Monday 25 April 2011

We will remember them

Difficult day for Downunder Christians: celebrate that Jesus is risen? Or sombrely reflect on the Glorious Dead? Evidently the last time that Anzac Day fell at Easter was in 1859, which in effect means never, since Anzac Day was only created in 1916, ie the first anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. (The next time is 2038, however, thanks to the mysteries of this moveable feast. Family story (true): Why does Easter move around so much? It's connected with the phases of the moon. Really? I thought it was to do with the Church.)

In Bendigo, they had their Easter Festival a day early, on Sunday, in order to leave Anzac Day free of frivolity. They will have pulled out the latest substitute for Loong, their Chinese Imperial Dragon (oldest in the world!) for the annual parade through the town - quite probably the route led past their mini-Cenotaph at Pall Mall. The original one in London is on the Royal Wedding route; but we have one here too, at the War Memorial Museum in the Domain in Auckland, which is where we were today, trying out the 11am ceremony.

It was ok, but had nowhere near as much atmosphere as at the dawn service, when it's cold and dark, and in the big crowd it's hard to see, but in the silence you can hear the tramp of the old soldiers' feet starting it off. There are little kids on their fathers' shoulders, wondering why on earth they've been dragged out of bed in the middle of the night; there are gaggles of pierced teenagers with poppies pinned to their hopelessly impractical clothing; there are Baby Boomers choking up, proudly wearing their parents' medals; there are all sorts of organisations in uniforms with wreaths and banners; and there are the piper and the bugler fizzing with excitement on their instruments' one day of glory. Hymns, prayers, anthems (cheery Australian and dirge-like NZ), the Ode, wreaths, flags lowered and raised; and real solemnity in the crowd. It's a great occasion.

At Albany, WA, we visited the memorial on top of Mt Clarence where the first ever Dawn Service was held, in 1918, looking out over the bay where the convoy assembled in November 1914 that took the first contingents of Australian and NZ soldiers to Egypt and all the horrors of war. Per head of population, NZ lost more men even than the UK, so for very many of them it was their last view of Downunder. I'm glad it was a lovely one.

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