The word Anzac is part of Australia and New Zealand's culture. As most people know, it stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. No one is entirely sure how the name Anzac came about, but it has been attributed to a Sergeant K Little of General Birdwood's headquarters. He made a rubber stamp with the acronym Anzac and it remained.
We are aware of the disastrous consequences of the Gallipoli campaign and that some 130,000 soldiers from all side lost their lives. Since 1916 Australia and New Zealand have commemorated Anzac Day in memory of their soldiers and a special bond between our two countries.
So, how is it that Anzac Day is still considered important in the lives of New Zealanders? How is it that so many modern-day New Zealanders still turn up a dawn parade and other Anzac Day commemorations?
While we may pride ourselves as a warrior nation, we are not a nation that has aggressive or hostile views – other than on the rugby paddock!
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It is not that we glorify war or consider ourselves better than others. It is about a debt of gratitude to those men and women who have served and are serving so we might enjoy the freedom we have today. We are very lucky in New Zealand to be able to enjoy a degree of freedom that is denied to so many citizens in other parts of the world.
In 2004, I was privileged to accompany a group of veterans to Monte Cassino in Italy, where our New Zealand troops joined others in 1944 in a costly battle to take the town. Those veterans that were with us were wonderful and warm people.
On the last day of our trip a gentleman came up to me and quite anxiously inquired if I spoke Italian. When I shook my head, he pointed to my flash and said, "New Zealand?". I agreed and then he became quite animated and it was obvious he wished to convey something to us.
I took him over to our interpreter and we heard his story. He had been a young boy in Cassino during the bombing of the town. His parents had been killed and a New Zealand soldier had looked after him and brought him food. He eventually went to live with an aunt, but he did not forget the kindness of that soldier. That story made me feel very proud because it showed that even in the horrors of war we are able to show compassion, service and humanity. Who knows who that soldier was and if he survived the war?
So that is why Anzac Day is important. It is the men and women who paid the supreme sacrifice and those who served and came back (some scarred) and those who are still serving that we have to thank for – in the words of our national anthem - our free land.
+ Peter Hurly is the president of the Palmerston North RSA.