16 Oct 2014

Te Kaha marks Great War departure

6:59 pm on 16 October 2014

As New Zealand waits to hear if it will be sending troops to another world conflict, today the New Zealand Defence Force marked the hundredth anniversary of the troops leaving to fight in World War One.

Te Kaha

The Ceremonial Departure of HMNZS Te Kaha from Queens Wharf in Wellington. Photo: Supplied / NZDF

HMNZS Te Kaha departed Wellington from Queen's Wharf, to take part in the first major commemoration of Australia's First World War centenary from October 31.

As part of the Australian commemorations, Te Kaha will join five Royal Australian Navy ships and take part in a re-enactment of the Australian Imperial and New Zealand Expeditionary Force's departure from King George Sound for Egypt in 1914.

Approximately 8,500 men and almost 4,000 horses departed in the early morning of October 16, 1914.

In anticipation, Wellingtonians lined the beaches, coastal roads and ridgelines before dawn, waiting quietly for the procession of ships to appear in the channel out of the harbour.

Records states that as the bow of the first ship came around the point, cheers rippled across the bays.

Each of the ten troopships and four escorts slipped out into Cook Strait single file and set course initially for Australia.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief historian Neill Atkinson said the significance of marking the centenary of World War One (WW1) through events like the New Zealand and Australian exercise shows how WW1 impacted New Zealand.

He said New Zealand was a very small, still quite colonial society of just over a million people in 1914.

Far away events in Europe had an enormous effect on every New Zealand community with more than 100 000 soldiers leaving and almost a fifth did not come back.

He said the sense of loss families experienced when loved ones were killed has been past down generations, but for some families that had their loved ones returned they had to deal with men who were badly damaged by war - physically and psychologically.

"Many of them struggled to fit back into society to go back to their previous jobs, or some of them had enlisted so young they never really had a job."

The HMNZ Transport Ship No.4 Tahiti at Wellington.

The HMNZ Transport Ship No.4 Tahiti at Wellington. Photo: Archives New Zealand

Mr Atkinson said not all returned service men suffered tragedy and had much more positive experiences.

Some people came back and embarked on their lives and careers.

They did not necessarily want to dwell in what had happened to them.

"That's why they didn't really talk about their experiences of war. In some cases it might have been memories that were too painful to talk about."

He said the reasons for New Zealanders signing up to go and fight in the Great War can fall predominately into three categories.

They were after adventure, despite the risk, there was a sense of duty and commitment to the British Empire, and there was social pressure to join the fight or risk being seen by the community as a shirker.

"Most people in New Zealand in 1914 were never going to get the chance to travel overseas. This was a paid trip by the Government."

A hundred years on from the Great War, the centenary period gives people the opportunity to talk about what governments and society have learnt or not learnt from going to war.

"Clearly there's still a great deal of turmoil around the world that would suggest that sometimes humanity has not learnt from its past mistakes and conflicts."

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