The rewards of courage
By Leilani Jones, Mahurangi College head girl
April 25th. The day the troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, the loss of human life, on both sides, was immense. A day symbolised by a red poppy, which has come to represent the blood spilled and the lives lost in the war. But the poppy also represents the beauty amidst the ugliness of war, hope for a peaceful future. Within the horrors of war, the Anzacs forged a legacy to be remembered for bravery, honour, kindness and, of course, hope. Today, we commemorate Anzac Day to honour our history and to pay tribute to those who have served, be that in the Gallipoli campaign – just one of many during World War I and World War II – or the more recent deployments, such as Afghanistan. We feel thankful as the freedom and peace we experience in life today is a result of their efforts.
Today, we remember these people through stories. We share these stories as we have a duty. A duty to continue the relevance and importance of Anzac Day. I encourage all of you to make the most of the time at home today to share and remember. To find those history books, diaries and photos, so that we may never forget the sacrifices made by men and women across the country. Upon looking through my family history, I found many stories, that both surprised and enlightened me.
I read through these stories of family, I felt a sense of connection. Many had grown up and lived in this area I too call home. Four of them attended Matakana School and a further three, Leigh. However today, I will share a story about John Fausett Duncan, or more commonly known as ‘Johnny’. He was just 17 when he first joined the Countless Ranfurly Regiment. He enlisted in 1939, and he wouldn’t return home again until the end of 1945, six years later. He was first sent to Egypt and as it was the early days of the war, he was tasked with building huts for many of the camps. It was in these days he wrote of seeing the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the River Nile and some of the whitest beaches he’d ever seen. This adventure is likely what many imagined when first signing up for war, but the harsh reality of war was one in which many who returned struggled to speak of. On completion of the hut construction, he underwent further training to become an explosives expert – a very dangerous but crucial role. This meant he was sent into opposing territory to create mayhem – destroying bridges and roads that were deemed significant. This rendered many German tanks ineffective and unable to travel with ease, which gave the Allied troops protection allowing them to claim enemy territory.
The battalion travelled to Greece where they trekked across Olympus to Servia, a town in northern Greece, all whilst being constantly strafed by dive bombers. The weather was against them too, as they trudged through heavy rain and snow. Nevertheless, the engineers still managed to blow up both the Servia Bridge and the Pass, but on their retreat to Mt Olympus they “ran slap bang into Jerry tanks” where they lost a lot of men. Johnny was one of three that survived, escaping to Larmea. Although he escaped, it was not without suffering the pain from the loss of so many.
Outgunned and outmanned, the New Zealand soldiers journeyed south before heading towards Corinth. One still morning, he awoke to the sound of dozens of aeroplanes and the sight of German parachutists dropping to the ground. Around 2500 he thought, to make them outnumbered 100:1. The sheer number of soldiers sent to stop them, I think, shows us the strength the group had on opposing territory against Hitler.
As Johnny was weaving through a vineyard in an attempt to escape, he stood on an anti-personnel mine. A few Greek women helped him to a house, but as there was no doctor to provide the medical help he needed, rather than let him die they informed the Germans. On Anzac Day, the 25th April 1941, he became a prisoner of war – one of 1800 New Zealand soldiers captured during the Battle for Greece – and was declared missing in action. It was not until September that Johnny’s parents were notified that he was not dead, but that he had been captured.
By the end of April, over 50,000 Allied troops were evacuated from Greece, but many of these would travel only a short distance in preparation for the Battle of Crete. Over the next few years Johnny was moved to several different prisoner of war camps and hospitals. During this time, he was given 19 operations on his foot and whilst he gradually learnt to walk once more, it was never to fully heal. In 1945, two weeks before the end of the war, he was fortunate to be liberated by US army troops and able to finally return home to his awaiting family.
So today, Anzac Day, we remember these soldiers, like my relatives, for the courage and bravery shown by all. Courage is the ability to fight and stand by your country despite knowing that there is so much to lose. Freedom and security are the rewards of their courage. We are eternally grateful to them that we have this freedom today and that despite the pandemic occurring, we are at home with our loved ones, safe. We are grateful that we will never have to understand what it feels like to go to war or to understand what it feels like for our loved ones to never return or to return wounded, either physically or mentally, never to be the same again. So today we commemorate the serving, served and fallen. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
Explosives expert John Fausett Duncan hampered German movements by destroying bridges and roads before being captured in Greece.
