A long time coming – the story of the Parnell Station

Parnell station - with restored George Troup heritage building on siteGood things in politics never come easy and unfortunately the converse also is true. Nothing illustrates this maxim better than the protracted saga of the Parnell Station. First proposed by ARTA transport planners in 2005 it suddenly assumed political sensitivity with plans to build a major new station at Newmarket. Ontrack and ARTA (predecessors of KiwiRail and Auckland Transport) argued they first needed to demolish the splendid old Newmarket station building.   Auckland Regional Councillors objected to that. Built in 1908 and designed by the architect George Troup (known as ‘Ginger Bread’ Troup who designed the famous Dunedin Station). It was only one of five historic station buildings still on site on the Auckland commuter network. In other words it was a heritage building. So we opposed its demolition and sought ways to integrate it into the new station complex.   Early in 2006 I received a series of briefings on the Newmarket project from the CEO of Ontrack, William Peet. The problem with keeping the old station building in situ as he explained, was the lack of room for the extra track (three tracks instead of two) needed to enhance network resilience. The adjacent former rail land had been short-sightedly privatised only a few years before.

Early in March 2006, as the chairman of the ARC, I attended Parliament’s select committee on Transport & Labour Relations dealing with a petition from Campaign for Better Transport calling for restoration of rail services to Onehunga. I had earlier presented the petition on behalf of CBT to the local Onehunga MP and former  transport minister Mark Gosche who chaired the select committee.  Mark was supportive of reopening the Onehunga Line and it was his idea to hold hearings on the issue.  I presented along with the chairs of Ontrack and the chair of ARTA; the three of us side-by-side. The only trouble was my submission, which strongly supported restoring Onehunga services was at odds with those of my two colleagues. I even had to (politely) correct my colleagues during questioning. This rather bemused the MPs. At that point the chair of ARTA (Brian Roche now CEO of NZ Post), living up to his reputation as a problem-fixer suggested that the three chairs ‘go away and talk about it.’ This we did.

The discussions were held in the splendid art deco boardroom of the Wellington Railway Station. There William Peet made a proposal.   Ontrack would recommission the Onehunga Branch Line provided the ARC lifted its objections to the removal of the Newmarket station building. I agreed but added a condition that the station building be preserved and relocated to a suitable nearby site i.e. the historic Waipapa Valley in Parnell.  This was agreed and I took the deal back to my colleagues at the ARC. Peet was good as his word. In late March a press release from the office of the Deputy PM, Michael Cullen announced provision in the forthcoming budget of $9m for rebuilding the Onehunga Branch Line and $5m for the storage and relocation of the Newmarket Station building. Construction then got underway and the brand new Newmarket Station complex was opened in January 2010. For its part the Onehunga Branch Line was reopened before a massive crowd in September 2010.

Onehunga services have proved to be very popular, with well over 1 million trips per year, far exceeding projections. Interestingly Onehunga was the first line to be electrified. Then in November 2010, after Ontrack was reorganised into KiwiRail, the ARC disappeared and Auckland Transport became the new mega transport agency in Auckland.

Despite these changes late in 2011 enabling work started on lowering the track gradient at Parnell. There had been some debate about the location of the actual station. Ontrack had wanted it further down the hill next to the rail bridge, being closer to the University, but I argued with the support of the Parnell community, this would not serve the Parnell Village, nor the Museum, ‘a Museum station’ always an important consideration in my mind (besides a 100 year old heritage building would look out of place in overlooking Stanley Street). Despite the track enabling work being completed in 2012, and a strong business case, (it is projected to be the 4th busiest station on the network), Auckland Transport management have postponed completing and opening the station from 2013 to, to 2014, to 2015, to 2016 .

In March 2015 work finally began by AT on building the two platforms, access road and turnaround and a new underpass to the Domain and Museum. This has been completed and KiwiRail, after some argey-bargey, have relocated the Cullen funding to restore the station building which has been in storage these last seven years at Swanson.

Unknown

But late in 2015 Auckland Transport management advised that the opening the Parnell station to services scheduled for 2016 would be postponed indefinitely until the building of a road bridge at Cowie Street to replace the Sarawia Street level crossing near Newmarket. The overbridge is hotly disputed by local residents who backed by engineers have proposed instead a more inexpensive, less environmentally intrusive underpass. This dispute is going to the Environment Court and is another story. Auckland Transport’s position seems to many Parnell people suspiciously like holding the whole Parnell community to ransom for technically dubious reasons. I have challenged management over this and AT is reconsidering its position. Meanwhile KiwiRail intends to have the heritage station building on site and restored ‘before the end of the year’. The Waitemata Local Board has offered to contribute funding for a pedestrian access via a Carlaw Park link to the University. As noted Parnell Station when it opens is predicted to be the 4th busiest on the network – with over 2000 passengers alighting there on a week day morning. ‘When’ being the operative word. The local business association Parnell Inc and the Parnell Community Committee fed up with continual delays are fully engaged. The battle is not yet over but be in no doubt we are going to win it. It goes to prove the point– good things in politics never come easy.

A version of this article appears in the April edition of Ponsonby News

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Too bloody big for its boots – Auckland Council arrogance sparks citizens’ backlash

After years of disruptive change, rates and user charge increases, and various scandals, Auckland really did need a period of political stability and civic calm. But no. Last November, the Council’s Unitary Plan committee, in secret meetings led by deputy mayor Penny Hulse and committee chair Alf Filipaina, supported by three other councillors and an unelected Independent Maori Statutory Board member, pushed through massive changes to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan. In a series of narrow votes, two on the casting vote of the chair, nearly 30,000 properties (more than in the original Unitary Plan) were ‘up-zoned’ across Auckland. Most of these are on the isthmus, including parts of the Waitemata & Gulf Ward, notably Westmere and to a lesser extent Parnell. In 2013, supported by Shale Chambers and Waitemata local board members I successfully battled to protect these single house townscapes (along with most of Grey Lynn) from intensification in the first version of the Unitary Plan.

