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Names not numbers

Christopher Pugsley
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired), ONZM, DPhil, FRHistS

I was going to Gallipoli for Anzac Day this year. It was going to be a special moment as I had been invited to give one of the two addresses at the New Zealand service on Chunuk Bair. Dee my wife and family members were joining me there and we were going to spend a week walking the battlefields on the Peninsula. The world Covid-19 crisis has seen New Zealand and Australia cancel all public Anzac Day ceremonies and so who knows when the opportunity will come again?

New Zealanders wrapped in flags at the Turkish memorial on Chunuk Bair

New Zealanders wrapped in flags at the Turkish memorial on Chunuk Bair

Chris Pugsley© All Rights Reserved.

I have been to Gallipoli many times. I first went to in December 1980. I was a 33-year old New Zealand Army officer attending the British Army Staff Course at Camberley and at the end of the course while my wife packed house and sorted out our three children for Christmas in a London hotel, I went off to Gallipoli for a week. It was a visit that changed the course of my life. It was winter. The Anzac area was a deserted battlefield. Everywhere I walked were reminders of the fighting in a landscape littered with bones. There seemed to be very few New Zealand graves but so many names on the New Zealand Memorials to the Missing: at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery (179 names), Hill 60 (182 names), Lone Pine Cemetery (708 names including 252 buried at sea) and on Chunuk Bair (852 names). Each memorial was sited where they fought and died and reading their names was enormously emotional.

Hand-tinted print, in original frame, depicting Anzac Cove looking northwards towards Ari Burnu Point. The photograph was taken by Padre Walter Dexter in 1915. The print is produced by Colarts Studio from a negative acquired from Dexter.

Hand-tinted print, in original frame, depicting Anzac Cove looking northwards towards Ari Burnu Point. The photograph was taken by Padre Walter Dexter in 1915. The print is produced by Colarts Studio from a negative acquired from Dexter.

Auckland War Memorial Museum. No known copyright restrictions.PH-2016-13.

In 1980 I knew very little about New Zealanders at Gallipoli but the figures staggered me and made me realise why Anzac Day on 25 April has such resonance in our history. It led to my first book Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story published in 1984 and to an ongoing fascination with New Zealand’s military history. The learning never stops. Recent research by Defence Force historians John Crawford and Matthew Buck estimates that 17,000 – 18,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli during the eight month campaign. Richard Stower’s research in his brilliant Bloody Gallipoli tells us that 2779 New Zealanders died in that campaign. He includes a brief biography on each one of these deaths. Of these 1669 have no known graves and 252 are buried at sea. There are only 265 known New Zealand graves on the Peninsula.

Such numbers overwhelm. We see it again with the Covid-19 pandemic that has cancelled the Anzac Day services and locked down the world with its daily totals with hundreds of thousands of positive cases with thousands of deaths. It is important to remember that each of those numbers stands for a person who has died; often alone: unconscious in a ventilator machine without any family member present. The enormity of what is happening engulfs us and we are conscious that for this generation things will never be the same again.

Online Cenotaph

That is the impact that the Gallipoli Campaign, and the campaigns that followed on the Western Front and in Sinai and Palestine, had on families in New Zealand. For New Zealand society nothing would ever be the same again. That is why the Online Cenotaph website at the Auckland Museum is so important – particularly so this Anzac Day when we are in our lockdown bubbles. We are like the families in the First World War – worrying about family members overseas and hoping that they will survive and come home. The Cenotaph lists every name of every service personnel who went to war from the War in South Africa onwards, including not just those who died but all those who served.

This is the digital doorway into the history of our country at war. Look for a family name or any name on the memorials in your town (which are also on line) and you can trace each person’s story. In many cases there are photographs and additional information added by families. Each individual entry from the South African War and First World War has links to the digitised personal records available on the Archway website in Archives New Zealand. Take that name and type it into the search engine for Papers Past on the National Library of New Zealand website and it is very likely more personal information will be found. They then cease to be a number but someone we know whose death caused a family’s life to change forever. These deaths rippled through our society that in 1914-1918 numbered some 1,100,000 and one where everyone knew most people in their communities.

