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Hikuai youth pay tribute to Great War sacrifice

07 September 2015

Deputy Mayor Peter French with RSA representative and Hikuai School pupils

With the planting of trees at Pauanui on Saturday to commemorate soldiers who died in the Sinai-Palestine campaign, each Community Board area in the Coromandel now has a World War One Memorial Forest.

[Photo: Deputy Mayor Peter French celebrates the unveiling of the Sinai-Palestine Memorial Forest sign with Hikaui School’s Matt Batten, Dannielle Sholson and Donelle Steer, along with RSA representative Gerry Gaston.]

The Pauanui ceremony, which was held at Tangitarori Lane, was attended by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, including representatives from the RSA, our Council and the Tairua-Pauanui Community Board, and students from Hikuai School.

Six kauri and two pohutukawa signature trees were planted on Saturday, with 200 more native trees to be planted along the walkway heading south towards Hikuai this season, and the remaining 440 trees planted in coming years.

Thirteen-year-old Donelle Steer gave a strongly moving and well-researched speech during the ceremony on the significance of the Sinai-Palestine campaign, and the personal cost of the soldiers who served.

"The signature trees we are planting here today commemorate 640 of our fallen soldiers who fought in the Sinai and Palestine campaigns,” she said.

“The Sinai campaign is less famous than some others; however it was significant in strategy. The troops included an 1800-strong NZ Mounted Rifle Brigade, and they suffered terrible conditions trying to fight in the dreadful desert."

“Just over 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War I. Our total population at the time was 1.1 million, so about 1 in 11 of us went away to war during this time. This had an enormous effect on us as a country and as a community. In my own family, we lost five men in the Great War, which lasted four years and four months. That’s a long time to wait for someone you love….

“I personally struggle to imagine how life would be for me if I had to say goodbye to my Dad and not see him again until I am 17 – with there still the chance that he wouldn’t come home at all. It’s an impossible thing to appreciate 100 years later – the suffering of these men and their family. Yet we do so today, respectfully and with hope for the future.” 

RSA representative Gerry Gaston also paid tribute to those who sacrificed their lives, and made special mention of soldiers who had links to the Hikaui area, such as Trooper Donald Buckland Gorrie and Corporal Arthur Pierce.

The Tangitarori Lane memorial forest was officially opened by Thames-Coromandel Deputy Mayor Peter French, who unveiled the engraved kauri sign commemorating the Sinai-Palestine campaign with RSA representative Gerry Gaston. The sign and the forest will now form part of the Hikuai Trust walkway along the harbour.

The Tangitarori Lane site is the seventh planting to be undertaken on the Peninsula, and means that every Community Board area now has at least one memorial forest site.

  • In Whangamata, the Battle of Le Quesnoy is commemorated on a reserve opposite Moana House at the northern entrance to town.
  • In Tairua, a memorial forest in the cemetery on the entrance to the town commemorates the 48 soldiers from that area who died.
  • In Pauanui, the Tangitarori Lane site commemorates the Sinai-Palestine campaign.
  • In Mercury Bay, the Cathedral Cove site commemorates those soldiers who gave their lives in the Gallipoli campaign.
  • At Whitianga cemetery, signature trees have been planted to commemorate the soldiers from Mercury Bay who lost their lives in WWI.
  • In Coromandel, the planting of 1000 trees is underway at the Hauraki Road site, with a special planting of 39 trees for the Coromandel war dead planned for 18 September.
  • In Thames, the 247 local soldiers who gave their lives are commemorated in a special grove at Rhodes Park.

How to get involved in the project

We’re asking people to please help the project by donating $100 to the cost of a tree or by joining in on the plantings, or both. You can also choose to donate $150 and plant the tree yourself.

There are three ways to donate:

  1. You can dedicate the tree to a specific NZ soldier who was killed in the war. That tree gets planted in the Memorial Forest site dedicated to that particular battle or campaign.
  2. You can dedicate a tree to the “unknown soldier”;

    In these two cases you receive a memorial certificate that includes the GPS co-ordinates of the tree you’ve donated.

  3. Or, you can gift a tree on behalf of your family without necessarily having a specific soldier in mind who was killed in the war. You’ll receive a memorial certificate but no GPS location.

To donate please go to the donate page on our website www.tcdc.govt.nz/donatetree

There are still lots of opportunities to get involved, contact our Economic Development Programme Manager Ben Dunbar-Smith on 07 868 0200 or email at ben.dunbar-smith@tcdc.govt.nz

For more information on the New Zealand World War One Memorial Forest and all its sites across our District, see our project page www.tcdc.govt.nz/ww1memorialforest