Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

British officials dismiss 'Anzac whitewash' fears

Photo / Alan Gibson
Photo / Alan Gibson

British officials are defending their plans for commemorations of World War I amid fears recognition of New Zealand's role could fall victim to an "Anzac whitewash".

A spokeswoman for the British Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the UK would be commemorating the "huge contribution and sacrifices made by members of Armed Forces from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries" during centenary events over the next four years.

British First World War Commemorations Minister Helen Grant recently met High Commissioners from both New Zealand and Australia to discuss the commemorations, the spokeswoman said.

"We are clear that Britain could not have prevailed without the contribution of our Commonwealth partners and our plans for the centenary will fully reflect that."

There are fears domestic politics could drive British officials to gloss over New Zealand's role in World War I, in what some are calling an "Anzac whitewash"

British government sources confirmed that internal briefings on World War I commemorations did not mention Australia or New Zealand once. Instead, staff from departments and Cabinet offices had been told to concentrate on other British Empire contributions by soldiers from countries such as Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Australian media reports the "Anzac whitewash" is driven by a bid to win political and economic favour in multicultural Britain.

"It's basically to remind Britons the First World War wasn't just soldiers from here fighting in France and Belgium but involved people from Lagos, Kingston and the Punjab," a government insider told News Corp. "There has been no mention of old Commonwealth allies like Australia or New Zealand but more interest in celebrating the role from new Commonwealth countries. I think it's fair to say Commonwealth ties are being frayed a little on this one."

British author and commentator Murray Rowlands is quoted as saying it was a disgrace New Zealand and Australia's efforts were being ignored.

"The British pretty much lost the war in July 1918, they were in retreat, and it was the Australians and New Zealanders who got put into the gap."

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Chris Finlayson who is in charge of New Zealand's commemorations said he had met his British counterparts a couple of times, "and nothing of the sort's been raised". However he added that if they intended to "whitewash us out of history" they were unlikely to tell him so.

Former Labour Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff said he hoped New Zealand wouldn't be ignored in Anzac commemorations.

Mr Goff said with about 100,000 New Zealanders mobilised during the war out of a population of barely a million at the time, of which 18,000 were killed and 60,000 wounded, "there was scarcely a family left untouched in New Zealand and we imagine the British will be fair and acknowledge that point".

RSA national president Don McIver said that with centenary preparations he had been involved in "there has been a strong spirit of co-operation and understanding between all those nations who were involved in the conflict".

Massey University military historian Glyn Harper said he felt the News Corp report was an overreaction.


Lest we forget ...

British World War I centenary commemorations

• Begin with "Memories of August 1914" which takes place in late July in Liverpool.

• A national series of commemorative events starts on August 4 with a service for Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow Cathedral, an event at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium, and a candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey.

• The English Premier League is to build a football pitch in the Belgian city of Ypres, the site of one of the war's major battles, by November 2014. The pitch will host a tournament marking the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce in 1914.

New Zealand commemorations

• Begin in earnest on April 25, 2015, with a commemoration of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli.

• Te Papa will hold a major exhibition starting this year including a 200sq m reconstruction of trenches at Gallipoli.

• A centenary programme at Auckland War Memorial Museum including online projects, annual programmes and commemorative events.

• A Field of Remembrance project with white crosses to be placed at sites throughout the country to commemorate the fallen. They will be brought together in 2018 at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.

- NZ Herald

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