Gareth Winter and Mark Pacey
of the Wairarapa Archive
The story of New Zealand’s involvement in World War I is many faceted.
There are many stories of the soldiers who served overseas – more than 100,000 men – and of the horrific casualty rate – about 18,000 soldiers died.
But we are less familiar with the lives of the soldiers who fought and returned.
They often came back to suffer from injuries, both physical and psychological, that scarred them for the rest of their lives.
We hear little of the more than 500 nurses who left New Zealand to tend for our wounded men.
We forget that World War I, the Great War as it was called, not only affected soldiers, it made an impact on every aspect of New Zealand life.
When the editor of the Times-Age, Seamus Boyer, suggested we should work on a collaborative project to mark the centenary of the end of the war, we were delighted to be able to tell some of the stories of the forgotten Wairarapa people who played a role in the region’s commitment.
We have carefully selected a wide range of lives to write about.
There are war heroes, both those who died fighting and received recognition for their valour, and those whose war service may have been more mundane, but filled with just as much bravery.
We have written about women – nurses who joined the Army Nursing Corps, and other young women who volunteered in other ways.
There are women who played leading roles in the patriotic movement, and others whose lives were torn apart by the deaths of fathers, brothers and husbands.
There are stories from all over Wairarapa, from the special memorial to just one soldier in Pahiatua, the ANZAC memorial bridge at Kaiparoro, soldiers from Tinui and Pirinoa, to men and women who served at Featherston Military Camp.
There are stories about men who wanted to serve but were turned down, and stories about those who did not want to serve.
There is even a story about a Carterton soldier who reputedly deserted to the Germans.
Wairarapa Maori sent their young men to fight alongside their pakeha neighbours, and their korero is recorded.
The devastating effects of the influenza epidemic that coincided with the end of the war is also described.
The tales are sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous.
One child tried to take up arms against the German foe next door, while another died during Armistice Day celebrations.
Even the animals are remembered, with a tale of a Wairarapa horse and the remarkable journey of a Turkish tortoise, both of which came to New Zealand after the end of the war.
These 100 lives represent a small part of the story of Wairarapa’s proud involvement in the “war to end all wars”.
The 100 years, 100 lives website can be found here