Just on dawn on 25 April 1915, the Gallipoli campaign began in earnest for the Anzacs along the shores of the Dardanelles. The action continued on the coastline and in surrounding hills for eight months.
Firefighters were among the soldiers in action there, having swapped their fire brigade tunics and helmets at home for military uniform and arms, serving on the other side of the world.
To recall the bravery, service and endurance of all those at Anzac, here is a selection of representative stories of firefighters known to be involved.
Though just a few, let’s remember them all.
Firemen had been contributing to the Wounded Soldiers’ Fund when they found one of their own had been killed in battle at Gallipoli.
They mustered in the Onehunga Congregational Church to unveil the town’s very first Roll of Honour complete with the name of former firebrigadesman, Trooper Neil McMillan, killed aged 21.
A former member of Wellington Brigade, Private Leonard Larkin had been determined to “get away with the others”.
He was too young to enlist but put up his age on enrolment papers to ensure he was accepted. He was posted to Gallipoli - in the confusion and mayhem he was injured and then got cut off from his Kiwi comrades and so joined the Australians.
After recovery, he returned to his Company at the front and was killed a short time later.
The well-known butcher’s assistant at Fitzgibbons in Rangiora, Otto Hahn, had been farewelled off to war after just a year in the local fire brigade and three years with the local brass band.
News of his death came in June 1915, killed in action at the Dardanelles aged 24 three days after being promoted to Sergeant.
A month later the death was announced of a second firefighter from Rangiora, Sapper Martin Strong, who was killed at Anzac Cove. Their deaths prompted the brigade to erect a Roll of Honour.
As time went on, some ceremonies became bittersweet affair. As brigades honoured their dead, they were at the same time welcoming those returning from the front.
While honouring the memory of Fireman Charles Kent, killed in action in France, Petone firefighters welcomed home the Chief Fire Officer’s son, Fireman Otto Lepper, who had been injured at Anzac Cove.
At about the same time, they farewelled another son, Fireman De Lacey Lepper, on his way to war to serve in France.
Paeroa also welcomed home a celebrated son, one of the town’s blacksmiths, when Fireman Ernest Gosper returned with injuries received at Gallipoli.
A contemporary report: “The Brigade mustered at the Rail Station with the manual fire-reel prettily decorated with the different nations' flags, a chair being placed on the reel to convey our Soldier to the Brigade Shed where he was received by His Worship the Mayor, the Band, and friends. Toasts were given to our returned hero, to the Boys still at the Front, and to those about to leave for the Firing Line”.
Firefighters’ Great Contribution
Of just under 3,000 firemen in New Zealand at the time, more than half, 1,676 enlisted and served.
The UFBA was proud of the contribution, “…our members responded to the Empire’s call which should arouse the spirit of enthusiasm in all of us, but it’s with regret the record for World War One shows 237 of our members died, 523 were wounded and 5 were taken prisoner of war”.
25 June 2015
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