Among those gathered near the cenotaph in New Plymouth on Sunday was Turkish ambassador Ahmet Ergin, who said his grandfather, who fought the Anzacs in WWI, would have cried for joy seeing him speak at the Armistice Day centenary celebration.
“After the tears of love for the lost loved ones he would have been in tears of happiness if he saw me here,” Ergin said.
“All of us have lost someone in our families, be it Gallipoli or one of the other fronts we fought on. My family has also suffered loss like families in Taranaki,” he said.
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“We lost 250,000 just at Gallipoli. We really attribute so much importance to the friendship we built afterwards.”
Ergin read words penned by Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal: ‘To the mothers who had sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.’
The 100 years since the Armistice was declared was marked with a parade, music, song and prayers in te reo and English, speeches and the laying of wreaths.
Two bands, RSA veterans, service clubs, schools and The Salvation Army, Girls’ Brigade, and St John members joined representatives of the NZ Army, Navy, airforce and merchant navy, politicians including Justice Minister Andrew Little, New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young and King Country MP Barbara Kuriger, along with district councillors and a trifecta of Taranaki mayors, as they marched down Queen St to the cenotaph.
A new statue, The Taranaki Salute to the Anzacs, was unveiled by Rear Admiral Anthony Parr ONZM MVO and its creator, sculptor Fridtjof Hanson, and blessed by Archbishop Philip Richardson, and Rev Albie Martin QSM.
The soldier, dressed in the Taranaki Regiment uniform, stands facing out to sea towards Australia.
He overlooks the former railway station, where countless soldiers embarked for faraway places, and where those who made it home desembarked.
His rifle is pointed down to show the war is ended.
Speakers talked about the lives lost and the war’s terrible toll on New Zealand, with more New Zealanders dying as a proportion of population than any other of the allies.
Rear Admiral Anthony Parr ONZM MVO said one hundred years, to the day, after ‘the war to end all wars ended’, was cause to dwell on and think of the consequences should future conflict be contemplated or entered into.
New Plymouth RSA president Graeme Lowe was the master of ceremonies in a commemoration that lasted nearly an hour and a half.
A siren blared and vehicle horn sounded as the moment approached – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when all the guns fell silent.
A flyover by a vintage Catalina, and water gun salutes by two tugboats close to shore added to the ceremonies.
At least one person fainted under the hot sun.
Chris and Jenna D’Ath and their children Alex, 8, and Mela, 5, were lined up ready to watch their son Toby, 9, march past with the Cubs.
Although they did not know of any ancestors who fought in the war, they wanted their children to learn about it, Jenna said.
John Chapman, of New Plymouth, laid a wreath at the foot of the statue in memory of his great uncle, Jack Mangin, who was killed in France on October 8, just weeks before Armistice Day.
“It’s so far gone but it’s one that needs to be remembered. It’s uncertain times isn’t it,” he said.
Other services were held around Taranaki including Waitara, Hāwera, Eltham, Waverley and Pātea.