It’s Anzac Day in New Zealand – memorial day, A day when – with Australia – we remember the dead of all our wars. In a way it is a peculiar choice. Britain remembers their dead on 11 November – the anniversary of the Armistice in 1918. We remember ours on the day our forces stormed ashore on the coasts of Gallipoli, opening a disastrous eight-month campaign.
The reasons are entwined in the mythology of New Zealand’s nationalism. After the campaign ended in December 1915, grieving New Zealanders turned it into a triumph of national identity – a moment when we fought for our beloved Empire. It was an astonishing turn-around. The first celebrations of 1916 turned into tradition; afterwards, the day became more rallying point for military remembrance than Armistice Day. And so Anzac Day was born.
It has evolved since, shaped by the wars New Zealand got involved with through the twentieth century. As part of the British Empire, New Zealanders fought alongside others from Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa and allies such as the United States, from the Arctic ocean to the deserts of Africa, from the Pacific islands to the jungles of Borneo. Later, Kiwi forces were sent on peace-keeping duties to Ethiopia, the Balkans, Sinai and Timor among others. Today, there are Kiwi soldiers in Afghanistan.
More than half of New Zealand’s military casualties of all time occurred on the Western Front of 1916-18 – the soul-destroying conflict that defined the First World War. I wrote about that in my book Shattered Glory: The New Zealand Experience at Gallipoli and the Western Front (Penguin 2010).
New Zealanders today would not be here were it not for the sacrifices of these brave men in 1914-18, and particularly 1939-45, a war that, for all its tragedy, had to be fought as the only way of saving the world from a new dark age. We will remember them.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012