More than just a number

Wounded New Zealand soldiers are placed in a motorised ambulance in France in 1918 in  World War 1. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library.
Wounded New Zealand soldiers are placed in a motorised ambulance in France in 1918 in World War 1. Photo by Alexander Turnbull Library.

A span of time - whether it be a minute, a year, a decade or a generation - gives rise to the important events of our world which affect our daily lives.

But there is a defining passage of time which is one of the most significant of all - a century.

It is widely recognised and acknowledged as being an anniversary for commemoration, and this year for the present generation of New Zealanders, its significance becomes greater than ever before with August 2014 marking 100 years since the beginning of World War 1.

A commemoration is the act of honouring and preserving the memory of another.

This upcoming commemoration will be an opportunity for our generation of New Zealanders to gain knowledge, reflect and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom as we know it today.

The centenary commemoration will be a time for New Zealanders to come together as one to honour our fallen soldiers.

Truly committing to commemorating the centenary of World War 1 means our generation must have knowledge of the event and the depth of the sacrifice that was made.

Just to be made aware of the battles valiantly fought and the incredible New Zealand people involved, is not enough.

It would merely be a consolation for the freedom they so selflessly enabled us to have today.

For the present generation to give the soldiers the respect and commemoration they deserve, we need to delve deeply into the abundance of information available in order to fully appreciate its significance.

Almost 100 years ago, World War 1 impacted on people all around the world and New Zealand was no exception.

Because we were a small nation of barely a million people at the time, the significance of having more than 100,000 New Zealanders serve overseas made our country's contribution that much more remarkable, but also made the losses felt much more deeply.

An event that happened nearly 100 years ago still influences and affects our generation today.

World War 1 left an indelible mark on many generations of society.

Whether it was at the time of World War 1 with a family member lost to the ravages of war in a country far from home, or a wounded soldier who did return but was never to be the same again.

Perhaps it was the communities decimated by having men in their prime gone forever, losing future leaders and workers who would have positively influenced a community and been role models for the younger generations.

New Zealand society was forever changed by the course of history.

Our generation can learn from World War 1.

Not only historical and military lessons, but the lessons about being a New Zealander in our time.

The courage that it takes to do something because you are needed.

To stand up and be counted even in everyday situations.

To have faith that what you are doing is right and can make a positive difference.

The actions and bravery of the men who travelled across the world into the unknown to fight, provide life lessons and make them such incredible role models for the current generation of New Zealanders.

This enables our generation to make better decisions, and make our country a better place, not only for us but for future generations.

Whether it be within our family, school or community, each and every one of us has the ability to make a positive contribution.

Sometimes it just takes courage and a belief in oneself to make that step.

If we have an ounce of the courage of our soldiers who fought in World War 1, then we too can be positive members of society and make our generation one to be proud of.

With 100 years now almost passed, the upcoming commemorations may just be the opportunity and impetus for families to find out more about their loved ones' experiences during World War 1, and for the soldiers to be known as more than just a number on a medal or headstone.

For me, when I remember soldier 29555, I do not think of a number. I think of a brave, dignified and honourable soldier who was my great-grandfather - Lance-corporal Archibald McDonald.

He was a young farming man from Awamoko, who went off to fight for New Zealand in Western Europe with great pride.

His captivating war story has been passed down from generation to generation in my family.

He was wounded while fighting in France in November 1917.

He sustained injuries that left him lying in the trenches for a week, surrounded by the dead, managing to stay alive by drinking the water which trickled into the trenches.

He, along with so many New Zealanders, endured pain and suffering so the Allied forces could eventually be victorious, ensuring freedom for us today.

It makes me so immensely proud to be descended from a generation of brave New Zealanders, as well as appreciative of this freedom we now have.

I think this is the incredible legacy of a centenary commemoration - it provides a chance to investigate historical events in order to gain a greater personal understanding of the individuals who fought, and with this the development of a greater appreciation for their sacrifice.

I believe that this centenary commemoration will be the catalyst to ensure that over the next 100 years, the memory of those New Zealand soldiers who fought and died in World War 1 will be kept alive in our hearts and minds.

We, as New Zealanders, must never forget the supreme sacrifice that was made by those who went before us, so that we were given a ''new dawn''.

They may be gone but after a 100 years, more so than ever, they will not be forgotten.

 


• By Lucy Paton, Year 12, Waitaki Girls' High School