Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Kiwi war heroes immortalised in gift memorial

New Zealand's first VC winner Cyril Bassett, left, with later winners Charles Upham, centre, and Willie Apiata.
New Zealand's first VC winner Cyril Bassett, left, with later winners Charles Upham, centre, and Willie Apiata.

A memorial plaque immortalising Kiwis awarded the Victoria Cross during WW1 has been donated to New Zealand by the UK Government.

Sixteen New Zealanders won the highest award for gallantry and bravery during The Great War 1914 - 18.

Their citations, written in matter-of-fact English, read like blockbuster Hollywood scripts - of single-handedly wiping out machine-gun posts and disregarding mortal injuries to drag wounded mates to the safety of the trenches.

On Friday at Lancaster House in London, The Duke of Kent and the Senior Minister of State Baroness Warsi presented 11 bronze memorial plaques to commemorate the 175 men from overseas who were awarded the honour.

They're made up of Christchurch carpenters to Danish aristocrats and American doctors.

The eleven plaques will be sent to New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, US, Pakistan, Nepal, Denmark, Belgium, and Ukraine.

New Zealand's decoration, inscribed with each Victoria Cross holder's name, is being sent here under instruction to be displayed in a "prominent location".

Baroness Warsi said the plaques, which form part of the UK's official First World War Centenary programme, are intended to be a symbol of gratitude from the people of Britain towards those who fought during the First World War.

"It is important to remember this was a truly global war, one which pulled in people from every corner of the earth," she said. "I am determined that we ensure that people of all backgrounds and of all generations learn about the courage and heroism of their forefathers a hundred years ago."

August 5 this year will mark the centenary of New Zealand declaring war on Germany.

Before the armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers on November 11, 1918, more than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas during the bloody conflict, with at least 18,000 dead and over 40,000 wounded.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said each name represents "a story of gallantry, embodying the values of courage, loyalty and compassion that we still hold so dear".

"By putting these memorials on display in these heroes' home countries, we are sending out a clear message: that their sacrifice ? and their bravery ? will never be forgotten."

New Zealand's Victoria Cross winners

Cpl Leslie Andrew

Cpl Cyril Bassett

Sgt Donald Brown

Pte Thomas Cooke

Pte James Crichton

Sgt Samuel Forsyth

LCpl Samuel Frickleton

Sgt John Grant

Sgt Reginald Judson

Sgt Henry Laurent

Pte Henry Nicholas

Lt William Sanders

Capt Alfred Shout

Lt Percy Storkey

Sgt Richard Travis

Cpl Lawrence Weathers

A carpenter's heroism

One of the heroic deeds highlighted by the UK Government in unveiling the plaques, was the case of Christchurch carpenter Henry James Nicholas.

A towering bronze sculpture withstood the shaking in his hometown almost a century later to commemorate his self-less actions on the Western Front of World War One.

As a private with the 1st Battalion of the Canterbury Regiment, Nicholas won his VC during an attack on Polderhoek Chateau in the Belgian countryside on December 3, 1917.

When his Lewis machine-gun section was pinned down by strafing fire, Nicholas took matters into his own hands by rushing the enemy stronghold.

He promptly shot the officer in command and overcame 16 Germans with bombs and bayonets, capturing four wounded prisoners and a machine-gun.

"He captured this strong-point practically single-handed, and thereby saved many casualties," his citation reads.

"His exceptional valour and coolness throughout the operations afforded an inspiring example to all."

In a later incident, he won the Military Medal for "fearless leadership and contempt of danger" by helping his over-run unit slip an enemy attack.

Just three weeks before the end of the war, on October 23, 1918, he was killed during a shoot-out with a German patrol near the French town of Le Quesnoy.

- APNZ

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