A unique programme to mark the centenary of one of the first Anzac Day observances, in Petone, Wellington.
One of the first anniversaries of the Gallipoli landings took place on New Zealand soil on 25 April 1916. To commemorate the occasion railwaymen from Petone Workshops and Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia, exchanged flags.
At Petone on 25 April 1916 an Australian Red Ensign was unfurled from a commemorative flagstaff, the top section made from kauri and the bottom from Australian hardwood to symbolise “the unity of Australian and New Zealand railwaymen in peace and war.”
To mark the centenary of this notable event, Kiwirail has organised an Anzac Day service at Petone Railway Station commencing at 7 a.m., followed by steam rides aboard the Passchendaele Express, a train of classic carriages hauled by steam locomotive Ab 608.
The centennial ceremony will include the raising of the Red Australian Ensign on the Anzac Memorial Flagstaff, speeches from KiwiRail CEO, Peter Reddy, the NZ Government, Ray Wallace, Mayor of Lower Hutt, Major Piero Bertocchi of the Australian High Commission, Alex Claassens of the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Union, the NZDF, the laying of Wreaths, the Last Post and Reveille, and the Memorial Locomotive Passchendaele.
Other facets of the project include an official book, souvenir tickets and a film trailer.
Planning the event
Over the last nine months a series of meetings of a special group convened by KiwiRail have been held to organise the Centennial observance of the first public Anzac Day event in New Zealand.
The Petone Anzac Commemoration Committee includes representatives from Kiwirail, the Rail and Maritime Union, the Hutt Workshops, the Petone Community Board, the Hutt City Council, Steam Incorporated, the R.S.A., and the Rail Heritage Trust.
The original observance in 1916 at Petone Railway Station was also unique in that it was a joint Australian-New Zealand ceremony, with the Australian part at Hornsby (N.S.W) timed for the same hour.
The highlight of the combined ceremony to mark the comradeship and unity of purpose of Australian and New Zealand railwaymen at Gallipoli was the unveiling of each country’s flag. At Petone: the Red Australian ensign. At Hornsby: the N.Z. Flag. It is also useful to note in view of the controversy over a new flag here is that the Australian flag was originally red.
We were not in the position to organise a special 100th joint ceremony, but representatives from Hornsby will be at Petone.
It was decided early on to retain the current time of 7 a.m. and not move the 100th event to the historic time of 3.30 p.m.
Invitations have been issued to the Australian High Commissioner and the Prime Minister.
The original event was attended by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The commemoration will include the locomotive Passchendeale. This is a memorial steam locomotive, now restored, which was named Passchendaele, in 1927, after the battle, as a memorial to railwaymen who died in the First World War.
A number of meetings have been given over to discussing the logistics of how this is done. This is why the earlier time was retained.
The plan agreed is to have the Passchendaele towed out and taken up the Melling Branch and positioned with a set of carriages at the platform at 8am. Wreaths will be laid on the locomotive. The train will then depart for Wellington with the official party. There will be two return trips to Taita in the day with tickets and 1000 seats available for the public.
Official book & SOuvenir Tickets
The book is entitled New Zealand Railwaymen at war, 1914 – 1918. Barry O’Donnell of the Rail Heritage Trust is the general editor. The publication is made up of several articles: New Zealand Railways in the First World War by Neill Atkinson. Hornsby first Anzac Day 1916 by Elizabeth Roberts. The Anzac Memorial Flagstaff by Gerald Davidson. Major Norman Frederick Hastings and Corporal Leslie Andrew V.C. by Barry O’Donnell. The 5th (N.Z.) Light Railway Operating Company by Paul Napier. New Zealand Railway Roll of Honour and Obituaries by Neill Atkinson. Published by KiwiRail, the official history will sell for $20 a copy.
Souvenir tickets will be available for travel on Anzac Day. All travel is one way: the return trip is by unit.
Film trailer, Honours board and other elements
A film trailer has been commissioned sponsored by the Light House Cinema and KiwiRail. Set to Pou atarau, and consisting of a series of pictures and text to promote the centenary, it is to be screened for two weeks before ANZAC Day at the Light House Cinemas at Petone, Pauatahanui and Cuba Street (Wellington).
It was also agreed to commission a replica Petone Honours Board, the original being lost around 2002. This is to be unveiled on Anzac Day and displayed in the Petone Railway Station, being the closest railway building to the site of the old workshops. The Hutt Workshops Passchendaele memorial will be displayed on the station platform on the 25th.
A photograph of the Petone flag flying at Hornsby has been found and Brendan Graham from Colourise the Hutt was able to colourise it.
KiwiRail will be also marking their involvement in the First World War with a special display train which will be progressively taken around N.Z. The key event is, however, at Petone.
- Gerald Davidson.