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Remembering the troops from our patch

Remembering the troops from our patch

By Don Franks

At the end of our street, there’s a little stone memorial. It was raised in 1920, for local working people whose lives were cut short or ruined by the Great War. The young men from Holloway Road and surrounding streets came from tiny dwellings of two rooms and a scullery. Many of them, no doubt excited at the prospect of overseas adventure, which would have hardly been their lot in peace time.

Wellington City Council’s official description of the monument reads:
“The Mitchelltown War Memorial has artistic value. A four-sided obelisk upon a concrete base with marble plaque, a feature of notable interest is the lemon squeezer hat that decorates all four sides of the memorial. The lemon squeezer hat is a symbol closely affiliated with New Zealand. It was rare for New Zealand World War 1 memorials to feature New Zealand iconography, so in this regard the Mitchelltown memorial is slightly unusual.”

Another slightly unusual – and welcome – feature of the local 1920 Welcome Home Committee’s memorial is its lack of patriotic or religious exhortations. The memorial simply reads: “Erected in memory of the boys of the Mitchelltown school and district who served abroad in the Great War 1914-1919”.

There were 109 of these boys from Mitchelltown who served in World War 1. Of that number, nineteen died and thirty-nine were officially injured. I say “officially” injured because many of those making it back in one piece were emotionally and mentally crippled by their war experience. At the time, mental injury was not properly recognised or treated. On the field of battle the only comfort on offer had been rum, used to treat soldiers with shellshock, hypothermia, and illness. Little wonder that alcoholism claimed many shellshocked returned soldiers.

Servicemen from poor areas, such as Micheltown had little to revive their fortunes on returning home and the area subsequently fell into the condition of a slum.

Certainly some of the young worker-soldiers from such an area would have looked to the then-emerging Labour Party to help deliver a better life.

What would they have made of the party today?

Labour agreeing to militarily support a nuclear power threatening annihilation of an impoverished Asian country?

A Labour government prepared to spend $20 billion upgrading the military over 15 years to make it “inter-operable” with imperialist powers?

Billions to be squandered on war preparations while workers’ health care, education and housing remain in want?

ends

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