 This time there was no notice, no warning, no right for affected property owners to be heard or make submissions. The principal target for council planners was the single house zone – one or two storey homes on traditional lawn and garden sections. Thousands of householders who believed themselves safe from the original notified Unitary Plan changes, and who therefore did not make a submission, found that their homes and neighbourhood zonings had been suddenly changed ‘out-of-scope’ to allow for mixed-use, town houses and apartment buildings. Thousands of other single house owners whose properties escaped the planners’ latest attentions suddenly found themselves living very close to future high-rise buildings, often with possible loss of cherished views and even sunlight. On top of this – schools and their playing fields across central Auckland have also been zoned for intensification, incentivising the development of even these islands of open space (and therefore putting more pressure on public parks).

Once the full implications of the changes filtered out there were widespread outpourings of public anger. The interests and civil rights of Auckland ratepayers, betrayed by their own council, were taken up by a group of concerned citizens, ‘Auckland 2040’, whose indefatigable chair Richard Burton is a public hero. ‘Auckland 2040’ experts maintain there is already sufficient capacity in the Unitary Plan to cater for major population growth. Indeed, as an example there are 54 apartment developments currently underway in central Auckland.

The council’s massive un-notified change to zonings is essentially another example of business deregulation, which would make Auckland even more of a free-for-all for the development lobby. Interestingly some young ‘climate change’ activists lined up with big business to support the changes. ‘Generation Zero’ argues that the all-out assault on the historic garden suburbs of Auckland is a good for young people, taking as an article of faith vague promises from the developers of ‘affordable housing’ close to the desirable city centre. They also believe a further round of intensification will force more people to use public transport. Sadly they have bought into the endless growth ideology and are not too bothered about the wider environmental impacts of overcrowding (sewage disposal for instance) nor indeed, as they freely admit, about the loss of people’s democratic rights and due process.

The weird assumption that unsustainable growth and urban overcrowding is the formula for quality of life and better public transport ignores the fact that in 1956 when Auckland’s population was below 300,000, incidentally a time when nearly all Aucklanders lived in single houses, public transport patronage was over 100 million trips per year. 80 million of those trips were on Auckland’s electric tram system built in 1904 when the population was less than 100,000. Now Auckland’s population is 1.5 million and despite the injection of massive amounts of ratepayer/taxpayer cash, public transport patronage is still only 80 million trips per year. However this assault on due process and property-owners’ rights cannot be blamed on a handful of bloggers and misguided activists.

The real pressure for the un-notified changes is coming from the powerful vested interests led by the NZ Property Council – the arch lobbyist for big developers, supported by the board of Housing New Zealand and foreign-owned Fletchers. Awkwardly in 2011 the Auckland Council which is meant to be the statutory planner and regulator, decided to become a member of the NZ Property Council. With its CCO’s it is now the biggest fee-paying member. For a regulator this is a massive conflict of interest.

Mayor Len Brown claims the Unitary Plan changes had the full backing of the government. As a matter of fact this government has had a most unusual degree of influence over the Unitary Plan and the detested SHAs. In other parts of New Zealand and in Auckland prior to the Super City, regional and district planning was solely a regional council and city/district council responsibility. But in the case of the Auckland Unitary Plan, the government put it in place special fast-tracking legislation and government ministers appointed key members of the ‘Independent Hearing Panel’. Ministers also appointed the private sector directors on the board of Housing New Zealand, whose tax-payer funded lawyers are hard-line allies of the NZ Property Council before the hearing panel. That being said, what Len Brown seems to have forgotten is what John Key personally told him at a joint meeting between the Governing Body and cabinet ministers last July at which I was present. At that meeting the prime minister advised the council to exercise restraint in imposing more intensification and high-rise on what he called the ‘leafy suburbs’ of Auckland.   The council chose not to take this sensible political advice and pushed ahead with its secret plans.

This is another case of council arrogance but this time it over-reached itself. The public outrage set off a councillors’ revolt. Last Wednesday at a marathon extraordinary meeting of the council’s Governing Body, before a packed and vocal public audience, a majority of councillors overruled the unconvincing advice of senior planners and lawyers, swept aside the protestations of Mayor Brown and deputy mayor Hulse and voted to dump the undemocratic changes. I was proud to be among them.

This article appears in the Ponsonby News March 2016 edition

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A funny thing happened on the way to the airport – the trams versus trains debate

 

People and Trams - Angers, France   (Chan collection.) Trams are for mass transit rather than rapid transit.

People and Trams – Angers, France (Chan collection.)
Trams are for mass transit rather than rapid transit.

Readers who’ve followed my political career will be aware that I am a long time advocate for ‘light rail’ – by that I mean trams, sleek high-tech versions of which are rolling out on city streets across Europe and North America – and of course Australia. (In this article I will use the American term ‘light rail’ and European word ‘trams’ interchangeably]. I also support heritage trams – as the chairman of the Auckland Regional Council I was responsible for getting the popular ‘place shaping’ heritage tramway built in the Wynyard Quarter.   The trouble is – the Wynyard tramway was never meant to stay in the Wynyard Quarter – it was to be extended along the waterfront to the Britomart Transport Centre using both heritage trams and state-of-the-art modern trams to pick up cruise ship visitors on Princes and Queens Wharf while shuttling weekday commuters from Britomart to their new Wynyard Quarter offices.  Despite overwhelming public support for this idea in public submissions to the Waterfront Plan in 2012 (43% of public submissions responded with ‘do now’, 30% said ‘do soon’, 13%  said ‘do later’, 13% said ‘don’t do’ – that is 73% or even 86% support) – the waterfront extension has been blocked, essentially due to opposition within the Super City bureaucracies.   Whatever the real reason behind this, what has become clear is that the bureaucrats don’t appear to fully appreciate the ‘city building’ benefits of trams, which go together with people and civic spaces much better than buses (or indeed for that matter trains). Blocking future trams on Quay Street and insisting they run on Customs Street along with the North Shore buses and the rest of the heavier traffic planned for this corridor misses a unique opportunity to showcase both light rail and Auckland’s waterfront while servicing the growing number of cruise ship visitors ferry users, waterfront hotels, apartments and entertainment areas.

Its been just on 60 years since the Auckland’s highly successful 72 km electric tramway which carried over 80 million passengers per year – when Auckland’s population was less than 300,000 was terminated, trams bulldozed, lines pulled down and tracks dug up. Aucklanders have been paying dearly for that blunder ever since. Today with a population of 1.5 million Auckland’s total public transport patronage is still less than that what it was in 1956. The long 60 year interregnum also means today’s transport managers despite being recent converts to light rail are still coming to terms with the mode – both its strengths and for that matter its limitations.

