25 April 2012

Anzac Day

WW1 memorial atop the Sugarloaf, Brooklyn
Today is the 97th Anzac Day, and the image above is one of New Zealand's huge array of memorials to the soldiers who lost their lives in 20th century wars. It sits atop the Sugarloaf, a small knoll that pokes out from the timber villas of Brooklyn, and it affords splendid views across the whole of Wellington. The inscription reads:

This monument was erected by the people of Brooklyn, in honour of those who left the district to fight in the Great War, 1914-1918.

Aside from the dozens of inscribed names of local boys who lost their lives overseas, the monument also bears the mark of a dedication. Its foundation stone was laid by Lt Col George Mitchell DSO MP - a decorated war hero who had entered Parliament as an independent by the impressive feat of deposing a sitting MP. The Evening Post of 24 April 1922 reported the following notice of the memorial dedication:

The Foundation Stone of the above Memorial will be laid by Colonel G. Mitchell, DSO, MP on ANZAC DAY, 25th APRIL, 1922. Ceremony commences at 11am. Rev. A.W.H. Compton will preside. The Institute Band will play appropriate music. A combined Choir of the four churches and friends will also take part. Conductor, Mr Hindle.
A Cordial Invitation to all Soldiers and Residents of Brooklyn.

Mitchell's electoral contest was more dramatic than most. A Boer War veteran, in World War 1 he fought in both Gallipoli and France, and he was awarded the DSO in 1918 for distinguished service in the field. And the man he defeated in the first post-war election was the firebrand union leader and pacifist, Bob Semple, who had been jailed in 1916 for opposing conscription.

Semple won Wellington South in a by-election on 19 December 1918, barely a month after the Armistice, but almost a year later at the general election held on 16 December 1919 Mitchell ousted Semple from the seat and became the only independent MP in the 80-strong House. Mitchell held the seat for only a single term and after 1922 turned his focus to local body politics and also became president of the RSA, but a lasting reminder in stone of his term as Brooklyn's MP still sits atop the Sugarloaf.

Semple, on the other hand, was to return to national politics, winning Wellington East in 1928 and remaining an MP through World War 2 and serving until his retirement from Parliament in 1954. He is perhaps best known as the first Labour Government's Minister of Works and Railways, and for the Semple Tank.
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