Ever since Peter Jackson filmed The Lord of The Rings in New Zealand, I’ve only ever been able to see the place in terms of its Tolkienish landscape. Mostly, anyway.
The Misty Mountains? Maybe…
This is a picture I took the ranges west of Lake Wakitipu, in the south of New Zealand’s South Island – actually Mount Bonpland and other peaks, rather than Caradhras, but you get the idea… Jackson actually filmed the Caradhras sequences a little further north, but the scenery’s all much of a muchness in this district. Inspiring? Absolutely.
I thought I’d close my coverage of New Zealand’s commemoration of our landing on Gallipoli, 100 years ago, by revealing a curious point. We don’t know how many Kiwis fought there.
The beach at Kapa Tepe, Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. McKenzie, Fiona, fl 2004 :Photographs relating to Charles and Christina Andrews. Ref: PAColl-8147-1-08. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22453227
The official figure of 8556, which seems to have been plucked out of a quick add-up of some numbers in one report, is almost certainly wrong. Efforts since to identify the actual number have tripped up over double-counting – men wounded early in the campaign who returned later.
What we do know is that 7447 Kiwis were killed or wounded during the eight-and-a-half month campaign. Of these, 2779 were killed. They were not the first soldiers to die for New Zealand, and nor were they the last, but it was this campaign – and the date of landing – that came to symbolise all New Zealand’s war dead.
Curious but true. And that, folks, is it on matters military. For a while anyway. Watch this space for regular writing posts, science, humour and more, coming up.
The centenary of New Zealand’s landings on Gallipoli, this weekend, is also a moment to remember all New Zealand’s war dead. We know who they were; their names are inscribed into memorials from Bluff to Kaitaia, from Palestine to Egypt, to North Africa, to Italy, France, Belgium and many other places.
Names of the New Zealand dead, Tyne Cot cemetery, near Ypres.
Here is a list on the wall of the New Zealand Memorial at Tyne Cot cemetery, near Ypres, a photo I took some years ago and which still resonates today. This memorial commemorates the 1200 Kiwis who died between August and October 1917, during what is usually known as the Third Battle of Ypres.
One of the most moving experiences I’ve had as a writer was on the day I visited Ellis Farm, a preserved aid post from the First World War, near Ypres. It was here that Canadian doctor, Major John McCrae, penned what has become the signature verse of the war: In Flanders Fields.
Remains of the aid post in Essex Farm where John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields’.
He was inspired by the death of a friend, Alexis Helmer; and during the evening of 2 May 1915 began drafting his famous rondeau. The timing is significant; in 1915, nobody guessed that the war might last another three and a half years. And yet the spectre of death – and the iconic flower of that war, the poppy – already loomed close.
It was an inspiring moment for me to visit that place. And inspiring, I hope, for you.
It was remarkably difficult to get this photo of sunset over Wellington, New Zealand. The camera I had wasn’t great for low-light shots, and was way too heavy for the tripod I was using, which meant it wobbled everywhere if I so much as breathed near it, let alone hit the shutter.
Sunset over Wellington from Petone beach.
Still, I managed to get a photo that was reasonably illuminated and not too blurry – which I did by trying to work within the limits. And that, to me, is inspiring, because it’s something writers have to do all the time, if you think about it. And yet that doesn’t stop us. Does it? A thought to inspire.
The first British settlers to reach the Wellington district in numbers landed on Petone Beach in February 1840, a place seen here in a photo I took before the place was socked in with the permanent rain we’ve had since Easter.
Petone beach, Wellington district.
In 1840 the beach wasn’t where it is today; the land has been uplifted since by repeated earthquakes, and this specific scene would have been under water. The original beachline is off to the left, out of frame. But we can imagine the moment when the settlers spilled ashore from the colony ships, left to wade the last distance with their gear and equipment, their boxes and suitcases (and a piano) left stacked on the beach below the low-tide mark.
The swampy, rugged landscape they found was a far cry from what they had been promised when they agreed to one-way passage, half a world away. But they made the best of it anyway, and to me, that’s an inspiring thought.