Yesterday was October 28, the date in history when the precursor to the Treaty of Waitangi, the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, was signed in 1835.

We remember that day not because of the early assertion of indigenous sovereignty, but rather, because it has been chosen as the day to remember the New Zealand Wars.

This is an excellent initiative. The fruits of this work will be evident when young New Zealanders can talk about the events at Rangiriri, Gate Pā, Matawhero and Ngātapa, with the ease that they can talk about Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Crete and Monte Cassino.


Although commendable, the question is, does this initiative go far enough or should Parliament go further, and amend our Anzac observance to explicitly encompass the New Zealand Wars?

I believe we should extend Anzac day to include the New Zealand land wars. We are now at a point of history where through successive Treaty settlements with multiple tribes, many of the injustices and wrongful actions of the early colonial government, including starting a number of the conflicts, have been acknowledged, and recompense has been offered and accepted.

This means we should now fold these conflicts in with the others which make up one of the most important days in the New Zealand calendar, to ensure the words "Lest we forget" also cover those who fell in New Zealand's third most costly military conflict.

It is possible to do this because the brackets around what conflicts are covered within Anzac Day are flexible.

Our Anzac Day commemorations began in 1916 when the Government gazetted a half-day holiday (later made into a full public holiday in 1921) to remember the ill-fated attempt at an invasion of Turkey on April 25 the year before.

Soldiers of Australia and New Zealand, along with those from Britain, Ireland and France tried, and failed, to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. Among the 131,000 dead (including 87,000 Turks who were defending their homeland) were 2779 Kiwis.

The losses at Gallipoli were about one sixth of the total of 18,050 Kiwis killed in World War I. Despite this cost, when it turned out that World War I was not "The War To End All Wars", as the victory medals hoped, but rather a stepping stone to World War II, an additional 11,500 of our citizens were added to the death-rolls before peace was restored once more, on September 2, 1945.

It was following this second conflict that Parliament in 1949 changed the law covering Anzac Day to state that the day should commemorate the part taken by New Zealand personnel in World Wars I and II, then with an eye to the past, added the South African/Boer War (which killed 59 New Zealanders), as also worthy of commemoration.


The stretching of Anzac Day occurred again in 1966, along with recognition of those, "who at any time have given their lives for New Zealand and the British Empire or Commonwealth of Nations". This expansion allowed commemorations to cover our military obligations in the Cold War period, that came to claim New Zealanders killed in Malaysia (15), Korea (38) and Vietnam (37).

While the evolution of Anzac Day was relatively uncontroversial, there was a limit to how willing any New Zealand government would be to remember all of its fallen.

There is an awkward silence when the question is asked, why are the New Zealand Wars from 1843 to 1872 excluded from the wars our nation has pledged not to forget.

Alexander Gillespie is a professor of law at Waikato University.