depended. The army was a small afterthought, deployed with little strategical analysis to bolster the French Army. Thus the BEF was thrust into a continental war for which it was not prepared.

You’ve now written many books about the First World War, what is it about this conflict that keeps you coming back for more? What First World War books have inspired you?

I have always been fascinated in the Great War since I saw the television series in the 1960s and began reading the veterans published memoirs as a young bespectacled geek. Of these I particularly remember the Joseph Murray book Gallipoli As I saw it and the John Terraine masterpiece, Douglas Haig: The Educated Soldier. When I began to work as the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum back in the 1980s I had the pleasure of interviewing over 150 veterans in great detail – of which one was Joe Murray who recorded over 20 hours – wow! The synthesised results are finally being published in August of 2015 – in some ways the culmination of my professional work. I think I was attracted to the war because we all wonder how we would have coped with those nightmarish conditions and the hell of ‘going over the top’. At first I was filled with a fury at the ‘stupidity’ of the generals.

Later on, I was taught the reality by a combination of the veterans, my colleagues and some brilliant historians like John Terraine. Now I find the sheer complexity of the war mindboggling, there was no ‘easy way’ to victory and if you engage in continental warfare with a major power then hundreds of thousands of men will die. Put bluntly: to beat the German Army you have to kill 2-3 million of the best trained and equipped soldiers in the world. This is a murderous business however you look at it.

Do you have any thoughts around how public libraries can engage with the First World War centenary?

I think the Great War is not something to be celebrated. Personally I am interested in the war as a historical event to be studied and understood as widely as possible – the sentimental centenary side of it passes me by a bit. Yet I fully accept that we should never forget all those on all sides who died or had their lives ruined in that terrible conflict. I just think their memory is best served by establishing what really happened to them and why. Having said all that then Canterbury Library seems to be on the right track! Making historical resources freely available so that people can look up relatives/local people and see what they wore, how they lived and where/why/how they fought. Small on-site displays can be very effective in sucking in interest. Online exhibitions are great and the use of social media including Blogs, Facebook and Twitter feeds can help increase awareness of our subject. Booklists are great in leading people towards a new world of learning – as long as they are not merely a list of books spouting mythologised nationalistic rubbish. The centenary could be an opportunity to gain a realistic perspective; but it could be a disaster if we fail to challenge historical untruths – or as some would call them – lies.

See our page on WW100 commemorations.

1915 – a brief guide to the wider war

Cover of Collision of EmpiresLooking beyond Gallipoli, an awful lot was happening in 1915. On the Western Front a number of major engagements took place throughout the year. The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, fought in March and April, was the first planned British offensive of the war. The attack had some initial success but ran out of steam.

Beginning on 22nd April – days before the Gallipoli landings – the 2nd Battle of Ypres saw Germans attack the salient (a bulge in Allied lines surrounded by German territory) around Ypres. This battle marks the first use of gas on the Western Front, the Germans having previously used chlorine gas against Russian forces on the Eastern Front. French Algerian and Canadian troops bore the brunt of this attack.

The Battle of Loos was the biggest British offensive of the year, yet once again initial success ran out of steam. Casualties were high, both amongst pre-war regular soldiers and those who had volunteered for the duration – this battle marked the first use of ‘New Army’ units on the Western Front. During this battle, the British used poison gas for the first time.

There was plenty of action in other fronts around the world. The Indian and British armies had had some success against the Ottoman Turks in Mespotamia (modern-day Iraq) in 1914, but 1915 saw forces over-extend themselves, and after defeat at the Battle of Ctesiphon in November the allies retreated back to Kut-al-Amara.

Cover of Under the devil's eyeIn October a Franco-British force landed at Salonika in Greece (now Thessaloniki) with the intention of aiding the Serbian Army against Bulgaria, an ally of Germany. Although the Serbians had been beaten by the time the force landed, they remained stationed in Greece.

Germany had various colonies in Africa and in 1915 there was ongoing fighting – often in very difficult conditions – in a number of these:

  • Cameroon,
  • East Africa (Tanganyika and surrounding countries),
  • and Namibia (German South-west Africa).

The Oscar winning film The African Queen is set during the East African campaign.

In British-controlled Egypt, New Zealand troops were involved in defending the vital Suez Canal from the Ottoman Turks and towards the end of the year helped to quell rebel Arab and Berber (the Senussi) tribes who had been agitated by the Germans and Turks.

In April 1915, William Rhodes-Moorhouse won the first ever aerial Victoria Cross, bombing a railway junction in Belgium. He died the next day aged 27. Although he spend most of his life in the UK he was descended from Wellington settlers and the iwi Ōtahui of Ngāti Ruanui.

Who will you be remembering this year?