A Broad View of ANZAC Day Abroad

 

I have spent ANZAC Day overseas on a few occasions. And there is a power in such experiences that seems to intensify because it is away from home.

Australia seems to declare party time once the solemnity of the morning services has past. I have seen this in Sydney and most notably in Melbourne. Again this year our own TV news showed a pretty boistrous and liquid game of Two-Up at which the atmosphere was captured by some young fellow who slurred and leered to the camera the sentiment that “they suffered for us so we are going to party for them.”

Perhaps one of the most moving was years ago in Singapore where as guest of the High Commission we were taken out to the ANZAC Memorial up on the hill looking over the straits of Jahore. There was still a military presence in Singapore then and so the ceremony had an appropriate degree of military ceremony and circumstance. As daylight seeped in the ceremony was moving in a way that brought a lot of things (including ourselves) home.

The last ANZAC Day I attended in Australia was on the outskirts of Brisbane at a splendid Dawn Service with a real suburban feel to it. The Guest Speaker that morning was Douglas Blackmur who many NZers will remember as once-upon-a-time CE of NZQA!

Solomon Islands – ANZAC but Australia really back in the 1980s – but this was full of meaning as stays were usually punctuated by snorkelling over the many WWII shipwrecks and coming across the metal detritus of a war.

This year has seen an unprecedented build-up given that it was the centenary of the Gallipoli landing. The energetic genealogical sleuthing of my brother has only in the past few months tracked down a missing Great-Uncle who we through was at ANZAC Cove that day in 1915 but this was a view sustained entirely without evidence. But the mystery has been solved.

The second son of our Great-Grandfather, William Ernest CAMERON was something of a character. He wandered around NZ (including mining activities in Waihi) and Australia settling in Tasmania. When war broke out he joined the queue and enlisted in the AIF 12th Battalion which shipped out to Egypt and Gallipoli. He died on 25 April 1915 as his company attacked up towards Walker’s Ridge. He was fighting for Australia and, because of that, for New Zealand. Both his life and his war were short.

This year I am in Samoa for ANZAC Day and the dawn service was a warm and appropriate gathering of local, expatriate and visiting folk who clustered around the clock tower in the centre of Apia. The always splendid Police Brass Band and a platoon of police dressed in ceremonial white gave the whole event a rather significant degree of the military origins of the day.

When I was at school, the School Cadet Unit from each school in Hamilton would march from the main street of Hamilton to the cenotaph on the eastern banks of the Waikato River. Hundreds of schoolboys in their military uniforms accompanied by staff dressed in the uniforms that had in many cases seen war service. As I got into the senior school I bacame a member of several brass bands and later, in Auckland, the Band of the 3 RNZIR Queen Alexander’s Own Regiment.

For me ANZAC Day was essentially a day of music and I think that element has diminished over the years. “Abide with me”, “Lead Kindly Light” and others were the staple diet of the day. No more it seems.

I think I despise quite a few things about nationalism, but 25/04 does have an unmistakeable feeling that home is home.

 

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