FOR the young pupils at Onekawa Primary School in Napier the red poppy is more than just a bright and cheerfully colourful little flower.

It is a symbol they have come to recognise as a valuable part of their land's heritage, and their approach to it effectively reflects a now widespread sense of pride and commemorative emotions among young people toward Anzac Day.

To that terrible time of Gallipoli and of World War I - and all conflicts for that matter where New Zealanders have served and for so many, sacrificed the most precious thing they possessed - their lives.

As they have in recent years gone by, a field of large and carefully created poppies adorn the main gate to the school off Kennedy Rd as a memorial.


"We put them up last year as it was the 100th commemoration of Gallipoli and we had a major focus on that - and we decided to put them up again this year," principal Wayne Keats said.

"All class levels have learned about it," he said.

The children had become genuinely interested and involved in studies about Anzac Day - several had taken along to school photographs and even medals from great-grandparents who had served.

Mr Keats said the growing number of books written specifically for youngsters about the meaning of Anzac Day had been valuable in learning programmes.

"You read them even to the five-year-olds and they listen closely - it's great to see because it is a big part of our history."

To that end, Mr Keats said he wanted to take the growing interest a step further and put to parents the idea of taking several busloads of children down to Wellington to see the Peter Jackson Great War Exhibition at the Dominion Museum and the much-lauded Weta-produced exhibition at Te Papa.

"About 100 children and a lot of parents will be jumping on the bus - it is a biggie for us," he said.

Lindisfarne Rector Ken MacLeod agreed the recognition of Anzac Day, and of New Zealand military service overseas in general had grown markedly in recent years, and last year was especially huge.

"It was the 100 years (of Gallipoli) and a lot of the students have also been to Wellington and have seen the displays there at Te Papa - they are very much aware of it."

Like most secondary schools across the region, Lindisfarne had developed the learning and awareness approach among its students - embracing events like the RSA-driven speech competitions and ensuring a presence at commemorative events.

And there was an ongoing component to the college's determination that they shall not forget.

The Herrick brothers.

Lindisfarne grew from a historic homestead built 105 years ago - a homestead occupied by the Herrick family.

And within that family there were three sons - and all three died during World War II so there has long been a strong link with sacrifices made.

Pictures of the three young men are on permanent display there, and the students are made aware of who they were and what they did - they served their country.

"In the past six years that I have been here I've seen an increasing number of kids going to the services with their families and that is heartening to see."

That increasing number of younger people attending was a great lift for veterans and the Returned Services associations.

"Oh it is great to see and it has certainly grown through recent years - it is very special for the veterans to see that," Hastings RSA president Trevor Hardie said.

"When I was at school there wasn't a lot done.

"We knew about it of course but that was all."

He said it was abundantly clear a lot more was being taught about Anzac Day and Gallipoli, and of the other great battles of great sacrifice like Passchendale where on one day alone more than 850 Kiwi troops died and 2700 were wounded.

Mr Hardie, who has been president of the Hastings RSA for 14 years, said he started noticing an increase in young faces at the memorial services about seven or eight years ago.

"And I see some who have continued to come back year after year - it is clearly a great thing for them and it is a great thing for us because there was a time you just didn't see that."

There had been a time, particularly during the Vietnam conflict, that some services were disrupted by protesters who proclaimed such events as commemorations of war.

"They never have been, they are a commemoration of those who served in the name of freedom and who lost everything - life."

That was now clearly embraced, he said, adding that seeing the large groups of young people was vital for such commemorations to continue to be staged for decades into the future.

"That is what we all hope to see."

Mr Hardie believed recent generations of teachers would have grandparents and great-parents who would have served, and many would have passed on their memories of events to them as they grew up - and those memories were in turn passed on to students today.

"That is an interesting point," Rector MacLeod said, adding that the reluctance of veterans in years passed to talk about their experiences did appear to have lifted.

His own father had never spoken about his wartime experiences, although he was coaxed into opening up as Mr MacLeod wanted to write his memoirs.

"So he did."

Taradale RSA president and Vietnam veteran Peter Grant said for the veterans the sight of young faces at commemorations was "so very special".

He first noted more than usual young faces at a service about 10 years ago and said it had grown, greatly, since then.

"There is a lot more Anzac study taking place today and a lot more awareness of our nationhood - there is more curiosity among the young people about our emergence as a nation."

He said events like the Spirit of Anzac Speech Awards drew remarkable responses from the young who took part, and there was equal devotion from schoolchildren who had been asked to design something for the Anzac wreath.

His own grandson, who attends Arthur Miller School and is in Year 6, listened to him read the tale of 'Why I Wear A Poppy' on one occasion and simply, and quietly, replied "it's so sad".

"As a nation we have all become so much more aware but to see the young ones becoming more involved is wonderful. It makes you proud to be a Kiwi."