Today is April 25th. 101 years ago, soldiers from around the world fought on the shores of Gallipoli. Throughout the country, New Zealanders will be attending services commemorating the lives lost in the fight for our freedom.
I have attended many ANZAC services over the years. In a way, I had come to dread them. So many services focus on the events that happened during World War I. Many services glorified those events, like it was the only war worth remembering. It annoyed me. The veterans of World War I are all dead. Those who fought in World War II are rapidly dwindling in numbers. It was one thing that I never really understood: why should I be honouring only the veterans from WWI and WWII when the wars from Vietnam, East Timor and Afghanistan have had greater impact on the generations currently alive?
My father was a Vietnam vet, and for many years he was not seen as a vet worth honouring. My uncle fought in the Gulf War (the first one). Even one of my cousins has seen action in the Middle East. All of these men deserve my respect — they all made a sacrifice and thankfully came home.
War is war. It doesn’t matter when it happened. Even those who have recently served in the Middle East have done their part in fighting for MY freedom. I want to honour them all.
Today, I attended the ANZAC service in Papanui, New Zealand, along with my daughter. I was not looking forward to it. My daughter needed to attend a service as part of her Scout award scheme, and my husband was busy at the local Scout hall cooking breakfast for those who attended the main dawn service in the central city. So it fell to me to join my daughter in Papanui with her troop. And I’m glad I went.
The service started with the President of the Papanui RSA (Returned Servicemen’s Association) speaking out against the rumors that the RSA was no longer needed. Many believe that once the last of the veterans from WWII dies that the RSA will die with him. However, the President of the Papanui RSA proudly reminded those in attendance that the RSA services all veterans, from the WWII veterans currently in their late 90s, through to the youngest veteran who is currently 19. Yes, you read that correctly… 19. Those that have recently fought in the Middle East were also being honoured.
That was when a smile crept across my face. For the first time, ANZAC was not about just WWI. It was about all veterans. But the remembrance wasn’t limited to just soldiers.
A young woman, a recent high school graduate, was invited to speak. She pleaded with those in attendance to not only honour the men, but to remember the women. She spoke about the women who left the comforts of their homes to man the factories, and the farms, providing the much needed supplies for the men on the front lines. She spoke about the children who were forced to live their lives with their fathers overseas at war and their mothers working hard to keep the economy of the country going. She spoke of those women who chose to serve in the NZ Army Nurses Core, risking their lives to save the lives of soldiers injured during battle. And she spoke of a NZ nurse whose name was banned from the media, never given any recognition for her efforts in helping to improve the sexual health of soldiers serving overseas. It’s not often that I tear up at these sorts of ceremonies, but in hearing that young woman’s plea in remembering the women, a sense of pride flooded through my body. ANZAC was worth so much more.
Another young woman was also invited to speak, her story talking about the human side of war. She asked that we remember not just New Zealand and Australian soldiers who died during those fateful battles so long ago, but she asked that we remember those who also fought on the side of our enemies. War has no winners. Those soldiers who died on the battlefield share the same resting place. They all fought for what they believed.
Even the animals who served and died were given a place of honour during this morning’s service, with a donkey taking part in the servicemen’s parade.
Thank you to the Papanui RSA for their remembrance service. Thank you for making this day about what it really should be about: honouring all who have serviced, regardless the gender, breed, and era.
Thank you to all who have chosen to serve in the name of protecting my freedom.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016