Monday, April 15, 2024

Anzac Reflections – the man, the donkey, and the quail


Header image with map, small boy with cap
Images: Canva

If you are a member of Medium, PLEASE READ THIS POST THERE. You can also subscribe and be notified each time I post on Medium.

Sculpture of a wounded soldier astride a donkey being led by a medical corpsman
(, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Man with the Donkey, Pukeahu National
Memorial Park, Wellington, NZ 

The bronze sculpture of The Man with the Donkey, by Paul Walshe, depicts New Zealand Medical Corps stretcher bearer Richard Henderson and his donkey carrying a wounded soldier from the battlefield at Galliopli in 1915. Henderson continued his work at the Battle of the Somme the next year. He repeatedly rescued the wounded while under heavy fire and was later honoured with the Military Medal.

Photo of a medium-sized tree in bloom with red flowers
Credit: Lainey Myers-Davies

The statue sits beneath a stand of Pohutukawa Trees. Also known as New Zealand's Christmas Tree, their red flowers bloom in December and provide magnificent displays up and down most of the country. Close by is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains the remains of a New Zealand soldier who died on the Somme during the First World War.


photo of a Californian quail showing distinctive brown and grey plumage
Californian Quail (Image: Canva)

The man, the donkey, and the quail

After midnight, when the traffic quietened, the man could hear the quail calling "Where ARE you? Where ARE you?" as it marched towards the tomb. 

"G’day mate," said the man. "I see you’re back on duty tonight. Smart uniform you’ve got there. I like the browns and the plume. Nice grey tunic. Very Kiwi, very Army. You are a Kiwi aren’t you?" asked the man, looking a little puzzled.
"Well I’m a Californian quail, actually. But I hatched here, so I guess that makes me a Kiwi as well," said the quail. "And thanks for the compliment – I try to look my best for him," he remarked, looking at the tomb. "He deserves it – so, do you, come to think of it."
"Just did my job for the Anzacs, mate," said the man. "If anyone deserves a fuss, it’s the donk here, not me. Must have carried a good couple of hundred wounded out of Quinn’s Post." 
The quail nodded his head towards the Unknown Warrior. "Was he there?" he asked.
"Dunno, mate," said the man. "Could have been. He copped it later on in France, possibly the Somme. I got gassed at Passchendaele. We Kiwis lost thousands on the Western Front – more than at Gallipoli."
"I was up country when they brought him home," said the quail. "About a year ago wasn’t it? What was it like?"
"Aw, mate, you missed a show. Eleventh of November it was – Armistice Day. Your Army lot did him real proud, slow-marching him here all the way from the cathedral, crowds lining the footpaths, real quiet-like, big-wigs all over the place, famous poets, padres, not a dry eye for miles. Tell you what though, that funeral march they played – it still makes me fair shiver, the way it sounded."
The quail stood silently on one leg for a while, leaning against the tomb.
"How many more guard-nights are you on for?" asked the man.
"Not sure. No one else seems to be putting their hands up. Why?"
"Strewth," said the man, sounding embarrassed. "It’s just that I could do with some company over the next few weeks – my nerves get a bit stretched this time a’year. Truth is, around Christmas this tree here starts bleeding all over the ground and I...I mean the donk doesn’t handle it too well."

In early November 2005, a Californian Quail was reported to have taken up a periodic sentinel by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the steps of the National War Memorial.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Anzac Reflections – Gallipoli missing

drawing of old buildings backgrounded by pen-writing on old paper; image of young boy with cloth cap
Images: Canva

If you are a member of Medium, PLEASE READ THIS POST there. You can also subscribe and be notified each time I post on Medium.

Photo of a large memorial with crosses on its four faces. Graves are in the foreground
New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Lone Pine,
Gallipoli, Turkey. Image: Lainey Myers-Davies

Recent research indicates that at least 16,000, possibly more than 17,000, NZ Expeditionary Force (NZEF) soldiers served at Gallipoli in the First World War (Wikipedia) in the period April - December 1915. During the entire War, the NZEF experienced a 58% casualty rate, one of the highest of any country's forces in WW1. Given that New Zealand's total population at the start of the War was just over one million, the country was hit hard by its losses. At Gallipoli, due to the extreme terrain and type of combat, 67% (1,862) of those killed were recorded as 'missing' (had no known grave). The New Zealand Memorial at Lone Pine – one of many features on the peninsula that was closely-contested by Anzac troops  – has the names of 753 missing NZ soldiers recorded on it. There are four other memorials at Gallipoli dedicated to New Zealand Anzacs.

