This morning my wife and I rose in the cold pre-dawn hour and – like an awful lot of New Zealanders today – made our way to a public ceremony remembering all our war dead. We have done this many times, but this moment carried particular poignancy because it also marked the centenary of the landings on Gallipoli, one of the defining events in New Zealand’s history.
We eschewed a journey to the national war memorial park, opened just last week with fanfare and solemn reflection. Estimates suggested up to 20,000 people would attend there – forcing street closures and traffic jams. More Kiwis, indeed, than fought in the Gallipoli campaign. Instead, we chose a smaller memorial, one of several around the district where dawn commemorations are being held. A more intimate occasion, befitting the solemnity of the moment and the fact that remembrance is both a shared and an individual experience.
I have always thought it curious that New Zealand – like Australia – remembers its war dead on a day when we landed on the shores of a foreign country. But that does not reduce the solemnity of the moment. New Zealand – a small, isolated country in the South Pacific – has participated in virtually every major conflict around the world of the twentieth century. And with reason; for that isolation has meant that our interests, in reality, stretch to the shores of our friends, allies and trading partners elsewhere.
We despatched our first expeditionary force in 1899, to South Africa.The effort in 1914-18 was an order of magnitude greater – and that war also brought us more than half our war casualties of all time, most of them on the Western Front where over 100,000 Kiwis eventually fought.
A similar number were also despatched to many theatres in the Second World War. New Zealand forces then fought in Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam – the hot zones of the Cold War. Since that war ended in the early 1990s we have contributed extensively to international peace-keeping efforts from Kosovo to Timor, from Africa to Afghanistan.
We will remember them.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015