Being New Zealanders of European descent means that when traveling in that part of the World it is worth finding out a little about the areas our ancestors left in the early and late 19th century to start a new life at the other end of the earth.
For most who traveled to NZ by sailing ship the trip took around five months. The passengers were usually not allowed to disembark at ports of call along the way for fear that they would abandon the trip given the unappealing prospect of more months at sea. Ship board life was cramped and tedious, for many it would have been their first sight of the sea let alone traveling across it for months. Sea sickness was a problem and disease took it’s toll on the young in particular. Then when they got to New Zealand the land was untamed, infrastructure, if it existed, was primitive, and for the very early arrivals, the locals still had a reputation for enjoying human flesh. It is intriguing to find out why they left.
Then for many families, the sons and grandsons of those early settlers returned to fight for “King and Country” during World War 1 and a disproportionate number of the colony’s young men were to die on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey or on the battle fields of Belgium and France. A little less than 20 years later it would be repeated during World War 2 when the sons of the first war soldiers were to die on battlefields in Greece, North Africa, Italy and the Pacific.
While we did not specifically seek out places with personal connections, when we had a look at the areas we were passing through we found that there were a few.
Firstly there will be the World War 1 battlefields where two of my great uncles and one of Ruth’s lost their lives. One in Belgium and two in France. Ruth’s great uncle had been wounded in Gallipoli (Turkey) only to die in France.
Our last days of cycling in Belgium will take us through Flanders and we may yet take the trip down to the Gallipoli Peninsula while in Turkey. I visited Anzac cove in Gallipoli in 1975 before it became a place of pilgrimage for New Zealanders and Australians. It was an experience which drove home the waste of youth that takes place in a war.
My sister Barbara has given me a list of family connected locations in the UK and Ireland. I have discovered that one is close to our bike route through Cornwall so we will take a short detour and see if we can determine why they left.
Ruth has been busy researching her family and has found that one branch came from Cullen in Scotland which is close to the Village of Dyke where we will be staying for a few days. George Fraser whose father was a commissioner for the local Laird, made the trek to NZ so again we will have a look to see what may have encouraged them to seek a new life downunder.
My father fought on mainland Greece during WW2. I followed the general route they had been routed from in 1941 during a visit to Greece in 1975. This time we will be in the Greek Islands which also had a strong association for Dad. The New Zealanders on the Greek mainland were evacuated from a hopeless situation there to “defend” Crete in what would become known as the Battle for Crete. Dad was also shipped to Souda Bay in Crete but as they had been the last to be evacuted off the mainland their general state of readiness for further battle was even poorer than the troops already on Crete. For Dad this was a bittersweet decision as both his brother and brother in law were on the Island.
Badly equipped and lead, the New Zealand troops again found themselves in retreat, this time across the island, from the Chania area in the northwest to Sfakia on the south coast. After being part of the last defenders through the mountains my uncles were to find that the evacuations had ended by the time they arrived. They were simply told to surrender and were duly marched back across the mountains where they endured horrendous conditions before spending the next four years in POW camps in far off Poland. So Crete will also have a personal connection.