April 25, 2018
First ANZACs close to home
The first ANZAC troops did not die in Gallipoli, but rather are buried outside a small Anglican church in South Auckland.
That’s the view of historian Scott Hamilton, whose new book Ghost South Road includes the story of the 2600 Australian militia who fought in the Waikato War of 1863-64.
“Australians made up a significant minority of each of the four Waikato Regiments the settler government was able to form. They had much less training than the professional soldiers of the British army, and were regarded as less reliable by (Governor Sir George) Grey and his generals,” Dr Hamilton says.
The Australians buried in a single grave at St John’s Church, Drury, were involved in an action on October 23, 1863, when ignoring orders a group of about 50 soldiers from the First Waikato Regiment took on a couple of hundred insurgents who had paddled across the Waikato River and were shooting at cattle on the slopes of Titi, a low hill halfway between Pukekohe and Waiuku.
Dr Hamilton says that although Australian and New Zealand volunteers fought together in the Waikato War, their place in the ANZAC tradition is still unacknowledged by New Zealand's Defence Forces or Returned Services Association.
The Australian Return Services League has acknowledged and commemorated the involvement of the Australian military in the Waikato War, and two representatives of the Australian Defence Forces visited battle sites in January and held ceremonies of remembrance with local hapu.
Dr Hamilton say he hopes the New Zealand Defence Force will rethink its position and finally acknowledge New Zealand's first ANZACs.
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