Richard Moore: Military ties bring us closer

By Richard Moore

Add a comment
Major Gordon Benfell and his wife Eliza at the Anzac dawn service in Mount Maunganui yesterday. After 52 years it was Major Benfell's last ceremony as a serving soldier. Photo / Richard Moore/Moore Media Services
Major Gordon Benfell and his wife Eliza at the Anzac dawn service in Mount Maunganui yesterday. After 52 years it was Major Benfell's last ceremony as a serving soldier. Photo / Richard Moore/Moore Media Services

By crikey it was chilly yesterday at 4.30am. The temperature wasn't bad - hovering around 10C or 11C - but the wind was like an ice blade cutting into any exposed bit of skin.

Oh, harden the heck up I told myself, it's only cool. It isn't freezing. It isn't wet.

Pulling the hood strings on my mid-winter hoodie closer around my neck I wished I'd taken a scarf to the dawn service at the Mount Maunganui Cenotaph. Again that drew another curt "harden up".

What would my Grandad have thought?

He was tough, my father's Dad. A hard Yorkshireman who served in the Royal Engineers during World War II.

He was a sergeant and fought the length of Italy in one of the hardest campaigns the Allies conducted against Nazi Germany and their Italian colleagues.

Not to mention the weather which, unlike Tauranga's yesterday, was particularly awful.

My Grandad was away from home and family for six years.

That is a large portion of your life to devote to your country.

Before he joined up in 1940 he was a senior foreman at a mill in Yorkshire.

He was promised that his job would be there when he got back.

Well, he made it back but there was no senior position waiting for him. That had gone to the fellows who hadn't gone to war. The Stay-at-Homes who had a cushy life while others did the hard yards.

My Grandad was so irate at that he raised a fine archer's salute to his bosses, and the country he fought for, and emigrated.

I always think of him at dawn services and on Remembrance Day, as I do his father who fought with the Durham Light Infantry in WWI.

My Grandad was about 3 when his father marched off to the Western Front. Another generation of family life torn apart by the demands of war.

But at least they both survived - millions of others did not.

And looking around at the hundreds of people who attended the Mount dawn service yesterday I wondered what their family military connections were. You can tell the obvious ones - the men and women who served - as their medals sit proudly on their left breasts.

Servicemen such as Major Gordon Benfell, who I met yesterday following the ceremony.

After 52 years in uniform it was his last dawn parade as a serving soldier.

Gordon is a former Army shooting champion and his career took him to Vietnam, East Timor and Afghanistan. Two sons followed him into the forces. It was clearly an emotional day for him.

And Richard Mead, president of the Royal NZ Naval Association, who has spent many of his post-Navy years battling for ex-servicemen to get better support from the Government. Richard served in the Malayan Emergency and has been left with a raft of medical problems courtesy of living and serving in times where occupational health and safety was not something to be considered.

There would have been scores of ex-servicemen like him at yesterday's dawn service.

Men and women who sacrificed their health - and prime years - for their country. Just like my Grandad and his father.

On Anzac Day I like to see folk wearing military medals on their right breasts.

That indicates a relative has pulled on a uniform and done their bit. A number of years ago children wearing such medals were looked at sideways by some, but today they seem to be welcomed into the returned services family. And why not, after all their forebears also served to make the world better for future generations.

But throughout the crowd there would be many folk, like me, whose forebear's medals are not worn. In my case they are mounted in two separate displays. One I will get on my father's passing, the other goes to my brother.

You can't see what I am thinking at a dawn service - except if you look closely at me during The Last Post.

I could, however, see the emotion on Tony, from Papamoa, who showed me a relative's pocketwatch that had been through two wars.

He, like me, gets verklempt as The Last Post's notes ring out.

I don't know what it is, but it could be that for so many men The Last Post would have signalled the last day they had on Earth.

Lest we forget.

- richard@richardmoore.com

- Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 20 Feb 2017 19:33:26 Processing Time: 487ms