The Devonport RSA lists 160 local men who lost their lives in the First World War, leaving too many Devonport families without a husband, father, son, or friend. Through the familiar memorials in our community, including Memorial Drive, the window in Takapuna Grammar’s library, or Devonport Primary’s memorial with its roll call of 86 who made the ultimate sacrifice we have ensured Devonport remembers those who fought for our freedom. Their bravery will not be forgotten. I am reminded of Cyril Bassett’s courage under fire when I walk from our home up to the lookout named after him at Stanley Point. He was the only New Zealander awarded a Victoria Cross at Gallipoli, and a local hero.
For our family, Anzac Day has always been a very important occasion as it is too many New Zealanders whose family members have served in either of the world wars or in other conflicts around the world. My grandfather, Trooper Vincent Barry, was a member of the Wellington Mounted Rifles. He was shot in the right lung during the first battle of Gaza in 1917 and endured a lifetime of war related health issues. He watched two of his sons go off to the Second World War, including my father, to fight for the freedom we enjoy today.
The theme for this year’s First World War commemorations is ‘The Grind of War’, focusing on the battles on the Western Front, and the effects of the war on those left behind. As that epic conflict shifted towards France and Belgium, we will reflect more on the battles at Arras, Messines, and Passchendaele which devastated the ranks of our New Zealand soldiers.
The New Zealand Tunnelling Company joined British forces to dig tunnels under the city of Arras. The goal was to get troops unnoticed to enemy lines. The tunnels connected to the city sewer system, a 17th Century moat, and allowed for movement beneath Arras. One of the tunnels dug by Kiwis was named Christchurch. The centenary of this battle has been marked by French President François Hollande who unveiled the Victory Medal/Poppy of Peace – an art installation by two Devonport artists Helen Pollock and Tony McNeight. Helen’s sculpture has been surrounded by Tony’s Poppy – a fitting tribute to the battles fought in Arras.
In October 1917 New Zealand suffered its greatest First World War loss at the Battle of Passchendaele. In roughly four hours more than 840 young men died. Private John Ensoll from Tainui Road was just 22 when he stepped onto the battleground in Passchendaele and was fortunate to survive. Chris Mullane, Mike Pritchard, and Greg Hall are Devonport locals who have been very effective champions of the Passchendaele memorials. A commemorative garden is being built in Belgium to remember our soldier’s contribution and Chris will be heading over in October for the opening along with the winners of Veterans’ Affairs multi-media competition. Information about the competition can be found on my website. I thank the New Zealand Passchendaele Society for all their efforts with the New Zealand memorial garden, which I was honoured to put the first plant in the ground two years ago.
Our annual local parade and Anzac service, where we respectfully stand at the foot of Frank Lynch’s ‘Untidy Soldier’ in Marine Square is how Devonport honours and remembers the fallen. Together with our neighbours, the community stops for half an hour to think of all of those who left for war, and never came back.