When I stand at dawn each Anzac Day, dressed in uniform and wearing my medals, it's hard to avoid two distinct emotions: the sense of loss of good friends who were serving their country, and the awe of our earliest veterans. I can't avoid the thought that my service will never compare to that of my grandfathers' generation.
Our modern Defence Force still operates in combat zones around the world. For us, conflict is not the aim, conflict is simply the environment in which we are called to serve and to act in our fight for peace. It is those darkest places that need the light the most, and we must be willing to be the force for good that takes the light to those places, even in the most trying and dangerous circumstances. Kiwis are exceptional at this, and I'm proud to have served with the very best of them.
Each Anzac Day I remember those of my friends who have lost their lives while serving in our armed forces. Many lost their lives in New Zealand having already served overseas, one was killed in Afghanistan. It is in the stillness of the dawn, with just the faintest flicker of early light, that I take a moment to remember them: the flying together, the laughing together, the conversations late at night in conflict zones around the world. Always missed, never forgotten.
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But for all my service it still seems wrong to me that I now have more medals than either of my grandfathers. Grandpa was in the air force, flying low-level reconnaissance missions over Burma. He was mostly an air bomber, but he never dropped a bomb, instead taking photographs of Japanese targets. Grandad was a gunner in Africa and Italy. He returned from the war to work in a garage, fixing rather than destroying. They both survived the war, yet so many did not.
By comparison, I've served on peacekeeping missions in Solomon Islands and East Timor. Even my months in Afghanistan and the semi-regular rocket attacks pale in comparison with what my grandparents did. The threat of danger seems far more present in their service than mine. And yet here I am. I will never feel I have served or sacrificed in the way they did. Instead, each Anzac Day I stand in awe of what so many of my grandparents' generation did. Not in awe of the acts of war but of their service, their sacrifice, their suffering.
I'm proud to have played my part, and I'll continue to serve as long as I'm able, but I will always be in awe of the service and sacrifice of those who went before me, whether 106 years ago or six. Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou. We will remember them.
- Tim Costley will be speaking at the Ōtaki Dawn service and also at the Manakau service.