I've always loved going to the Dawn Service on Anzac Day, There's something special about standing together with a group of unknowns, most of us with the common purpose of honouring the past. When my kids were young, I took them with me at least once, so they could experience the atmosphere and learn something of their history.
Most times I take my camera because I'm working, or because I'm looking for that extra special memory, but this year I just wanted to be.
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It's still dark, the nearly full moon adding its light to the coloured lights on the cenotaph and surrounding trees. Hundreds of people already here, everyone wrapped up against the cold, and not a camera in sight. Singing the national anthem with pride, I must learn the Maori version, and what it means.
John Roil speaks of the two great-uncles he never met. I think about the two grandfathers I never knew. Grandpa in London who I briefly met as an adult, so many questions unasked. I remember Dad saying that as a Quaker he was a conscientious objector and served on the ambulances. Granddad in Dunedin who died years ago, we'd shifted to Woodville, so many things unsaid. Mum's memories would suggest he returned from the war scarred inwardly as much or more so than on the outer.
Anzac Day: A commemoration of heroism, regrets for what might have been, sorrow for the loss. So many people affected. Lost opportunities.
I think about Nicky in Australia who I see once or twice a year, and phone nearly every week. I couldn't imagine sending her off, never to see or hear from her again.
Mr Roil calls it "The Great Adventure". I wonder did they really think that or is it just rewriting history with a bit of rose-coloured nostalgia. "Founded the nation"? Sounds like propaganda, however well-intentioned.
I think about Jess and Shal who live in Taradale, I don't see them that often. They're newly married, crazy busy and setting out in life, I wonder how I can get know him better.
Jo, I can't see you behind all the people, I hope you don't faint. Guard duty is a tough honour, I'm so proud of you. Sometime soon she'll join one of the Armed Forces. Before she applied we talked about the very real risk of being killed and that one day she might have to shoot back.
My sister Rose was a driver and cook in the Territorials, back when I was in high school. I remember going to her passing out parade and excitedly shooting rolls of film, back when I couldn't afford it, a visual extravaganza. Dad did time in the air force for his CMT (Compulsory Military Training) after WW2. He could have been a pilot except for the minutest fraction of red/green colour-blindness.
The bugle plays The Last Post and Reveille and I choke back tears as a I remember playing at my father-in-law's funeral. Most people don't know it represents the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our eternal hope of the same. I know I'll see Dad again.
The three-volley gun salute echoes hauntingly back from the hills. I've never heard that before, too busy taking photographs.
A horse clip-clops past, a uniformed chap in the saddle. That's the way it was done back then. War is hell.
The choir sings a capella as the wreaths are laid. Few of us can see what's happening, but no-one shuffles or looks around. It's not about us. A little girl on her Dad's shoulders squirms around and gives him a kiss on the cheek. He embraces her.
The padre closes with a prayer. Interesting that he talks to God, but doesn't say "In Jesus' Name" as he closes. I guess he's being inclusive. Once we were a Christian nation but times have changed, the preacher on Sunday referred to us as a secular country. They say no-one's an atheist in the trenches though.
The roar of three planes flying in formation overhead, a fitting climax. Not a moment too soon and nearly too late. I remember a previous service when the army speaker had a joke about that. Well done, boys.
Sergeant major calls the parade to attention, the band strikes up a bright little number and the diggers march off. I'm impressed they can still keep up. Off to the RSA to swap stories and drink copious amounts of beer. I love it when the crowd applauds them.
The party breaks up, and people head off to the day's activities. Having a public holiday on Anzac Day is awesome, everyone can be involved if they want to. Some hang around, waiting to place their poppy on the Cenotaph. So many wreaths. A beautiful wreath from a school, a child's handwriting, so innocent. Now the cell-phones come out. Selfies!
I asked my son if he'd join me this morning, and he said, "No thanks Dad, maybe next year". Considering he could be at university then, my reply was, "You might not be here." My unspoken thought was, "Life is uncertain, nor might I."
"Lest We Forget"1914-1919~ ERECTED ~to theGlory of Godand as anEverlasting Tribute- to -All Thosewho gave their lives duringThe Great WarThat we might live in peacewith justice and freedom--------"Their name liveth for evermore"