Lest We Forget
My Great Grandfather Walter Relf Pearless was the oldest man to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Aged 60, he had already served in South Africa in the Anglo-Boer war in 1902; for which brave service he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with 2 Clasps, and promoted to Surgeon Lieutenant Colonel. In 1914 he and his son Walter Hugh were the first men to sign up from Nelson Province. (The Memorial Gates at Wakefield were built to honour their memory, and the district gave them each a fine horse.)
Leaving Egypt, they and landed at Anzac Cove on April 25th, 1914; where Walter quickly established a Field station. Casualties were serious, with Walter’s battalion suffering 20 killed, 89 wounded and 101 missing on that first day. They moved further up the ridge, and, though wounded, Walter cared for those attacked by the Turks, with 835 casualties in Week 1. By September, severely ill from debilitating Enteritis, he was admitted to hospital in Malta; and when recovered, he headed back to Alexandria. He was the Consulting Surgeon on the Tahiti, carrying repatriated solders back to New Zealand. Walter had a few weeks to recover, before embarking on the he hospital transport ship, ‘Inverness.’ He worked at the huge transit camp at Codford, as the Senior Medical Officer. Walter returned home in 1918 serving the Medical board certifying men, mostly conscripts, fit for service overseas. Walter attempted to embark on another tour of duty, but his request was ‘firmly but gratefully declined’. His family definitely needed an income, but due to dismal paper war bungling, his ‘right of passage’ for a military pension was declined.
So, at the age of 64, and in frail health, he was faced with the rebuilding of his medical practice in Wakefield. He died, worn out and ill from his life’s activities in saving and treating others. His funeral was held with full military honours, and was one of the largest seen in Wakefield.
Three of Walter’s sons also served their country overseas, in both WW1 and WW2. His doctor son Walter Hugh also battled the influenza epidemic which swept the world with the return of troops from WW1.
WW1 had killed 16,500 New Zealanders in four years. Yet, in just eight weeks the flu wiped out another 8,600. Hugh did outstanding work, and his efforts were tireless during this pandemic as the only Doctor in a huge area.
My grandmother and her sisters were involved in growing and preparing vegetables, and cooking soups in huge cauldrons, then delivering food to suffering families around the district, using Walter Relf’s pony trap.
While hating war and the grief and pain it causes, I am proud of the courage of my ‘grandcestors.’ They were God-honouring folk who obeyed the call of their Government to fight for freedom and to protect their families. WW1 was supposed to be ‘the war that ended all war’, but people don’t seem to learn from their mistakes. Hardly a family in this country wasn’t damaged by death, maiming, and loss caused by mans’ hate, greed, arrogance, and cruel weapons of all the wars we’ve participated in.
Now, in 2020 we are in the thick of another world war. This time, not against a country, or group of people; but against a common enemy. All around the globe, scientists and medical personnel are desperately trying to defeat Covid. There are many similarities with the Spanish ‘Flu that crippled the world following the horrors of WW1.
We’re all called to do our part. Some are front-line with healing and caring for he sick. Others are part of essential services, Our heroes in the Covid war are the delivery drivers, the home care, hospital and medical people. We are grateful for the postal deliveries, the rubbish collections and unsung workers who keep our lives safe and comfortable. The rest of us have a duty too. We’re expected to reduce the risk of viral transmission by staying at home, limiting contact with others, and cheering each other on from the lonely sidelines as we try to squash the impact of the common enemy Covid. We’ve sacrificed individual freedoms for the greater good, which is what is required of us.
This is the first ANZAC Day in 102 years when the Dawn Services and Citizen’s Services have been forbidden, the annual events when we gather at the War Memorials through cities and little towns nationwide. We meet to remember those who gave their lives, and to honour the dwindling, shuffling parade of veterans. Yet, in our own bubbles, we can quietly give thanks to God for the way we have been allowed to grow up in a free country, not facing persecution for our religious beliefs. We have food, clean water, and shelter. We have a caring, responsible government, and we should all be grateful for our blessings. We can also promise to do everything within our power to bring peace to this world. That may be by sharing our bounty with those who are needy. It may be by giving of our time to help refugees adapt to life in a new country. We may feel God nudging us to offer friendship and kindness to the lonely and disabled.
This too is our ‘war effort’, and our ‘reasonable service’. God’s Word tells us that “from those who have much, is much expected.”
As we ponder the horrors of war that robbed us of so many fine people, let us be peace-makers in our community.
“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the Children of God.”
Peace and God’s blessings,