 Recently a debate has broken out involving trams (the future use of) to the airport. In this case officialdom (Auckland Transport management) is pushing hard for trams as our future rapid transit option between the downtown CBD and Auckland International Airport. Up until recently there was an agreement between the parties (Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, NZTA, KiwiRail and Auckland International Airport) reached in 2011 to extend electric trains from the Onehunga to the airport and then eventually southeast to the main trunk line at Puhinui. Work to start some time in the 2020s.

However a business case has recently been produced by Auckland Transport indicating a tramway extending from the end of Dominion Road to the airport would be significantly cheaper than the rail option from Onehunga. I have serious reservations about the figures used and some of the assumptions. Without going into detail, probably the most glaring weakness in the ‘business case’ is that electric rail to Onehunga (only 10 km from the airport) actually exists – unlike the Dominion Road tramway which at this stage exists only in the imagination. My concern is that just as with the Quay Street situation where officialdom doesn’t appear to ‘get’ the potential benefits of light rail – the airport debate suggests it also may not understand its limitations.

So lets briefly some up the case for and against trams and trains to the airport. Trams have the benefit of being a flexible and very efficient form of public transport. Modern electric trams can service busy city streets, like buses, (‘street car’ mode), but can carry much more people (12,000 per hour) and in greater comfort (and more quietly) than diesel buses which can carry 2,500 per hour. Trams can also perform like trains on their own dedicated corridors.   But electric trains (commuter rail) carry even more people (48,000 per hour) and go even faster.  This is not just due to the superior power of EMUs, train stations tend to be spaced between one to three kilometres apart whereas tram stops are spaced only 350 to 800m apart.   Trams on Dominion Road I am sure will be a great boon in the future for people and businesses in the Dominion Road area, but looking at it from the passengers point of view (often overlooked) for weary travellers and their baggage, keen on getting to the central city, multiple tram stops are not something one imagines many will appreciate. Even less so in the case of anxious travellers wanting to get to the airport.  When I visited the Gold Coast last year to inspect their brand new tramway, the managers emphasised to me not to forget a key point – light rail mean ‘mass transit’ – not ‘rapid transit’.

Its an intriguing debate but it will need to be settled by next June when Auckland International Airport will be making key decisions regarding its second runway and new terminals.   The stakeholder steering group of the multi-party airport rail planning process (which carries the hopeful acronym SMART) which I chair has recommended that a working party made up of technical experts from the key agencies and the airport company, work together to come up with the best option for Auckland and our vitally important international airport. I will keep you posted.

Mike Lee is the Auckland Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf Ward and the council appointed chair of the SMART (Southwestern Multi-modal Airport Rapid Transit) Stakeholders Steering Group

 This article is featured in the February 2016 edition of Ponsonby News.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Next up from the Super City – plans to flog off public assets and parks

Privatising the Ports of Auckland has long been the ambition of the New Right.  Bruce Jesson and I stopped them in 1992 with the backing of Pam Corkery and the Alliance and the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders..  The ARC through its holding company ARH secured 100% ownership in 2005.  Auckland Council senior management are determined to sell.  Stand by for a fight,

Privatising the Ports of Auckland has long been the ambition of the New Right. Bruce Jesson and I stopped them in 1992 with the backing of Pam Corkery and the Alliance and the overwhelming majority of Aucklanders.. The ARC through its holding company ARH secured 100% ownership in 2005. Auckland Council senior management are determined to sell. Stand by for a fight,

Late on Friday afternoon, 13 November, a thick document landed on my desk – marked in bold red capitals ‘Embargoed until 10am Friday 13 November’. (!) I knew exactly what the EY (Ernst & Young) report was going to say, so to avoid ruining my Friday evening and the whole weekend – I stuck it in my briefcase without opening it.

As it happens it turned out to be a horrid weekend anyway – because the next morning, the dreadful terrorist attacks took place in Paris. Ponsonby has a strong cultural connection with France – and we have a small but vibrant French community – as anyone reading ‘Ponsonby News’ would know.   These connections go back to the very beginnings of Auckland and have much to do with the legacy of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier who lived here and gave St Mary’s Bay its name. To the French members of our community I extend my condolences and solidarity. An attack on Paris is an attack on civilisation itself.

On Sunday evening, still depressed by the weekend’s events I finally dealt with the EY report. There were two reports actually – the second report was from Cameron Partners. (Dear reader Auckland Council does not stint ratepayers’ money on these sorts of things – the two reports together cost nearly half a million dollars.) Despite the costs the quality of the reports is unimpressive and unashamedly biased towards the same old neo-liberal agenda – privatisation of public assets.

Having pushed rates increases and the level of borrowing as high as it dares Auckland Council management, rather than dealing with costs is casting about for more money. EY’s key recommendations are the partial or full sell down of council shares in Auckland International Airport; partial or full sell down of the Diversified Financial Assets portfolio (global shares and bonds inherited from the ARC); partial of full sell down of Auckland Energy Consumer Trust (not legal); commercialising Watercare ie increasing householder charges in order to privatise); and finally a ‘long term lease’ of Ports of Auckland – in effect a full sell-down of the company.

The Cameron Partners report is more oblique and couched with euphemisms such as ‘asset recycling’. Essentially its conclusions are similar to EY’s – with somewhat more emphasis on selling off ‘community assets’ eg golf courses and prime areas of regional parks.

There is a deep irony here and apart from the costs of these reports. The Council has spent a huge amount of money on consultants in its continuing quest to come up with more funds. The previous big spend was on the three-year process to find alternative funding for transport eg. road tolls, motorway charges etc. As it turned out none were feasible – or more to the point, legal. In the end ratepayers simply got slammed with a $110 plus gst ‘transport levy’). Despite my urging, council management has refused to have its own administration costs reviewed to identify savings.

Three egregious examples of over-the-top council spending on itself come to mind.

The first is IT. Over half a billion dollars has now been spent so far on a system that still does not work properly.

Staff costs. The Auckland Council 2015 Annual Report indicated Council staff numbers (including CCOs) increased from 11,122 to 11,380. At the same time, officers earning more than $100,000 increased from 1,720 to 1,912, including 146 now earning over $200,000 and 36 earning over $300,000. The Annual Report also revealed total staff costs for 2014/15 were budgeted at $729m but they came in at $792m – $63m over budget and $62m more than the previous year.

