The Eleventh Day

Today, the Eleventh of November, is Armistice Day.

On this day we remember the millions of our people who were killed in the First World War. Nearly twenty thousand New Zealanders that made the ultimate sacrifice during that pointless fratricidal slaughter. A thousand or so later died of their injuries, and tens of thousands more of our countrymen were wounded.

From Lance Corporal Kenneth Abbot to Gunner Rudolph Zorn, we will honour them all.

The first of our men to die during the war was Sapper Robert Arthur Hislop, who fell from a railway bridge in Auckland. The first battle casualty was Private William Arthur Ham, who died at Ismailia after a skirmish with the Turks.

William Ham was one of fourteen volunteers from Ngatimoti, a small village near Motueka. Eleven of these men were killed in action or died of wounds; another died of sickness during the war. Only two of the men ever returned to New Zealand, and between them they had received seven wounds.

  They weren’t numbers

They weren’t numbers

That's the scale of our men's sacrifice. From a total population of barely one million, more than 120,000 men (and 550 women as nurses) were in the Armed Forces. That's roughly 12.5% of the total population, or 25% of the male population; you could possibly assume that it would be about 50% of the male population of fighting age.

They came from all walks of life, from adventurous youths who lied about their ages to follow their friends, to professionals, lawyers and businessmen that left their promising careers behind to serve their country. More than four hundred employees of New Zealand’s railway department died during the war. They were farmers, labourers, doctors, school teachers, artists, miners, sailors, and market gardeners. They were our neighbours. They were our brothers and our fathers.

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They were the rich and the poor. They were the whole of the people at arms; either fighting at the front, working in the factories to manufacture arms and equipment, in the farms to supply foodstuffs, or in the hospitals to treat the wounded.

They came from all over our land. Memorials in their memory go from Houhora in the far north (J. Aldred, G. Akast, C. Blucher, S. Clouston, R. Davis, A. Gordon, J. Gordon, P. Hebden, A. Lamb, J. Lingard, F. Mahoney, E. Noble, D. Smith, W. Thomas, A. Thomas, W. Urwin, F. Urwin, W. Wagener and B. Wells) to Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island in the far south (R. Stephenson, J. A. Hansen, J. Robertson. R. Churnside, E. Lowendale, A. T. Hunter).

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If you're a New Zealander, you probably have ancestors or relatives who were among these patriots. You probably have relatives who were killed or wounded; who soldiered on through the mud and blood. No less than five of my own great-great-great uncles were killed in action during the Great War, and two of them only a day apart at the battlefield of Bapaume.

You don't have to agree with why they were there, and you shouldn't agree with the devastation brought about by bitter, vengeful treaties signed after the war; but you should remember our boys, and you should honour their sacrifice, because they did it for us, for our land and for our people.

‘A thousand years of history proves that we have come of a warlike race. The mind of man runneth not to the time when the Briton refused to fight for that which he considered right and just. May that time never come. But that time will be less likely to come if those who live learn to justly venerate and honour those who, as the record proudly puts it, have died in the service of their country.’

Let their bravery be an inspiration to you in the future; let their sacrifices be further proof of why we must never fall into the madness of further European brother wars. Let the names of our ancestors live on in our memory as martyrs.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly...