Action needed to honour those wrongly named

The Alexandra war memorial is just one of Central Otago's memorials which contains errors. Photo: ODT files
The Alexandra war memorial is just one of Central Otago's memorials which contains errors. Photo: ODT files
With Anzac Day approaching, Gerald Cunningham calls for officials to right the wrongs of some Central Otago war memorials.

ANZAC Day, April 25, is a special day when people throughout New Zealand take time to honour those who both served or were killed in the wars of the 20th century.

Many will attend services gathered around war memorials in Central Otago to honour the dead listed there.

Sadly, many of the names of the soldiers killed in World War 1 on these Central Otago memorials are incorrect and no-one in authority seems to want to take responsibility for righting those errors.

As a remote volunteer for the Imperial War Museum in London, I spent the early months of 2018 visiting Central Otago war memorials to cross-reference those locals shown as having been killed in World War 1. Once verified, their names were then uploaded to the museum's massive online site, Lives of the First World War, which lists every soldier who fought on the side of the Allies in that war.

This site now contains millions of names and photographs for posterity.

Some examples of these errors are the Clyde War Memorial where one of the names displayed is that of a person who never existed. Instead it should be that of a Lieutenant-colonel who died on November 20, 1915, of dysentery contacted while on active service at Gallipoli.

The Alexandra memorial is showing an incorrect name. The Omakau War Memorial is particularly bad, with the names of five WW1 soldiers listed incorrectly. Becks War Memorial in the Becks Hall is showing two errors, and so on throughout Central Otago.

Time can excuse these errors made during the years the memorials were constructed, as World War 1 ended a century ago when communications and information were not as reliable and accessible as they are now.

Today, it is possible to log in and read online the complete war service records of those Kiwis who either volunteered or were conscripted to fight in World War 1. This information is available to the public via two major websites: the Online Cenotaph managed by the Auckland War Memorial Museum and the New Zealand Army Service Records of those who fought in WW1. The latter site is particularly relevant as it contains photocopies of the original enlistment forms signed by the soldier to whom the information contained relates.

Various authorities, including the mayor of Central Otago, the Central Otago District Council and the local RSA were all made aware of these errors in writing during the months before Anzac Day 2018. It seems that no-one was prepared to take responsibility for correcting these errors, as they still remain today on the war memorials throughout Central Otago.

World War 1 was a tragedy that begs the question today of why New Zealand became so heavily involved. History shows that our country did become involved and thousands of young Kiwi men lost their lives as a result. Times were different. Reading New Zealand army records today, it is obvious that if you were male, young, single, poorly educated and working in a low-paid occupation you were guaranteed to be conscripted. Thousands were shipped off to Europe from 1914-18, to fight a war on the other side of the world. Many resisted, but the majority could not or would not because of the social stigma that went with passive resistance during that era.

Sixteen thousand six hundred and ninety-seven young Kiwi men died overseas in shocking conditions, often blown to pieces by German shellfire when they should have been at home in New Zealand celebrating their 21st birthdays. A large number of those killed were never found or identified and today have no known grave. Another 41,317 were wounded. Thousands more were affected mentally and just shipped home to cope as best they could as war-damaged civilians.

Hundreds of local young men made the ultimate sacrifice and we in Central Otago cannot even list their names correctly on the war memorials erected in their honour and their memory.

Surely they deserve better.

-Gerald Cunningham lives in Lauder and is a remote volunteer for the Imperial War Museum in London.

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