2016 Anzac Day address from the High Commissioner
Dawn Service London - 2016 Address by HE the Rt Hon Sir Lockwood Smith, New Zealand's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
One hundred years ago, today, Londoners in their thousands lined the streets to see the Anzacs, who’d survived Gallipoli, march down the Strand and Whitehall to Westminster Abbey for the first Anzac Day Service.
Newspapers said they were “eager to render tribute to their fellow kinsman whose gallantry and self-sacrifice in the Empire’s cause have moved every heart”.
But the respite was to be brief. Within days the Anzacs were moved to the Western Front and the horrors of the Somme.
First over the top were the Australians at Fromelles on 19 July. With the same gallantry as at the Nek on Gallipoli, in broad daylight they went, only this time to be blown apart by artillery, as well as cut down by machine gun fire.
Forced to retreat, in the worst 24 hours in Australia’s history, some battalions lost three quarters of their men.
The New Zealand Division went into action almost two months later. At midnight on 14 September, 6000 were in position in trenches near Delville Wood.
They faced the infamous Switch Line, unbroken by previous assaults. Their objective - the village of Flers.
At exactly 6:20 a.m., on 15 September 1916, the barrage began. The Kiwis started their advance.
Lessons had been learned. They now followed a creeping barrage of artillery fire and would, for the first time, have the support of tanks.
Disaster lurked all round. Of the 48 new tanks only 32 even made it to start line. And by the middle of no man’s land, the German artillery crashed into them.
Through the carnage they carried on, and as the creeping barrage lifted off the German front lines the surviving New Zealanders fought a hand to hand battle, with bayonet, bullet and grenade, taking the previously impregnable Switch Line and the trenches at Flers.
The cost was huge – the greatest loss of life in New Zealand’s military history to that time.
Nurses, from both our countries, volunteered in their thousands to care for the wounded - in makeshift hospitals behind the front lines, and here too.
For New Zealand, at Brockenhurst and Walton on Thames, these Anzac angels helped repair the broken bodies, and raise flagging spirits, only to see those they’d lovingly cared for sent back to the Front once more - to the flying shrapnel of the pounding guns and the soul sapping, mind-numbing mud.
My wife’s own Grandfather was one, torn from head to foot by shrapnel, and nursed back to life at Walton on Thames.
More than 2000 New Zealanders lie buried on the battlefields of the Somme. 1200 have no known grave, their names inscribed on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing in the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, near Longueval.
To the thousands upon thousands from across the Commonwealth whose lives were torn away, so far from home, Canadian poet and soldier, John McRae wrote, “We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders Fields”.
To those still living he wrote “to you from failing hands we throw, the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow, in Flanders Fields”.
As we remember all who served, and what they endured that we might live free, their character, their commitment, their sheer courage will inspire us forever. Their torch is ours, to hold it high.