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Thursday, April 29, 2010

an anzac dawn

Every year, on the 25th of April, New Zealanders and Australians around the world remember the Anzacs, our soldiers, on the anniversary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli in 1915, prelude to a campaign that would last until 9 January 1916, and cost 130,784 lives on both sides, and 11,430 Anzac lives. On Anzac Day we remember soldiers lost in all the conflicts our nations have been involved in.

This year I went to a dawn service for the first time in about fifteen years. This one was at Cathedral Square in my home town Christchurch with about 15,000 other people, although there are many services held throughout the day all over the city.

As the sun slowly rose, we heard prayers, hymns, poems, remembering the troops who paid with their lives for the stupid decisions of world leaders. Not that that is precisely what the service told us; in fact, there were a few things said that as a budding historian I have a big problem with. Example: "We must uphold the ideals for which the Anzacs fought at Gallipoli. [Full stop.]" Uh, really? Would you like to expand on what these ideals are? Blind obedience to the British Empire? Upholding the arms race of World War I?

Anyway. I managed to stop fuming eventually. Songs were sung, including a local high school's choir singing "Let the Doves of Peace Fly", at which point all the seagulls started flying around cackling - an unfortunate coincidence. An air force plane overhead, a choir of veterans singing "There is no death", cathedral bells ringing, and wreaths laid on the cenotaph to the strains of Elgar's "Nimrod".

Finally - the Last Post. Played by a New Zealand Army Band trumpeter as the sun rose behind the cathedral. Eerie.

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.
- Laurence Binyon

I'm glad I went.

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