Map showing Anzac Cove in relation to named features on the Gallipoli Peninsula
Gallipoli plateaus and ridges the Anzacs fought on. Source : Gsl at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Gallipoli Missing 



ANZAC Cove  Chunuk Bair
Courtney's Post   The Daisy
Patch   Dead Man's Ridge
Destroyer Hill   The Farm
Fishermen's Hut   Gaba Tepe
Happy Valley   Hill Q Hill 971
Howitzer Gully   Hughes Gully
Johnston's Jolly Long Sap   Lone
Pine   Malone's Gully   Monash
Gully   The Nek Otago Gully
Outpost No. 1 Overton Gully 

Plugge's Plateau   Quinn's Post…














......Taihape  Tairua   Takaka
Taumarunui   Taupo   Tauranga
Te Anau   Te Aroha   Te
Awamutu   Te Kauwhata   Te
Kuiti   Te Puke   Temuka
Thames   Timaru   Tokoroa
Turangi     Upper Hutt   Waihi
Waihi Beach   Waikouaiti
Waimate   Waiouru   Waipawa
Waipukurau   Wairoa   Waitara 
Waiuku   Wakefield   Wanaka

Warkworth   Wellington.....…..



Keith Westwater

This 'shape' poem was commended in the New Zealand Poetry Society's 2015 International Poetry Competition and published in its anthology Scattered Feathers. The horizontal bar of the cross names a few of the large number of NZ Gallipoli missing. The top portion of the vertical column identifies battle-sites and other features on the peninsula that the Anzacs fought for and over. Some of the villages, towns, and cities that New Zealand soldiers enlisted from to travel to fight in a war half a world away are listed in the lower part of the cross. All these places have war memorials naming their casualties.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Anzac Reflections – Counting Casualties

drawing of old buildings backgrounded by pen-writing on old paper; image of young boy with cloth cap

Images: Canva


If you are a member of Medium, please read this post there. You can also subscribe and be notified each time I post on Medium.


photo of sun shine on sea with stony beach in foreground
The Aegean Sea from Anzac Cove at sunset Image: Lainey Myers-Davies

April 25th is known as Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. The day commemorates citizens of the two countries who were killed in war and honours returned and serving servicemen and women. It was on this day in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops, or Anzacs as they came to be known, had their first major military action of the First World War. That action was the landing at ANZAC Cove on the Dardanelle Peninsula in Turkey at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.


photo of naval ships in background with soldiers moving up steep gullies and hills at Anzac Cove

New Zealand and Australian soldiers landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey.

Credit: New Zealand Free Lance: Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-5936-18. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22768446

Counting Casualties

Battlefield statisticians were good

at counting Gallipoli's casualties – 


2, 779 died

4, 852 wounded

67 % missing 



for how our soldiers expired

were compiled – 


died of wounds

died of sickness

died of other causes

just plain killed. 


After, when the stench

from the trenches resiled

and the rats and the flies

ran out of flesh to defile

artefacts for the dead

were erected on the Peninsula – 




Memorials to the Missing 


With no bodies for burial

home soil saw proliferation of – 


War Memorials

Rolls of Honour

Gardens of Remembrance 


Other consequences

attributable to the Expedition

went uncounted – 


holes in the fabric of families

women unwed for the lack of men

bedrooms preserved in memory of sons

suicide of boys-school headmasters

(they’d blown the recruiter’s bugle)

premature ends of those at home

(and those who made it back) – 


died of despair

died of brokenness

died of sick in the head

Keith Westwater

I wrote this poem after hearing an anecdote about a headmaster at a large school for boys who, in response to all the jingoism at the start of the First World War, actively encouraged school-leavers to enlist in the NZ Army. As lists of 'Old Boy' casualties - particularly of those who had been killed - grew, the head became increasingly depressed and died in circumstances that suggested suicide. He was probably not the only headmaster to do so. From my experience in serving in the military, I was already aware of the way the casualties of war are counted and classified. I was taken with the notion that we don't put the same effort into counting and categorising those 'back home' who also become casualties of war.


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

A contagion of unbridled smiles

Some days, on the 4.59 to Melling,

the trans clippie is slated. I know

what comes, what always happens.


I wait, watch, wonder which

nail-paint colour will greet us,

whether there'll be hibiscus


and is today pony-tail or ringlets?

'Let me alone' tokens – books, mags,

phones – topple-close like dominoes.


Kia ORA! NICE to see you! How ARE you?


Soft words course closer each clip,

lips, eyes pleated in a miles-wide smile,

cheeks, brow crinkled with aroha.


Powerless to resist, each passenger

reciprocates, swathes the train in

a contagion of unbridled smiles.


Some days, I wish every Posie Parker

had to have their visa clipped

on a rainbow trip to Melling. 

Keith Westwater

This poem was selected for publishing in the New Zealand Poetry Society's 2023 anthology, white-hot heart. Posie Parker is a British anti-transgender rights activist. In March 2023, she sought permission (by applying for a visa) to enter New Zealand. Following political debate, transgender protests, and a judicial review of the application, a visa to enter the country was granted.

'Kia ora' is a Māori greeting phrase.

'Aroha' is a Māori word for love. 

If you are a Medium member, you can read this poem here.


Search This Blog