Dear Parents, Caregivers and Friends of St Mary’s School,
Welcome back to everyone for Term Two and we are over two thirds of the way through April already.Tomorrow is one of the most important days of the year.It is the day when we remember and recognise the huge number of young men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in the great country that we live in today.
My wife’s grandfather served in the trenches of Northern France and Belgium in World War One; he had his twenty first birthday the day before the second battle of the Somme—the 15th September 1916.
As the story goes he was given a 24 hour pass to celebrate his birthday with some friends.As they were just arriving at the nearest French village they were accosted by a group of Military Police who told them that all leave was rescinded and that he, Charles Matthews, was to pack and leave immediately to train in the use of the trench mortar.
The next morning at 6.15am the Otago Battalion went ‘over the top’ and walked slowly, as they were ordered to do, towards the German trenches.The Commanding General of the British Army Field
Marshall Lord Haig’s plan had seen the German trenches bombarded by heavy artillery and poisonous gas for a week and he believed the Germans would all be either dead or terrified and surrender.
The reality was a disaster.It was the single worst day in British and New Zealand history with (over two battles of the Somme) 1.2 million casualties—many of them killed.
Many of his friends were killed and how he survived the affect of living through the ‘Great War’ had a huge effect on his life.He refused to talk with his family about the war, until one day when I met him, he was a man in his nineties at this stage, we began to talk of the Taieri area and he started to tell me about his military training in the Silverstream area and a surprise visit by Lord Kitchener.Then he just kept talking about his war experiences.I noticed that whereas before it was just the two of us in the conversation now the whole room—all of his children and grandchildren had stopped talking and were listening.After that he would discuss his memories right up to his death at the age of 102.But the saddest thing was when he showed pictures of groups he belonged to after the war—he was always the only one of his generation; the rest were all older or younger.You see his generation were all either dead or wounded.So tomorrow please remember the sacrifice that these young people made.