8 Aug 2015

Chunuk Bair: Soldiers on both sides honoured

6:49 pm on 8 August 2015

Hundreds of people gathered in Wellington this afternoon to remember those who lost their lives at the Battle for Chunuk Bair - on both sides of the conflict.

Minister Maggie Barry and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson pay their respects at the tomb of the unknown warrior.

Minister Maggie Barry and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson pay their respects at the tomb of the unknown warrior. Photo: Radio NZ / Alexa Cook

Special services have been held today in Wellington to mark the centenary of the Battle and the hundreds of soldiers who died.

Regarded as the most significant action for the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Gallipoli Campaign, over the two days on Chunuk Bair New Zealand suffered nearly 2500 wounded, with over 800 dead.

After a dawn service this morning, about 300 people turned out for the commemoration at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park this afternoon, which concluded a national day of remembrance.

The wreath laying ceremony at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park.

The wreath laying ceremony at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. Photo: Radio NZ / Alexa Cook

Speaking at the late afternoon ceremony in Wellington, Attorney General Chris Finlayson said it was also important to remember Turkey's sacrifice at Chunuk Bair.

"When we commemorate events such as the Chunuk Bair offensive, it's so very important to keep in mind both sides were fighting for what they believed was right - from the Turkish perspective, we were the aggressors invading their homeland."

Mr Finlayson said the day was not about glorifying war, but to reflect on the tragedy and to draw life lessons from it.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry told the crowd it was important to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers who fought at Chunuk Bair, but also the impact on those at home.

The Turkish Embassy's Chargé d'Affaires Aziz Sevi also addressed the gathering

A century since Chunuk Bair

During the dawn service earlier today, Retired Colonel Nick Thornton said for New Zealanders the stand at Chunuk Bair was the most significant action in the Gallipoli campaign.

"We proudly remember the ultimate sacrifice these men of the Wellington Battalion made that fateful day of 8th of August, 1915. Lest we forget," he said.

About 100 people were at the service, among them Madeleine Pierard; a soprano and descendant of the Wellington Battalion's commander Colonel William Malone.

She had come from London for the commemorations.

"To be here and at the dawn service this morning was really special. Highly emotional; I did lose it a few times.

New Zealand soldiers at the Apex near Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli.

New Zealand soldiers at the Apex near Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli. Photo: Masterton District Library Archive.

"Just amazing, beautiful actually. And it gives me the sense that they never will be forgotten because 100 years on we're still really celebrating the lives that were lost."

Excerpts from of her great-great grandfather's letters home read aloud during the service by soldiers dressed in World War I uniforms.

"The last letter of Malone's to his wife Ida is quite well known to our family, and many people I'm sure, and so it's quite difficult to hear it.

"It's by far the most emotionally open he is in his writing, as you would be, you can sense in the way that he wrote it that he knew it was highly likely she wouldn't ever see him again."

The commemoration at the Cenotaph.

The commemoration at the Cenotaph. Photo: RNZ/ Tom Furley

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said it was a moving service and important to remember those that died.

"It's the day that the most Wellington soldiers died in the whole of the Gallipoli campaign. Just thinking of those 760 that started off and then there were only 70 standing and then the Wellington Mounted Rifles came as reinforcements and many of them died or were wounded too."