Editorial: Our people who left

A century ago today, life as we knew it in New Zealand changed forever when Britain declared it was at war with Germany.

It was a war New Zealand was quick to join - 14,000 enlisting in the first week alone - but it had a catastrophic effect on our country.

In all, 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas - more than 10 per cent of the population then. And they died in droves; 17,000 were killed and 40,000 more were wounded.

It was the highest per capita loss of all the countries involved in the war; the number of deaths is roughly equivalent to the total population of the Mackenzie and Waimate districts, plus Temuka and Geraldine.

To mark this day, you'll find a 44-page publication inside today's newspaper. Included in that publication are the names of around 1000 people with links to South Canterbury who went to war.

This is what SCRoll is all about. A project involving the South Canterbury Museum, the South Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, the Timaru Herald and volunteers, SCRoll is an ever-growing database of South Canterbury participation in World War I.

It might be tempting to flick quickly through the list, to find ancestors, to see if a particular surname appears.

But every entry tells a story.

Farmhands, shepherds, drivers and saddlers, a music professor, a journalist, a hairdresser, all take their place on the list of the dead. What did they think they were going to?

There are the named next of kin - mothers and fathers, wives and sisters. They would have learned their son or husband or brother - sent off with such patriotic pride and fervour - was never going to return.

Family names are repeated, telling the story of two brothers who went to war, of a mother who lost two of her sons.

The dates show how quickly lives were lost. Many were dead just three months after leaving New Zealand.

Most never returned. They died on the battlefields in Belgium and France. Some were lost at sea. South Canterbury's nursing community was hit hard by the loss of lives on the ship Marquette.

Only a few made it back to New Zealand, to die some time later from their wounds.

A list of names of those who died in war is sobering enough. But this roll of honour turns those names into people, into men and women who left their families, their homes and and their jobs, to fight a war on the other side of the world.

Please take the time to honour their sacrifice by reading their stories.

The Timaru Herald