Accommodation. A couple of years ago the Council bought the former ASB Bank office tower for $104m and then proceeded to spend another $53m to bring it up to its high standards. The Council then evicted rent-paying commercial tenants and moved in en masse.   The perfectly functional 18-storey, 14,000 sq m Civic Building has been left standing empty for over 12 months, meanwhile CCOs and Independent Maori Statutory Board pay millions every year to rent swank, mainly waterfront offices.

 This council seems to be only interested in getting its hands on more income not controlling its costs. Like a congenital spendthrift it refuses to face up to the fact that it has a serious spending problem. It is now, with a little help from the finance sector attempting to hawk-off the family silver left to it by its more responsible predecessors.

The deep irony is that while the council professes to be looking for ‘alternative funding’ – that is alternative to rates and user charges – the Airport Company dividends ($39m in 2015), the offshore Diversified Investment Asset earnings ($23m in 2015) and the dividends from the Ports of Auckland ($41.7m in 2015) constitute the one source of alternative funding that does not come from Auckland ratepayers. There will be a showdown early next year but be aware and on guard.  Rust never sleeps.

A similar article has been published in the Ponsonby News December 2015 issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Auckland’s unique heritage townscapes – if we want to keep them we may have to fight for them

The beautiful Erewan Victorian villa in Jervois Road, Herne Bay. (1905-2015),  Photo Jason Oxenham NZ Herald.

The beautiful Erewan Victorian villa in Jervois Road, Herne Bay. (1905-2015), Photo Jason Oxenham NZ Herald.

 It was predictable but still disappointing that Auckland Council has revealed there is no heritage merit in thousands of houses and buildings across the garden suburbs of Auckland – effectively leaving them open for demolition. The protective net temporarily cast over large parts of the older city has now been hauled in and only 18% of the housing stock within has been found to merit protection. One could argue about the assessment criteria but let us put that to one side for the moment because it is fair to point out that the news is not all bad. Fortunately for much of the inner city, the historic quarters of Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Grey Lynn, and Parnell etc, retain their existing ‘residential 1 zone’ (soon to become ‘historic character zone’) protection. Many of these zones have actually been expanded though several blocks of art deco apartments in Herne Bay inexplicably have missed out. However thanks to the hard work of the Council heritage department some extra 9000 houses across the city, previously unprotected, have been found to merit protection. It should be pointed out that in the ‘Super City’ the difference between protection and destruction can often be a slim one. Despite their historic and aesthetic merit, buildings, some of them dating back to the 19th century, have been demolished or removed on a regular basis. The recent ‘disappearing’ of the beautiful Erewan villa in Jervois Road comes to mind.

This brings me to the controversial ‘pre-1944 demolition control overlay’ that lies at the centre of the council’s present heritage protection strategy.

This has been both vaunted and criticised, as a ‘blanket control’ similar to Brisbane’s ‘pre-1940’ heritage building protection rules. I had much to do with the adoption of this measure by the Auckland Council after meeting a heritage architect from Brisbane, Peter Marquis-Kyle, after a radio interview with Chris Laidlaw. In Brisbane, as Peter told Radio NZ listeners, planning rules absolutely prohibit the demolition of any building in the inner city in existence up to 1940 (unless there are compelling grounds, like safety). Inspired by what I learned about Brisbane, I lobbied hard for a similar approach in Auckland. In this I was firmly supported by heritage advocates like Sally Hughes, Sandra Coney, Allan Matson, Shale Chambers, the Character Coalition, and the Heritage Advisory Panel backed by a public angered by the Council’s poor performance on heritage protection. What Auckland actually got however, while superficially similar to Brisbane’s – is something quite different.   Unlike the Brisbane rules, all that Auckland’s so-called ‘blanket protection’ means is that before demolishing a building within the ‘pre-1944 overlay’, the owner has to obtain a resource consent. Given citizens are obliged to obtain resource consents for a whole range of routine activities, this is really no big deal. Despite this, the pre-1944 overlay has drawn heated criticism from the developer lobby led by the NZ Property Council and the other usual suspects. While pressure from vested interests is to be expected, what is really worrying is that the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel, which is currently adjudicating on Auckland’s future planning rules, joined the developers’ chorus. In July the Unitary Plan Panel issued an ‘interim guidance’ to the Council warning it to drop the overlay protection.  The Council has quite properly chosen to ignore this advice. To abandon the overlay process at this late stage, would have been completely farcical. All the Unitary Plan Panel has achieved, in my view, is to signal to the public that the panel is dominated by a group of deregulatory zealots. Panel members apparently believe that requiring a consent to smash down a building with prima facie evidence of heritage value places, ‘unnecessary constraints and burdens on landowners seeking to develop their property’. In the world of the Unitary Plan Independent Hearing Panel, apparently ‘property rights’ (of developers not neighbours), and money-making trump public good and Auckland’s civic responsibility to protect its unique built heritage handed down by our ancestors.

That is not I suggest the formula for a sustainable civilization – let alone a liveable city. So where do we go from here?

Auckland’s pre-1944 overlay, while a pale shadow compared to Brisbane’s straight-out ban on demolition, is at least a good start. It is proving to be coherent and robust – so far.

The next step is to ensure that those historic buildings that have been left out are put back in, and those areas and buildings that have cleared the Council’s very high assessment bar are given meaningful protection. A genuine Brisbane approach making demolition of buildings in the ‘historic character’ zones non-complying or even prohibited activity under RMA, is what we should be demanding. This is not the end of the matter because in another twist to the story, the council has informed the Unitary Plan Panel that it intends to review the previously agreed ‘single-house zones’ with the intent to reduce them from 32% of Auckland’s housing stock to just 10%. If this happens, thousands more single-house sites across the city will be opened up for mixed use, infill and high-rise. But these single-house zones also are the basis of our ‘historic character’ townscapes. There seems to be a mixed message coming from the Council. However the hardline views of the Unitary Plan Panel are quite clear and mean our historic townscapes are still under threat. The upshot of all this means that Aucklanders can not rely on what comes out of the Unitary Plan Hearing Panel to safeguard our built heritage. If we want to keep it, we may have to fight for it, quarter by quarter, street-by-street, house by house.

