Saturday, 18 July 2009

An outline of speech given by Don Staples, President of Featherston Anzac Club Society


The proceedings this evening are to celebrate the arrival of the superb “Passchendaele Exhibition” in Featherston and particularly that it is here in our magnificent Anzac Hall.
A few days ago I gave a speech at a Toastmasters meeting centred on the exhibition.
I spoke of the extremely large Featherston military camp - opened on January 26th 1916 was built in 5 months, comprised 252 buildings, 8000 soldiers in training at a time, more than 30,000 men passed through the camp.
The ANZAC Club was all also completed in 1916 and opened on October 16th having been erected “for the use of the soldiers and became the favorite resort of the men out on local leave”
A dance was held every week and was greatly appreciated by the soldiers as evidenced by attendance.
A farewell dance was held in the Hall just prior to the departure of each reinforcement for the South.
They eventually marched off over the Rimutaka Hills in a body usually composed of 2,000 men. – to Trentham Camp and then on ships to France and Belgium.
I spoke of the hell of trench warfare – the outstanding success for our brave New Zealander’s at the battle of Messines – success on the day of battle when Messines was liberated but serious loss in subsequent days from enemy shellfire. -3,660 casualties 700 Dead
I also spoke of how, in the space of 4 hours at Passchendaele, we suffered 3,296 casualties and 1,190 dead.
Our soldiers left the trenches at 5am on a wet cold morning and dragged themselves through a sea of thick clay mud – ground that had been churned by months of shellfire. The barbed wire entanglements had not been cut by shellfire – only a few of our guns had arrived and those that had sunk into the mud when they were fired making it impossible to aim accurately.
Those brave young kiwis were cut to pieces by enemy machine gun fire and even our own shellfire.
Fours hours of slaughter – causality every 4 seconds.
A soldier killed every 12 seconds.
The worst military disaster NZ has ever experienced.
…. at Passendaele.
So is it not fitting in 2009 this exhibition finds its way to the ANZAC Hall where many if not most of these men enjoyed there final hours on New Zealand soil.
As John Tenquist writes in his book “ The Anzac Club Story”
- The clatter of teacups and the animated conversation of young soldiers in no longer heard in Featherston’s Anzac Hall – but the ghosts of yester-year are surely present.
I feel this every time I enter this hall.
Where else in New Zealand is there a building more connected with those brave men – the Anzac Hall is a living memorial to those who fought and died and spilt their blood on Belgium soil.
After the cessation of hostilities the Anzac Club Committee met and passed the following motion:
“That the Anzac Club be presented to the Featherston Municipal Council as a memorial to the soldiers “
This building is certainly the memorial that was intended and here in this magnificent hall, 93 years after its opening, we remember again, their sacrifice!

2 comments:

  1. I would be interested in seeing the ANZAC Hall in Featherston, as my father would certainly have been to the dances there before he went away in Jan 1917. I see in the images here that there are lots of photographs around the walls. Is the hall generally open for travellers to view, or do you have to make arrangements to go inside?
    waikatoanne@gmail.com

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  2. Until 16/08 it's open every day from 10am-4pm .
    Otherwise you could make an appointment with don.staples@gmail.com, president of the ANZAC hall committee

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