Gallipoli trip a family pilgrimage for top brass

By Claire Trevett

Defence Force chief Jerry Mateparae will make his first visit to Gallipoli on Anzac Day to remember a grandfather he knew only as a youngster and whose part in the Gallipoli campaign he uncovered only recently.

Lieutenant General Mateparae's grandfather arrived at Gallipoli with the first Maori contingent which left New Zealand in February 1915.

He will mark that service with the trip he is taking with a delegation of Defence Force staff, veterans and students to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Lieutenant General Mateparae said he chanced on the link while researching for a speech. He had had the opportunity to visit Gallipoli in February when in Istanbul, but had refused it so that his first visit would be on Anzac Day.

"I just thought this is a pilgrimage of sorts and I wanted to do it on Anzac Day."

The trip has had its hiccups - the Air Force Boeing was delayed in its departure by about five hours for a repair and on the second day the delegation halted at Penang rather than moving on to Dubai because of issues over air space clearance.

Lieutenant General Mateparae said he was not overly concerned with the delays, although it meant a long day for the final day of travel - about 13 hours of flying from Penang to Dubai to Istanbul then a seven-hour bus trip. The group was due to reach Cannakale this morning (NZT).

Lieutenant General Mateparae said although a few of the older veterans were more fragile, they were in all a resilient bunch. He said the unscheduled stop had the benefit of giving Malayan vets a chance to revisit their old stamping grounds.

The hotel site was a beachside leave centre in wartime for servicemen stationed nearby.

Lieutenant General Mateparae said he had also asked the flight's captain to announce when the plane flew over Borneo to give the veterans a view.

"I think it's all part of the journey, so I'm relaxed about it."

The veterans seemed philosophical about the delays - Morris Johnstone, a World War II vet, said the unexpected changes added to the adventure, while fellow vet Arthur Dixon said that after fending for himself for 22 years he was now being cosseted.

"I don't have to worry about it, I don't have to cook the meals, so if we get there we get there, if we don't, we don't."

The delegation to Gallipoli has also uncovered links within the Defence Force itself.

Two Royal New Zealand Air Force technicians discovered their ancestors had fought together both at Gallipoli and then on the Western Front.

Both were captured and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy where they were in a group of five that later escaped after digging a tunnel with an iron bar and cutlery.

About 25 students who won their places in a writing competition are also on the trip.

Send us your messages and memories of loved ones who have served in past wars or to people currently serving in the armed forces.

You can also post a message directly in the Auckland War Memorial Museum's official Book of Remembrance.

- NZ Herald

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