 This story was published in the Ponsonby News November issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Completing the vision of Auckland’s Great War generation

 

Auckland War Memorial Museum 1929

Auckland War Memorial Museum 1929

For some three years now the Council has been contemplating the best way to formally commemorate the centenary of the Great War. In November last year I was appointed the chairman of the World War One Centenary Memorial Working Party and tasked to come up with an answer. The working party included Colin Davis, Greg Moyle and Sandra Coney, from the Orakei, Waitemata and Waitakere Local Boards respectively, and my Governing Body colleague Cr Chris Fletcher. After careful thought and debate we decided not to embark on a separate new monument, be it a traditional heroic sculpture or something more contemporary. The Auckland War Memorial Museum in its matchless setting must be one of the most superb war monuments ever built, so anything new should compliment and not distract from this much-loved cultural treasure.

Auckland’s War Memorial Museum designed by Auckland architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, and cenotaph were completed in 1929. The unique idea of a museum being at the same time a war memorial was quite inspired. Both the neo-classical museum building and the cenotaph, the empty tomb, (modeled on the cenotaph in White Hall brilliantly designed by architect Sir Edwin Luytens), were constructed of imported Portland stone. This is the same radiant sandstone from which were quarried the 580,000 Imperial (now Commonwealth) gravestones and many of the Great War monuments erected across northern France and Belgium.

So mindful of this history we looked for something modest and functional, to be of practical use for everyday visitors to the Auckland Domain but that would be at the same time an aesthetically worthy enhancement to the present War Memorial Museum, the consecrated ground of the Court of Honour and Cenotaph – and moreover something that could be seamlessly integrated with that complex.

Our recommendations then was to construct what is best described as a ‘processional way’, aligned on the Museum’s central axis, down the northern grassy slopes before the Museum to the Domain Drive, where it is envisaged there will be an entrance ‘contemplative feature’, including a stair case, connected to the pathway. (Across Domain Drive there is another walkway directly linked to the new Parnell train station.) This proposed pedestrian way and contemplative entrance would enable both casual and formal ceremonial access to and from the Museum. (This is a broadly similar concept to that first proposed by City Engineer James Tyler in 1932.)

Court of Memories concept as depicted in 1934

Court of Memories concept as depicted in 1934

The proposed centenary memorial is to honour not just the fallen and those soldiers who did return but also their families and all those generations of Aucklanders personally affected by the consequences of the Great War – and all wars.

On Anzac Day the Mayor made the first public announcement that Auckland Council, hopefully with the help of the Government, would create a centenary memorial in the Auckland Domain and that the memorial would be in place by 2018.

The Council’s Governing Body backed up that commitment by including in the Long Term Plan the first $1 million to begin what we estimate to be a $3m project. Additional funding options, including a public subscription, will be considered to cover the possible balance required.

Over the last few months a design brief has been prepared and a progress announcement made by myself on behalf of the Council at the Chunuk Bair service at the War Memorial Museum on 8 August.

On 14 September at a meeting of key stakeholders gathered in the Town Hall council chamber, I announced the next stage of the project – a request for expressions of interest (REOI) – the Council’s formal invitation to multi-disciplinary teams of designers to register their interest to design this memorial. The REOI period closes on 9 October, tender details are available on the following website link: https://www.gets.govt.nz/AC/ExternalTenderDetails.htm?id=16587682

The Council will then go through a process of selecting a short list of multi-disciplinary teams who will then be invited to submit a final set of designs to be put before the public early in the New Year.

Within the guidelines set out in the brief, the final design and aesthetic details have been left with room for some creativity. Albeit we are requiring, as the people of Auckland would expect, that the proposed memorial must respect, harmonise with and compliment the Auckland War Memorial Museum building and Cenotaph.

This project we believe will be of deep public interest to the people of Auckland. The working party is striving to achieve a balance of encouraging design excellence from expert professionals while at the same time being inclusive of the public in selecting the final design.

I am very proud to be associated with this project. I hope it will be a tribute of 21st century Aucklanders to the vision and commitment of that generation of soldiers and civilians and their civic leaders, who inspired by collective grief and reverence for the fallen, who first raised up the great monuments which today are our Museum and Cenotaph. Now with the young soldiers in foreign fields, all of the Aucklanders of those times lie united in death. What better way to express our gratitude for what they bequeathed to us than to fulfill their uncompleted vision.

Mike Lee is the Councillor for Waitemata & Gulf and the chairman of the Auckland Council World War One Centenary Memorial Working Party.

This article was published in the Ponsonby News October 2015 issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Much to do before we achieve world-class rail services in Auckland

Britomart and electric trainsA couple of weeks ago I took the train out to Henderson to attend a Council meeting. Riding the brand new EMU as it powered quietly and smoothly along a corridor now amazingly free of graffiti and weeds, past attractive modern stations (the opening ceremonies of each I recalled attending over the past 10 years), I mused on the long struggle to get where we are today. I confess readers to feeling felt a momentary glow of pride.   But enough of that. The recollection that 90% of the complaints I receive about Auckland’s public transport are about rail services soon brought me back to earth. The truth is there is still much to do before we achieve world class rail services in Auckland. Despite the brand new EMUs, on-time performance is definitely non-world class. For instance punctuality on the Eastern Line in June was a hopeless 60.9%! – and with new electric trains. This is not some technical teething problem, electric trains had been running the Eastern Line for many months at that point. And passengers and train staff complain of unacceptable levels of anti-social behaviour and fare evasion (the two go hand-in-hand). The evasion problem is largely due to the lack of station gates outside of Britomart and Newmarket to go with the ‘Hop’ smart cards. The lack of these gates over most of the network means in effect we are operating a voluntary payment system on our trains.

