Thousands attend services

Thousands of people gathered around the South across about 20 centres yesterday to mark the  centenary of the Armistice that ended World War 1, after four years of commemorations.

More than 18,000 New Zealand troops died during the "war to end all wars", and the country sustained its greatest losses in the final year. Several thousand people gathered in the sun around the cenotaph at Queens Gardens in Dunedin, among the crosses which commemorate nearly 4000 soldiers from Otago and Southland who died.

A commemoration in Alexandra’s Pioneer Park, attended by almost 2000 people was among the larger turnouts.  A 100-horse parade featured, including  New Zealand Mounted Rifles Charitable Trust members.

In Maheno, near Oamaru, the role played by the hospital ship HMHS Maheno was honoured, while in Queenstown Bay, TSS Earnslaw’s horn sounded 11 times at 11am, recreating what its Lake Wakatipu predecessor SS Ben Lomond did 100 years earlier.

A flock of pigeons was released to symbolise doves of peace in Invercargill and a new soldiers’ memorial board was unveiled in Oturehua.

Another 50 people attended an Armistice Day march to the Middlemarch Cenotaph, with pipers and a drummer, and about 100 people gathered to pay tribute in Mosgiel’s Anzac Park to the 61 men from the Taieri area who died.

In Dunedin, commanding officer of HMNZS Toroa Lieutenant-commander Paul Smith described the war as a "monstrous bloodletting". News of the Armistice, signed at 11am on November 11, 1918, reached a country "sorely wounded by waves of loss and grief", Lt-cmdr Smith said.

"There were many who simply could not rejoice, and who were beneath a dark cloud of sorrow and mourning for their departed loved ones."

The service began with the catafalque party taking up their positions around the cenotaph.

Just before 11am,  two howitzer rounds were fired by the 31 (B) Battery Group gunners at Queens Gardens, and a simultaneous round was fired from the Robbie Burns cannon in the Octagon, followed by two minutes’ silence.

Wreaths were laid and poems were read by pupils from King’s High School and Otago Girls’ High School. The service concluded with the release of white doves.In Mosgiel, wreaths and poppies were laid on the Mosgiel Cenotaph.

Thousands of people took a moment to reflect at the Armistice Day Service at the cenotaph in...
Thousands of people took a moment to reflect at the Armistice Day Service at the cenotaph in Queens Gardens in Dunedin yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Dunedin RSA president Lox Kellas said that looking at the crosses, he asked himself what difference each person would have made if they survived the war. Those who did return from World War 1 and World War 2 were expected to "just get on with it" and not offered the support military personnel were today, creating two silent generations, he said.

At the Otago Museum Reserve, a Devonshire tea and activities were held from 12.30pm onwards, including World War 1-era games and numbers from the RSA Choir and the Foxy Tones. Performances were also held by the Wairua Puhou group from Otago Girls’ High School and Otago Boys’ High School, and He Waka Kotuia group from  King’s High School and Queen’s High School, and there were several speeches. Recently retired University of Otago history lecturer Prof Tom Brooking said Armistice celebrations in New Zealand would have been "missing key guests", as 58,000 troops would still have been overseas. The majority of them would not have returned home until mid-1919, and celebrations would be held the next year to mark their homecoming. 

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