Today is a public holiday here in New Zealand. We celebrate and remember our military forces who have been deployed throughout our history, with special dedication and remembrance to the veterans and casualties from the storming of the beaches at Gallipoli in what is now known as Turkey.
We call the 25th of April each year: ANZAC Day.
This year is particularly poignant as it has been 100 years since the Battle of Gallipoli; the military campaign that took the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers from Australia, New Zealander, Britain, France, India, and Newfoundland in a cluster-fuck landing on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Saturday morning was clear and cool for those of us who made our way to Stockade Hill in Howick (Auckland, New Zealand) to attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service.
Walking is always part of any Dawn Service. As people arrive by car, they need to park further and further away from the cenotaph. The streets fill with family groups, small children, older relatives coming to pay their respects of remembrance and lay flowers and wreaths for the fallen. It’s quite moving and solemn seeing so many people walking to the same point in our little corner of Auckland.
Joining the crowds gathering on Stockade Hill there is a reverent silence with the cenotaph bathed in red light and piercing the night sky. Out in the darkness a bass drum is struck. And then again. The rhythm of the march of veterans begins. A number are elderly, some in wheelchairs, all dressed in their uniforms pinned with medals, all making their way up the hill through the parted crowd. Up to the top - that lone bass drum striking their pass.
The remembrance service started with a large gun fired from the Hill towards the sunrise. The smoke from the gun drifted back across the crowd, and small child's voice behind me asked his Daddy “Is that what war smells like?”
The sky began to change from dark to purple, and warming on the horizon. We remembered the fallen. We hear personal stories and accounts soldiers - Great Uncles and Great Grandfathers - who died that day on the beach at Gallipoli. Brushing tears away we sing hymns and anthems - first to the Queen, then the Australian, and then our own.
When the sun has fully risen, we break and leave Stockade Hill. Some remain longer to pay their respects or lay a wreath on the cenotaph. Many of the veterans go to their local RSA (Returned Services Association) to spend a day together. To share more stories; to remember their mates.
On ANZAC Day, the shops stay closed, and we spend time with our families. Our world and our country are the way they are today - privileged and beautiful - because of those men who died on those beaches one hundred years ago. For all those who have fought and died and lived and built our country:
- we remember them.