Dom George is the on-air producer for The Country.

Dom 'Furious' George: So many years, so many killed

A delayed shipment from France is the reason why New Zealanders wear poppies on April 25th. Photo / Duncan Brown
A delayed shipment from France is the reason why New Zealanders wear poppies on April 25th. Photo / Duncan Brown

Whether you were working the land, attending dawn services or simply relaxing on Anzac Day, I'm sure most of you stopped at least once and contemplated the reason for the public holiday.

The day has become increasingly important for our fledgling little nation as we, like all countries, reflect on our sense of identity. For me, it was genuinely relaxing - watching war documentaries and movies on Netflix. And no, for the younger, more savvy readers - I'm married; Netflix and chill sadly means actually putting your feet up in front of the telly.

However, watching the news coverage of the day (including The Country correspondent David Broome and his 12-year-old offspring engaging in their own verbal offensive against a group of peace protesters) and hearing our politicians speak of the commemorations, it struck me how much of the Gallipoli campaign has become about dates and numbers.

So many years, so many decades, so many killed, so many wounded. History, as some assume, is not the study of dates and times; it's about gathering information from primary sources and trying to understand why particular events occurred and perhaps even detecting certain patterns in human behaviour that may prove useful for future generations.

Naturally dates are important, as are numbers, but they're not the imperative of history.

We seem fixated on comparing the number of dead in one battle to the number of dead in others, even pitting war casualties against airplane and earthquake casualties, for example, although to what end I'm unsure. That approach to me seems utterly pointless.

In fact, simply reeling off a few numbers without any sort of context is a sure way to dull the point that's trying to be made, rather than engaging people with the lessons to be learned from events such as Gallipoli. Understanding why it happened, what actually took place and what affect it had, both immediate and long-term, is of infinitely more use to us than a body count.

A couple of years ago Jamie Mackay and I decided we would like to host an ANZAC Day show on Newstalk ZB. Permission was granted from those who grant permissions for such things and The Digger's Breakfast became a reality.

We divvied up the interviews between us - he took the Prime Minister and our Australian Correspondent Chris Russell, among others, while I was to call on the expertise of historians Professor Tom Brooking from Otago University and the Curator of the Toitu Settlers Museum in Dunedin Sean Brosnahan.

Sadly, the shoelace tying the Auckland studio to Dunedin must have snapped in the night and we were beset by that old worn-out phrase used by broadcasters when things go tits-up - "technical difficulties". Unfortunately not all the interviews made it to air but I decided I'd resurface them this year on The Country Early Edition. And listening to them again, I once again appreciated the stories that can be gleaned from the likes of old documents and photographs, along with the first-hand accounts of those present.

Professor Brooking told the story of Alexander Aitken and his violin; an inspiring tale about one of New Zealand's greatest mathematicians, who would go on to work with the team that cracked the Enigma code, and whose cabin mate won the instrument en route to Gallipoli. As he couldn't play it, he gave it to Aitken who entertained the troops virtually every night of the campaign to take their minds off what they'd endured that day and what was surely to come the next. Such was Aitken's proficiency, he would eventually play with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and also pen one of the most detailed and important accounts of New Zealand's WWI effort, 'From Gallipoli to the Somme'.

Sean Brosnahan spoke of many diary entries from the Peninsula that were unusually positive. Unlike the Western Front, dozens of soldiers told of the physical beauty of the environment, especially the spectacular sunsets over the Aegean Sea. For the more educated members of the Anzac forces, the Classical nature of their locale was certainly not lost on them either; after all, Troy was just down the road.

But perhaps the most unassuming story I've come across recently has nothing to do with bullets and bayonets but relates directly to our Anzac commemorations. As Ron Palenski explains in his 2010 book, 'On This Day in NZ', poppies are traditionally used to mark Armistice Day, the date on which the First World War officially ended. But back in 1921 the shipment of poppies from France was delayed, thwarting the RSA's plans to promote the wearing of poppies on November 11.

They made the pragmatic decision to hold them over until the New Year and dish them out on April 25, Anzac Day. Now there's a story.

- The Country

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Dom George is the on-air producer for The Country.

Dom is Jamie Mackay's reluctant sidekick and long-suffering verbal punching bag. When he's not being abused at work he's being abused at home by his wife and kids. His cheery disposition is further enhanced by the fact that he has to get up at 4 am every day to host The Country Early Edition on Radio Sport. (5-6 am Tue-Sat). Tune in...if you dare.

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