Thursday 25 April 2019

Remembering the war - with added guns

Anzac Day has been a bit different this year. Six weeks on from the Christchurch terror attack, the national security level has only just been reduced to medium, and there were still sufficient concerns about public safety that nearly 60 services around the country were cancelled because the police would be spread too thinly. It wasn't a popular decision. There were objections, and disappointment, and mutterings about disobedience.

Fortunately, here on Waiheke our little services - at dawn, and the 11am one - were allowed to go ahead, presumably because being an island makes it a less practical place to plan an attack. Even so, it was a sobering sight to see at least half a dozen policemen, with pistols in holsters on their hips and semi-automatics in their hands, positioned around the perimeter. That's a sight we're not used to seeing in New Zealand, and we all fervently hope will never become routine.
There was one advantage to there being fewer services around the city, and country, than usual: we got a flypast for once. A Hercules clattered overhead before the service, and afterwards we had the thrill of seeing two Spitfires roar over, followed by five planes in formation trailing smoke. For an airman's daughter, it was an especially fine sight.
The service was respectful and sincere, and endearingly clunky here and there (the accompaniment was too fast for us to keep up with in Abide With Me) but for me its main value was in taking me back to Gallipoli in 2015 - to the crowds, the cold and dark, the ships out in the bay, the lights on the monuments, and on the towering rock behind called The Sphinx, the music and the silence, the dawn. It was very special. But I don't need an annual Anzac service to remind me: the beach in the cove where the troops landed and were stranded for so long is pebbled. The waves washing gently in and out there make a very particular sound. Our bay down the track from the house is pebbly too, and when I'm standing there hearing the sea lapping in, it brings it back, every time: standing there in Anzac Cove, in the sun, with the sea blue and sparkling, the headstones in neat lines just up from the beach, the tents and fencing behind erected for the centenary. 

I was lucky to be there, then, and not a hundred years earlier.

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