Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Anzac Day: 'I lost a lot of mates, and today I remember them all'

Old soldiers David Smith (left) and Alan Burgess at the Rangiora RSA sharing Second World War stories. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Old soldiers David Smith (left) and Alan Burgess at the Rangiora RSA sharing Second World War stories. Photo / Kurt Bayer

Tank driver Alan Burgess and foot-slogger David Smith "hated each other" in the war.

"They thought us tankies made too much noise," Mr Burgess says.

But now the pair are best mates.

As they shared a drink in a packed Rangiora RSA after yet another Anzac Day parade - and another with fewer comrades than the year before - they talked about their World War II experiences with a mixture of joy and sorrow.

"I lost a lot of mates, and today I remember them all," said Mr Burgess, who at 92, and a year younger than Mr Smith, claims to be the "young fella".

Anzac Day especially reminds him of closest friend Stu Robinson, who died during the bloody Battle of Monte Cassino.

Mr Smith toasts his uncle, Bill Butters, who was shot through the arm running up the beach at Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.

"He later told me it was a blessing, because he got to come home in one piece," Mr Smith said.

It's also a day where they can drink rum and milk - a concoction dreamt up one Anzac Day shortly after the war when it was only servicemen who showed up for the dawn parades.

They shared war stories, having both gone through North Africa, before fighting the Nazis through the length of Italy.

"I got blown up by a bomb at Cassino," Mr Smith recalls, as his fellow old soldier playfully tells him he's a silly old fool.

"And when I woke up," Mr Smith continues, "there was this glass paperweight lying beside me. It had two fern leaves on it, and I've still got it at home. It's one of my favourite relics."

Of the 24 men he went into battle with, only nine survived.

The pair were both humbled by the size of the crowd at the Rangiora Anzac Day parade today.

More than 1000 people gathered in the small North Canterbury town - a scene played out across New Zealand today - stopping traffic, craning necks, hoisting children onto their shoulders, and singing the national anthem in unison to pay their respects to the nation's war dead.

Allan Ford, 64, got there early today, as he has done for every service over the last 30 years.

He was wearing his late father Allister's medals proudly on his civilian shirt.

His father, who was wounded, shot through the heel, during the Battle of El Alamein, could never bear the pain of attending an Anzac Day service.

"I think about Dad today," Mr Ford said.

"But I also think about all those who died, those who survived, and those who were left behind at home.

"War affects everybody, in many different ways, and it's so important that we do this every year, to just stop ... and think."

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 23 Aug 2014 16:28:42 Processing Time: 522ms