NZ marks 100 years since World War 1

Last updated 10:21 04/08/2014

The New Zealand Defence Force and WW100 commemorate the beginning of the First World War for New Zealand with a wreathlaying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington.

Gun salute 2
100-gun salute, Wellington waterfront, to mark 100 years since the beginning of WWI.

WW1 100th anniversary marked

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New Zealand became the first country in the world to mark the centenary of Britain's proclamation of war against Germany, in a ceremony in  Parliament grounds today.

Shortly after 9am, broadcaster Hewitt Humphrey read out the message sent 100 years ago  by King George V to the Governor of New Zealand Lord Liverpool. Liverpool had read out the message to an estimated 15,000 people in Parliament grounds on the afternoon of  August 5, 1914.

As Humphrey reached the last line of the announcement - "War has broken out with Germany" - students from Wellington's Rongotai College formed up at the bottom of the Parliamentary steps and performed a spine-tingling haka that echoed in the calm, clear Wellington air.

Prime Minister John Key told the hundreds of people at the ceremony, World War I had been hugely significant in the history of this country.

At the start it had been met with excitement by many people, he said.

"The First World War changed how New Zealanders viewed ourselves, and indeed how other countries viewed us."

It laid the foundations for the country we had become.

Opposition leader David Cunliffe said the war "broke and refashioned so  many ideas of who we are". It "hurled humanity into modernity".

Events of 100 years ago seemed distant, but the sheer weight of loss remained with us.

The effects of the war had rippled viscerally through the nation, "through the empty farms, the damaged families, the silenced fathers and brothers ...".

A choir made up of students from several Wellington schools sang God Save the Queen, followed by God Defend New Zealand, as the sounds of a 100-round gun salute drifted across from Te Papa.

The last post was played and New Zealand flags were lowered to half-mast on 29 poles at the front of  Parliament's forecourt, and two on either side of the main steps.

The ode was read in English and Maori, then a group which included Speaker David Carter, Key and Cunliffe walked to a field of rembrance on the Parliamentary lawn as the Air Force band played Nearer My Good To Thee.

At the field of remembrance the last 10 crosses were put in place, bringing the total to 100.

Similar fields, with crosses bearing the names of those who died in the war, are being established around the country.

They remember the 103,000 New Zealanders, from a population of around a million, who served in the conflict. Of those, 18,200 died and about 40,000 were wounded.

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