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First Anzac troops killed in New Zealand

First Anzac troops killed in New Zealand

The Australian Return Services League has acknowledged and commemorated the involvement of the Australian military in the Waikato War of 1863-64. The RSL of New South Wales has confirmed on its website that an Australian militia of 2600 men joined in the fight against Maori alongside British and New Zealand troops. This means that the first ANZAC troops did not die in Gallipoli, but rather are buried outside a small Anglican church in Drury, South Auckland.

Dr Scott Hamilton addresses the claims in his new book Ghost South Road.

"Australians made up a significant minority of each of the four Waikato Regiments that the settler government was able to form in 1863 and 64. The regiments’ soldiers wore dark blue serge jackets and trousers, and dark blue pork pie hats. They had much less training than the professional soldiers of the British army, and were regarded as less reliable by Grey and his generals.

On the 23rd of October, 1863, a couple of hundred insurgents paddled across the Waikato River and began to shoot at cattle on the slopes of Titi, a low hill halfway between Pukekohe and Waiuku. Ignoring orders, a column of men from the first Waikato Regiment hurried from Drury towards the gunshots. The 50 or so soldiers were commanded by Lieutenant John Perceval, who had been recruited two months earlier in Bendigo, a goldmining town in northern Victoria. Perceval’s men were advancing into a few acres of recently felled forest when the Kingites, who had hidden behind logs and branches, opened fire. The colonists fell to the ground and began to return fire, rolling behind logs whenever they needed to reload.

Soon Perceval rose and charged alone towards the enemy. His men shouted at him to stop, but he kept going, scrambling over logs, into a volley of musketballs. After Perceval fell dead, his force began a semi-organised retreat into the comparative safety of the uncut bush around the clearing. Unwilling to let the Pākehā go, the Kingites dropped their rifles and rushed forward, wielding long-handled tomahawks. The colonials fired as they retreated; a few Māori dropped dead, but the others kept coming.

By the time they reached the fortified Selwyn church at Mauku, about halfway back along the road to Drury, the Anzacs had lost nine men. Eight of them, including four Australians – John Perceval, Michael Power, William Beswick, William Williamson – were buried in a single grave in the churchyard at St John’s."

Dr Hamilton says that although Australian and New Zealand volunteers fought together in the Waikato War, their place in the ANZAC tradition is still unacknowledged by New Zealand's Defence Forces or Returned Services Association. He is hoping that the visit last January by two representatives of the Australian Defence Forces to old Waikato War battlesites, and the ceremonies of remembrance they held with local hapu, will cause the New Zealand Defence Force to rethink its position, and finally acknowledge New Zealand's first ANZACs.


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