Relic in Nelson cathedral talking point for visitors.

78

As HMS Queen sailed towards Gallipoli Peninsula, anxious troops sat holding their helmets under a giant white ensign fluttering in the morning breeze.

The troops ran ashore at Gaba Tepe, which would soon be known as Anzac Cove, on April 25, 1915, under a hail of gunfire.

As the ship sailed away, the soldiers would have sneaked a look back at the departing Royal Navy ensign and thought of home, half a world away.

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General Sir Ian Hamilton soon had second thoughts about the invasion, with men being mowed down on the beaches.

He turned to Rear Admiral Cecil Fiennes Thursby, in charge of the Royal Navy invasion, about the possibility of withdrawing from Anzac Cove.

Thursby recommended sticking it out as the casualties would have been too high.

After the war, Thursby donated the 7m-long flag to Christ Church Cathedral in Nelson.

Today, the main ensign drapes the cool marble walls of the transept.

The powerful relic from the ill-fated campaign is a popular talking point for many visitors to the Anglican cathedral, which dates back to 1851.

But it's not clear how the ensign ended up in Nelson.

Nelson Provincial Museum chief executive Peter Millward said he plans to research its origins.

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Elizabeth McKee-Benbow, the church sacristan and secretary-treasurer of the Friends of the Cathedral, who also runs the cathedral guides, is also keen to discover how it came to her church.

"That part of the cathedral was finished in the mid-1960s but they were there well before that," she said.

Two smaller ensigns - which flew on HMS Colne and HMS Chelmer during World War I - are mounted behind glass.

They were donated to the church by Rear Admiral Douglas Edward Harry Boyle - a Royal Navy captain of the 1914-18 war.

Beside the ensigns hang the colours of the Nelson-Marlborough-West Coast regiment.

They were consecrated by Bishop Sadler at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on March 10, 1928.

A plaque highlights the regiment's battle honours, which include Egypt, Gallipoli, Messines, Passchendaele, the Somme, and Flanders.

"When they're gone they are gone, so we need to treasure such things when we have them," Ms McKee-Benbow said.

In another quiet corner of the church is a bronze plaque in remembrance of James Houlker, a major with the Canterbury Infantry Battalion, who was buried at sea near Anzac Cove.

The memorial plaque, unveiled a year after his death, says: "This tablet is placed here by his friends, as a lasting remembrance of a good citizen and gallant soldier."

The ensign from the HMS Queen drapes the walls of the transept.
The ensign from the HMS Queen drapes the walls of the transept.

100 Kiwi stories runs every Monday and Thursday.

To read the first 77 stories in this series go to tinyurl.com/nzhworldwarone.