This Friday is the 100th anniversary of the start of one of the bloodiest battles in human history: World War I’s Somme Offensive.
It began July 1, 1916, with a British and French attack on German lines in the area of the River Somme in far northern France. By the time it ended in mid-November, the two sides had suffered casualties of more than a million men killed or wounded.
The United States was not yet a part of the war in 1916. But Australian Andrew Dowling wrote us recently, asking if there was any World War I memorial in Hawaii where his family could lay flowers on July 1, when they planned to be in Honolulu.
We said, Yes, of course. The War Memorial Natatorium in Waikiki is Hawaii’s official World War I monument. But as we came to understand more about this battle – so costly in human life and so important to our Pacific neighbors from Australia and New Zealand – we simply had to do more than give the Dowling family directions.
Observance Friday at Sunset at the Natatorium
So please join us Friday at the Natatorium, just a few minutes before the 7:09 p.m. setting of the sun. Volunteer bagpiper Kim Greeley will lead a simple, somber but beautiful ceremony. She’ll perform with fellow pipers, a drummer and a highlands dancer.
Among the tunes they’ll play:
- Highland Cathedral,
- Amazing Grace, and
- The iconic Australian song Waltzing Mathilda.
Amazing Grace in Bagpipes at the Natatorium
Dancer Fiona Brown will perform to Battle of the Somme, composed by William Lawrie, a British pipe-major and participant in the battle who died shortly afterwards of illness and injuries sustained in the trenches.
You will also, of course, hear the pipers sound Taps.
Importance of the Pacific to the Battle of Somme
Australian and New Zealand troops were a vital part of the British forces during the Battle of the Somme; an Australian historian wrote that the Pozieres ridge – the focus of fierce fighting in the middle stages of the battle — is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered about 23,000 casualties in the few weeks of fighting around Pozieres.
Of the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who fought in the Somme campaign, roughly one in seven was killed and four of 10 were wounded. The population of New Zealand at the time was just over a million. More than 100,000 served overseas during World War I, more than 18,000 were killed during the conflict and nearly 50,000 wounded.
Remembrance of the Great War – and particularly of the Somme – is a very big deal in these two Pacific nations.
A Prelude to Our Own Great War Remembrance
Joining with the Dowling family and our Pacific neighbors to remember their great battle is but a prelude to Hawaii’s commemoration of its own role in the war that was raging across our globe 100 years ago.
Hawaii’s centennial observances are being organized by an official state task force, chaired by retired Army Col. Arthur N. Tulak. The United States entered the war in 1917 (Lafayette, we are here!), and so Hawaii’s formal commemorations will begin next year. They will continue through Nov. 11, 2018, the anniversary of the Armistice.
We will keep you informed. Meantime, please put Friday evening’s sunset ceremony on your schedule. Mahalo!