In 1918 Ashburton’s third Anzac Day was commemorated. The Ashburton Guardian anticipated it would ‘differ slightly’ from previous celebrations. Indeed, the government had declared Anzac Day 1918 a whole day holiday. A free day meant more time for more people to be involved, and more time for more expansive demonstrations.
The proposed re-introduction of independent morning commemorative church services – one at St Andrew’s, another at St Stephen’s, had caught the newspaper’s attention.
But the first indication of real difference was the type of service at St Stephen’s – a church parade, meaning a march of uniformed military personnel, such as territorial units, regimental bands and sometimes senior cadet units to the church for the service.
Now Ashburton had its first church parade in connection with Anzac Day. Its official status was confirmed by inclusion in the exceptionally detailed Special Area Orders for the day, issued by Lieut. MWP Blathwayt, Officer in Charge of the Ashburton Military District.
The day was now a two-part affair. A lunch break separated the new church parade from the customary afternoon parade and service at the Domain.
Both parades were unmistakably military affairs. The military involvement of the previous year had grown, changing considerably from the first commemoration of 1916. The intention, as Blathwayt’s Orders made clear, was that “all concerned recognise their duty in commemorating, in a fitting manner, the services rendered by the New Zealand Forces on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915”.
With the morning service at 11:00am, the 10:30am assembly at the Drillshed was devoted to full parade ground procedures – setting the markers for the units, the men marching on into position, open rank inspection, reports of readiness to the Commanding Officer, Lieut-Colonel Millton, and the finicky adjustment from parade order of precedence to column position of units for the march. It was quite a spectacle.
The 8th South Canterbury Regimental Band headed the mounted, foot, and reserved territorials, officers, returned soldiers, three companies of Senior Cadets, soldiers on leave, and the scouts. So numerous were the ranks that many of the public who “attended the impressive service in large numbers had to be content with standing room.”
At 1pm (earlier than usual) all the morning’s manoeuvres were repeated in readiness for the march to the Domain service. An even longer column set off. The Scottish Society Pipe Band and members of the Fire Brigade had joined. Officers were to carry swords, territorials to shoulder rifles, and medals be worn.
A fitting manner
Blathwayt’s was concerned that the commemorations be held in ‘a fitting manner’. In conjunction with the whole day holiday they must have contributed, at least in part, to the increased attendance at the Domain and to the hundreds who lined the afternoon’s parade route.
But Blathwayt also stressed that remembrance focussed on Gallipoli was the essence of the parades.
The bluntly-worded telegrams announcing family members killed, wounded or, equally disturbing, ‘missing’, were reaching more and more homes. Particularly after Passchendaele’s huge toll in October 1917.
Ashburton’s crowded streets and the large attendances at church services and the Domain perhaps represented the ever-increasing number of Ashburton folk affected by actions beyond those of 1915. Parades and services, alike, gave opportunity for personal remembrance of particular corners of foreign fields.
Remembrance of sacrifice and its challenge was pointedly addressed at the Domain service. Guest speaker, JJ Dougall, lawyer and former mayor of Christchurch, stressed the “present crisis” in the war – the big German drive west in March and early April. While allied forces now had the mechanical means, success required the “human means … every man who was fit must serve … and answer the appeal for men.”
Dougall was echoed in the Guardian’s forthright Anzac Day editorial. The commemoration was “a ghastly farce if it means mere verbal glorification of the Empire’s heroes … It is the sacrifice of the soldiers more than their gallantry that we should remember, and strive to emulate … when the Empire is in crisis, the need for self-forgetfulness is more imperative. Those called up must respond.”
Respond they did. By the next Anzac Day, the Armistice had been in effect for six months and the Treaty of Versailles was only weeks away. Anzac Day, 1918, had gained another difference – as the last commemoration held during the war years.
By Brian W Pritchard
- Part of ANZAC parade lined up and ready to go. Commanding officers mounted, 8th South Canterbury Regimental Band with instruments, a portion of territorial units in single file.
- A Mounted Rifles Band, unknown date.
- A group of men in front of what is believed to the Drill Shed in Burnett Street
- Local officers, Capt Dr William Mullin and Lieutenant Murray Blathwayt (right).
- and 6. Two unknown soldiers