A decision to invite a Muslim cleric to say a prayer at an Anzac Day service has sparked an anguished backlash from veterans.

The Returned and Services Association (RSA) branch at Titahi Bay near Wellington has moved the Muslim prayer from its 6am dawn service to its 10am civic ceremony after some veterans said the dawn service should remember only NZ and Australian soldiers who have died in wars.

The backlash has exposed sensitive emotions around a sacred day in the New Zealand calendar as the nation struggles to become more "inclusive" after 50 Muslims were shot dead in the Christchurch mosque massacre.

Vietnam veteran Dave Brown, a former manager of the nearby Porirua RSA, emailed the Titahi Bay branch protesting against its initial decision to invite Newlands Mosque imam Mohamed Zewada to say a prayer at its dawn service on Titahi Bay Beach.

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"What took place in Christchurch was shocking and we all agree that it was completely out of order in every way," Brown said.

"I believe that the appropriate measures have been taken to recognise that and to show the Muslim community that they are part of us and we are part of them.

"Anzac Day came about to recognise all those who went overseas and served their country and returned, and those who never returned. That is the significance and the only justification for Anzac Day, and I feel it should stay that way."

Simon Strombom, a veteran of the more recent Afghanistan war and organiser of the Titahi Bay service, said he was shocked at some comments on the club's Facebook page after he announced that the Muslim community "will conclude the ceremony this year with a prayer from the Koran".

Details have been finalized today regards Anzac on the beach. The Muslim community will be represented and will...

Posted by The Titahi Bay Club on Wednesday, 27 March 2019

"We are inviting him to say something. I think it's more than appropriate given the circumstances," Strombom said.

New Zealanders like 7-year-old Anna Burke-Pohiva, pictured outside the Ponsonby Mosque, have left flowers at mosques around the country since the Christchurch massacre. Photo / Chris Loufte
New Zealanders like 7-year-old Anna Burke-Pohiva, pictured outside the Ponsonby Mosque, have left flowers at mosques around the country since the Christchurch massacre. Photo / Chris Loufte

But he had received "some really nasty emails" about it.

"It's a part of NZ society that I thought had moved on," he said.

Brendon Walton from New Plymouth posted: "The Titahi Bay Club, well, you're completely disrespecting New Zealand culture on a day that is uniquely shared between us and Australia."

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Peter Downie, a veteran of the Malaya war who now lives in Cambridge, posted to another RSA site saying: "Dawn service is to honour the Anzacs. Anything else can be done at civic services."

Strombom said he deleted some other comments.

"I did get some quite aggressive hate mail and emails to the website," he said.

"That disappointed me because I think NZ soldiers, particularly in operations, have always been very adaptive and very culturally sensitive."

Afghanistan war veteran Simon Strombom has drawn a backlash from older veterans after he invited a Muslim cleric to pray at this year's Anzac Day service on Titahi Bay Beach. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Afghanistan war veteran Simon Strombom has drawn a backlash from older veterans after he invited a Muslim cleric to pray at this year's Anzac Day service on Titahi Bay Beach. Photo / Mark Mitchell

As a major in Afghanistan, Strombom was in command of several Muslim soldiers and he noted that more people died in a few minutes in Christchurch than all 37 Kiwis who died in the Vietnam War.

"What is the difference between that and an IRA bomb that kills a soldier?" he asked.

"The world has changed, but when you start drawing lines and saying these are the good guys and these are the bad guys, we get the problems we had in Christchurch."

He has moved this year's dawn service onto Titahi Bay Beach for the first time because it resembles Anzac Cove at Gallipoli, where 11,500 Anzacs died in 1915.

"We are going to have an amazing parade this year, we estimate there will be 2500 people turning up. We normally get 300," he said.

RSA national communications manager Shane Wratt said he was not aware of any other RSA branch that had invited a Muslim cleric to an Anzac Day service.

Last year's Anzac Day dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Photo / Michael Craig
Last year's Anzac Day dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Photo / Michael Craig

Auckland RSA president Graham Gibson said a Navy padre would say a prayer at the dawn service in front of the War Memorial Museum which is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. He said Anzac Day was separate from remembering the Christchurch mosque victims.

"We shouldn't mix the two events," he said.

"We have traditionally been a Christian country in terms of our services and that type of thing. Obviously we are a multicultural country now so it's up to individual RSAs, but they are two separate events."

Wellington RSA president Theo Kuper said the NZ Defence Force traditionally provided a military chaplain for the Wellington dawn service which Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy is expected to attend.

"I don't think the NZ Defence Force has a Muslim imam," he said.

RSA national president B J Clark, pictured top right at Rehua Marae in Christchurch, says each local RSA will decide whether and how to acknowledge the mosque attacks on Anzac Day. Photo / File
RSA national president B J Clark, pictured top right at Rehua Marae in Christchurch, says each local RSA will decide whether and how to acknowledge the mosque attacks on Anzac Day. Photo / File

RSA national president B J Clark said in a message to his national executive that there had been many events to remember the mosque victims and "there should be no intention or need to make our Anzac services another one of these".

"However, given the proximity of these events to Anzac Day 2019 and the significant impact this has had throughout our country, it may seem appropriate to local organisers to acknowledge these during this years Anzac Day ceremonies," he said.

"Our communities are diverse and Anzac Day organisers have always tailored ceremonies to match their community and their local history. This year is no different.

"In your town and city, you are the stewards of Anzac remembrance, we trust you to make this call and as always, believe you will do so in the respect and spirit of our Anzac tradition."