Te Puke historian Christine Clement has researched the life of Joseph Bird, a former Te Puke School student, who was killed in action in 1915.
Joseph (Hohepa) Bird was born in 1887 at Karamuramu, Fort Galatea (near what is now Murupara), to William Henry (Willie) Bird and Kiekie Bird née Hopaia (Ngāti Manawa and Ngāti Kauae), granddaughter of Māori chief Peraniko Tahawai of Ngāti Manawa.
William Henry Bird was one of eight surviving children of William Henry Bird and Sarah Jane Bird née Leitch who had married in Canada in 1855.
In 1863 the Bird family immigrated to New Zealand from Clones, Co Monaghan, Ireland and settled near Geraldine, Canterbury.
By 1880 the family lived in Tauranga and William Bird was listed as a member of the Tauranga Workingmen's Land Association when he put his name down for 300 acres of the Te Puke block. William was the eventual purchaser of 52 acres on the west side of No 2 Rd (now Boucher Ave), Te Puke, marked by Glen Terrace.
In 1886 William Henry Bird junior (Willie) and his wife Keikie were running a store at Te Wairoa (Lake Tarawera) and were living there during the Tarawera Eruption of June 10.
Willie's brother-in-law, Joseph McRae, was running the Rotomahana Hotel at Te Wairoa.
Willie and Kiekie went on to run a store at Karamuramu, Fort Galatea, near Murupara. Willie spoke Māori fluently and became well known as a trout fishing guide in the area.
Joseph Hohepa Bird was enrolled at Te Puke School with his brother William Henry Bird on February 3, 1896, from Galatea Native School. Their younger sister Harriet Beatrice Bird attended the school from 1898.
On the October 16, 1914 Joseph enlisted as a trooper with the Auckland Mounted Rifles at Trentham Camp, Wellington and departed on December 14, 1914 with the 2nd Reinforcements bound for Egypt. After arrival there he was transferred as a private to the New Zealand Veterinary Corps.
Horses, mules and donkeys were heavily used in World War I, mainly as a form of transport, though horses had been used in a British cavalry attack in August 1914 near Mons in Belgium.
It has been estimated that more than six million horses and mules were involved in WWI and almost half died of disease or were killed in conflict.
Four thousand horses were sent from New Zealand during the First World War but only four are said to have returned home to New Zealand for a well earned retirement.
On June 30, 1915 Joseph was transferred back to the Auckland Mounted Rifles and joined his unit on the Dardanelle Peninsula.
He was killed in action on August 8, 1915 but his body was never found.
Joseph is remembered on the Chunuk Bair (New Zealand) Memorial, Chunuk Bair Cemetery, Gallipoli, Turkey.
His medals were to be sent to his son Master G G Bird, care of his grandfather W H Bird, Murupara.
Chunuk Bair was seen by those in charge of the Dardanelle Peninsula campaign, as a key point in the taking of Hill 971 on the Sari Bair range to drive Turkish defenders from the high points of the peninsula.
A two-pronged attack was to be made on the Sari Bair range with diversions from the British at Cape Helles and the Australians at Anzac Cove. In Suvla Bay, to the north of Anzac Cove, additional British and Irish troops were to land to help with the attack.
Along with Australian, New Zealand and British (7th Battalion, Gloucester Regiment and 8th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers) the 29th Indian Brigade (14th Sikhs, and 5th, 6th and 18th Gurkha Rifles) made their way from into the Sari Bair range and up towards Chunuk Bair and the other peaks. However the assault was not a success. Many of the men got lost in the darkness and rugged ground. The Suvla Bay landing was mismanaged from the start and quickly reached the same stalemate as the Anzac Cove and Cape Helles landings.
On August 6 the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the Māori Contingent helped clear the way to the Sari Bair range. The New Zealand Infantry Brigade was to meet on Rhododendron Spur, about 500 metres short of Chunuk Bair but at dawn on August 7 were still waiting for men to arrive. The attack went ahead at mid-morning and the Auckland Battalion managed to reach within 200 metres of the summit.
Under the cover of early morning darkness on August 8, the Wellington Infantry Battalion raced to the Chunuk Bair summit and found it abandoned. Some of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, as well as British troops, also reached the top, but the Turks had moved to other high points to fire on the summit. Their gunfire caused heavy casualties amongst the infantry holding Chunuk Bair, but also prevented the Otago Infantry Battalion and Wellington Mounted Rifles from reaching the crest in daylight. The New Zealanders held the summit for two days under searing heat and constant fire.
The Wellington Infantry Battalion suffered 690 men killed or wounded out of 760, including Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone, their commander. On August 10 the Turks launched a massive counter-attack and Chunuk Bair was lost. It was the only time that the Allied forces saw the Dardanelle Straits from the peninsula.
Sources: Military File, Don Bird (Palmerston North), (Auckland Weekly News)