World War I started 100 years ago today.
Last week in parliament, Prime Minister John Key moved that the house recognise that on the 4th of August 2014, we will mark the centenary of New Zealand entering the First World War:
A few hours after the declaration of war by the British Empire, of which New Zealand was a part, the Governor of New Zealand Lord Liverpool told a crowd of thousands outside Parliament that New Zealand was at war with Germany.
The New Zealand government’s offer to send an expeditionary force – a move endorsed by this Parliament – was hugely significant.
New Zealand’s population in 1914 was just over one million.
The initial deployment was of 8,000 men, but by 1919 over 100,000 New Zealanders – or ten per cent of the population – had left these shores to serve overseas.
They were not just soldiers. They included, for example, medical staff, sailors and tunnellers.
Over 5,000 Maori served in the War, alongside 500 Pacific Islanders. And 550 women served in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service.
Of those who served, 18,000 lost their lives and another 41,000 were wounded.
One in 20 New Zealanders therefore became casualties of the First World War.
This was war on a scale beyond anything New Zealand had experienced before, and the effect on the nation was profound.
Worrying about loved ones, grieving for lost relatives, working to support the war effort, making do, going without – the War touched every person at every level in New Zealand.
Today’s New Zealand has roots in the patience and endurance of those communities, carrying on through the aftermath of the War and building a future for those who followed.
It is no wonder that the First World War is marked by memorials that stand in almost every community in New Zealand.
The contribution of that First World War generation, both on the battlefield and at home, has a deep significance for New Zealanders and is integral to our sense of nationhood.
In the last decade, the number of New Zealanders attending Anzac Day services at home and overseas has risen.
Many have travelled to battle sites and cemeteries in far-off places.
We are proud of those who took part in the First World War, as we are proud of our current Defence Force.
I believe New Zealanders will embrace this Centenary.
It will be a time to honour those who served, a time to remember those who died, and a time to deepen our understanding of a formative event in New Zealand’s history.
Other nations are embarking on a similar journey.
Many millions of people died as a result of the fighting – not just in Europe but in theatres across the globe.
So New Zealand will be marking the Centenary alongside a number of countries, and it will be an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the people and governments of those nations.
There are too many commemorations and events to name, but I want to mention just a few.
In November we will proudly join Australia at a ceremony at Albany, Western Australia, to mark the joint departure of the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
Alongside our Australian, Turkish and British friends, New Zealand will be commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli in 2015.
And over the next four years we will be increasing our presence at Anzac Day services and commemorations in France and Belgium.
While the Gallipoli Campaign will always hold an important place for New Zealanders, the Centenary is an opportunity to expand our awareness and knowledge of what happened after Gallipoli, and in particular on the Western Front, where by far the majority of our casualties occurred.
We will be commemorating New Zealand’s involvement in the Battle of the Somme, at Passchendaele, and other major battles in France and Belgium.
Plaques with the names of those battles, and others New Zealand fought in the First World War, surround us in this debating chamber.
More broadly, New Zealand’s WW100 programme encompasses the whole range of this country’s commemorative activity – from state ceremonies and government-led initiatives to grass-roots community projects.
Part of that programme involves major legacy projects such as the National War Memorial Park, Pukeahu – a place to commemorate New Zealand’s involvement in all military conflict and peacekeeping.
Heritage trails in Europe will tell the story of New Zealanders at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
These and other projects will be enduring reminders that ensure current and future generations never forget the sacrifices that have been made, and the role of war in shaping of this country.
The Government is also a major partner in the First World War Centenary History Programme – a series of up to 13 print publications covering the major campaigns in Europe and the Middle East, New Zealanders’ contributions in the air and at sea, the experiences of soldiers at the front and civilians at home, the Māori war effort, and the war’s impact and legacy.
Equally important are the many community projects that are underway around New Zealand.
WW100 is not a government-run initiative. It is a collaboration between government, local bodies, communities and individuals which seeks to ensure every New Zealander has the chance to be part of the commemorations, and to feel a sense of ownership.
When you travel around New Zealand – as I said before – you see a lot of war memorials with lists of the fallen from that town, or city or country district.
They remind us that each community has its stories to tell.
The WW100 programme encourages communities to tell those stories, and to honour their forebears in whatever way they feel is best.
From now until 2019, when we mark the centenary of our troops returning, the various commemorations, events and projects throughout the country will provide us with the opportunity to honour those who have gone before us, and reflect on their legacy.
We will always remember.
The official website is here