5 Oct 2017

All Black honoured in WW1 battle commemoration

8:48 am on 5 October 2017

There were All Black legends, a haka and a crowd - but Auckland's Eden Park hosted a more sombre event at dusk last night.

Buck Shelford performs a haka as part of 100-year commemorations of the Battle of Broodseinde.

Buck Shelford performs a haka as part of 100-year commemorations of the Battle of Broodseinde. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

An event at the stadium commemorated the 492 New Zealanders who died in the Battle of Broodseinde in Belgium 100 years ago.

Among the casualties was the All Blacks' first ever captain, Dave Gallaher - one of 13 All Blacks killed in World War One.

Knee-high white crosses were staked into the green turf usually reserved for rugby boots, while the last strips of sunlight flashed against the plaques, revealing the names of the men tasked with seizing part of Broodseinde Ridge from Germany.

They took it, but at a terrible cost.

When Gallaher heard his brother had died fighting, he said he was younger than his 40 so he could enlist. He died and now lies at Flanders Fields.

The Defence Force's rugby team performed a haka in response.

The Defence Force's rugby team performed a haka in response. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

Fellow All Black legend Buck Shelford lay a wreath on behalf of the rugby community and took his spot in front of a line up of school rugby players to lead their haka in response to the haka of Defence Force's own rugby team, the Defence Blacks.

At the function afterwards, Mr Shelford, who is also ex-military said navy, army and airforce play rugby all over the world.

"It was about our young ones performing doing a haka to the fallen out of respect for what they've done."

"I reciprocated with my group on behalf of David [Gallaher] and all those comrades who passed away."

Gallaher's great-great-granddaughter, Keryn Tubbs, was at the ceremony and said her father had a bookshelf dedicated to Gallaher.

The ceremony was incredibly special for the family but remained important for all young New Zealanders, she said.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

The ceremony's organiser, Auckland RSA president Graham Gibson, said knowing what family and friends have gone through in war hits him hard.

But, he said they gave "Dave and his mates a good send off".

"We should be proud of that."

The crosses are to be transported to Auckland Domain in the morning to join thousands of others honouring lives lost in Passchendaele.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs