Twenty New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel will march over the Rimutaka Hill this weekend, retracing the footsteps of soldiers who made the same journey on their way to war.
More than two hundred people are registered to take part in an event to commemorate the service and sacrifice of thousands of soldiers who served in the First World War, particularly those who served on the Western Front.
Between 1915 and 1918, around 60,000 soldiers who trained at Featherston Military Camp, marched over the Rimutaka Hill before embarking in ships berthed in Wellington Harbour, which were bound for the First World War. All soldiers who trained in Featherston went on to serve on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
Colonel (COL) Paul Curry will be taking part in the re-enactment event as a direct descendant of soldiers who made the same journey during the First World War.
Seven of his great-grand uncles served on the Western Front and two were killed as a result of wounds sustained at the front. Private Charles James Lankey (10th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Regiment), died in the United Kingdom on 22 October 1916, of wounds received at the Somme and Private Albert Bert Curry (19th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment), died of wounds at Passchendaele on 17 October 1917.
COL Curry said the march was a great way to commemorate the service and sacrifice of his ancestors.
“The Western Front was a major and important part of New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War, and much of it was fought in terrible conditions,” COL Curry said.
“The majority of New Zealand’s casualties during the First World War were suffered on the Western Front, including a number of my relatives who were either wounded or killed.
“Marching over the Rimutaka Hill and taking part in something my ancestors did a century ago will be an incredibly meaningful experience, something I am doing for them and for my family,” COL Curry said.
Private (PTE) Simon Adams will also be taking part in the event, and will be marching dressed in a First World War replica uniform, provided by Wingnut Films.
PTE Adams said he wanted to participate in the event because he’s always been interested in military history.
“To march over the Rimutaka Hill as those soldiers before me did is important because it puts the original marches into perspective,” PTE Adams said.
“These were young men marching to war, not just names on a wall.
“It is a privilege to be able to retrace their footsteps, especially wearing the same uniform they would have worn a century ago,” PTE Adams said.
The re-enactment march will begin from Camp Road, north of Featherston, at 3am on Sunday 27 September 2015, and will conclude at Griffin Field, Trentham, around midday.
Background – New Zealand involvement on The Western Front
The New Zealand Division arrived in France in April 1916, and remained on the Western Front, in France and Belgium, until late 1918. Major New Zealand involvement included taking part in the Allied offensive on the Somme (1916), an assault on Messines Ridge (1917), the Battle of Passchendaele (1917), and the liberation of Le Quesnoy (1918).
The majority of New Zealand’s casualties during the First World War were suffered on the Western Front. More than 12,480 personnel are buried in Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries in Belgium and France.
In 2016, the New Zealand Defence Force will conduct Anzac Day services in France (23-24 April) and Belgium (25 April). On 15 September 2016, the official New Zealand service to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will take place at Longueval in northern France.