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Defining moment when war declared 100 years ago

Defining moment when war declared 100 years ago

The declaration of war on August 4, 1914, tapped into the desires of many young men for travel and adventure but resulted in death for more than 18,000 New Zealand troops. A hundred years on, this outcome remains a sobering and poignant reminder of the innocence that preceded the most catastrophic and profound event to shape our nation, says Massey University Professor of War Studies Glyn Harper.

He says the appalling cost of the First World War (1914-1918) to our fledgling nation could not have been anticipated when news of Britain’s declaration of war against Germany reached New Zealand.

Around 10 per cent of New Zealand’s male population served in what came to be known as ‘The Great War’, and ‘The War to End All Wars’. More than 18,000 New Zealanders died and nearly all were buried in foreign fields, while over 40,000 New Zealanders were wounded.

“Very few New Zealand families were spared the loss of a loved son, brother or father,” says Professor Harper, whose latest book Johnny Enzed: The New Zealand Soldier in the First World War offers firsthand accounts of soldiers’ experiences.

Professor Harpers says he wants readers to understand as much as they can about what the soldiers saw, where they slept, what they ate and what they felt through the use of more than 2000 letters and diaries, which mostly have not been used before.

“It’s telling the story using new material but also telling the story as much as possible in their own words. They were quite articulate in how they expressed themselves and they could obviously write well and the visual content of what they’re saying is very strong.”

He will discuss his research on the book at a major conference on the First World War in Wellington later this month.

Keynote speaker at the conference is one of Britain’s most respected military advisors, who recently criticised the British and United States governments’ strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who will share his views on the First World War.

Sir Hew Strachan – Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University who has advised the Coalition on its treatment of the Armed Forces and currently sits on the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel – is among a battalion of military and war historians and researchers who will gather at Massey University’s Wellington campus for The Experience of a Lifetime – People, Personalities and Leaders in the First World War conference from August 22-24.

Sir Hew, whose presentation is titled ‘Military Operations and National Policies 1914-1918', wrote in a Guardian newspaper column last year that World War I commemorations should be more about education than remembrance following reports that six out of ten Brits said they didn’t understand what the war was about. He also stressed the need for Britain to coordinate its commemorative efforts more closely with its Commonwealth partners.

He has published a number of books on the First World War, including; The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (Oxford, 2001; The First World War: A New Illustrated History (Simon & Schuster, 2003); The First World War (Viking, 2004); and The First World War in Africa (Oxford, 2004).

The conference is part of the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War. It is a joint venture with Massey, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association.

Diverse topics covered in the three-day event include portrayals of key military leaders and their strategies; first hand accounts of soldiers’ experiences; the role of nurses; the place of Indian and Fijian soldiers; and the plight of veterans in the post-war period.

Professor Harper, who is part of the conference organisation, says “the First World War shaped our country – it gave us the sense of ourselves as New Zealanders, as an independent nation, and forged our place in the world. While it separated us physically, the war brought us together emotionally, and strengthened the bond with Australia that has continued down the generations.”

He says the conference will bring together a wide range of speakers who will talk on many different aspects of the war, and says it will be of huge interest to anyone interested in the history of the war, such

as high school history teachers. “This conference demonstrates the great diversity of New Zealand’s war experience as well as revealing how important it [the war] was to the nation as a whole.”

Also speaking are:

• Professor Michael Neiberg, Professor of History, Department of National Security Studies at the US Army War College, Carlisle – If you are in favour of the Kaiser, Keep it to Yourself: American Reactions to the European War, 1914

• Professor Peter Stanley, Research Professor, Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society – Other People’s Wars: British Empire Soldiers 1914-15

• Dr Gavin McLean, Senior Historian, Heritage Services, Ministry for Culture and Heritage – The Great Helmsmen: New Zealand’s Shipping Leaders at War

• Dr Mesut Uyar, Associate Professor of Ottoman Military History, Australian Centre for the Study

of Armed Conflict and Society- ‘Esat Pasha on 25 April 1915: Ottoman Corps in Crisis’

• Dr Katie Pickles, Associate Professor of History, University of Canterbury – Edith Cavell: Famous nurse of the First World War

• Megan Wells, Curator of Social History and Accoutrements, National Army Museum – Trench art and souveniring: Examining Soldiers’ Experiences through the Material Archive at the National Army Museum

The conference runs from August 22-24 in the Old Museum Building, Massey University, Wellington.


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