Archive for the 'David Green' Category

How many New Zealanders served on Gallipoli?

Gallipoli armistice

Gallipoli armistice

In 2013, I wrote that the long-accepted figure for the number of New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli – 8,556 – had come about by historical accident. Noting that historians now doubted this figure, I expressed the hope that research prompted by the centenary of the First World War would shed more light on the matter. That research has since been undertaken, and we now know that twice the ‘traditional’ number of New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli. This new figure of about 17,000 lines up well with the fact that about 20,000 troops left New Zealand in time to have potentially been sent to the Dardanelles.

The recent research project overseen by New Zealand Defence Force and Ministry for Culture & Heritage historians investigated three sets of evidence. First, it is now clear that nearly 11,000 men of the Main Body and the first three reinforcement drafts had been thrown into the battle by the end of May 1915. Secondly, Matthew Buck’s research into personnel files – every individual First World War serviceman’s record is now available digitally on Archives New Zealand’s Archway website – shows that more than three-quarters of the 6th Reinforcements, the draft least likely to have reached Gallipoli, in fact did so in October/November 1915.

The clincher came when handwritten notebooks kept by the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (DAAG) of the New Zealand and Australian Division for the intervening period, June to August 1915, were unearthed by John Crawford in Archives New Zealand. These showed that nearly two-thirds of the New Zealanders who landed on the peninsula in this period were new arrivals, while fewer than one-fifth were men returning from hospital.

The April/May and October/November evidence comes with a margin of error, but the DAAG data is robust. It is now clear that between 16,000 and 18,000 New Zealanders landed on Gallipoli during 1915. Twice as many New Zealand families as previously thought have a direct link to the Dardanelles. These findings give Gallipoli an even more secure place in our national mythology.

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For more information about the new research see New research dramatically increases the numbers of New Zealand soldiers at Gallipoli, or find out how to research your connection to Gallipoli with Researching New Zealand soldiers on NZHistory.

Long to reign over us

Queen Elizabeth II on the observation platform of her royal car, 1954 (pic: Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga)

Queen Elizabeth II on the observation platform of her royal car, 1954 (pic: Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga)

On Wednesday, after more than 63½ years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II surpasses her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as the longest-reigning British monarch. Because New Zealand did not become part of the British Empire until several years after Victoria’s accession, Elizabeth has been this country’s longest-reigning monarch since 2013. Between them, Victoria and Elizabeth have been New Zealand’s head of state for more than 70% of its existence as a separate colony, dominion or ‘realm’.

The two reigns have an inverse symmetry. Victoria became monarch in an era of imperial expansion accompanied by economic and social upheaval (think Chartism). She lived long enough to experience the high point of empire – absolute British rule over India – but also anxiety about the rise of Germany and the United States, and trouble with the Irish.

Elizabeth’s era has been one of imperial decline. By the time she succeeded her father, King George VI, in 1952, the country that had stood alone against Hitler in 1940 was no longer a great power. The Indian subcontinent was already independent, and the rest of the Commonwealth soon followed suit. In 2015 the United Kingdom is a middling country on the edge of Europe whose internal unity can’t be taken for granted.

The monarch’s role has shrunk along with her domain. Victoria – especially while her husband Albert was alive – expected ‘her’ ministers to at least take her views seriously. Even after the Reform Act 1832, only 5% of Britain’s population had the vote, and Parliament and government were dominated by an elite steeped in deference. Today, Elizabeth acts only on the advice of the people’s representatives.

Queen Victoria never visited New Zealand – or India, even though she was installed as its Empress and studied Hindustani. Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch to visit New Zealand, in 1953, six months after her coronation. She has been back nine times, on the last occasion in 2002 as part of a golden jubilee tour of the Commonwealth. Since then younger members of the royal family have visited this country frequently.

The significance of the monarchy today is largely cultural. In the 1950s every household seemed to have a souvenir of the first visit by the young Queen and her dashing naval officer husband. Tea towels hung proudly on walls and commemorative booklets graced mantelpieces. Watching the Queen’s Christmas message on television remains part of the Christmas Day ritual for many households.

Though Elizabeth retains an aura of authority – or at least, mystery – royal pomp and ceremony isn’t what it used to be. One milestone, in Wellington in 1970, was the Queen’s first so-called ‘walkabout’ (as it was dubbed by the British press corps, in a misguided reference to Australian Aboriginal custom). There was a strict ‘no-touching’ policy in relation to the royal person – yet today, a selfie with Prince Harry is probably the most sought-after souvenir of a royal visit.

As the silken bonds of empire continue to fray, the record royal reign is also likely to be one of the last, at least for New Zealanders.

Angels and demons

Lionel Terry self-portrait (click for image credit)

Lionel Terry self-portrait (click for image credit)

Scientist Steven Pinker (in The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011) argues that there has been a long-term, worldwide decline in violence, thanks especially to:

the rise of nation-states and judicial systems with a monopoly on the use of force;

the increased monetary value of individuals as economies have become more sophisticated;

increasing respect for ‘the interests and values of women’;

cosmopolitan forces such as literacy which help us empathise with people unlike ourselves;

the increasing application of knowledge and rationality in human affairs.

This recasting of the centuries-old concept of human progress has a common-sense appeal. For example, historian Miles Fairburn’s argument that nineteenth-century New Zealand was an ‘atomised society’ with weak social bonds was supported by the colony’s high rate of violent crime – which then fell steadily during the twentieth century as society urbanised and rural roughnecks ’settled down’. Yet rates of conviction and the lengths of sentences for violent crime then rose steadily in the late twentieth century. Was social order in New Zealand now declining – or was one consequence of the ‘feminisation’ of society noted by Pinker an increasing willingness to report domestic and sexual assault? Was there more crime, more openness about it, or more willingness to punish it?

Last week’s atrocities in France are the latest of many recent correctives to any complacency about ‘progress’. New Zealanders have a self-image as easy-going pragmatists – we’d never come to blows over ideas, surely? Yet In the early years of the colony, ‘gentlemen’ fought duels to defend their ‘honour’, sometimes with fatal consequences. And Pākehā land-grabbing during the New Zealand Wars of the mid-nineteenth century was justified by theories of racial superiority. In hindsight, it seems miraculous that the social convulsions of 1912/13, 1951 and 1981 – all clashes of ideology as much as of economic and political forces – resulted in only one death.

Nor have New Zealanders been immune to justifying racial violence on religious grounds. The enthusiasm with which Te Ua Haumēne, Tītokowaru and Te Kooti were pursued during the New Zealand Wars owed much to their espousal of non-Christian religions as well as to the threat they posed to colonisation. And in 1905 Lionel Terry killed Joe Kum Yung in cold blood in Wellington to draw New Zealanders’ attention to the necessity for racial and religious ‘purity’. Violence often broke out at meetings of the early twentieth century Protestant Political Association, which was virulently anti-Catholic – and anti-Irish.

As Pinker puts it, our ‘better angels’ are often at war with our ‘inner demons’, which include ideologies that justify violence in the pursuit of utopia. From this perspective, Kiwi pragmatism has quite a lot going for it.