ANZAC DAY: John Howard Boycotts Kiwi Ceremony At Chunuk Bair
By Selwyn Manning – Scoop co-editor in Gallipoli, Turkey.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard will be boycotting an official ANZAC Day New Zealand ceremony at Chunuk Bair, Gallipoli, preferring instead to attend a barbeque on the shores of ANZAC Cove.
The snub had New Zealand foreign affairs and defence officials exchanging emails with their Australian counterparts over the past two weeks. Attempts to find a solution to the snub have proven to be futile.
John Howard’s decision not to attend is being perceived as an insult by veterans, senior defence officials, and, Australian and New Zealand visitors here at Gallipoli.
One senior New Zealand officer said it is an outrage.
Scoop Image: “Mr Howard’s programme is entirely for him to determine,” Helen Clark.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark is not publicly critical of the Australian PM’s boycott but appeared outwardly annoyed. She said: “That (the decision) is entirely a matter for Mr Howard on how he designs his programme… Mr Howard’s programme is entirely for him to determine. I have my programme that sees me going from the ANZAC Day service at dawn and right through the morning because it is not practical for me to do otherwise.”
National MP and defence spokesperson, John Carter, said from Gallipoli: “One would like to think that we could encourage him (John Howard) to come because it is a tradition. And what really concerns me is whether there is something behind it. It is certainly a worry and it is certainly not sending the right signal out and we would like to correct that.”
However, John Howard is firm that he will not attend the sacred Kiwi commemoration at Chunuk Bair, a hilltop that was briefly conquered by New Zealand soldiers and what is considered by military historians as one of the most significant advancements achieved during the doomed battle at Gallipoli 90 years ago.
Scoop Image: ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli – April 23 2005.
Australian Labor Party leader Kim Beazley said Australian and New Zealand soldiers fought side by side at Gallipoli and the tradition that the two nations’ leaders commemorate and acknowledge both parties’ services ought to continue.
It is understood that Australia will have an official representative, either a lower-ranked cabinet minister or state premiere attending the service.
Australia’s chief of Defence, general Peter Cosgrove said: “They were amazing men who took on a terribly difficult challenge… When you get to Chunuk Bair you see the high watermark of the Gallipoli campaign where those great kiwis got as far forward as any troops… We are fair dinkum, Kiwis and Australians are fair dinkum and so are the Turks. They were a resolute enemy who defended their homeland very cleverly but there was a spirit of decency between Aussies, kiwis and Turks that was evidenced on many occasions and I think we struck an accord with each other then and after.”
The overall plan at Chunuk Bair was for troops to advance on the summit to consolidate their positions before the Turks could deploy reserves in response. However, delays fatally compromised the whole offensive.
Soldiers in trench shortly before attack on Chunuk Bair – image courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library.
On August 8 1915 a New Zealand column found Chunuk Bair unoccupied and the Wellington Battalion moved quickly on to the summit.
But the kiwis were soon driven back by defending Turks. The kiwi soldiers were soon cut off from retreating back to the safety of allied trenches and reinforcements were prevented from getting up to join the Wellingtons.
Scoop Image: A soldier’s bone sighted in the trenches atop Chunuk Bair on Saturday April 23 2005.
Sacred ground, monuments, and a lawn cemetery marks the place where many of the dead were buried. Others died in no-mans-land, their bones still lie disturbed among the dry dust on the side of Chunuk Bair.
In desperate fighting, the New Zealanders on the summit of Chunuk Bair held off the Turks for two days finally being relieved by a British battalion on August 10.
Scoop Image: Memorial to those who lost their lives in 1915 on the Gallipoli hilltop known as Chunuk Bair.