Disconcertingly, after recent time-tabling changes, rail services on the western line are running slower than they did back when Britomart first opened. We didn’t really spend $1 billion on electrification to have slower services, did we?   And despite strenuous public objections, passenger services to Waitakere have been withdrawn (for the first time in over 100 years) and planned extensions to Kumeu despite the enormous growth in that area have been put on the never-never. I was recently told by a disgruntled Pukekohe train commuter of a widespread belief among her fellow passengers that the Pukekohe shuttle services have become so unreliable that Auckland Transport management must be trying to drive away customers (as some critics claimed happened with Waitakere), thus removing the need to electrify the line to Pukekohe. The conspiracy theory is baseless but sadly that’s what these customers believe.   Even more serious for the long term financial sustainability and expansion of Auckland’s rail services is the disproportionately high operational costs of running the network.   This year ended June it was a staggering $159m. For the previous year, June 2014 when Auckland and Wellington rail services carried almost an identical amount of people (11.5 million trips), not counting the large NZTA subsidy, Auckland ratepayers coughed up $43.3m for train services whereas Wellington ratepayers paid only $18.8m for theirs. At the same time Wellington Metro collected $43.26m in fares whereas AT managed to recover only $30.63m. This year ended June, Auckland ratepayers’ contribution increased to $52m and while patronage went up by 22% to 13.9 million trips per year, revenue increased only by 16%. Auckland Councillors under pressure from the public fed up with rates increases, have called for an investigation into this, which is now underway. A contributing factor may lay in the fact that in Wellington services are a matter between the Wellington Regional Council and KiwiRail. In contrast the Super City’s rail services management system is a complex, unwieldy ‘too many cooks’ arrangement of Transdev, KiwiRail, and of course Auckland Transport (AT) – which is demonstrably too expensive, inefficient, and allows too much room for dodging accountability. Auckland’s long-suffering rail passengers and ratepayers deserve better than this. Along with the brand new electric trains, which AT promotes as ‘quieter, better, smarter’, we need a similar level of improvement to the way we manage our rail services, if Aucklanders are indeed to get world class public transport.

Mike Lee is the local councillor for Waitemata & Gulf ward, the chair of the Council’s Infrastructure Committee and a director of Auckland Transport.  He is also a member of the Public Transport Users Association.  He writes in his role as a councillor.

A variation of this article appears in the September issue of Ponsonby News and a short version is on the NZ Herald website.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chunuk Bair Day speech

Chunuk Bair centenary memorial service

Michael Lee Auckland Councillor and chairman of the Auckland Council World World One Centenary Memorial Working party

140

Today, just over one year into the centenary of the Great War we commemorate a most important war anniversary for New Zealand.  The capture of Chunuk Bair was one of New Zealand’s greatest feats of arms.

Three months after the ANZAC landings in April 1915, after the failed offensive at Cape Helles, the Gallipoli campaign had become stalemated.  An audacious plan to outflank the Ottoman Turkish defenders by seizing the heights of the Sari Bair range was conceived.  From these heights the narrows of the Dardanelles, the seaway to Constantinople and to the Black Sea could be seen and dominated. While the August offensive was to be undertaken by the British and French armies, soldiers of many nations were involved. apart from New Zealanders and Australians there were Irish, Welsh, Indian, English, French, French African colonial troops and the French Foreign Legion.  The task of spearheading the assault though was given to the New Zealanders.

The offensive began on 6 August when British, French, Irish and Indian troops at the cost of heavy casualties launched attacks at Cape Helles.  French troops also attacked Turkish positions on the Asian side of the Dardenelles; and the British landed troops at Suvla Bay to the north of ANZAC cove. At the southern end of the ANZAC perimeter, Australian infantrymen, climbed out of their trenches and charged the Turkish machine guns at Lone Pine. Nearly 2000 Australians were to become casualties at Lone Pine alone.

That night the main attack got underway, spearheaded by 1600 men of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles and the 480-man Maori contingent.   Their job was to clear out the Turkish defensive positions guarding the approaches to the heights.  The next morning with four out of the five strong points taken, they were relieved by the NZ Infantry Brigade, which was to scale the final kilometre to the summit of Chunuk Bair.

Meanwhile down below, at the Nek, Australian light horsemen (like the NZ mounteds their horses were left back in Egypt), charged in three waves; 375 light horsemen were killed sacrificing themselves in this way.  The episode is immortalised in the closing scenes of the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’.

Then ordered to attack at mid-morning, three companies of the Auckland battalion assaulted up the slopes.  Despite taking heavy casualties, (300 men, nearly half the battalion was wiped out), the Aucklanders captured the position called ‘the Pinnacle’, just 200 metres from the summit.  The Wellington Battalion was ordered up next but its commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to send his men, as he put it to ‘commit suicide’, arguing for a night attack instead.  A row ensued. Malone got his way.

In the pre-dawn darkness the attack went in and as the sun rose 700 or so Wellingtons assisted by Auckland mounted riflemen and elements of the Gloucester and Welsh Pioneer regiments captured the summit. The Dardanelles and victory was in sight.  Malone’s men now had to hold against the inevitable Turkish counterattacks.

The late Maurice Shadbolt was inspired by the drama and heroism of the Chunuk Bair saga to write his famous play ‘Once on Chunuk Bair’.  In his book ‘Voices of Gallipoli’ (1988), Shadbolt quoted the decorated Gallipoli & Western Front veteran Ormond Burton.  After the War Burton became a Methodist minister and an outspoken peace activist.  (Some of you may remember the old man in the 1960’s and early 70’s preaching and leading marches against the Vietnam War). Burton was also an historian, rated both as a soldier and as a writer by his commander Major-General Sir Andrew Russell.

In his 1935 book chronicling the history of the NZ Army in the Great War, The Silent Division – New Zealanders at the front 1914-19’, Burton wrote of Chunuk Bair: ‘Every man on that ridge knew that the thin line of New Zealand men was holding wide open the door to victory, and that it must not close – must not.’

All that day, 8 August, New Zealand-led forces on Chunuk Bair, principally the Wellingtons, running low on ammunition and water, fought off wave after wave of Turkish counter-attacks.  Personally led by Malone they mounted desperate bayonet charges to push back the enemy. Burton wrote: ‘How men died on Chunuk Bair was determined by how men and women had lived on the farms and in the towns of New Zealand.’

Battle of Chunuk Bair

By nightfall, all but 70 of the 700 or so men who had captured the heights that morning had been killed, Malone with them.  The exhausted survivors were finally relieved by the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Otago Battalion.

The New Zealanders held on for another long day of grim fighting until relieved that evening by two battalions of British troops that had come up from Suvla.

But within hours a massive counterattack by five thousand Turkish troops organised by their commander Mustafa Kemal, (later Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey), swept them from the summit.

Again it was only the grim defence of New Zealand troops that stopped this human wave from sweeping all the way to the beaches. 9000 Turks had been killed or wounded in the fighting around Chunuk Bair.

