My own link with the First World War is very tenuous: my parents, both now dead, were born in 1917 and 1918, only a short time before the war ended. I have no idea if my grandparents were called on to fight.
Today though I took myself down to the Wellington waterfront to watch the 100 Gun Salute to mark the centenary of when New Zealand joined the war.
A 100-gun Salute fired from the waterfront, in front of Te Papa, [was] part of an official ceremony … to mark the beginning of the First World War for New Zealand.
On 5 August 1914, Britain’s proclamation of war was read out to an excited Wellington audience of 15,000 in the grounds of the New Zealand Parliament. In response, Kiwi men rushed to sign up to fight for King and country, eager to cross the globe to reach the battlefields before the ‘short war’ ended.
…The 16th Field Regiment of the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery will fire the guns and this will be the first time a salute of this size has been held in New Zealand in over 100 years.
I expected a huge crowd to turn out for the event, but it was merely a crowd, with a lot of young schoolkids.
Before the guns were fired we had an opportunity to see them up close.
The rounds were neatly stacked at the base of each.
Once the Salute began each gun fired in turn. The air filled with gun smoke and the sound reverberated around the harbour. I thought of how the announcement of the war had kicked off years of misery for so many. I also thought of those places around the world where citizens are being fired on right now in their homes and refuges.
The schoolkids beside me were particularly excited by the smoke rings one gun produced. For them it was all about the noise and the smoke and not the occasion.
And then I ruminated on that and realised it wasn’t really about much more than that for me either. As I said earlier, my own connection with the events is tenuous at best, and those kids are 50 years younger than me.
I was chatting with a fellow beside me who said he thought the 1812 overture should have been playing. Then I considered how the 1812 defence of Russia was 200 years ago. That event is totally remote to me: I have no connection with it at all.
And so, I guess, history flows on. Hugely significant events are momentous at first, then memorable, then something parents tell their kids about, then the tales of grandparents and then they enter almost the realm of fiction, of something that maybe happened once upon a time.
They drift away like the smoke that followed the muzzle flash and the loud bang. They echo on briefly and fade away.
The display was definitely impressive, and 100 rounds take a long time to fire. Will there ever come a day, I wonder, when we can fire one round for every consecutive year of peace, prosperity and looking after the needs of our fellow humans and the animals and plants we share the planet with?
I saw only one woman in military uniform, alongside the 40 or 50 male soldiers present. She was taking photos. The men were firing guns and giving orders and standing about.
Gun number 8 must have misfired: there was a noticeable gap in firing after the first 7 shots. You can see it in the 40 second video below of the start of the Salute. Perhaps we can hope that the endless wars around the world, the endless violence towards others can be interrupted. Or will we always be at the mercy of men and their guns?
The 40 second video below shows the first few rounds being fired.