By the time you read this column it will be ANZAC Day and I’ll be representing New Zealand in Gallipoli as the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs.
It’s a huge honour to make this trip to Turkey and pay tribute to our countrymen who gave their lives in this campaign nearly 100 years ago.
Earlier this week I was shown around the various battle sites on the Canakkale Peninsula. It was an extremely moving experience. The conditions soldiers found when they landed, in darkness, were very challenging. Steep hills with little cover had to be navigated under fire and many casualties resulted.
While I am here I'm giving three speeches - to the Dawn Service at the Anzac commemorative site, the New Zealand service at Chunuk Bair and an international service at Cape Helles.
I’m looking forward to catching up with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other dignitaries. Also attending will be Wanganui Collegiate student Jonathan Brumley who won a recent RSA nationwide speech competition that I officiated at.
It’s the first time in many years that I haven’t been able to attend local services around Kapiti and Horowhenua, which I'm sure will be well attended as usual this year.
New Zealand’s relations with Turkey are very different now to what they were in 1914 and Gallipoli is now a sacred spot for the Turks as well.
Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk famously said in 1934:
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries: wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosoms and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they become our sons as well.”
Gallipoli is widely regarded as a major milestone in New Zealand’s history. The day of landing is now enshrined in NZ life as Anzac Day and a strong bond has evolved between ourselves, Australia and Turkey.
The human cost of World War I on New Zealand was enormous. Our population at the time was less than one million, yet an expeditionary force of 100,000 was provided. Of those, 58,000 were killed or injured.
This equates to one in every three New Zealand men aged between 20 and 40. The evidence of this loss can be seen at memorials in every small town throughout the country.
ANZAC Day is also a time to remember our service men and women who have served in wars and conflicts since then, and today.
Lest we forget.