Skip to main content

Local History

Lest We Forget – we will remember them

It is wonderful to see so many, young and old,  pay their respects by attending ANZAC Services to honour our fallen soldiers from both World War One and World War Two.  I believe that will happen again this coming Anzac Day 25 April, 2024.
 |  Ron morgan  | 

Sgt. Bea Alcoze of Ft. Worth, Texas, with his canine companion along Burma Road, as part of the Mars Task Force in Ho-Pong, Vietnam.

And I have seen that there is added remembrance for those military personnel who lost their lives in other theatres of war since the major wars eg Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts to which we have sent personnel.

For those who returned home after the major wars, many  were emotionally, mentally or physically traumatized and faced huge problems re-adjusting to life back home. Many situations had changed considerably while they were away and what they had experienced many could not speak about, and multitudes of problems were experienced by many families. Let’s not forget

There were those folk at home who stepped up with so many added responsibilities and hardships to be endured.The role of women in the work force (and military) was amazing and it  was an added responsibility for many mothers.

There were many  who made major contributions to the war effort far from the battle front – businesses, charities, community groups, churches, both within New Zealand and abroad, Let’s not forget

The Merchant Navy

One group who operated offshore with incredible bravery was the Merchant Navy.

They must have been in constant threat of attack as enemy aircraft and the navy (especially U Boats) were aware of the importance of the cargo carried. The convoys were tracked by U Boats and the loss of ships, cargos and sailors was tragic. If a ship was attacked, the convoy had to continue and often the crew were left in freezing water surrounded with oil and flames and burning debris. The sight of fellow sailors in such a plight with the ever presence of U Boats shadowing the convoy must have severely tested all sailors.

I am of the belief that we have not adequately recognized the huge contribution the Merchant Navy made to the war effort. Without the supply line being maintained, troops overseas would not have been adequately provisioned, yet the loss rate was horrific.

I have this request. Could Mercury Bay add a plaque at the Buffalo Memorial site recognizing the contribution made and perhaps one day a year we could acknowledge those lost at sea? This might include those lost recreationally, or during conflicts or while on professional activities. Some families never had full closure as bodies were never recovered and a suitable structure enabling plaques to be displayed may help many families in the on-going and sometimes life-long grieving process. Let’s not forget

The horses they rode

The role of animals in battles and major conflicts should never be underestimated. My grandfather was a cavalry rider in the Boer War and served again in World War 1 in a similar role. The affinity the cavalry had with their horses was legendary.

Their ability to travel through mud and difficult terrain, often pulling artillery, ambulances or wagons or delivering messages, was well recognized. Many were killed by enemy fire and suffered diseases or were injured by poisonous gases.

Over the years it has been gratifying to see many artists, poets films and documentaries have acknowledged the massive contribution horses made. A memorial in Hampstead has the inscription –

‘Most obedient and often the most painfully, they died- faithful unto death”.

Horses were brought from Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand as well as being requisitioned from British citizens. It is interesting to note that no horses under 15 hands (152cm) were confiscated in Britain as the children were most concerned about the welfare of their pet ponies. It was found, however, that the stockier smaller breeds were more effective and preferred by many of the units.

The most harrowing experience would be at the termination of the conflict when many horses were killed due to age or illness or were sold to slaughter houses or to locals. After a close affinity and relationship to end on this note would have been traumatic. Records show that of the 136 000-horses shipped from Australia only one was returned. I believe in New Zealand only the officers were able to bring their horses home! Let’s not forget

The loyal dogs

Dogs were used in a variety of roles over many conflicts. Some were trained to carry messages to and from the front line with a cylinder attached to their collar. Their ability to negotiate barbed wire entanglements was amazing.

Dogs carried water and medical supplies and were at times asked to venture into ‘no-man’s land’ to locate injured soldiers. The Swedish army used dogs and sledges for transport and for carrying the injured. They were used on the home front in search and rescue where their heightened sense of smell and sensitive hearing was invaluable. There were times when they were utilized for pest control during trench warfare.

More recently I believe they are being trained for the location of mines.

Of interest is the use of dogs as mascots as pets and mascots for uniformed units. A remake of the film, Dam Busters brought a controversy as the mascot of the unit was a black Labrador with a derogatory name, which is not at all acceptable today.

So perhaps on ANZAC Day we can spare a thought for all those units of service including animals, that could be relevant to New Zealand, who made such an incredible contribution to the war effort. Let’s continue the fine tradition of remembrance and reverence established. Let’s not forget

There is an Anzac service somewhere near you on Thursday, 25 April Anzac Day.   Buy a poppy to support the work of Returned Service Associations across New Zealand.