Anzac Day – fact and fiction
Anzac Day is very much something of a public/private event for my wife and I – we live across the road from the Wall of Memory.
Again this year, a few not-toobrisk strides (or, more correctly, hobbles) and we were there with familiar families around, saluting a kapa haka tribe from Leigh Primary School, complete with traditional (plastic) piu piu, and singing the national anthem in te reo.
Cemetery headstones on a slope to the sea reflected a parade of service, some pre-dating Gallipoli.
One poignant reminder beneath the branches of a towering pohutukawa: Trooper Angus Matheson (Lord Liverpool’s Own) died at Trentham, June 19, 1915, aged 21.
The inscription, punctuated by a fresh red poppy, ending: ‘‘… Earth’s uniform discarded now, Beneath the sod is laid He had his marching orders, As a soldier he obeyed.’’ And died without sailing. Among others, John Wilson McKergow, Royal Scots Greys, 20th Arm. Regiment is remembered nearby.
The annual order of service never changes – and never loses that well-remembered feeling of occasion and remembrance, now wonderfully into a new phase with the young.
‘‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old … Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn …’’
But it does, in its own way. People you remember as limping last year have graduated to a stick; your back nags more than it used to and people seem to whisper more often.
The final words you hear loud and clear though. They carry the same emphasis every April:
‘‘At the going down of the sun we will remember them. ‘‘We WILL remember them.’’ There’s music you haven’t heard before but hope you will again next year – Tony Williams One hundred years of heroes.
Then John McCrae’s classic poetry:
‘‘In Flanders fields the poppies grow
‘‘Between the crosses, row by row ‘‘That mark our place … ‘‘We are the Dead. Short days ago
‘‘We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow ‘‘Loved and were loved …’’ I remember my first Anzac Day. I was nine and after the singing and saying, I joined a group my age walking home. Suddenly we stopped. In a photographer’s window was a painting of a ship close to shore with plumes of shellfire surrounding it and the troops scrambling from it. I was thunderstruck. And then I heard my shaky voice saying: ‘‘ My Grandfather was on that ship. He’s told me all about it.’’ Lies, lies! Simply because I wanted to be part of that day.
I can still remember how I hurried on, fearful that one of the group might attach themselves to me and then ask my grandfather at home to share the war he’d been too old to go to.
And show us non-existent medals.
For weeks I put granddad out of bounds so a small boy’s grandstanding would not be discovered.
Every Anzac Day, the whole incident reforms itself in my mind. As so much does.
This year, the flag flown, wreaths laid, Last Post sounded, parents, proud grannies, weekend visitors, Girl Guides and Brownies, be-medalled veterans and local fire brigade chatted as they walked slowly to the bowling club for a cuppa on a national day with so many inter-twined threads.
We never want it changed. Nor the flag either.
And we know for certain we’ll be back next and all the years ahead.