For the last two years, I have taken part in the Anzac Day Blog challenge. I've talked about the impact war has had on my family. I've shared my research into a war grave. What else is there to talk about?
When asked if I would take part this year, I heard the words 'I could do my family experience of Anzac Day' come out of my mouth. So... here is my impression of this day, and its relevance and importance to my family.
I haven't been a regular Anzac Day service attendees, but going to services is an important part of my family's collective memories.
It was my maternal grandfather who started it. His choral group performed at the Dawn Service, at the Cenotaph, in front of the Auckland War Memorial Museum. (In an aside: he'd seen the ground being levelled in preparation for the building of the Museum when he was laid-up in hospital as a child.)
If he went to the Service, so did my mother.
And, sometimes, years later, she'd take us, too. From that, it feels like the *real* service is this one. (Well, if you can't get to Gallipoli, that is. Oh, and you're from Auckland.)
If we went, the invitation was there for anyone interested. One of the most haunting sounds in the world is the marching feet approaching the Cenotaph in the near-dark of near-dawn. The near-absolute silence of the crowd makes it even more eerie. Alas, it is crowd that has scuppered our family attendance at this service.
I remember going with a couple of friends, in my late-teens. We followed through tradition, and stopped off at the White Lady (near Fort St at the time) for breakfast. One of my friends went with an ice-cream. We laughed at the look of shock on a policeman's face as we walked past him. Ice-cream at 7am. Hey, we'd been up for hours!
One year, my brother-in-law decided to come, and he brought along a couple of his kids. We shared out the passengers between the cars. On the way home, I went with him (his car was sealed and had a working heater, unlike my mother's. It's often VERY chilly on Dawn Service time.) That meant we had a chance to talk to the kids about what it all meant.
My half-brother came one year. It was the first time I'd heard 'The Lord's Prayer' in te reo. It was funny watching him hide in the crowd (which, admittedly, isn't that hard. He's not that tall. And the crowd was quite large. But, we were right at the front.) so the Padre leading the service wouldn't see him. It was his Padre from his time in the navy.
Although I didn't see it - I heard about it - and was so proud of my niece acting as honour guard one year to the morning service in Helensville. Who knew you bled into your gloves, thanks to the force of the gun-handling manoeuvres. I always figured it would hurt, holding those positions, and doing the drill with precision, and my niece said it really did.
A couple of times recently, I've gone to Waikumete for their Dawn Service with a friend (aka The Boy) and his family. One year, I really wasn't inclined, but gave myself a pep talk. Honestly, all I was doing was getting up a 4am in the cold. Absolutely nothing in comparison to the hardships dealt with by the original Anzacs.
The Boy thought it was important for his baby girl to go to Anzac services, even though she was a baby - seven-months-old. She was one well-rugged-up button. And very well-behaved. And, she wasn't the only baby at the service.
One of my nephew-in-laws tries to take his family to a service each year. He believes they need to appreciate the Anzac story.
If I don't make a service, I will try and listen to the Auckland Dawn Service on the radio. I will watch documentaries and services on TV. I will think of the sacrifices made which Anzac Day commemorates. I will thank those who made them for their courage and contribution. And, I think of the words of The Boy's grandmother - 'none of the boys I knew came home from the war. Sometimes men with their names did.' How simply put, and how poignant and devastating.
What I won't - and refuse to do - is shop. I believe it is a disservice to the men and women - and the history - Anzac Day commemorates - to sully it with sales and shopping.
Anzac Day is sacred.