Masterton relives emotion of wartime departure

Town relives war sendoff

Last updated 15:26 13/08/2014

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A community has relived the strange cocktail of excitement and sadness that marked the departure of its first contingent of troops in World War I 100 years ago.

Today's Leaving for the Front event, organised by Masterton District Council, saw a choreographed, period-dressed multitude represent the 100 soldiers and accompanying dignitaries, citizens and loved ones who were in the first Wairarapa contingent's march from Masterton's town square to its railway station on August 13, 1914.

Wairarapa Archive historian Neil Frances, who researched the event, said one of the most challenging aspects was recreating the mix of joy and foreboding felt 100 years ago.

"There were feelings of sadness as families were farewelling their young men... but it was quite a heady feeling of enthusiasm, not enthusiasm for war as such, but that the New Zealand and the Empire were standing up to the Germanic invasion of Belgium."

Of the 100 young men from around Wairarapa who marched that day, 23 died - mostly at Gallipoli.

They were part of the country's largest single troop deployment, the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, after travelling by train to the training camp at Palmerston North's Awapuni racecourse. 

At noon today, ''troops'' from local colleges answered a roll-call in front of the Masterton Town Hall naming the original 100 marchers.

Following recitals by actors of speeches made a century ago, they marched along Perry St in bright sunshine toward the snow-covered Tararua Range, with spectators lining the route.

On arrival at the station they farewelled ''loved ones'' before boarding a train for Mauriceville, north of Masterton.

Among hundreds of students, musicians, singers, actors and relatives of veterans was Chanel College year 11 student and ''soldier'' Luke Hempleman, who was touched when a woman came up to him at the station to say the name he answered in the roll call, Private Hoar, was her great uncle - and to thank him for representing her ancestor.

''It was amazing to walk in the footsteps of the people who came before... it was pretty special,'' he said.

Wairarapa College year 12 student Samantha Heath wore period costume to play a ''tearful sweetheart'' and was moved by the experience.

''All of my friends have been crying, even though it's 100 years ago. You kind of think back to the time and you think, women our age would have had husbands going to the war and it's just sad.'' 

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- The Dominion Post


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