Anzac Day, April 25th, is a New Zealand and Australian holiday commemorating the New Zealand and Australian soldiers killed in war and honoring all current and past servicemen and women.
It is a combination of two US holidays, our Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
Anzac is the acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the name for the unit with soldiers from both New Zealand and Australia that fought in World War I. Another Anzac Corps fought in World War II, as well as a smaller unit during the Vietnam Conflict.
The date on which it is celebrated, April 25, marks the anniversary of the landing of the Anzac forces on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in 1915. Thousands lost their lives in this particular ill-fated mission during World War I including 2279 New Zealanders, about one fifth of the New Zealand force which landed at Gallipoli.
New Zealand’s involvement in World War I has been described as a “coming of age” for the fledgling country—the first time it was significantly involved as a distinct nation on the world stage, fighting on the side of England on the far side of the world.
Ceremonies are held on Anzac Day throughout New Zealand, usually at war memorials, and often in the predawn hours.
This Saturday, thousands gathered here at Mount Maunganui for a predawn Anzac service at the cenotaph located on a small bluff overlooking the sea.
The crowd was solemn and hushed including the large number of children brought by their parents, many of them sleepy and bleary-eyed resting on their parent’s shoulders watching the proceedings. Family members whose ancestors served in war wore their ancestor’s medals in commemoration.
Bagpipes played in the early morning darkness. A parade of veterans filed past. A few words were spoken followed by several solemn hymns.
It was a moving ceremony with the crowd standing quietly in the chill morning air. The white stone monolith stood in sharp contrast to the pale sky above the sea which stretched out to far shores where so many lost their lives.
Traditionally, the service ends with this verse from Robert Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen:
They shall grow not old, as we that 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.
1) Photo: Phillipa Yalden