Speech to Havelock ANZAC Day Service
25 April 2021
Tena Koutou Katoa.
Good morning to you all. Or perhaps I should say, Welcome Back!
It’s not since 2018 that we gathered in our communities around New Zealand. In 2018 we commemorated not only Anzac Day but one hundred years since the end of World War One and we had no idea then that it would be three years until we gathered together again.
That unanticipated interruption to our public commemoration serves to remind us NOT to take a peaceful future for granted. The freedom and safety that allows us to gather in groups, to travel to see families and friends or play sport and to speak without fear is a very fragile thread that has to be constantly guarded and refreshed.
This time around, the thread of freedom has been broken across the entire world by a virus. If it was all put in one place it would only fill a soft drink can. The front line in this war is dominated by health care workers and emergency services.
Looking back in history:
- It was one lone shooter who created the spark that caused World War One.
- Oppressive economic sanctions between countries created the environment in which not only World War Two but numerous other conflicts arose.
We see these events in the news every day. Similar news stories would have been read by our forebears. And probably, like many of us, they would have thought – That’s not good; but there’s nothing much I can do about it. Then they would have got on with whatever job was in front of them. Until, that is, others made it impossible to carry on as usual. Then they went to war or supported the war effort from home.
By any measure, the numbers involved in the two World Wars is staggering. But those numbers only count the men and women directly involved. Everyone was affected and no-one who has seen conflict returns home unchanged.
So, what has been learnt? Surprisingly little, unfortunately. The myth abounds that Aussies and Kiwis were then and are now, the toughest soldiers in battle and that, as countries, we are good at war. Let’s put that myth aside. Yes, we are tough but so are others. Actually, we were lucky. Both countries were hopelessly unprepared to enter into war in 1914 and 1939. We were lucky to have powerful friends.
Today, we are just as unprepared as then to fight in defence of the freedoms hard won by our forebears.
That wouldn’t impress Bright Ernest Williams who, was 105 at the time of his death on 13 February 2003, the last New Zealand veteran of the First World War.
Sadly, we don’t really know how many World War Two veterans still remain alive in New Zealand and that, I believe, should be remedied.
We do know there are about 30,000 returned service men and women still alive. Around 20,000 of these are contemporary veterans – those who have served on operations since the end of the Vietnam War. Some of them are here today. Like many of their forebears, they are volunteers.
Volunteering – putting your hand up to help with no expectation of anything in return – is at the very heart of protecting our way of life. Communities like ours couldn’t run without volunteers: from the Health Trust to service groups like Lions, ambulance and fire service personnel, search and rescue through to the individuals who check up on a neighbour or drop off some preserving – every time you do something, you honour the memory of those who fought and died for our lifestyle today.
I would particularly like to mention the New Zealand Remembrance Army. They are a group of about 4,500 volunteers around the country who have set themselves the task of cleaning and restoring every one of the 340,000 service graves and memorials around New Zealand. They’ve already cleaned up around 40,000 graves nationally. You will notice, if you are taking a walk through the Havelock cemetery, that some of the bronze plaques and granite headstones are looking like new. A further goal is to put a headstone on the many unmarked service graves around the country. If you are thinking of how YOU might honour our former service personnel for the 364 days between each Anzac Day, I’m sure the Remebrance Army would be grateful for the assistance. Some of these graves will be your family members.
Cleaning up a cemetery might seem an unusual form of volunteering to some but it is closely tied to the last line of Binyon’s Lines that you will hear later in this service.
“WE WILL REMEMBER THEM”
There’s an old proverb – it goes like this:
It is possible to die twice.
The first time is pretty obvious. The second time is when your name is no longer said – when you are forgotten.
So, with that in mind, whose name will you keep alive today, tomorrow and forever?
Kei Wareware Tātou.
Lest we forget.