A community re-enacts the farewelling of a group of young men who represented those who left on 13 August 1914 one hundred years ago. This is the story of the first contingent of men from the Wairarapa to go to World War One.
The event, organised by Masterton District Council, was based on historic records including the same speeches and a period-dressed multitude representing the one hundred soldiers and accompanying dignitaries, citizens and loved ones, as the soldiers marched from Masterton’s town square to the railway station. More than a thousand people are estimated to have participated on the day.
In this radio documentary many key participants are interviewed and asked to reflect on what the day has meant for them. Emotions were mixed with feelings of pride and joy at the commemoration as well as sadness. Historian Neil Frances comments on the impact the war had on Wairarapa families.
‘The number of men who went from here is between two and three thousand...so a huge impact. Everyone would have been affected, even if no one in your own family went, you would certainly have known and probably known quite well, people that went. The overall death rate amongst New Zealand soldiers was about 17 or 18%. Of this group that went on this particular day there were 100 men and 23 of them died.’
Suzanna David’s father was one of those that went to fight on the Front and one of the fortunate ones who came back, though many of his mates didn’t.
‘He had people killed beside him...in various battles, but he never talked about it...ever...until he wrote his memoirs...’ [Referring to the young men playing the soldier roles] ‘They haven’t a clue…they’re all in fairyland just as my father was and all the young men who left…thinking it’s a great adventure and they’ll be home before Christmas…’
Speeches were delivered at the town hall, soldiers marched, brass and pipe bands played, young women kissed the soldiers, and everyone waved at the soldiers who saluted the crowd as the train pulled out.
This programme was broadcast on Radio Eketahuna in 2014 shortly after it was made and again on Anzac Day 2015.