Nation remembers declaration of war

Governor Lord Liverpool (centre, holding telegram at his side) reads out Britain's declaration of war outside Parliament in Wellington on August 4, 1914. Photo from ODT archive.
Governor Lord Liverpool (centre, holding telegram at his side) reads out Britain's declaration of war outside Parliament in Wellington on August 4, 1914. Photo from ODT archive.
It is the beginning of the bloodiest conflict Europe has known.

Midnight on Tuesday, August 4, 1914 - Britain declares war on Germany.

The next day at 1pm, the Governor of New Zealand, Lord Liverpool, delivers the news to a crowd of about 10,000 people gathered in the grounds of Parliament in Wellington.

By the end of the week, Britain has accepted New Zealand's offer of troops for the war effort.

By the end of the month, New Zealand troops occupy German Samoa on behalf of Britain.

And within 12 months, more than 2700 New Zealanders have died during the Gallipoli campaign.

Europe's war is now New Zealand's war.

Today, a national ceremony commemorating the centenary of the declaration of war on Germany begins at Parliament grounds in Wellington at 9am.

After a reading of the 1914 announcement of war by broadcaster Hewitt Humphrey, Prime Minister John Key and leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe will speak.

About 9.20am, ten 105mm Howitzer guns, on the waterfront in front of Te Papa, will unleash a 100-gun salute. In Dunedin, commemorations start with a candlelit procession from First Church to the Cenotaph at Queens Gardens at 5.45pm today.

A candlelit peace vigil will follow at the Cenotaph at 6pm, organised by Dunedin Quakers, in conjunction with the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Most WW1 commemorations begin next month with a service on September 21 to mark the embarkation of Otago troops.

Dunedin Returned and Services' Association senior vice-president Lox Kellas said the commemorations were important to recognise the soldiers' service.

''It's a chance for people to get a better understanding of what they went through,'' Mr Kellas said.

He urged everyone to see the ''Dunedin's Great War 1914-1918'' exhibition at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, which opened on Friday.

Mosgiel Memorial RSA board of trustees chairman Noel Graham said the commemorations marked an important time in New Zealand's history.

''It heralds the beginning of the RSA organisation,'' he said.

''It was after [the Gallipoli campaign] that they created the Returned Soldiers' Association.''

The Mosgiel Memorial RSA has no plans to formally mark the beginning of the war, but it will take part in the embarkation commemorations.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said events during the next nine months would provide a backdrop to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who served in World War 1.

''Regardless of the rights and wrongs [of the war], it's a very significant centenary and we should be looking forward to marking it with a great deal of respect,'' Mr Cull said.

''Embarkation was very significant in Dunedin at the time.''

University of Otago history Prof Tom Brooking said Otago's troops were prominent in the war.

More than 1000 troops from Otago were among the 8500 New Zealanders sent to Egypt for training in October 1914.

By the end of the war, 1900 Dunedin troops had died.

''It's above the national rate. It's extraordinary [the loss of life], it really is,'' he said.

''[Otago] was the unlucky battalion, we always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.''

Today's ceremony in Wellington is the first of several commemorations as nations around the world formally mark the 100th anniversary.

Across the Tasman, descendants of the other half of the Anzac legend will mark the date with an evening Last Post ceremony at the Australian War Memorial Museum in Canberra.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mataparae will represent New Zealand at a Commonwealth ceremony at the Glasgow Cathedral, and MP Tony Ryall will attend a ceremony at Liege in Belgium.

A wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington by the New Zealand Defence Force will also be held today.

-tim.brown@odt.co.nz

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