16 April 2019
Chief Petty Officer Nic Irvine from the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) carefully lifts a family taonga from its box and cradles it in her hands. Like a medal, but larger, it features two soldiers and a donkey on one side and an engraving of Australia and New Zealand under the Southern Cross constellation on the other.
It’s the ANZAC Commemorative Medallion (or Gallipoli Medallion) awarded to her great-great-great grandfather.
Whangarei-born Chief Petty Officer Irvine is one of 31 New Zealand Defence Force personnel taking part in this year’s Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli. While she will be assisting members of the public attending the commemorations on 24 and 25 April, she will also be undertaking a personal pilgrimage on behalf of her family.
“My great-great-great grandfather, Captain Robert Irvine, served at Gallipoli and his son, William Irvine, also served on the Western Front”, Chief Petty Officer Irvine said.
“It’s going to be very special for me to pay respects to both men’s service on Anzac Day at Gallipoli this year.”
Captain Robert Irvine joined the Royal New Zealand Artillery as a blacksmith in 1914 and sailed to Egypt with the Main Body. His role comprised of horse shoeing and general care of the horses that pulled artillery into the line.
In September 1915, due to ‘extreme circumstances’, he was trained and promoted to Veterinary Officer and served on the Gallipoli peninsula. He later went on to serve on the Western Front and was mentioned in dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig.
Brigadier General Johnston held Captain Irvine in such high regard that he wrote of him in 1918 to Minister of Defence James Allen:
“He is by far and away my best horse master and has saved the country hundreds of pounds by his care and knowledge of his horses…At anything to do with horses and to handle men he has few equals.”
Both Robert and William survived the war. William went on to represent New Zealand as an All Black and together with his son Ian (Chief Petty Officer Irvine’s grandfather) became one of New Zealand’s most famous father-son rugby representatives.
Chief Petty Officer Irvine said she continues to have a really diverse career since joining the Navy in 2000. As well as being a Steward, she is also a Flight Deck Officer.
“One day I can be at sea working with helicopters; the next, working high profile functions or managing my team, empowering them to make the most out of their careers. It is definitely a life less ordinary,” Chief Petty Officer Irvine said.
“I am very honoured to have the opportunity to go to Gallipoli and am very grateful I have a chance to do it while still serving.”