ANZAC Day 2020
I was always certain the government would extend COVID Alert Level 4 for another week to cover ANZAC weekend. First to prevent gatherings on ANZAC Day when people naturally want to congregate to remember the fallen together, and secondly to prevent people going to holiday homes or away for the long weekend. I was frustrated my prediction was borne out, especially after the cancellation of most ANZAC Day services last year following the Christchurch Mosque attacks. The Prime Minister announced last week we wouldn’t move to Level 3 until 11.59pm on ANZAC Day Observed, Monday 27 April. This extension I believe was much more about controlling our ANZAC weekend movements and activities than cementing the gains of controlling the coronavirus.
But today, the day we remember those who fought and died for our freedoms, I don’t want to be irritated about politics. After all, our forebears also fought for freedom of political thought and association and I’m pleased to live in a country where this is normally the case.
I can’t remember another ANZAC Day when I’ve spent more time preparing for and in so doing more time thinking about why our remembrance is important. In the absence of RSA poppies I’ve had multiple discussions over the garden fence with neighbours about how to make alternative poppies out of 1.5L plastic bottles, shared my laminator for neighbourhood signs, and made a wreath out of rope the guy across the street wired into the appropriate shape for those who wanted them. The front verge is littered with home constructed wooden poppies 2 metres apart to mark the special circumstances of the times. And I’ve had more time than usual to read the history of battles our service personnel have been involved in, contemporary as well as the two great wars. There is a genuineness about ANZAC Day 2020 I’ve not felt before.
So in lieu of dawn and civic services around the country we were asked to ‘Stand at Dawn’ at our front gates and media reports show there was good uptake of this idea. Remembrance is different for each of us. At my front gate at dawn there were bagpipes while street wreaths were laid, I recited one of my favourite poems “In Flanders Fields”, we remembered family members who had served by saying their names, ranks and postings and for whom a minutes silence was observed. A former serviceman delivered the Ode, and we played the Last Post, Reveille and the National Anthem using technology that wasn’t even dreamed of at Gallipoli, all while maintaining the spirit of lockdown. I’ve spoken at many services over the years, but this homegrown version was particularly special.
It is unfortunate that remembrance tends to be confined to one day of the year. We enjoy our freedoms year-round. They are hard won, but easily sacrificed in times of trouble which is why we should remember more often. An unintended consequence of COVID-19 lockdown is the feeling we often gain from attending an ANZAC Day service – a strong sense of community. It’s heart-warming seeing neighbours talking more often than normal and watching out for each other, people chatting as they pass each other while out walking. ANZAC Day 2020 has given us a better glimpse of the communities our young soldiers left to fight at Gallipoli and other parts unknown. The challenge ahead is how to lock in these positive gains. Certainly, they can’t be legislated for but must come from within us as individuals.
Across New Zealand and Australia ANZAC Day remembrance, in whatever form it takes, is more important now than ever. Kei wareware tatou. Lest We Forget.