One of New Zealand’s worst war experiences was commemorated in Oamaru last week.
At 11am on Thursday, a small service was held at the World War 1 memorial in lower Thames St to remember those who fell in northern France 100 years ago in the Battle of the Somme.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher read out some of the appalling statistics from the battle. It was New Zealand’s first major engagement on the Western Front, and its costliest. With 18,000 members of the New Zealand Division involved, more than one in nine was killed and about one in three was wounded.
The eight-month Gallipoli campaign, which has dominated national attention, took 2700 Kiwi lives. In just 45 days on the Somme, 2100 New Zealanders were killed. Many more died fighting in British units.
Oamaru’s only recipient of the Victoria Cross, 2nd Otago Battalion’s Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown, was the sole member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to be awarded the bravery medal for action in 1916. He died on the Somme on October 1 that year.”We stand here today to remember each one who fought for our country,” Mr Kircher said.
RSA representative John Longman presented three flags to the North Otago Museum on behalf of the Waitaki District RSA Welfare Trust. They were found in the former RSA premises that were vacated after the North Otago branch went into liquidation in 2014.
One was a New Zealand flag that was reportedly flown at the Somme. Another, which was hoisted in North Otago, was from the Home Servicemen’s Association that was formed in 1943. The third was a British Ensign that has “quite a few holes in it, and they’re not moth holes, I can tell you that”, Mr Longman said.