"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them."
(Stanza 4 of For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon.)
Before the sun rose on Sunday, a large crowd had gathered at Stratford's Cross of Sacrifice for a Dawn Service to mark Anzac Day.
While the town has traditionally had two services on Anzac Day, this year there was only one.
The service was longer than it had been in previous years, allowing for extra elements that would normally have taken place during a later civic service to be included. These included the reading out of an Anzac Day message from New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, as well as one from Dame Patsy Reddy, the Governor-General. The head girl and head boy of Stratford High School, Ella Hussey and Duncan Sheed, each gave speeches reflecting on the meaning of Anzac day to themselves.
A council spokesperson said the council had decided to focus on one service this year rather than the usual two.
"When planning for the 2021 Anzac Day service, council worked with its Anzac Day partners on a memorial that will continue to deliver a meaningful ritual of remembrance for our district, while allowing room for any change in Covid-19 alert levels."
People were welcomed to the Dawn Service by deputy mayor Alan Jamieson, while prayers were led by Reverend John Sheed, with Greg Topless leading the crowd in singing the hymn Amazing Grace as well as the national anthem. Throughout the service, names of Stratford's fallen soldiers were projected onto the building wall next to the Cross of Sacrifice. A wreath was laid by Mayor Neil Volzke, the RSA, representatives of the Army, Navy and Airforce, the fire service, local schools and groups, as well as individuals.
After the service people were invited into the TSB Chambers in the War Memorial Centre, where the Stratford Girl Guides and Brownies were serving tea, coffee, toast and Anzac biscuits.
The crowd was larger than in recent years, with many saying they normally went to the later service. For one family, the Stewarts, it was their first time attending a Dawn Service said mum Tracey.
"With kids it's hard to get up early, plus they normally like seeing the marching on the street so we go to that one. This was actually really emotional though. I think it made the kids realise it was serious, it wasn't about watching a show, it was about remembering people who died for us. I think we will come to this one in future."
During the service a guard of honour, consisting of Air Cadets from Stratford's No 48 Squadron, stood in position around the Cross of Sacrifice. The cadets then travelled to Eltham where they joined the parade and civic service in the town, outside the memorial gates at Eltham School before heading to the Eltham RSA commemorative service which took place at the Services Cemetery on Anderson Road.
At the civic service, guest speaker Terry Parkes MNZM said attending the service was a "highlight" of the Parkes family reunion which was under way over the weekend. His father, Bruce, was also present, carrying a photo of one of his brothers with him. That brother, Bill Parkes, made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, said Terry.
"He was one of four Parkes brothers to serve in the armed forces during World War II ... he joined the RAF. Dad (Bruce) was still at Stratford High School when three of his older brothers went overseas to fight Hitler."
Terry said his dad remembered Bill leaving from Eltham railway station. Bill had learned to fly at New Plymouth Aerodrome and had always wanted to be a pilot. After joining the RAF, Bill joined 75th NZ Squadron and started flying operations with a crew of four other Kiwis. They flew 17 successful missions before they took off for their 18th mission on September 7, 1942.
"That was the night their luck ran out."
Shot down by enemy bombers, the crew were described as missing for one year, before their status was changed to missing, presumed killed in action. The crew's plane was one of 11 Allied bombers shot down that night, Terry said.
His uncle's name is on the Eltham war memorial, said Terry, describing it as an important place of commemoration for his family. Closing his speech, he quoted Winston Churchill, paying tribute to the RAF.
"Never, in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few."
South Taranaki District Mayor Phil Nixon also spoke at the service, reflecting on the sacrifice made, not just by the men who fought, but by the women too, who served as nurses and were involved in resistance operations during the war.
Maureen Drylie, of the Eltham and Districts Historical Society, shared with the crowd some of the stories behind the names on the memorial gates, while prayers were led by RSA padre Lindsay Maindonald.
At the end of the civic service, people travelled to Anderson Road, where a commemorative service, conducted by the Eltham RSA took place.