But for the Allies, with the loss of the heights, chance of victory at Gallipoli, the capture of Constantinople; the dream of ‘knocking Turkey out of the war’, linking hands with Russia and a quick end to the War was all over.

Instead Great War would drag on for more than three more years, millions more would die.  The heroism and sacrifice of our young soldiers, it could be concluded then, was all for nothing.   But Ormond Burton for one, would not accept this. He saw at least some good in it.

He wrote: ‘The way men died on Chunuk Bair is shaping the deeds yet to be done by generations still unborn in this land of ours…When the August fighting died down there was no question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.’

It is important if those bloody and desperate events are to have any meaning, the present generation of New Zealanders must ensure that Chunuk Bair, and its significance for this nation is not forgotten; and that the memory is passed on to future generations.

Let us do so, so that the heroic sacrifice of those brave young NZ soldiers, pakeha and Maori – indeed the soldiers of all those nations in that battle 100 years ago was not completely in vain.

To this end I am reminded of the words of the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke:  ‘Our society is a contract between three interested parties, the dead, the living and the unborn.

photo

As part of our duty to honour the contract Burke spoke of, the Auckland Council, as announced by the Mayor Len Brown on ANZAC Day, with the help of the NZ government, has pledged to build and complete by 2018, the centenary of the ending of the Great War, a memorial to honour not just the fallen, but all those generations of Aucklanders affected by the tragic consequences of that conflict – and by wars in general.

After much thought we have decided not to embark on a separate new monument – the Auckland War Memorial Museum and cenotaph must be one of the most superb war monuments ever built.  Rather it is to complete broadly the scheme what was envisaged in the 1930s by that generation of Aucklanders most affected by the War, the people who built this Museum and cenotaph.

Our preference is for something simple and understated.  Integrated into the Museum complex it is to form what is best described as a pedestrian or processional way, on the northern grassy slopes before the Museum, aligned on the central axis of the Museum, designed to enable both casual pedestrian and formal ceremonial access from Domain Drive, where there will be an entrance ‘contemplative feature’ connected to the pathway progressing up the slopes to the Court of Honour and the War Memorial Museum.

It is still early days, but engagement with stakeholders will commence shortly and key stakeholders and the public will be kept up to date on progress throughout the project. A design brief has been completed; expressions of interest are soon to be sought from professional designers.

The selected designers will provide concept designs which are expected to be provided by the end of this year, and will be made public at that time.  We are requiring proposed centenary memorial must respect, harmonise with and complement the Auckand War Memorial Museum building.

With this announcement we renew the pledge of remembrance bequeathed to us 100 years ago and pay our homage to the heroism of all those young men in the Battle of Chunuk Bair and in the fighting yet to come.

We will remember them.

157

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chunuk Bair must not be forgotten

 

Battle of Chunuk Bair This month we will be already one year into the centenary of the Great War. August 2015 brings a most important war anniversary for New Zealanders, one of New Zealand’s greatest feats of arms, the capture of one of the key heights of Gallipoli, Chunuk Bair.

Three months after the ANZAC landings in April 1915, after a failed offensive at Cape Helles, the Gallipoli campaign was stalemated. An audacious plan to outflank the Ottoman Turkish defenders by seizing the heights of the Sari Bair range was conceived. From these heights the narrows of the Dardanelles, the seaway to Constantinople and to the Black Sea could be seen and dominated. The task of spearheading the assault was given to the New Zealanders, but it was long odds. One problem was that approval for the plan came too late. The Turks had realised the vulnerability and had fortified the heights.   When the offensive finally got underway on 6 August they were ready. At the southern end of the Anzac perimeter, wave after wave of Australian infantrymen, climbed out of their trenches and charged the Turkish machine guns at Lone Pine in a diversionary attack. Nearly 2000 Australians were to sacrifice themselves in this way.

As part of the same offensive, British and Indian troops launched a diversionary attack at Cape Helles, while French troops did the same on the Asian side of the Dardanelles.   British forces landed in force up the coast at Suvla Bay.

That night the New Zealanders launched the main attack, spearheaded by 1600 men of the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Mounted Rifles and the 500-man Maori contingent.   Their job was to clear out the Turkish defensive positions guarding the approaches to the heights. The next morning their job  done, they were replaced by the NZ Infantry Brigade, which was to scale the final kilometre to the summit of Chunuk Bair. Meanwhile down below, Australian light horsemen (without their horses) charged at the Nek, 375 men were killed. The episode is immortalised in the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’.

Ordered to attack at mid-morning, three companies of Aucklanders charged up the slopes. Despite taking enormous casualties, (300 men, nearly half the battalion were killed), they captured the position called ‘the Pinnacle’, 200 metres from the summit of Chunuk Bair. The Wellington Battalion was ordered up next but its commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to send his men to ‘commit suicide’, arguing for a night attack instead. He got his way.   In the pre-dawn darkness the attack went in and as the sun rose 700 or so Wellingtons assisted by Auckland mounted riflemen captured the summit. The Dardanelles and victory was in sight. The New Zealanders now had to hold against the inevitable Turkish counterattacks.

The late Maurice Shadbolt was inspired by the drama and heroism of the Chunuk Bair saga to write his famous play ‘Once on Chunuk Bair’. In his book ‘Voices of Gallipoli’ (1988), Shadbolt quoted the decorated Gallipoli & Western Front veteran Ormond Burton. (After the War Burton became an outspoken peace activist. Some may remember the old man’s impassioned speeches against the Vietnam War in the 1960s). In his 1935 book The Silent Division’, Burton wrote of Chunuk Bair: ‘Every man on that ridge knew that the thin line of New Zealand men was holding wide open the door to victory, and that it must not close – must not.’ All that day, 8 August, the New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair, running low on ammunition and water, fought off wave after wave of Turkish counter-attackers. Led by Colonel Malone they mounted desperate bayonet charges to push back the Turks. Burton wrote: ‘How men died on Chunuk Bair was determined by how men and women had lived on the farms and in the towns of New Zealand.’

 By nightfall, all but 70 of the 700 or so men who had captured the heights that morning had been killed, Malone with them. The exhausted survivors were finally relieved by the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Otago Battalion.   These held on for another long day of grim fighting until relieved that evening by two battalions of British troops who had come up from Suvla Bay. But within hours a massive counterattack by thousands of Turkish infantrymen organised by Kemal Ataturk swept them from the summit.

