An­zac Day – fact and fic­tion

Auckland City Harbour News - - OPINION -

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.

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