Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Children to the fore as New Zealand remembers on Anzac Day

If nothing else, war lends itself to great writing.

Ordinary soldiers in the First World War trenches turned to poetry in grappling with the extremes of human nature witnessed: hope and despair, honour and shame, life, death.

"The moans of men haunt the survivors," writes not Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, or any of the other Great War poets, but rather 11-year old North Canterbury schoolgirl Janayha Johnstone.

"Soldiers young and old remain to fight for the test; the test of survival, the test of time, the test for humanity. Death by bullet, death by disease, these men died, died fighting for the future of you and I."

The Amberley School pupil's poem, Anzac won the annual Lions Club of Amberley District schools poetry competition.

Janayha read it to the large Anzac Day service that spilled outside the local rugby clubrooms today.

Club president Geoffrey Shier said the five poetry competition judges had all remarked on the "exceptionally high standard" of the record 226 entries from across six schools

As we have lost all of our First World War veterans - the last New Zealand-born veteran of the Great War, rifleman Bright Williams, died in Hastings in February 2003 - and our Second World War heroes are all at least in their 90s and their numbers dwindling, the focus of Anzac Day is shifting to the younger generation of servicemen and women, but also to children.

In the run-up to April 25, bookshops and libraries have been filled with war books aimed at young people such as Roly the Anzac Donkey and The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise.

Classroom walls are lined with Gallipoli art and poetry, while museums show interactive exhibitions.

At Christchurch's Dawn Service at Cranmer Square this morning, there was a striking number of children, woken early and rugged up in puffers to learn of their forefathers' sacrifice.

"Mum. Mum! One of the army guys has a gun!" one of them shouts in the early gloom.

At Amberley Domain, again there were hordes of marching children: grandkids, young members of the Order of St John, Scouts, the local pipe band.

Even a local pre-school tottered down the hill under blue autumn skies to the packed rugby clubrooms.

Amateur actors from the area performed a play, entitled Their Name Liveth for Evermore, which told the story of two young Amberley men heading off to war in 1914.

Hundreds of young farmers and labourers signed up to the Canterbury Mounted Rifles at the outbreak of war.

After leaving their horses in Egypt, they slogged and fell at Gallipoli; spearheading some of the worst attacks before being evacuated from the deadly stalemate.

The ones who never came home are remembered by the little white crosses that school children laid in Amberley last week.

"This year, we nearly called off the cross laying because of the weather, but they wanted to do it come rain, hail or snow," said Amberley RSA President John Davis.

Overlooking the poignant memorial is Captain Charles Upham, who twice won the Victoria Cross for his World War II heroics.

At the end of 1945, Upham bought a farm north of Amberley at Conway Flat.

The statue outside the Hurunui District Council buildings ensures that Upham will never be forgotten.

But through passionate, personal and poignant services that appeal to its local community like the one today at Amberley, and through the words of young poets like Janayha, none of those young men will ever be lost to history.

And perhaps, just perhaps, our kids will never have to endure the horrors that those young men did a century ago.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

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

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 24 May 2017 05:06:24 Processing Time: 318ms