This isn’t something I’ve always done. As a family we didn’t attend the Dawn Service. We always bought our poppies and wore them, to school, to work, wherever, but the service wasn’t part of our tradition. I’m not quite sure why. Dad was 12 years old when his brother Jim went off to war in WWII. Dad didn’t talk about Jim much, but when he did, you knew he held him in very high regard. He had looked up to him as a big brother even before he became a soldier. Jim never came home. He was killed at the young age of 21, on 17 April 1945.
I started attending ANZAC services when I was living in Dublin. My cousin and I decided to go to the combined Aussie/NZ service in Dawson Street. That service was beautiful, never before had I felt the shivers at our national anthem like then. Afterwards we all adjourned to the Downunder bar with the war vets and had a great afternoon. Talking to the vets from WWII and Vietnam, I realised this day was important. Since then I’ve attended Dawn Services.
It’s a strange thing, something that started 98 years ago, after Gallipoli, means so much to New Zealanders. ANZAC day outranked Waitangi Day in a recent poll on the importance of the public holiday. Getting up so early, standing in the cold air, waiting for the sun to come up, remembering thousands of service men and women who have sacrificed so much for us to live in a country that, really, is very free and democratic; so that we have rights that we take for granted on a daily basis that many other countries do not, seems such a little thing to do in comparison to what those we are honouring did.
My great-uncles were killed in WWI, my uncle in WWII, another uncle served in Korea. My cousin has served in Afghanistan. They, along with others who have served with them, have put their lives on the line for what we all believe to be right – freedom.
Many people left their poppies at the Cenotaph. I had forgotten mine in the half-asleep effort to get to the service, it was on the kitchen bench. I have a spare poppy this year, as I bought one for today, and one for September when I go to Europe. I will be visiting the Faenza War Cemetery, Italy, and I will leave my spare poppy on Jim’s grave, and pay my respects to him and the others buried there.
As the service ended, the Army Band started playing some old tunes, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and other swinging songs. The servicemen in attendance will head off to the “Razza” for a drink and enjoy the music and camaraderie. It’s a reminder that life is for enjoying and living, as much as it is for remembering.
But we will remember them.