Havelock Cenotaph, Marlborough New Zealand

War Cannot Be ‘Un-Seen’

ANZAC Day Speech to the Havelock Community

25 April 2022

Tena Koutou Katoa

Anzac Day is a unique moment in the Australian and New Zealand calendar. Both countries pause to remember and reflect on the actions of the few who put their lives in danger so that others could be safe, free and living in peace.

It’s not unusual for significant historical events such as wars to be reduced to numbers. The number of personnel deployed on active service, the number killed or wounded, taken prisoner and so on. But we must remember that every one of those numbers is a person with parents, brothers and sisters, perhaps a husband or wife and children. None of them were born and raised to be soldiers although undoubtedly some were warriors by nature.

They grew up thinking about what jobs they wanted to do, where they wanted to live, who they loved, playing or watching sport – just as everyone in this gathering has. Some volunteered – as they do to this day – and others were conscripted to fight in our nation’s many military operations.

This, to me, represents something far more than numbers. It is a collection of stories of real people’s lives. Stories that deserve to be told beyond the formulaic inscription on a headstone or bronze plaque. I’d like to tell you about a few today. People who are buried in Havelock Cemetery.

36336 Lance Corporal Sylvanus Charles Harding aka Charles Dashwood – South African Light Horse

Trooper Harding from South Canterbury tried twice to enlist in the New Zealand contingent going to the South African war. He was turned down both times, perhaps because of his age – 34. In 1901, he got himself to South Africa and enlisted in the South African Light Horse, an ‘Uitlander’ unit comprised in the main of British men who were working there already. His mother was elderly and in poor health so he enlisted under the assumed name of Charles Dashwood.

He served out his time and returned to New Zealand in 1902. He farmed in the Pelorus Sound in Marlborough. Friends of his thought it poor that he never got medallic recognition nor a pension for his war service. One of them wrote to the local Member of Parliament who sought the intervention of the then Minister of Defence. This is where the name change from Harding to Dashwood and back caused confusion. When it was finally cleared up, Charles got his medals issued from the British government  in 1931 but no war pension. He died 3 August 1941.

A real person, with a real life before and after military service who could never ‘un-see’ what they had seen.

Trooper S.C. Harding - South African Light Horse - Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough, New Zealand
Trooper S.C. Harding – South African Light Horse – Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough, New Zealand
South African War Medal Set
South African War Medal Set

Staff Nurse Mary M. Bryant Territorial Nursing Service

Little has been found out about Mary Bryant as most of the records of WWI medical staff from around the British Empire were purged between the wars. We do know that she served in the Territorial Nursing Service in Britain so presumably got herself there. She would have been in her late 20s on enlistment. We have been able to establish that she was from the Linkwater branch of the Bryant family rather than the ‘Tin Line’ Bryants. It’s hoped that, in publishing her name, someone will come forward with more information. As far as we are aware, Mary is the only WWI servicewoman buried in Havelock cemetery. She died aged 93 on 13 Sep 1979

A real person, with a real life before and after military service who could never ‘un-see’ what they had seen.

Staff Nurse Mary M. BRYANT Territorial Nursing Service. 1914-18 War. Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough NZ.
Staff Nurse Mary M. BRYANT Territorial Nursing Service. 1914-18 War. Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough NZ.

1635 Pte Norman Douglas Weston – Australian Army WWI

Norm Weston enlisted in Victoria, Australia and sailed with the 22nd Battalion from Melbourne on 28 June 1915. Of note is this record of action from Pozieres, France in 1916 where Norm was, by then, a Lance Corporal.

“The Germans near Brind’s Road were within bombing range and were not so easily defeated. Their grenades scattered some Victorians digging near the flank; but a private of the 22nd, named O’Neill, collected a party to bomb them back. Finding that the enemy nest was farther than they themselves could throw, the men raised a call for “Omeo,” a youngster, Lance-Corporal Weston from the township of that name in Victoria, and a thrower of repute. He came along, glanced at the enemy position, decided that he could not reach it from the trench, and jumped upon the parados. He was leaning back to hurl his grenade when a sniper’s bullet hit him in the face, knocking out an eye. Still clutching the live bomb, with the eye hanging on his cheek, he fell forward into the trench among half-a-dozen men. “For God’s sake, George, take this bomb,” he said to O’Neill. “The pin’s out!” He then fainted, but not before O’Neill had seized the missile and hurled it safely clear of the trench.”

Bean- Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916, The Taking and Holding of the Pozieres Heights, page 696.

“Omeo” Weston was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Russian Cross of St George, Third Class for the above action. He was returned to Australia on 19 October 1916, due to the loss of his right eye. After convalescing, he moved to New Zealand. He bought two surplus army huts and joined them together to make a house on Inglis Street in Havelock. He was also known as a maker of quality ladders.

As can be seen from his plaque, his gallantry awards are not recorded. It’s likely that he didn’t tell anyone and the New Zealand government would not have had access to Australian military lists. We hope, in time, to correct this.

Died 22 July 1980 aged 84 years.

A real person, with a real life before and after military service who could never ‘un-see’ what they had seen.

1635 Pte N.D. WESTON AIF 1914-18 War. Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough NZ.
1635 Pte N.D. WESTON AIF 1914-18 War. Havelock Cemetery, Marlborough NZ.
WWI Australian Distinguished Conduct Medal
WWI Australian Distinguished Conduct Medal
St George Cross of Russia
St George Cross of Russia

There are so many more stories.

People tend to think of veterans as old men. It’s true that there are a few who would self-identify that way. But in fact, they are a minority. There are about 30,000 veterans who are my age or younger. Some are in their 20s. A veteran might not necessarily be in the Navy, Army or Air Force these days. It is now common for New Zealand Police to be deployed on peace support operations. During my last tour of duty in East Timor, we also had Kiwi Corrections Officers and many from other government agencies. Intelligence staff are routinely deployed. Emergency services deploy in response to fires, tsunami and destructive weather events that are deemed qualifying operational service. And we shouldn’t forget the people that respond to catastrophic events at home such as the Canterbury earthquake.

Like any story, the character of the veteran evolves. But the nature does not change. They have put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. Unfortunately, veteran support has not evolved at the same rate as their experience. That needs to change.

Keeping the story of Anzac alive requires the efforts of all of you. By researching and learning and telling the stories of your family, you ensure that no-one dies twice. By reaching out to the contemporary veterans – the ones in your family and community – you help them to process their experiences. You probably won’t find them sitting in one of the few remaining RSA clubs in the country

Please remember always that no-one who has ever been to war comes home the same person as when they left. As we look on at the Russian invasion of Ukraine, wars in the middle east and across Africa, spare a thought for the people and their stories, no matter what point of view you may have on the conflict itself. That is the human thing to do. Once warfare becomes de-personalised, our humanity quickly ebbs.

Kei wareware tatou – Lest we forget

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