At dawn on Saturday hundreds, possibly thousands, of Northlanders marked Anzac Day alone but together at their end of their driveways.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's suggestion for remembering the sacrifices of past generations in an era when large gatherings are prohibited was taken up by many, including Arthur Beren.

Before sunrise the veteran of two tours of duty in Vietnam made his way to the end of his driveway in rural Kerikeri. He was accompanied by his 9-year-old granddaughter Anika and, in spirit, by his father, whose medals he wore on the other side of his jacket from his own.

Then they stood quietly by a gatepost decorated with paper poppies and watched the sun rise.


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Beren, a long-time Kerikeri RSA member, said he was disappointed for veterans who had wanted to gather together to remember on Anzac Day.

"I think we could have been allowed, not so much to march, but to observe the wreath laying while keeping our distance," he said.

"But I can understand the difference between a small town gathering like Kerikeri and the huge crowds that would have attended in Auckland, so I do appreciate why they're doing it. Let's just hope it never has to happen again."

"Instead people have been remembering in their own little way, like Anika and I, watching the sun rise. Hopefully other people will have done the same thing. It's not where but how you do it that's important."

Beren, whose service was in 1969 and 1971, was in no doubt why New Zealanders should keep marking Anzac Day.

"We need to keep remembering because it was awful and we have learnt absolutely nothing. This is probably the most peaceful period during my lifetime and that's sad. We're still fighting."

Anika had her own reasons for observing Anzac Day.


"I wanted to be here for my Koko (grandfather) and support him, he's a really great person. And I wanted to remember the people that lost their lives."

Anika Beren, 9, and her grandfather Arthur Beren, a Vietnam veteran, mark Anzac Day at their gate near Kerikeri at dawn on Saturday. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Anika Beren, 9, and her grandfather Arthur Beren, a Vietnam veteran, mark Anzac Day at their gate near Kerikeri at dawn on Saturday. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Ironically Beren owes his very existence to war.

The 73-year-old was one of about 60 "war babies" born in the Cook Islands to local women and US servicemen.

His father had fought at the bloody Battle of Guadalcanal before he was sent to Aitutaki to help build an airstrip which is still the island's airport today.

There he met Beren's mother and fell in love, but returned to the US in 1946 four months before his son was born.

He supported Beren's mother for the first five years; when the payments stopped she was told he had been killed in the Korean war.

Beren grew up on Aitutaki then moved to Australia at the age of 10 with his mother and step-father.

While serving in the Australian Navy he visited New Zealand and met a Kiwi girl. They married, travelled, lived in the Cook Islands for a while, and eventually settled in Kerikeri.

However, Beren never met his father or even knew his name. He made several attempts to find out about his father through the US Veterans Affairs Department but drew a blank until an Otago University historian started a research project into the Pacific's war babies.

She discovered that Beren's father, also named Arthur Beren, had in fact lived until 1995 and that Beren junior had three half-siblings in the US.

Since then Beren has twice travelled to Michigan to get to know his American family and once met them in the Cook Islands.

Six years ago one of his half-sisters travelled to New Zealand for Anzac Day and gifted their father's war medals to Beren — the same ones he wore at his gate on Saturday as he watched the sun rise with his granddaughter.