James Hoey McNISH – Founder of the Dunedin RSA Choir:
Little more than two weeks after wading ashore at ANZAC Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula, two events would change the life forever of 33 year old 8/1128 Private James Hoey McNish of A Company 4th (Otago) Regiment forever.
Some late evening after the heavy gunfire had subsided, he heard singing, and a day or two later, he was wounded. The singing came from the enemy trenches and, in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the wound and immediate evacuation from the Dardanelles in all likelihood saved his life.
Jimmy, as he was known to his wide circle of family and friends, died in his 87th year on 20th December 1968. He is buried in the Services section of Dunedin's Andersons Bay Cemetery.
The singing Jimmy was attracted to, came from the beautifully harmonised voices of the Turkish enemy not much more than a cricket pitch away. Jimmy, a very accomplished singer in his own right, resolved that if he was ever to survive the absolute hell he had been thrust into, he would form a soldiers' choir back home in Dunedin.
It took five years for the resolution Jimmy made as he lay in his trench to materialise. Through sheer hard work and determination, he must have been overjoyed when the Dunedin Returned Soldiers' Choir (as it was then known), sang in public for the first time on ANZAC Day 1920.
The Oxford Companion to Military History makes this observation: "The role of music as a mood-changer or mood-enhancer is appreciated in all human activities. Music produced by the human voice, has been used to "enhance morale", by fighting men of many different countries, times and cultures."
The Choir is a tangible link to Jimmy's vision as it approaches its centenary
Written by Huia Ockwell, (A current Choir member) 31 March 2014