Anzac Day and the All Blacks - We Shall Remember


James Mortimer     25 Apr 2013     NZRU

From a New Zealand Rugby perspective, we pay our respects to Albert Downing and Henry Dewar, two capped All Blacks who died at Gallipoli in August of 1915, five months after the first Allied troops landed on the soil of the Ottoman Empire.

Some mistakenly think that legendary All Blacks captain Dave Gallaher died during Gallipoli, but he was in fact killed during the attack on Gravenstafel Spur in Belgium on October 4, 1917 towards the tail end of a conflict that would change and strengthen New Zealand and Australia relations unlike any other event.

Also known as the Dardanelles Campaign or the Battle of Canakkale, Gallipoli was undertaken with the prime purpose of securing a sea passage to Russia, with the crucial goal of securing supply routes.

Initially the campaign was actual a Naval undertaking, with the war theatre officially starting on 19 February 1915, with battleships bombarding the Dardanelles (which connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara), while a month later a fleet attacked, but ultimately mines were the culprits of that mission failing.

Downing, the first New Zealand Rugby representative (and All Black no less) war casualty, was born in Napier and represented Napier Olds Boys, then Marist, then Hawke's Bay before leading to North Island honours, playing in the side for two years on consecutive 'South Island' tours.

A move to Auckland then led to an All Blacks jersey, debuting against Australia in 1913, touring North America the same year, before playing against the men in gold again in 1914.

The next year 'Doolan' as Albert was called by his mates, enlisted in the army in 1915, representing Trentham Military Forces Rugby team on home soil, before leaving New Zealand in June of 1915, part of the Fifth Reinforcements, of many groups from many nations that were based in Egypt before heading to Gallipoli, and the lineout forward was killed in action at the landing at Suvia Bay.

Dewar, or should we say 'Norkey', was given the odd nickname due to his small but rock like stature, at 1.79m and 82kg (giant by standards a century ago) and could play at hooker or as a loose forward, and was a favourite son of Taranaki, and was part of the famous side that defeated Auckland to win the Ranfurly Shield, which ensured that All Blacks selectors named him to face Australia at Athletic Park.

Originally from the Melrose club in Wellington, he joined Downing as one of the first to enlist in the NZ Expeditionary Force, and was notable for playing rugby in Egypt for the Wellington Mounted Rifles Team, before being killed in action just shy of his 32nd birthday.

The Anzac Corps, which were formed in Egypt in 1915, comprising troops from the First Australian Imperial Force and the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force – had a complete division with the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and the Australian 1st Division, while the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the Australian 1st Light Horse Brigade were other key units involved.

In the end Word War One would claim the lives of thirteen brave men who had also worn the All Blacks jersey.

While the campaign was a defeat for the Allies, it was a turning point in trans-Tasman relations, a day that 98 years later is important as to the foundation of our respective nation's histories.

Turkey, one could easily argue, gained so much more from the campaign, a point in their history where the Ottoman Empire saw it's last days, and the end of the First World War led to the Turkish War of Independence which was the genesis of the Republic of Turkey, with the First President being former Gallipoli commander Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The battle was also one which ensured there was an everlasting bond and respect not only between New Zealand, Australia and other then Allied Nations, but with Turkey, who have immense respect for all who lost their lives throughout that difficult time.

The after effect was encapsulated by the phrase from Mustafa himself:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

2,721 New Zealand soldiers died at Gallipoli, with over 50,000 dead on both sides at the end of the conflict.

We shall remember them.