Here we are in 2013. Let me start by wishing you all a very Happy New Year and hoping that however or wherever you spent it, the festive season was relaxing and restful for you and your family and whaanau. A very heartfelt thanks also to those among us who worked through the Christmas break to keep our services operating. I hope you get out to enjoy this wonderful summer sunshine soon.
At the start of a new year, one traditionally looks forward, to what is in store over the coming 12 months. I do have plans to share those details with you, but today I instead want to look back. Over the Christmas break a letter crossed my desk from the First World War Centenary Panel which is leading a Government initiative called WW100 (www.ww100.govt.nz). The objective of this initiative is to commemorate the centenary of New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War through activities developed by communities, organisations and workplaces.
The letter reads: The First World War (1914-1918) was one of the most significant events of the 20th Century and had a seismic impact on New Zealand’s society. Ten percent of our population, then of just one million, served overseas, with more than 18,000 killed and over 40,000 wounded. Nearly every New Zealand family, community, organisation and workplace was affected in some way.
At the time, the First World War was called “the war to end all wars” but it instead escalated into a global event which changed the course of history. As someone who has had the privilege to attend an ANZAC Day dawn ceremony, I know how very moving they can be and how large Gallipoli looms in New Zealand’s national conscience. Having come from the UK, I have also lived very close to several First World War battlefields. Among the sites I visited was a memorial arch at Thiepval, a small town in Northern France where the Battle of the Somme raged during the First World War. The huge arch is covered in tiny lettering and it is a sobering realisation to discover that these are the names of soldiers who died during the battle but were never found.
There are also many among us with connections to, or an interest in, this aspect of history. Of course, Middlemore Hospital was originally conceived as a military hospital (albeit during World War 2). Our Head of General Surgery, Andrew Connolly, has an avid interest in the First World War and gives an ANZAC Day address to his colleagues in the hospital every year. For him it is vital we never forget the cost of the freedom we enjoy today. Within General Surgery alone are the descendants of First World War soldiers who fought, were captured, wounded, gassed, or killed in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine and France. Many of our staff are not New Zealand born and it is important those staff have a chance to appreciate the sacrifices of this small country.
I encourage you to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have stories or connections to the First World War, and also to think about how our organisation can join others from around New Zealand and the world to commemorate this four-year event between 2014 and 2018. Recently I went to see Elvis Costello in concert, and after a wonderful two and a half hours on stage he finished with one my favourite songs: “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” It is a pertinent question to reflect on as I sit and think about the remarkable bravery, and enormous sacrifice, of First World War soldiers from New Zealand and around the world.