Image (above): Full length portrait of Corporal Gallagher of the 22nd Reinforcements. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-G2778. No known copyright restrictions.
One that ran up the slope that day was a 43 year-old from Grey Lynn, who had earlier served in the field during the South African War as well as playing on the rugby field at Eden Park for Ponsonby and Auckland, and in 1905 captained The Original All Blacks on their Tour of Britain and Ireland.
Leaving behind his wife and young daughter, 32513 Sergeant David Gallagher enlisted with the 2nd Battalion Auckland Infantry Regiment in 1916 and was mortally wounded on 4 October 1917. He now lies in the fields of Flanders at Nine Elms British Cemetery. Last month, hundreds of Kiwis were at his graveside to mark the centenary of his death, and the Irish too from his country of birth. Dave Gallagher is commemorated at Eden Park and also now at Zonnebeke in Flanders thanks to a statue presented by the Mayor of Auckland last month, and he is remembered here.
Passchendaele – New Zealand’s deadliest day
Now buoyed, British High Command resolved to make a push for Passchendaele Ridge but the heavy rain that started on the 4th turned the terrain to a muddy morasses, rendering artillery support ineffective. The New Zealanders who attacked Bellevue Spur on 12 October – officially known as the First Battle of Passchendaele, so close were they to the main objective – were exposed to German machine-gun fire along unbroken barbed wire with deadly results.
The Division suffered 2,700 casualties, of which, 843 died on this single day making it New Zealand’s worse disaster in history – our darkest day.
In fact, according to recent research, 957 men died on this day and of their wounds during the following three months as a result of the 12 October attack. With the 500 dead from 4 October, and others killed while holding the line (including New Zealand-born nurse Elise Kemp in an air raid) New Zealand’s dead in the Third Battle of Ypres that ended on 10 November approached 2,000 (nine percent of New Zealand’s total fatalities in the First World War). These Flanders fields where today the poppies still grow and the crosses row on row are so beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, also commemorating its centenary this year, were in 1917 "New Zealand’s Killing Fields".
For too long Gallipoli has overshadowed Passchendaele, and indeed the Western Front. The reason is simple; Gallipoli was New Zealand’s first major overseas military action with significant deaths - it’s no myth. If Gallipoli was the baptism of fire, however, the Western Front was where New Zealand grew up. Aucklander Ormond Burton, decorated veteran of both Gallipoli and the Western Front, wrote:
"Somewhere between the bloody ridge of Chunuk Bair in August 1915 and the black swamp in front of Passchendaele in October 1917, New Zealand quite definitely found individuality and nationality".
Last month it was Passchendaele’s time to be commemorated. I had the privilege to be there with hundreds of other relatives and affirmation 100 years on that New Zealanders and the Belgians have not forgotten.
What is the legacy of 1917?
The official New Zealand commemorations at Messines and Passchendaele but also last month at Beersheba, Israel (where on 31 October 1917 the Auckland Mounted Rifles captured the strategic high ground to enable the Australian Light Horse to famously charge) – these three being the most WW100 commemorations reflects the significance of this year. But there are other legacies that resonate with us 100 years on. The New Zealand observance of Anzac Day diverged in 1917 from that of Australia where the celebratory parade of living heroes continues to this day, here conscription meant that the parade became a funeral march to the war memorial as the focus was on the dead; for in death the sacrifice of volunteers and conscripts was the same.
The greatest legacy, however, is that despite the early successes of Messines and Broodseinde it is the disaster of Passchendaele that dominates our modern memory of 1917, and indeed the Western Front, just as it contributed to the great shadow that came over New Zealand society after the Great War. Author and soldier John Mulgan captured it best just before he took his own life at the end of another World War,
"We had never, in fact, outgrown the shadow of that earlier war, which our fathers had fought. It brooded over our thoughts and emotions…We felt the tragic waste and splendor of this first Great War, and grew up in the wasteland that it produced".
Looking forward to Armistice Day 100 and beyond
The 100th anniversary of The Armistice provides the greatest opportunity in a generation, maybe several, to discover, engage and remember World War One. Community and creativity have been the stand out contributions of the Centenary everywhere; and here the Museum’s Online Cenotaph database has created its own rich online community while the new educational space Pou Kanohi makes a creative connection with a new generation.
My hope for this final year is that we find ways to engage with the German experience of the war; a collaborative remembrance project would be a fitting finale for Armistice Day 2018. And as we approach the end of WW100 we need to think about how, beyond official commemoration, remembrance in the future will talk to us as Kiwis, both old and newly arrived.
The 80,000 soldiers and nurses who returned home set about re-building their lives and making the best New Zealand as an Eternal Memorial to those they left behind. The three architects of this magnificent Memorial Museum were all returned soldiers that literally built one.
So on this day, let us be thankful for the peace we enjoy in Aotearoa, celebrate the achievements of our World War One generation, and dedicate ourselves to making the best New Zealand.
That’s how we can truly honour them.
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou.
We will remember them.