Members of the public are invited to visit Eden Park for a unique commemoration next month, to mark 100 years since the first All Blacks captain, Dave Gallaher, was killed in World War I.
Gallaher perished in the Battle of Broodseinde on October 4, 1917. Wednesday October 4 this year will see him and the 491 other New Zealand soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in that battle, honoured at Eden Park. The 12 other All Blacks who died during World War I will also be remembered.
Eden Park CEO Guy Ngata says it is fitting that Eden Park has worked with Auckland RSA, the Fields of Remembrance Trust, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association and the Passchendaele Society to create this event, given the stadium is home to a stunning bronze sculpture of Dave Gallaher.
“We are proud to host this special and emotional ‘Mates on the Field’ event to pay tribute to those lost at Broodseinde, including Gallaher, who led the 1905 Originals, captained Auckland and was a stalwart of the Ponsonby club,” Mr Ngata says.
The tribute to the fallen soldiers will include a giant poppy represented on Eden Park’s hallowed playing surface and 492 personalised white crosses erected on the field to honour each of the Kiwis killed at Broodseinde. A further 12 crosses will honour the other All Blacks who lost their lives in WWI.
“We will be offering free stadium tours every hour on the hour from 9am, incorporating the on-field memorial, and the public will also be able to stay for a Dusk
Ceremony, including the laying of wreaths and the playing of The Last Post, from 6.30pm.”
The ceremony will also feature a Warbirds fly past, the New Zealand Navy Band and All Blacks legend Wayne Shelford leading a haka by the Defence Blacks and several of Auckland school First XVs.
In addition to the on-field display, a moving tribute will see the names of 492 New Zealand soldiers lost at Broodseinde displayed throughout the day on stadium signage.
Commemorative footage will screen on the two video scoreboards at either end of the field. A wreath will also be laid in front of the Dave Gallaher sculpture at the stadium’s north entrance.
Limited edition ‘Dave Gallaher memorial’ pins will be sold on the day to raise funds for the Fields of Remembrance Trust.
Fields of Remembrance Trust Vice Chairman and Auckland RSA president Graham Gibson says the event is the first in a series of Auckland events staged to mark 100 years since WWI’s infamous Passchendaele offensive and he is extremely grateful to the Eden Park Trust for hosting the event.
“The Passchendaele Offensive (known as the Third Battle of Ypres) took place from July 31 until November 10, 1917. It involved a series of assaults, including the Battle of Broodseinde, against German forces holding the plateau overlooking the city of Ypres, Belgium.”
“On October 4, 1917, the New Zealand Division was tasked with seizing part of the Broodseinde Ridge called Gravenstafel Spur. They were successful in achieving their objectives but success came at a terrible price with the loss of 492 lives.”
Among the casualties was Gallaher, who led the 1905 Originals on their celebrated tour of Britain, France and North America.
He had previously served in the South African War and was 40 when WWI broke out in 1914, but when a younger brother was killed in action, he lowered his age to enlist.
In 1917 he went to Europe as a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment, New Zealand Division. In the attack on Gravenstafel Spur, Gallaher was shot. He died later that day, aged almost 44.
Gallaher lies in Flanders Fields at Nine Elms British Cemetery, buried with his mates under the silver fern. His name lives on in the Gallaher Shield, awarded to the winner of Auckland’s premier club rugby competition since 1922.
Dave Gallaher was one of 13 All Blacks killed during WWI.
The others were Albert Downing, Henry Dewar (Gallipoli, 1915), Frank Wilson, Robert Black (Somme, 1916), George Seller, James Baird, Reginald Taylor, James McNeece Messines, 1917), Hubert Turtill, Ernest Dodd, Alex Ridland (Somme, 1918) and Eric Harper (Palestine, 1918).
Additional Passchendaele commemoration events will take place on October 12 at the Auckland Domain and Auckland War Memorial Museum to honour the 2412 New Zealanders who never came home from the Passchendaele Offensive.
- For further information visit www.edenpark.co.nz/matesonthefield.