Chunuk Bair battle remembered

A battlefield centenary service has been held on a hill where nearly 850 New Zealanders were killed in two days of intense fighting during the Gallipoli campaign.


New Zealand Governor-General Jerry Mateparae was joined by hundreds of people on Saturday for the service at the New Zealand memorial on Chunuk Bair.

As part of the service a stirring haka was performed by male and female Defence Force members in tribute to those who fought and died on the hill 100 years ago.

The battle for the summit on August 8-9, 1915, was the most significant and bloodiest New Zealand action of the Gallipoli campaign.

Sir Jerry told the crowd they were there “to honour some of the bravest men who have ever served our country”.

He said he had walked from the shore up the steep ridges to the summit of Chunuk Bair and that had brought home the enormity of the New Zealanders’ struggle.

“One is stunned that men weakened by months of malnutrition and disease could still fight with spirit and ferocity.”

Early on August 8, 1915, the Wellington Battalion led by Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone captured the summit but suffered heavy casualties from Turkish artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire from nearby hills.

Lt Col Malone was one of the many killed but the battalion, then other relieving New Zealand units, held on against determined Turkish counter attacks led by Mustafa Kemal, who went on to become Ataturk the founder of modern Turkey.

Sir Jerry said that as the New Zealand casualties mounted, the wounded loaded rifles for their mates and the western side of Chunuk Bair was “a solid mass of dead men”.

On August 10 determined Turkish assaults pushed a relieving British force off the heights, which were never regained by the allies.

Sir Jerry said Saturday’s service was also to honour the Turkish forces who suffered terrible losses in the battle.

He said he hoped that at the bicentenary of the battle in 100 years’ time “our descendants will be here, learning about our history, looking at the names on this memorial to the missing”.

Haka leader Sergeant-Major Brent Pene said the war dance was performed for all those who died at Gallipoli, not just New Zealanders.

He said he acknowledged Ataturk for saying post-war that his country embraced all who had fallen on Turkish soil.

Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata read the citation for fellow VC winner and signalman Cyril Bassett who was awarded the medal for conspicuous bravery in laying and repairing telephone wires to the Chunuk Bair summit under heavy fire.

He quoted Corporal Bassett as saying he was disappointed to learn he was the only New Zealander to win a VC at Gallipoli because hundreds should have been awarded there but “all my mates ever got were wooden crosses”.

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