It is with some trepidation that I set off, almost reluctantly, to attend the ANZAC service here in Waiheke. Its forty-five years since I last did this, and I want to know what happens here on the Island. Radio New Zealand, has been hard at it with wall to wall stories. One interviewee, who has written a book about Maori Involvement, tells how a troop performed a haka and found they had terrified the Ottoman Turks, who believed that they were being attacked by savages. The Radio succeeds in winding up my emotional vulnerability. Images of my grandfather at Gallipoli keep coming to mind, the terrible waste of life in that place and in Europe.
I park in the almost deserted supermarket car park and note the continual stream of cars entering, realizing that the supermarket is closed because it’s ANZAC day, and driving straight out again. Some are so incredulous that they drive right up to the doors to read the opening hours. I walk up the short hill to Belgium Street – the centre of the district known as Ostend – to the RSA Hall, the War Memorial and the Field of Remembrance opposite. This is a grassy slope on which white wooden crosses seem to be set out twice a year. They were in place last November for Armistice day and removed some weeks later. A few Saturdays ago the green space was made available as a car park for the Ostend market. (There’s a new supermarket being built on the waste ground where we normally park)
I investigate the ‘Peace Rock’ – brought from the local quarry and embellished with two plaques promoting peace in the world. Today, people are inspecting the rows of crosses, reading names and taking photos. The main road to and from the rest of the island is about to be blocked off and a diversion is arranged. The Volunteer Fire Brigade have brought out two engines and the fire-fighters (M&F) are uniformed and meddled. Groups of other uniformed people are gathering.
Over a PA system Flower of Scotland and Loch Lomond are playing. There are no bands, but a male voice choir and electric piano are getting ready, testing their equipment. People have come in all sorts of dress as one would expect on Waiheke – not the uncomfortable Sunday Best required in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s still warm so some are in shorts and sandals. Surprisingly, the young man from the Native Plant Nursery is wearing a dark suit with a pounamu (greenstone) where his tie should be. He’s very excited and carries a wreath.
One man has fished out of his wardrobe a very crumpled blue checked jacket with a stain on the back; his friend wears a navy-blue jacket and black trousers. Dave, from Rocky Bay, by contrast, looks immaculate in perfectly pressed black shirt and trousers. He clutches a black casual zip up jacket. Poppies and medals are pinned to clothes – those wearing their ancestors’ medals have them on the right. One jacket-less man, too young to have fought, wears medals pinned to his shirt.
Outside the RSA Hall is a mounted machine gun with a corrugated iron (iconic here) poppy as an upstaging backdrop.
More people arrive and suddenly a group of teenage Maori warriors emerge from the RSA Hall and take up their position in the road. They are supervised by a woman elder and her taller junior. Both have tattooed chins (moko) now common on the Island.
The parade of marchers is gathering only fifty metres down the road and once the four marines have marched on and positioned themselves around the memorial, the march can begin. They don’t get very far before being challenged by the korero (challenge/dialogue) of the older woman.
The warriors do a war-like routine (haka) with their Manuka staves, the taller woman performs a waiata (chant/song) then the leader of the warriors, the only one with a taihia (spear/weapon) breaks through to challenge the military leader of the march.
They hongi (press noses) then the rest of the warriors rush forward to escort the marchers the remaining distance to the memorial. Here is an acknowledgement early in the proceedings, of the role Maori played at Gallipoli and it is very moving and appropriate for Waiheke and New Zealand as we are now. There was never a hint of Maori culture back in 50’s Waipawa – before the ‘renaissance’.
First up is the National Anthem. God Defend New Zealand has been promoted, much to my delight. Not only that, but the first verse is sung in Maori. Thankfully the male voice choir know the words though many around me do not. I make a note to learn these. By the time we get to the English verse, I’m inexplicably too tearful to sing, even though I do remember the words. A Bishop is on hand to say prayers sprinkled with some well pronounced Te Reo Maori. He is speaking of his hopes for peace in the world just as I remember from all those years ago and yet war continues. Perhaps my emotional state is to do with the futility of it all.
The Head Prefects from Waiheke High School address us with well written and delivered speeches. The Head Boy was born in Australia and has a Kiwi dad. He has a long list of ancestors who served, were wounded or killed. He remarks that one hundred years ago, he would most certainly be going off to Gallipoli.
The Head Girl, Maori and beautiful is the only one to greet us with Kia Ora (to life). She also speaks of her hopes for peace in the world and I am thankful for this evidence that the young still believe that we can change.
The format of the service is familiar, but different. We have three hymns to sing and I remember How Great Thou Art but not sung at ANZAC day. There is Amazing Grace, which comes from America and definitely wasn’t sung when I was a boy. By this time, I’ve recovered enough to sing and the RSA have distributed a laminated order of service with the words of the Hymns, so clearly this is the order every year. The Last Post – incredibly sad – is followed by the Ode, which always gets to me.
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.
We make an attempt here to take away their suffering, leaving us with the burden of old age and infirmity.
Then there is the Reveille, full of hope for a new day. We sing Eternal Father Strong to Save, which seems very similar to O God Our Help in Ages Past, another tear-jerker, followed by the laying of the wreaths, starting with the three branches of the armed forces. There are wreaths laid on behalf of politicians and political parties, all called out in order of importance beginning with the local MP. When the MC calls out New Zealand First, whose leader, Winston Peters, just won a by election in Northland, there is a pause. He corrects himself – it is the Green Party and the young man from the plant nursery steps forward, his blond hair plastered into conventional shape by gel and a tattoo of the sun peeking incongruously above the collar at the back of his neck. The wreath-laying continues through the list until the MC asks for any others whose names he hasn’t called to step forward. A lone woman, dressed smartly in red and black, lays a bunch of flowers. The Marines guarding the memorial retire and the marchers cross twenty five metres to the doors of the RSA and lunch. There is a hiccup as an elderly woman has fallen and has to be helped to her feet.
We crowd around the memorial to look at and photograph the tributes and I notice the crosses made from knitted red poppies. One of the women collecting for the poppy appeal out side the supermarket had been making these the week before.
I return down the hill to the car park, and observe an increasing number of cars entering and leaving, unaware that it’s ANZAC day and a national holiday. Don’t they listen to the radio or read the local papers?