Anzac Day’s greater meaning
By Robbie Ennis, Mahurangi College head boy
One hundred and five years ago, New Zealanders and Australians, arm in arm with French, Irish, Indians, Canadians and English, stormed on to a foreign beach, exhilarated by the sense of adventure but also scared and confused. Also 105 years ago today, Turkish soldiers suddenly found themselves struggling to defend their own home. In a bloody defeat, the Allies would lose 142,000 men. But in an even bloodier victory, the Ottoman forces would lose 215,000 men. ANZAC day is the commemoration of New Zealanders and Australians killed in war. But to me, I feel this day spreads far beyond just New Zealand and Australia. It reaches out to all countries who fought in battle, for all are victims in war. Today I do not celebrate the Battle of Gallipoli. I do not celebrate the wars New Zealand has fought. Instead, I show my extreme gratitude to those selfless and heroic enough to sacrifice their life for the benefit of those around them and those to come. And I take time to remember and reflect upon their sacrifice, so them and the lessons they taught us are not lost in history.
By this definition of ANZAC day, I spend today remembering my English family who fought in World War I and II. My history is extensive, with eight of my relatives part of a world war. My great, great grandfather, Sir Malcom Cull, was vice-admiral to Bertram Ramsay who was in charge of all naval activities in the English Channel, which saw him co-lead the navy’s role in the famous Dunkirk evacuation, the Battle of Britain and finally the amphibious operation of D-Day. My other great, great grandfather, Douglass Ross, was in charge of a rescue tug boat evacuating soldiers from the very battle we commemorate today – The Battle of Gallipoli. However, I’d like to focus on my grandad, Desmond Ennis’s more standard family story.
Desmond was one of four brothers, named Patrick, Anthony, and Bernard. Their parents were Wilfrid and Modena Ennis. At the outbreak of the war, Wilfrid was recalled to the Royal Airforce as Wing Commander, followed by Anthony and Patrick, who became pilots. Desmond joined the Air Sea Rescue Service, spending his time searching the seas for the bodies of all nations, dead or alive. Although Bernard was only 17, he couldn’t stand being left at home while his family served, so lied about his age to join his two brothers and father in the Royal Air Force.
On the 3rd of July, 1941, during a raid over Germany, Patrick’s plane did not return, and he was listed missing in action. One year later, Anthony was shot down by a Japanese plane and was also listed missing in action. Around the same time, Bernard was sent tumbling out of the sky by his own bomb as it hit an unseen submarine.
Being a 16-year-old adventurous boy myself, I can imagine the sense of adrenaline these young men would have felt as they left home for the first time. I can just about understand the shock as they came to realise the conditions of war and the terror as they plummeted out of the sky. However, what I cannot even begin to comprehend is what Modena Ennis would have gone through as a mother. Her husband gone and all four sons voluntarily walking to a probable death; one even lying to do so. Finding out three of the four were missing; holding on to the hope that they are still alive while the realisation of their probable death sinks in. Living alone, with no one to support her; only able to wait helplessly and pray she’d be one of the lucky mothers who sees their sons again and not one to receive the feared knock on the door and telegram. War affects far more than just those who fight. Therefore, it is important we don’t forget to commemorate those like Modena, who suffered behind the scenes through these traumatic times.
Bernard survived the plane crash and was rescued after being at sea for two days. He, Desmond and Wilfred all returned home to Modena soon after the war ended. Patrick and Anthony, however, never saw their mother again. Modena was given confirmation of Anthony’s death in 1945, while Patrick’s life remained unknown for another four years. His body was finally found and buried in a British cemetery in Germany. I find it perplexing that a story so full of grief and tragedy exists in my own family only two generations back. This is why living today in a world so different; it is more crucial than ever that we don’t forget.
Despite the difference in the roles of my relatives in the war – from commanders to fighters to mothers – I commemorate each equally. All suffered and gave everything for my freedom, and to that I am forever grateful. Sadly Malcolm, Douglass, Wilfred and my grandad Desmond all died before I ever got the chance to meet them. Bernard, however, is still going strong at 96; one of the few World War II veterans still alive today. I hope one day I’ll get the chance to thank him in person.
As death sadly claims these last world war veterans, I believe it is important to consider why we gather here today. If we are only here to show our appreciation to those who served, then with no veterans alive, Anzac Day will soon become obsolete. But I do not believe this will be the case, for I feel Anzac Day holds far greater meaning. Not only do we commemorate those who fought, but we also say thank you for the world we live in today. By reflecting upon the hardships of others, we open our eyes to how lucky we are to live in peace, in plenty, and in prosperity. Therefore, I ask you today while we remember from the safety of our bubbles our loved ones who fought, to also remember how lucky you are for the life you live. Be thankful to those who served and thankful to those around you now. Appreciate the world millions sacrificed their lives for, so that their tragic stories are worthwhile.
The Ennis brothers, from left, Patrick, Anthony, Desmond and Bernard served in the Air Force and Air Sea Rescue Service during World War II.
Modena Ennis with her sons Patrick, Anthony and Desmond. She lost both Patrick and Anthony in the war.