View interactive

Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Anzac day brings communities together

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

With his dad's medals proudly pinned to his chest, Julian Price waits to join the parade.

Townsfolk are still spilling out of Mackenzie Community Centre in Fairlie, surprised to see rainclouds replaced by autumnal sunshine.

Small children run and shout as old soldiers fall in behind the pipe band.

A volunteer has answered the plea from the local RSA vice president to drive their civilian vehicle with its hazard lights on at the rear of the march down High St.

"Today brings people together more than any other day in New Zealand," Mr Price, 55, says.

It's a scene that is played out in communities, big and small, across New Zealand today as the nation's war dead are remembered.

Hundreds have turned out in Fairlie, the South Canterbury farming hub, which has a population of just 700.

"It feels like the whole town is here," says Christchurch mum Heather Knox, who has brought her three kids and 8-year-old niece, Lydia.

She usually takes her kids to the dawn service at home, but is enjoying a holiday at nearby Lake Tekapo.

It is important, she believes, that children know New Zealand's history and the sacrifices their ancestors have made.

During the service inside a packed auditorium today, where latecomers sat in the aisle, or craned necks from the wings, Reverend Michael Kerr spoke on the importance of remembering.

Today, he remembers his grandfather who died from injuries sustained during World War 1; two uncles killed in the North African desert in World War 2; and his own father traumatised by what he saw fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.

While the message was stark, Ms Knox said it was important for young people to understand fully the horrors of war.

She was especially struck by a Winston Churchill quote, cited by Rev Kerr, which says, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

"My son Jack is 14 and for his to hear of 17 and 18-year olds going to war is very powerful," she said.

"Young boys, especially, need to know that war is not all glory and excitement like Hollywood portrays."

Everyone stood and sung the national anthem, and God Save the Queen.

Mackenzie RSA vice-president Jim Stevenson thanked the Fairlie Volunteer Fire Brigade for "racing around like blue you-know-whats this morning" to help organise the day.

And he thanked locals for their generosity on Poppy Day in helping raise more than $4000 for Mackenzie RSA.

"Today gets bigger every year," Mr Stevenson said.

After the service, 11 bagpipers, including one from the legendary Gurkha regiment currently training at Tekapo Military Camp, led hundreds on a march up High St to the striking limestone war memorial.

Ex-servicemen, serving police officers, firefighters, and St John paramedics, marched alongside high school pupils, couples in their twenties, entire families in gumboots, and widows.

Wreaths were laid and a lone bugler played the Last Post.

Sons and daughters held the hands of parents or elderly relatives to lay poppies and pay their respects.

Passing campervans stopped and parked haphazardly as tourists emerged with cameras in hand to capture the unique New Zealand event.

The marchers then returned down High St before falling in at the Gladstone Grand Hotel, which had laid on sandwiches and savouries.

The bar till was tinkling as old soldiers, and the dozen or so Gurkhas, swapped yarns.

Mr Price, himself a former wing commander with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, remembered his dad, Geoff Price.

He died recently of cancer brought on by the radiation he was exposed to at Hiroshima where he was posted with J Force in the aftermath of WW2.

But for Mr Price, today is not a sad day.

"Anzac Day brings communities, like this, together," he said.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 23 Sep 2014 05:33:11 Processing Time: 921ms