The chance of victory at Gallipoli, the capture of Constantinople; the dream of ‘knocking Turkey out of the war’, of joining hands with Russia, and a quick end to the war was all over.

The Great War would drag on for more than three more years, millions more would die. The heroism and sacrifice of our young soldiers, it could be concluded then, was all for nothing.   But Ormond Burton would not accept this. He saw at least some good in it. ‘The way men died on Chunuk Bair is shaping the deeds yet to be done by generations still unborn in this land of ours…When the August fighting died down there was no question but that New Zealanders had commenced to realise themselves as a nation.’

This 8 August then it is up to us, the present generation of New Zealanders to ensure Chunuk Bair is not forgotten and that the heroic sacrifice of those New Zealand soldiers 100 years ago was not completely in vain.

 This article features in the August issue of Ponsonby News

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembrance and legacy – Saving St David’s

The following is a speech I made at a very special commemorative event organised by Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s on Thursday 23 July 2015.

I wish to thank Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s for inviting me here to speak this evening. Apart from being the local ward councillor (Waitemata & Gulf) I am also the chairman of the Auckland Council’s Heritage Advisory Panel – and it was through this role that I first made the acquaintance of the remarkable Paul, the Friends, and of this wonderful church.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I want to talk about heritage – which another way of saying ‘remembrance’ and ‘legacy’ This is what this event this evening is all about.  When you think about it ‘remembrance’ and ‘legacy’ are reciprocal terms presupposing a relationship, specifically our relationship – and our duty to the past and our obligation to the future. In this I am reminded of the words of the 18th century statesman Edmund Burke: ‘Our society is a contract between three interested parties, the dead, the living and the unborn.’

On this theme, the 20th century German art philosopher Walter Benjamin, went somewhat further when he wrote. ‘There is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Our coming was expected on earth. Like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power to which the past has a claim – that claim cannot be settled cheaply.’

In this season of remembrance – during the centenary of the Great War, it is important that we acknowledge the claim of the past and our duty to honour that claim.

St David’s and what it stands for is an important element of that past. Not just a notable example of Auckland’s built heritage – but St David’s is also quite unique.

It was built as Auckland’s soldier’s church by the generation of returned Great War soldiers and by the bereaved and damaged families of the soldiers who never returned.  Accordingly, its foundation stone was laid on ANZAC Day 1927; and when it was completed it was formally dedicated as ‘the Soldiers’ Memorial Church.’

St David’s was built with features, innovative for the time, for returned soldiers: a ramp for the wheel chairs of the disabled, specifically the many young men who had lost their legs, or who had been paralysed by battle wounds.

There are also electric listening posts along the pews for the many who returned with their hearing impaired.

A number of carved marble and gold-leaf embossed plaques inside the building remind of us the special relationship with the fallen of both World Wars. Another distinguishing feature are the beautiful stain glass windows.   Among the most striking is a unique depiction of Christ among the Maori and blessing the people of Oceania and the people of Jerusalem. (The artist depicts Christ breaking through barriers of time and space between the Palestine of the time of his ministry, Aotearoa and the South Seas.)

One of the superb, unique stain-glass windows at St David's church

One of the superb, unique stain-glass windows at St David’s church

The relationship with the military has been reinforced by the long association of the Royal NZ engineers with St David’s. The soldier’s church has stood resolutely and proudly on this site for more than 88 years.

In recent times the future of St David’s has been under some discussion – there are financial concerns and the need to adapt to a changing social environment. But a group of congregation members, led by Paul Baragwanath have made it clear that they wish St David’s to be retained and to this end they have formed the Friends of St David’s. Many thousands of Aucklanders would agree with their cause.  Certainly my Heritage Advisory Panel does. We wish the St David’s parish community well in their endeavours to find a solution.

Art of Remembrance Project website http://www.RememberThem.nz
 Friends of St David’s Trust website http://www.SaintDavidsFriends.org.nz
Col. Louisa O'Brien, Paul Baragwanath & Mike Lee at St David's

Col. Louisa O’Brien, Paul Baragwanath & Mike Lee at St David’s

On the evening of ANZAC Day this year, (I know many of you were here for that event) which of course was the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, St David’s was reverently bedecked with a most special artwork. The artwork, by Max Gimblett ONZM, entitled ‘the art of Remembrance, comprises thousands of brass quatrefoils.

For the last three months, the spangled quatrefoils – as if to remind us of the true value of this building and what it stands for – has shone with a golden aura. The effect is particularly striking in the rays of the evening and early morning sun – bringing to mind the words of the Ode: ‘At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.’

Each quatrefoil has been silk-screen-printed with seven unique designs. I have remarked on their collective aura but taken individually each quatrefoil is the about the size of an outreached soldiers’ hand. The designs on each artwork are abstract – for some, they represent the human presence – perhaps even the splash of blood. For others they see in the quatrefoil, the form of a cross or the form of a flower.

This artwork was a gift from Max to the Friends of St David’s and to the people of Auckland – but it has captured the imaginations of people right across New Zealand.. There have been responses and messages from Invercargill to Kaitaia.   The quatrefoils have been a very popular means of fund-raising and I am told there are still some available. The Art of Remembrance display comes to an end this Monday.   On behalf of the people of Auckland I want to say to Max Gimblett – thank you.

And I also again wish to express my thanks and admiration to Paul Baragwanath and the Friends of St David’s.

Saving St David’s for future generations would be a noble way of honouring the claim the past has on us – to honour the fallen soldiers and that generation of Aucklanders who built this church.

To return to the theme of the Great War centenary, I wish to draw your attention to an auspcious forthcoming anniversary. The capture of the heights of Chunuk Bair in August 1915 was one of NZ’s greatest feats of arms and the nearest the ill-starred Gallipoli campaign came to military success. Hundreds of NZ soldiers – hundreds of Auckland soldiers – gave their lives in that heroic action. It was where Cyril Bassett earned the Victoria Cross. The centenary of the Battle of Chunuk Bair will be the 8th August, 2015. A memorial service and wreath laying to honour the memory of the fallen and the men who fought there, will be held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum at 11.00 am 8 August.

Lest we forget.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment