A mystery-laden encounter with two women - a Maori and Pakeha - gave birth to an Anzac Day tradition at Tauranga's Pyes Pa Cemetery.
Alby Osborne said he was asked by the women to say a few words over the grave of their father, leaving his buddies fixing a nearby flagpole to wonder why he was talking to himself.
It happened about 15 years ago when some of the city's war memorial cenotaph flag poles had been inexplicably vandalised on the night before Anzac Day.
Ropes (halyards) used to fly the flags were cut, leaving Osborne to hastily enlist help to put things right before the services began.
With the assistance of the Fire Service and navy, the Tauranga RSA's flagpole was re-sleeved in the nick of time for the dawn service. Once that ceremony had finished, he went to check if the New Zealand flag was still flying at the armed services section of Pyes Pa Cemetery.
Osborne and two RSA friends discovered the rope had also been cut. His friends were standing on top of a car running a newly spliced rope through the pole when two women appeared where Osborne was standing a few metres away.
They told him their father was buried nearby and would he be kind enough to say a few words over his grave. Osborne, who was wearing his RSA jacket, agreed and after saying The Ode and another short recitation, the women departed.
His puzzled friends, who had looked around on hearing him talk, asked: "Who the hell were you talking to Doc" - Osborne's nickname from his eight years in the navy as a medic.
When he replied he had been helping the women, he remembered their response like it was yesterday. "Doc, there was no one there."
Osborne insisted there was, and told them in colourful language not to be so ignorant and that they needed to show a bit of respect to the ladies.
He thought they were pulling his leg and passed the whole thing off as a joke, but his friends remained adamant right up until their deaths that there were no two women.
Osborne said they had not been drinking and he had one cup of coffee back at the RSA clubhouse before departing for the cemetery.
"To this day, I do not have an answer for what happened."
Asked whether it could have been a spiritual experience, he said that he had heard of similar things happening to other people.
His two ladies were not the only ones that day to ask him to say a few words over a grave. A little later on, another family asked him as well, and so started a tradition that grew and grew as the years rolled around.
"It started from there and it has really taken off."
The next Anzac Day about 50 people turned up and numbers climbed until last year it reached nearly 1000 people - with Osborne still running the service.
A cross spar was added to the flagpole so it could take more flags followed by a monument topped off by the statue of a soldier donated by Elliotts Funeral Services.
Osborne, who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in last year's Queen's Birthday Honours List for services to veterans and biosecurity, chose the wording for the four faces of the monument.
Pyes Pa Cemetery Anzac Day Remembrance Service
When: 11am this Wednesday.
Where: 403 Pyes Pa Rd.
Where in the cemetery: At the rear across from the crematorium chapel.