ANZAC Day 2007

The perversity of the weather usually makes an early start to get to a dawn parade on ANZAC Day an uncomfortable one. But this year’s Indian summer has changed that with dry weather in the North Island and the upper two thirds of the South Island encouraging good turnouts for the dawn commemorative services.

Time’s relentless march has now carried off those first ANZAC veterans who fought in the “Great War” as it was then known, but is better known to us of later generations as the First World War. Their predecessors who fought in the Boer War are now long gone. The curtain is now twitching for the even the youngest servicemen and servicewomen who laboured in the Second World War as they enter their 80s. So too the Korean War veterans.

Even the Vietnam war veterans are grandparents nowadays and their ranks are thinning. Nevertheless, public support for the ceremonies of ANZAC Day continues to grow. The focus has broadened and we also salute the men and women serving in our peace-keeping roles overseas.

In recent years, there been a growing lobby to make ANZAC Day our national day, but surely we have the luxury of two strong contenders for a special national day. Waitangi Day is a day of korero when we consider the founding of our nation. ANZAC Day is the day when we reflect on the deeds of those who represent our nation in overseas conflicts.

There’s two new elements to ANZAC Day which have been more apparent this year than before. An acknowledgement of those who opposed our involvement in fighting overseas and, cautiously, we are lifting the lid on our own land wars.

Looking into the land conflict that took place in the western North Island 140 years ago brings Waitara and Patea to mind. Whilst still controversial, the militiamen who fought and died near Patea are effectively among our first servicemen, having been sanctioned by our colonial leaders. Interestingly, the proposal to use ground-penetrating radar to locate the resting place of those whose graves weren’t marked at the time has received tentative support from local Maori leaders. A comprehensive and organised search might allow the location of the resting places of Maori to be found as well, as some of the urupa have been lost over time. Now that would be a fitting way to acknowledge the memory of both sides in the dispute and work toward repairing relations.

And finally, more than 70 years after it was started, the National War Memorial is to be completed. The park that was originally intended is to be constructed below the War Memorial and carillon in Wellington, by relocating Buckle Street about 30 metres to the north-east.

Slowly, surely, we make progress.

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