Speech at Chunuk Bair

Sunday, April 26, 2015 - 08:17
Prime Minister

There are places on this peninsula whose names will never be forgotten.

Each country remembers where their soldiers fought, and where they fell.

Places where extraordinary bravery was shown, in unspeakable conditions.

For New Zealanders, nowhere in Gallipoli is more special than here on Chunuk Bair.

It was not the scene of a great triumph.

But it was the closest the Allied forces came to making a breakthrough in the whole Gallipoli campaign.

And it was led by a few hundred Kiwis, 10,000 miles from home.

We are the descendants and countrymen of the New Zealanders who fought and died on this hilltop.

From here we see the terrain that Colonel William Malone and his men in the Wellington Battalion made out as the dawn rose, almost 100 years ago.

We do not come merely as sightseers.

We come to feel closer to those who came here before us, 100 years ago.

By being here, we can imagine them climbing this hill with rifle in hand, squinting in the dark. Alert. Apprehensive.

We can see why this range of hills was so important – it’s the highest ground for many miles.

Australian and New Zealand units began attacking this range, and the approaches to it, on August 6, 1915.

The Auckland Battalion tried to take Chunuk Bair but was forced back with heavy casualties.

Next in line was the Wellington Battalion, but its commanding officer, Colonel Malone, refused to send his men to their certain deaths in a daylight attack.

They waited until night fell.

Shortly after 3am the New Zealanders, together with some British soldiers, reached the summit where we are now standing.

For the next day they held this position against repeated attacks.

They fought with their rifles and their bayonets, with only one trench for shelter.

Almost all of the Wellington Battalion were killed or wounded including, Colonel Malone.

He was but one of the 2,700 New Zealanders to die on this peninsula during the Gallipoli campaign.

One more telegram bearing the news that one more family prayed never to receive.

As night fell, the survivors were relieved, but the hilltop was soon recaptured by Ottoman Turkish troops.

Their commander was Mustafa Kemal, who later became a great leader and the first President of Turkey.

On a hill by the sea in Wellington there is a monument – the Ataturk memorial – that remembers the man and the soldiers who died defending their homeland.

Like the New Zealanders, they were brave, and were mourned by their grieving families and friends.

Today, I want to acknowledge them, as well as the young men from many other countries who fought and died on this peninsula.

And I want to thank the Turkish government and people.

It is their understanding and generosity that enables us to come to Gallipoli each year and it has made possible this one hundredth commemoration.

There is no way to sanitise what took place here in Gallipoli and nor should we try.

Over a few months, 100 years ago, tens of thousands of men died on the hills that surround us and on the beaches below us.

The geography helps us understand the military campaign, but it is the historical and cultural significance that is more enduring.

The sacrifice of so many men from such a small country as New Zealand was harrowing.

Our losses and achievements here and elsewhere in the First World War, had a profound effect on New Zealand’s view of its abilities, its identity and, ultimately, its sovereignty.

Over the past century, our country’s role in this and other campaigns has been widely debated.

But what can never be doubted is the fact that the soldiers who fought here, on both sides, served their countries with great courage and honour.

No more could have been asked of them then than what they gave.

And there is no more we can give them now than our respect.

And to renew the pledge we make on this day, every year – that we will always remember them.