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PM In Turkey - Chunuk Bair Speech

Tuesday 25 April 2000

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister of New Zealand


Chunuk Bair


8.30 am local time

Tuesday 25 April 2000

Nga mate, nga aitua, o koutou, araa o matou, ka tangiha e tatou e tenei wa. Haere, haere, haere.

The dead and those being mourned, both yours and ours, we lament for them at this time. Farewell, farewell, farewell.

Te hunga ora, tena koutou katoa.

The living, greetings to you all.

This day and Chunuk Bair have great significance in New Zealand history. We come here today to keep faith with those who served our country bravely on this peninsula eighty-five years ago.

Here we remember and honour the deeds of the New Zealand soldiers, whose names are recorded on this memorial and on the many other memorials and cemeteries throughout the Gallipoli peninsula.

Also today New Zealanders honour the courage of all past New Zealand servicemen and women. Many died in foreign battlefields, and many others returned home sick, wounded, disabled, and traumatised.

We also salute the New Zealand service people who are serving today as peacekeepers. We have here soldiers from the United Nations peacekeeping force in Bosnia and from the multilateral peacekeeping force in the Sinai. We think too with pride of the New Zealanders serving in East Timor and in other assignments around the world.

A few hours ago, while it was still night here in Turkey, this eighty-fifth commemoration of Anzac Day had already dawned in New Zealand. Throughout our country, New Zealanders have stood together to pay their respects to those fallen soldiers whose names are carved on memorials in every city, town, and village.

Many of the New Zealanders here today, like many of those who have participated in ceremonies at home, are in their twenties or teens. So were so many of the soldiers who fought here. By just being here young New Zealanders honour their memory.

Eighty-five years ago, our soldiers came ashore into a war few of them could have ever imagined before they left New Zealand. It was a strange twist of fate which brought them from the other side of the world to fight against Turkey. With the failure of a British plan to use warships to force open the Straits of the Dardanelles and open up a supply route to Russia, a seaborne assault was designed to clear the Turkish land defences. The New Zealand and Australian expeditionary forces, temporarily stationed in Egypt, en route as they supposed to the war in Europe, were caught up in this campaign, as were soldiers from Britain, India, and France.

On the eve of the landings, the British commander described the assault as “an adventure unprecedented in modern war”. It would not have seemed that way to the young soldiers who fought their way from the beaches up the cliffs and gullies, through the scrub and rocks ahead of them. A Canterbury lieutenant, wounded in the later fighting at Chunuk Bair, regained consciousness at ANZAC Cove “in great pain, and wondering how and when I had reached hell – utterly lonely and hopeless. Bursting shells all around, confusion all around too. War at its worst!” This was the everyday experience of ordinary soldiers at Gallipoli.

My great uncle wrote home from Hill 60 on 21 August that: “there are stray bullets flying everywhere and one stands a chance of ‘stopping one’ at any time. Our sergeant was standing in our trench yesterday and he got one in the right breast.” He wrote further: “the big guns from land and sea make an awful row and this is accompanied always with machine guns and rifle fire. We can hear the shells screaming overhead and the shrapnel bursting all day long.” He died seven days later.

On 25 April 1915 the New Zealand soldiers’ role was to support the Australians who had arrived at dawn. But as that terrible day progressed, more and more New Zealanders were drawn into a savage struggle to capture and defend the heights above the ANZAC landings. Australians and New Zealanders fought side by side, their units inextricably mixed, as they resisted increasingly fierce Turkish counterattacks. On 25 April alone, the New Zealand force suffered 600 casualties out of an initial echelon of 3,100.

As the first assault bogged down, the Gallipoli campaign developed into trench warfare, with neither side able to defeat the other. New Zealand casualties mounted in attack after attack, through constant sniper fire and artillery bombardment and through thirst and disease.

On 8 August New Zealand troops spearheaded an attempt to break out of the encirclement. With immense courage they stormed the heights of Chunuk Bair, where we are now standing. Under heavy fire and short of water, they held on here. Their losses were dreadful. The main body, 760 soldiers of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, saw ninety per cent of its men killed or wounded. Casualties were also very high among the Otago Infantry Battalion and the Otago and Wellington Mounted Rifles who joined them at the summit.

The New Zealand front line ran just below us, where the road is today. One New Zealand officer reported that by the evening of 8 August “the ground ten yards back from the trenches was covered with our own wounded and dead… From all sides came cries for ‘water’ and ‘stretcher bearer’ mingled with moans of agony.” Behind us on the hill is the New Zealand memorial, which records the names of 852 New Zealand soldiers who fell in the battle for Chunuk Bair and have no known grave.

From this point, it is possible to look over the Narrows, reaching which was the ultimate objective of the campaign. For a short period, as one historian put it: “the thin line of New Zealand men was holding wide the door to victory.”

It was not to be. The New Zealanders, spent beyond human endurance, were relieved during the night of 9 August, after they had held the slopes of Chunuk Bair for thirty-six hours. At dawn on 10 August, the two British battalions which replaced them were driven back by relentless Turkish counterattacks, and the position was lost. Any remaining hope of victory ended here, at the high-water mark of the assault.

There was one last attempt to take the initiative at Gallipoli. That was at Hill 60 where my great uncle died on 28 August 1915. After that, plans were eventually made to withdraw the allied soldiers from the peninsula. Of 8,556 New Zealand soldiers who served on the Gallipoli peninsula, 2,721 died and 4,752 were wounded. The suffering of their families was great too. For a small country, with a population in 1915 of only some one million people, this was a human tragedy on an unprecedented scale which affected almost every New Zealand family.

Now we stand here, eighty-five years later, looking back on a terrible episode in our history. That is why this place has a special meaning. Here at Gallipoli New Zealanders began to develop their own unique identity. That development continues today.

We also remember Gallipoli for the spirit of comradeship which developed between New Zealand and Australia. The Anzac tradition they created remains fundamental to the relationship between our two countries today.

What has also been remarkable has been the spirit of reconciliation which grew between Turkey and New Zealand.

Throughout the Gallipoli campaign, New Zealand soldiers had a great regard for the bravery and military skills of the Turkish soldiers who fought so bravely in defence of their country. After the war, it was Ataturk himself, the Turkish commander here and founder of the Turkish Republic, who helped to bring our two countries together. In his message to the grieving parents of the allied soldiers, he said: “You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are at peace.” Those generous words are engraved not only here on the Gallipoli battlefield, but also on the Ataturk memorial in Wellington. They will never be forgotten in New Zealand.

Today New Zealand is a country which is dedicated to bringing about a more peaceful world. In a world where there are still too many wars, too much suffering, and too much indiscriminant violence, we are determined to change the course of history. We will work tirelessly – at the United Nations and in other forums and through peacekeeping to ensure that this new century offers greater peace and security for all than the last terrible century did. This is a commitment which I believe the veterans of Gallipoli would share. Their suffering is forever engraved in our memory.

Thank you all, both those who are New Zealanders and those who are friends of New Zealand, for sharing this special day together here at Chunuk Bair.

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.


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