Public urged to get involved in World War 1 commemorations

Southern plans for commemorating the centenary of World War 1 were revealed at a ceremony in Dunedin yesterday and were accompanied by a call from the region's mayors and historians for the public to get involved.

About a dozen events were planned in both Otago and Southland, including a major event in Dunedin in September to mark 100 years since Otago and Southland troops first left from Dunedin for the theatre of war.

Details were announced at a gathering at Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital yesterday.

More events will be added as the four-year-long commemorations continue.

Events planned in Otago include exhibitions at museums and galleries, a book on the history of Montecillo Veterans Home and Hospital and the establishment of an honour roll and a statue in Queenstown.

The major event this year in Dunedin will be embarkation weekend in September, marking the weekend in 1914 when Otago and Southland troops first embarked on trains at Dunedin Railway Station for Port Chalmers, where they boarded ships and sailed off to war.

Prof Tom Brooking, of Otago University, who ran what he believed was the only New Zealand university history course on World War 1, said it was important to commemorate World War 1 because it was the greatest calamity to beset the Western world and had a deep and lingering effect on New Zealand.

Most New Zealanders had personal links to WW1, he said. Because the country was so small, the impact on it was extraordinary, with soldiers coming from every community, pretty much every family.

''There is nothing to celebrate. It was a horrific experience for those people and they were going to fight to defend an open society. There was a reason for going and we have to honour that.''

The commemorations also needed to honour all sides of the experience, from the soldiers and nurses, to the communities, families and the pacifists.

Military historian Dr Aaron Fox, of Invercargill, said he hoped the 15 projects already planned in Southland would inspire people to get involved.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks and Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher attended the announcement to publicise the commemorations and urge as many people as possible to support the projects planned in their communities, and to come up with more ideas for commemorative activities.

Mr Cull said remembering WW1 was important because it shaped how New Zealand developed.

Mr Hicks said his generation was the most fortunate in New Zealand history because of what the generation before it sacrificed.

''I think it's fitting we take time over the next few years to remember the sacrifices that have been made.''

• More information can be found at: WW100.govt.nz.

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