Lest we forget: a reminder of the folly of war

It’s Anzac Day: memorial day in New Zealand and Australia when we remember the dead of all our wars. Why choose then, and not 11 November, to mark all war dead? For both Australia and New Zealand the emotional power of the Gallipoli campaign was enormous: after the war, this became the moment when both Dominions recognised themselves as emerging identities of their own, more than mere appurtenances of Britain.

Graves of New Zealand Division soldiers at Tyne Cot – a photo I took in 2004 with 200 ASA Fuji film.

The wars of the twentieth century were of a scale the world had never before seen, eventually embracing technology of such horror that its first uses were also the last, for now: nuclear weapons. New Zealand forces were involved in the majority of these conflicts from 1899 when mounted rifle forces were despatched to join the British in the Second Anglo-Boer war. Around 29,000 New Zealanders died in these wars, up to 2012, when the last of ten New Zealand deaths occurred in Afghanistan. Of these, more than half – 16,697, by official count – were killed during the First World War, the vast majority of them on the Western Front.

Fighting is the dark side of the human condition; we keep trying to avoid it, and yet it keeps happening. Still, had the World Wars of the twentieth century not been fought, the world today would be in a very different place. The Second World War, particularly, meant that democratic and not totalitarian government systems predominated. It came, however, with enormous cost in lives and to societies.

Today, the first full-scale territorial war in Europe since 1945 is raging across Ukraine. It seems more important than ever to remember the wars of the past, to remember their impact on people and families; and to hope that the understandings that follow will deter nations from wanting war – and to push those that are fighting towards finding peace.

For the human story of the way the Gallipoli landings affected New Zealand’s history, check out my book The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front – available from all good bookshops or direct from the publisher. Click to buy.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2022

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