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Anzac Commemorative Address – NZ National Service, Chunuk Bair

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Minister of Foreign Affairs

25 April 2024

Distinguished guests -

It is an honour to return once again to this site which, as the resting place for so many of our war-dead, has become a sacred place for generations of New Zealanders.

Our presence here and at the other special spaces of Gallipoli is made possible by the unwavering generosity and friendship shown to us by the Turkish government and people.

We thank Governor Aktaş of Çanakkale for his unwavering support.

And we thank Mr İsmail Kaşdemir, of the Gallipoli Historical Site Directorate, for his outstanding efforts to ensure Gallipoli’s natural and historic sites are preserved for future generations.

Distinguished guests -

On this day in April 1915, troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps began landing on the beach at ANZAC cove.

The first wave of Australian troops landed on the beach just before dawn.

The New Zealand infantry followed later in the morning.

By the end of the day more than 100 New Zealand troops had been killed.

And what was meant to be a swift victory turned into eight months of hell.

Over the course of the battle, some 8,556 New Zealanders would go on to join the fight.

Of those brave men, 2,515 were killed in action.

4,752 were wounded.

Another 206 died of disease and other causes.

For a country of only one million people at the time, there was barely a family in New Zealand that was not impacted.

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Shock and grief spread across New Zealand.

And the memory of that is now part of our national identity.

It was a tragedy made more agonising by the youth of those who died here. Although some were older men, with families, the average age was only 25.

Every loss represented a life unlived and a potential unrealised, or a family left fatherless.

Among those thousands of men who fought here was a carpenter from Huntly, Private Robert James Capstick of the Auckland Infantry Battalion.

Capstick’s letters home include an account of the Landing Battle and the counterattack by the 57th Regiment. His first-hand account brings the reader right into the middle of the battle:

…The scrub is a kind of inkweed about 5 or 6 feet high so we could not see … but the bullets tore through it all the same …

… [I raised myself] higher for a better view when I seemed to feel something go right through my body. I did not feel it go in much. It was too quick.

… I had got it through the lungs … Someone gave the word to retire but I wanted to stay where I was as it hurt me and made me choke when I moved. One chap put me on my feet and helped me to struggle along. Others had to be carried.

Almost miraculously, Capstick was able to reach the beach and then a hospital in Egypt.

Perhaps even more astonishingly, he made a rapid recovery and returned to Gallipoli within just a few weeks.

Distinguished guests –

Just below where we stand today lies the names of 849 men inscribed on the Chunuk Bair New Zealand memorial to the missing.

One of those names is Private Robert James Capstick. He was killed on the ridge line behind us on 7 August 1915.

Robert was 23.

His death underlines the appalling waste of young and promising lives caused by conflict and war.

It was not the only loss suffered by his devastated family. Robert’s brother Arthur, wounded at Passchendaele, died at a base hospital in France in October 1917.

Arthur was 24.

Today as we look out across the Aegean Sea - a sight those 8,556 New Zealanders saw in their service at Gallipoli. We remember all those who fought here.

  • The ANZACs
  • The many soldiers from across the British Empire, the Commonwealth and France
  • And the Turkish soldiers who fought so bravely in the defence of their homeland.

We honour their sacrifice, their service, and their extraordinary courage.

On the other side of this peninsula, across our Memorial to the Missing - and the Chunuk Bair Cemetery, is the Dardanelles, a sight seen only briefly by our soldiers on 8 August 1915.

The struggle for the heights of Chunuk Bair was such that the people of a young nation, from “the uttermost ends of the earth”, wanted to commemorate the New Zealanders who fought and died here in the service of their country.

And so it is we gather here today, at Chunuk Bair, on this hallowed ground.

We stand here at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking that we have forgotten about the unspeakable human suffering that conflict and war inflicts upon people.

But is up to all of us to ensure that the sacrifices of Gallipoli, and those of conflicts past and present, are not forgotten. And that reconciliation between former foes is possible.

We remember those famous words of reconciliation from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the divisional commander who would go on to found the Turkish republic:

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ...

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

Such forgiveness and generosity surely bespeaks the lessons that we must take away today.

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