Petone Flagpole ANZAC Day service unique in honouring railway fallen

                      

The Anzac Day service at the base of Petone railway station’s memorial flagpole is remarkable for its focus on railway staff involved in war service and its historical significance as one of the first Anzac Day observances.

The services is the only one in the country which specifically remembers railwaymen and back in 1916, it is believed to be the first observance in New Zealand attended by members of the Government.

It is inextricably linked with the erection at Petone station of a commemorative flagpole to mark the Gallipoli landing, made from kauri and Australian hardwood to symbolise “the unity of Australian and New Zealand railwaymen in peace and war”. The old station has since been demolished, but the flagpole was partially restored in 1985 and completely refurbished in 2005.

The origins of the event stem from the practice at Sydney’s Hornsby Railway Depot in the first months of World War I, of providing a public send-off for railway workers joining up for military service.

Gerald Davidson & Sherril McNabb in their 2006 publication ‘Til the day breaks: World War 1 Memorials in Petone take up the story:

“For the fifth send-off set down to be held in March 1916 the Hornsby Railway Patriotic Committee decided that the railway station would be decorated with flags symbolic of the Empire, the Union Jack, the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand flags.

“But rather than purchasing a New Zealand flag to complete the display, an idea was put forward that there be a exchange of flags between Hornsby and a depot in New Zealand, with the ceremonial unfurling of both at the same time.” Petone was the New Zealand site chosen.

“Plans for a ceremonial, nearly 60 foot, flagstaff were quickly prepared. Workshops staff built the pole, with fittings, symbolically using NZ Kauri (top-piece) and Australian Hardwood.

“On account of the Australian flag not being ready and a clash with the embarkation of the 10th Reinforcements on that date, it was decided to postpone the ceremony to 25 April, ANZAC Day. Railway records show while the pole had been made for the earlier date, the erection work took place later and was recorded as completed on 8 April.”

Among the dignitaries present were the Prime Minister William. F. Massey, the Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, Sir Francis Dillon Bell (Leader of the Legislative Council) and Railways Minister W. H. Herris as well as Railways General Manager E H Hiley.

“A similar ceremony was held in Hornsby, NSW, where the New Zealand flag made by the Petone Workshops Trimmers Department was raised by the daughter of the NSW Governor, Miss Adeline Strickland on the station flagpole adjacent to No. 4 platform. “

ANZAC services at the Railway Station quickly lapsed. They were revived in 1953 and became an annual event until 1973.

The Flagstaff was taken down for restoration in June 2004 with Greater Wellington Regional Council, Hutt City Council, Rail Heritage Trust of NZ and Tranz Rail sharing the $16,000 cost.

A small ceremony was held on Anzac Day 2005,to mark the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing and services have continued on Anzac Day morning ever since. Thirty-seven New Zealand railwaymen lost their lives at Gallipoli, one of them being South African War veteran Major Norman Frederick Hastings who worked at the Petone Workshops as a fitter. Hastings served with the Wellington Mounted Rifles and died at sea aged 35 from wounds received at Chunuk Bair in August 1915. Davidson and McNabb record that In 1919, Railways authorised the erection of Honours Boards to commemorate 438 railwaymen who had fallen in active service. Thirteen boards were to be erected - one for each railway district and one for each workshop.

The Railways Department official list was published on 31 March 1920 with the names of 444 killed or dying of wounds. A Memorial Tablet engraved with 446 names was unveiled in the Railways Head Office on 28 April 1922 by the Prime Minister William Massey.

Davidson and McNabb say that all told, 7,529 railwaymen saw military service in World War One almost exactly half of the railway workforce.

Sources: Gerald Davidson & Sherril McNabb: ‘Til the day breaks: World War 1 Memorials in Petone, 2006.