Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Day of honour and dread

Maryanne O'Donnell with her son Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell's mascot, Rua Kiwi. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maryanne O'Donnell with her son Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell's mascot, Rua Kiwi. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Maryanne O'Donnell lost a son in Afghanistan. Now she worries for the future of the annual service that commemorates him and other victims of war - Anzac Day.

Mrs O'Donnell believes her son, Lieutenant Tim O'Donnell, knew he was going to die. He was killed by a bomb in Bamiyan Province in August 2010.

"We talked long and hard before he left," his mother said. "He talked about what would happen if he died, how we would be taken care of.

"He said to me, 'Don't hate the Afghan people, mum, if that happens."'

Almost three years later, Mrs O'Donnell and her husband, Mark, are supporting a new Fallen Heroes Trust, which has been set up to help the partners and children of New Zealanders killed or wounded in military service overseas since Kiwi troops were first sent to Timor in 1999.

"We've had a lot of support from the soldiers," she said.

She treasures Anzac Day - but she also dreads it.

"Always Anzac Day is difficult," she said. "You build up to those things. You hope, when your child dies, that nobody else has to go through that pain.

"I'm very concerned about Anzac Day, because I think it's part of who we are as a country, and it's under threat. We have to really look, as a country, at how are we going to change, how are we going to allow Anzac Day to evolve?"

Returned and Services Association chief executive Dr Stephen Clarke said there were still about 40,000 Kiwi veterans who had served overseas, including 10,000 to 12,000 World War II survivors and about 15,000 who served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Timor, the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Mrs O'Donnell suggested children should be involved, and that Anzac Day services commemorate values seen in military service such as courage, commitment, camaraderie, compassion, selflessness and sacrifice.

"Those are the things that we need to draw out of the spirit of Anzac."

On the web

* Watch the Auckland Domain Anzac Day dawn ceremony live on tomorrow morning. Livestream courtesy of Maori TV.

- NZ Herald

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