Kiwis Steadfast in Remembrance. ANZAC Day in Lockdown
“On the 25th of April far across the sea, the brave ANZAC soldiers stormed Gallipoli. With plenty of pluck but jolly bad luck, they stormed Gallipoli.” William McIntosh
At 5.40 a.m. the Riwaka Valley woke to the regimented sound of pipes. Bruce Fraser, dressed in full band regalia, piped in the chilly dawn from the top of a hill on his family property. Gathered beside a transistor radio and a lamp, Bruce, his wife, their children & grandchildren marvelled at the spectacular sunrise while listening to dawn service broadcast over the airways. On this day, the first in New Zealand history when ANZAC commemorations could not be held in public, Bruce recalls the ‘normal’ activity of heading to town to play his pipes alongside other band members at the Cenotaph.
Down in the valley street lamps are shining, illuminating hand made poppies strategically placed on mail boxes, fences and lawns. The streets are quiet, void of traffic, parades and veterans. Small white crosses adorn the lawn beside the Motueka War Memorial. Standing forlorn and undressed, the Cenotaph is a stark reminder that at this moment in time, we all fight a battle to survive.
Lance Evans is standing at his gate alongside a large poppy he made from tin. His Grandfathers both served. Robert Ashworth with the NZ Army in Egypt and George Evans, a serviceman in the Royal Navy with the Air Armed Fleet. His step father Winata Opai, was also a serviceman with the New Zealand Artillery 161 Battery and fought in the battle of Long Tan. Lance was a frontline paramedic for 24 years and served alongside many colleagues from the British and New Zealand Armed Forces. He wears his family medals with pride. He will never forget.
I went to the Cenotaph at 5 a.m. For me, it’s like visiting the headstone of my late father who served in the Royal New Zealand Navy. Dad passed away at the age I am now, 52. Along with 549 other naval personnel, Dad went to the British Nuclear Tests at Christmas Island in 1957/8 (Operation Grapple) aboard the HMNZS Pukaki. While nuclear bombs were detonated just a few miles from their ship, the sailors sat on deck in totally inadequate PPE. They were told not to look at the ‘flash’. Dad said when the bomb went off, he saw the bones of his hands through his tightly closed eyes. Shortly after detonation, the ship was ordered to sail under the mushroom cloud to collect ‘weather data’. Most of those young men just like my Dad, are now dead. They suffered from a range of blood cancers and their DNA was damaged and broken in the fallout.
Without the hubbub of public gatherings, ceremonial speeches and parades, it’s completely clear that this day of remembrance holds inherent value to all Australians and New Zealanders. Streets lined with people, heads bowed in solemn reflection reiterates the stoic message that the casualties of war will never be forgotten. If you're up for an ANZAC Anthem, take a listen to the Gallipoli Song, written by William McIntosh. It's sobering, beautiful and a story in song.
As a proud Kiwi, I'm glad to say, that on the 25th of April 2020, nothing, not even a global pandemic, could withstand the might of two nations united in respect, reflection and remembrance.
They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them
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