Ten years ago today at 4.35 in the morning a powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck my home province of Canterbury in New Zealand. The epicentre was near Darfield, a small, sleepy town 40km west of the provincial capital, Christchurch.
The earthquake was the biggest to affect a major urban area since the devastating 7.8-magnitude shock that hit the Hawke’s Bay region on 3 February 1931. Remarkably, despite the power of the 2010 quake, no lives were lost. Damage to buildings, though, was widespread and several of Canterbury’s most important heritage buildings were severely damaged.
The quake was to prove a tragic harbinger of things to come. Multiple aftershocks culiminated in a magnitude 6.3 catastrophe known as the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011. Centred very close to Christchurch, it proved much more destructive and resulted in the deaths of 185 people.
Both events are indelibly imprinted in the minds of Cantabrians. So it was good to see Christchurch International Airport light up its airport terminal and the Airways New Zealand tower in green today to align with remembrance events around the city. “Kia kaha Canterbury,” the airport company said in a social media post accompanied by twin hearts in the province’s familiar red and black hues ❤️🖤.
Kia Kaha indeed. In these dark COVID-blighted days, it seems as apposite a phrase as it was back in the dark moments of 2010 and 2011. But the historical context above (and below) also puts our own contemporary struggles in perspective.
Footnote: Kia Kaha! was the marching song of the New Zealand Army’s 28th (Māori) Battalion in World War II, a force of some 3,600 men who forged an outstanding reputation on the terrible battlefields of Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. Of those 3,600, 649 were killed in action or died on active service – more than 10% of the 6,068 New Zealanders who lost their lives serving with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Middle East and Europe.
In the words of Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg, who commanded the 2nd NZ Division, “No infantry battalion had a more distinguished record, or saw more fighting, or, alas, had such heavy casualties as the Maori Battalion.”
[This poignant National Film Unit Weekly Review film shows the extensive preparations made to welcome home the 28th Māori Battalion on their return from war to Wellington in January 1946]