Coleman: Chunuk Bair Memorial
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman
Minister of Defence
New Zealand Service
Chunuk Bair Memorial
E nga mana, e nga reo
Nga iwi o te motu
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa
Today, Anzac Day, marks the anniversary of the first New Zealand and Australian landings on the Gallipoli peninsula on the 25th of April 1915. We remember those New Zealanders who fought and died here 98 years ago. We also pay our respects to the Turks who were fighting to defend their homeland, and our allies who fought beside us. We also commemorate the dead and those who have served in all conflicts in which New Zealand has taken part.
Let us also take pause to thank the young New Zealand men and women of our armed forces who continue to serve in the time-honoured tradition of their Gallipoli forebears, often far from home and their loved ones.
They protect New Zealand’s interests and help keep the peace around the globe, in places such as Afghanistan, South Sudan, South Korea, Sinai and the Gulf of Aden. To our veterans both past and present, and their families, your service to our country is deeply appreciated.
The words “Chunuk Bair” resonate like few others down the decades of New Zealand’s military history. This place has become a byword for sacrifice, tragedy and heroism, a place where New Zealanders and our allies fought courageously against overwhelming odds.
After the initial landings in April 1915, the battle on the peninsula quickly degenerated into a deadly stalemate with little ground gained by either side and our people pinned down in Anzac Cove. A decision was made to mount an attempted breakout, with the New Zealanders tasked with the capture of Chunuk Bair, a ridge overlooking the north of the Anzac perimeter.
Between the 6th and 10th of August the New Zealanders undertook a sustained and ultimately failed offensive to capture and hold this ridge. What went on here has passed into national legend and forms a central part of our Gallipoli story; an assault that should have occurred under cover of darkness, but through the separation of troops was carried out in broad daylight with the needless slaughter of New Zealand troops; the subsequent capture of Chunuk Bair, by night, and the bloody and brutal hand to and combat with bayonet and rifle butt to defend it. The bodies of the New Zealanders and Turks piled up in the trenches around where we are gathered now.
Hundreds of young New Zealand lives were wasted on this spot before being relieved by British reinforcements. On the 10th of August, the Turks, led from the front by Ataturk, retook the position in an overwhelming massed counter attack with the loss of 1000 British lives. The New Zealand battalions fought for their lives to defend their position at the Apex, our machine gunners stopping the Turks from advancing down the spur.
One legendary New Zealand name from Chunuk Bair is Lieutenant William Malone, a man who always put the interests of his men first, and refused to let them be slaughtered in a senseless daytime attack on this ridge, insisting that they wait until cover of darkness. Colonel Malone lost his life here at Chunuk Bair.
Tragically the Malone name was to reverberate across the years when his great great grandson Lance Corporal Rory Malone of the 2nd / 1st battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment was killed in action at the Battle of Baghuk in Bamyan, Afghanistan last August.
After the terrible failure of the August Offensive, no more attempts were made to capture this ridge. The focus turned to ending the campaign and withdrawing. Of the eight and a half thousand New Zealanders who served at Gallipoli, nearly one in three was killed. In all, 2,721 New Zealanders were killed on this peninsula, and another 4,852 were wounded. One of the real sadnesses of Gallipoli is that over half our New Zealand dead rest here in unmarked graves. 850 such New Zealand names are recorded here at Chunuk Bair on one of four New Zealand memorials to the missing.
Our experience at Gallipoli, would have profound significance for us as a nation. Young men left New Zealand to serve in WW1 in search of great adventure, a chance to get away from the mundanity of early colonial life. They were totally naive to the realities of war.
Yet out of the slaughter the predominant strand of our national identity would be woven. Prior to Gallipoli, our men had tended to see themselves as citizens of the British Empire, British subjects who hailed from the provinces of Otago, Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland; Māori and white man; after Gallipoli a real sense of independent nationhood began to emerge. Gallipoli was the furnace in which was forged the modern collective New Zealand identity.
A funny thing is happening with Anzac Day back home in New Zealand. It’s getting bigger with every year throughout the country. More and more young people are proudly wearing their grandfathers’ and great-grand fathers’ medals.
I believe that in an uncertain and rapidly changing world, where superficial considerations so often predominate, we identify with the values, the courage, the mateship, the sacrifice and the simple unquestioning commitment of those who served at Gallipoli and subsequent conflicts.
The Anzac spirit is a reminder to us of the best that Kiwis can be, the yard stick against which we measure ourselves collectively. Cyril Bassett, our only VC winner at Gallipoli, won his Victoria Cross here at Chunuk Bair. He had left his clerical job in Auckland in search of adventure, and later wrote “Real courage isn’t an act of daring; it’s carrying on. That’s what the Anzacs did.”
It’s great to see so many young Kiwis here today, and the fact that you’ve made such an effort to be here is testament to the reverence in which we hold the Anzac tradition. The original Anzacs would have been humbled and amazed that their story means so much to their countrymen nearly a century on. They wouldn’t have seen themselves as heroes and they wouldn’t have wanted the fuss; they are heroes, and there is no tribute we can pay them which is too great.
It is encumbent on all of us who have never known the sorrows of war to never forget the sacrifices of those who have. We live in freedom today because, when their nation called, ordinary Kiwis put aside the affairs of their daily lives, and came from the uttermost ends of the earth, to make the supreme sacrifice in places like Chunuk Bair.
Lest We Forget