Harrison brothers

Portraits of H.H. and C.B. Harrison. Auckland Weekly News.

Portraits of H.H. and C.B. Harrison. Auckland Weekly News.

Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19150812-40-22 and AWNS-19151202-39-2No known copyright restrictions.

As a historian I admire what Stowers has done in looking beyond the numbers into the life experience of each person. In 2015 Dee and I went to Gallipoli for the Anzac Day commemorations and returned again in August for the anniversary of the battle for Chunuk Bair. Dee took two hand-knitted poppies given to her by a friend, Mrs Gail Hutton, to place on the graves of her great-uncles: Charles Benjamin Harrison and Henry Hayward Harrison: two of the three sons of A G Harrison of Maungaturoto. They are one pair of the 55 New Zealand pairs of brothers who died in the Gallipoli campaign. They were “Albertlanders” and one of the first families to settle in the district. Both were members of the 3rd Squadron, Auckland Mounted Rifles. Both were known by their middle names. Benjamin, the youngest son, was farming in the Hunua when war broke out. He saddled up his horse and was one of the first to join. Hayward, the middle son, was a bushman, and followed. They were tent mates. Both arrived on Gallipoli in May 1915. Stowers records that Hayward was shot in the neck and killed by a Turkish sniper in the trenches on Walker’s Ridge while having a smoke after being warned by his mates to keep his head down. That night Benjamin carried his body to the cemetery below the Ari Burnu headland, at the northern end of Anzac Cove, and buried him, covering his grave with rocks from the beach and carving his details on a wooden cross.

Harrison brothers

Benjamin took part in the night advance on Chunuk Bair on 6/7 August. He was in one of the two squadrons that reinforced Malone’s Wellington Battalion and was killed in the fighting on 8 August. Relieved on the night of 9/10 the regimental history records: ‘Of the 288 officers and men who went into the advance only 22 remained.’ His name is recorded on the New Zealand Monument to the Missing. Their father was notified of Hayward’s death on 10 August 1915. Benjamin was initially reported ‘missing believed to be killed on 30 August 1915 and his death was confirmed by a Court of Inquiry in Egypt in January 1916.

Their deaths over a century ago still brings tears to the family. Their nieces and nephews grew up knowing the stories of their lives. Today their letters and artefacts of the war they did not come back from are in the Kauri Museum at Matakohe. Benjamin’s framed last letter home is carried by his great-great great grand-niece in Russell each Anzac Day. Their names are on the Maungaturoto War Memorial and they are listed on the Roll of Honour – Auckland Province held in the Auckland War Memorial Museum. 

The new "normal"

The impact of war on New Zealand defines us still. Online Cenotaph keeps it real. To their families these five shillings a day New Zealand troopers are much more than statistics. They equate to the essential workers in the pandemic that are in the frontline of the present fight. Many working at minimum wage. The supermarket staff, midwives, doctors, nurses, cleaners, care-workers and emergency services staff are the unsung heroes and heroines who are simply doing their job. They are the glue that is keeping New Zealand together in these dangerous times. This Anzac Day we will stay in our homes but remember the impact of war on our society. They hoped to come home and get on with life. To come back to normality. Instead the dreams of those who returned were shattered in the Great Depression and they saw their sons and daughters committed in the Second World War.

What should “Normal” look like after this pandemic passes? One hopes that it means something positive for New Zealand at large and built into our recovery is an end to child poverty, the lack of housing, better health provisions and the implementation of a living wage for all New Zealanders. Then this fight will truly be seen to have had a purpose.

Kia kaha

Dr Christopher Pugsley, ONZM is a New Zealand military historian and former New Zealand Army officer. He is the author of some 20 books: the first of which is Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story. His most recent is Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand’s Last Battle. He was Curator and Creative Director of the “Scars on the Heart” permanent exhibition at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. He was Historical Director of the current “Gallipoli the Scale of our War Exhibition” at Te Papa Tongarewa – Museum of New Zealand.

Cite this article

Dr Christopher Pugsley. Names not numbers. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 15 April 2020. Updated: 1 September 2020.