‘These boys ride with us’

Armistice Day this year was marked locally with three separate commemoration services, led by the Te Awamutu RSA. The first was on November 8 in Kawhia, the second was at Anzac Green in Te Awamutu, at 11am on November 11 – where Waipā District Mayor Jim Mylchreest, RSA and Rhodesian veterans and service clubs laid wreaths – and the third was on Sunday  at one of Waipā’s special places, the Pukeatua War Memorial Church.

Graham Smith at the Pukeatua ceremony laying the Te Awamutu RSA remembrance wreath in for the fallen.

Around 20 Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club members from the Hauraki chapter rode from across the central North Island to attend last Sunday’s morning Armistice service at Pukeatua War Memorial Church.

They joined other service members and residents at the last of three local commemorative services marking the signing in November 1918 of documents ending World War One.

The Pukeatua War Memorial Church is one of only two churches in the country built specifically as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the two world wars.  The other is in Tutira, north of Napier; both churches have historic building covenants over them.

Pukeatua’s relationship with the Hauraki Chapter of the Patriots Motorcycle Club, whose members are mainly either former or currently serving defence force personnel, has been ongoing for several years.  One of their number, Peter Leslie, said the club had ‘adopted’ the church as its chapter church because of its ties with the defence forces.

“We discovered it on one of our rides and have been associated with the church ever since,” he said. “We have come back several times since then to pay tribute to these fallen men. The way we see it, these boys ride with us.”

Men from the Te Awamutu RSA at the Pukeatua War Memorial Church. They are, from left, president Lou Brown, John Graham, Graham Smith and Ross Wardlaw.

Twelve of the 44 Pukeatua men who served overseas during WW1 died in action. A further 32 from the district saw overseas service in WW2. Seven lost their lives.

Riders from the club usually attend both Anzac and Armistice Day events at Pukeatua.  Several years ago, they donated to a stained-glass Remembrance Window, which was created by Waipā artist Viki Bryant and dedicated at the church by Te Awamutu’s RSA padre, Rev Murray Olson in 2018.  On that day, Mayor Jim Mylchreest commented on the fact that the Waipā District Council was the only council in New Zealand to own a church, and said that on the day it opened in 1955, it was ‘full to overflowing’.

“We have come back several times since then to pay tribute to these fallen men. The way we see it, these boys ride with us.” — Peter Leslie

In much the same vein, Rev Olson commented on how services like Sunday’s Armistice commemoration, one that attracted a cross-section of the community, warmed his heart on such a day. “This is a dream church for me,” he said, “the church is full, and half of them are bikies.”

Patriots Defence Force Motorcycle Club member Peter Leslie laying a wreath at Pukeatua War Memorial Church on behalf of the Jemmett family. Private H. Jemmett died during WWI – several Jemmett family relatives were in attendance.

He said the church’s Anzac Day commemorations were cancelled this year due to Covid-19.
Graham Smith laid a wreath at the church on behalf of the Te Awamutu RSA, and John Graham laid the Pukeatua Playcentre wreath.

Te Awamutu RSA president Lou Brown told those at the various ceremonies that the total number of New Zealand troops and nurses who served overseas during WW1, excluding those who served in the British and other Dominion forces, was 103,000 from a then population of just over a million.

“Forty-two percent of all men of military age served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, which received its baptism of fire at Gallipoli in 1915, and went on to France and the Western Front,” he said. “Of these, 16,697 were killed, and 41,317 were wounded during this war. That represents a 58 percent casualty rate. We remember their sacrifice, and that of all New Zealand war dead.”

Pictured at the Te Awamutu Cenotaph after the November 11 commemoration of Armistice are, from left, John Ward, Les Winslade, Steve Kesby, John Graham, Wolf Hucke, Winston Hart and Church Osborne. John Graham laid a wreath on behalf of Rhodesian forces. Les Winslade and his son-in-law Wolf Hucke made the trip from Cambridge. Les, who is 100, recently moved into Cambridge Resthaven where is daughter Alison Hucke is resident.

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