On 4 August 2014, New Zealand will commemorate the centenary of Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany and the beginning of New Zealand’s involvement in World War One.
RSA National President, Don McIver, says that 100 years ago few New Zealanders could have imagined the magnitude of the trauma to come, or the lasting impact it would have on our nation.
“103,000 New Zealand men and women served overseas during WWI. Many who volunteered when the war was first declared, believed they were about to embark on a great adventure and told their loved ones they’d be home by Christmas,” Mr McIver says.
“Four years later, by the close of the war, more than 18,000 New Zealanders had fallen and we had lost 5% of our men of military age. Many of those who returned had trouble reintegrating back into society after the horrors of war. The price of international peace and security was massive for a small and pioneering country such as we were then.”
Britain’s declaration of war marks not only the beginning of New Zealand’s involvement in WWI as part of the British Empire, but also the birth of New Zealand as a nation.
“Our national identity is built upon our military heritage. For the first time in our history we travelled en masse through foreign lands, interacting with men and women of different nations under the immense pressure of war. We were tested and we discovered the bonds that make us unique. New Zealand gained a sense of self,” says Mr McIver.
“Today the RSA champions the values that held us together during war and built our society after. Compassion, comradeship, courage and commitment are the Anzac values that we as Kiwis continue to identify with.”
RSAs across the country are working with their communities on a wide range of local events and services to commemorate the outbreak of WWI, from re-enactments of troops leaving for the war in Wairarapa and Nelson, to an exhibition of over 5,000 memorabilia items donated by Rangiora RSA to their local museum.
Mr McIver believes it’s fitting that people draw together to remember their local stories of bravery and sacrifice in the ways which are most meaningful to them.
“The RSA feels honoured to help communities and families pay tribute to those that put their lives at risk safeguarding and protecting our freedom.”
In the first national service of the WWI centenary period, Mr McIver will recite The Ode at a ceremony held on Parliament Grounds, where the announcement of the declaration of war was made to a crowd of over 10,000 New Zealanders in 1914.
“The simple words of The Ode continue to stir emotions and reinforce to all that the sacrifices our men and women made will not be forgotten. We will remember them.”