As I write this from a sunny but cool London morning in my office, Kiwis in my hometown of Wellington will be starting their night-time routines after what I imagine was a welcome day off work to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Anzac Day is a day of memorial, marking when New Zealand, Australia, and other countries remember those who fought and died defending their country. Marked around the world by expats, the day always falls on April 25, the day when the first ever military campaign involving Australians and New Zealanders, in the First World War, began.
For me, marking ANZAC day traditionally means gathering together with others in the darkness before the break of dawn. Sharing a song. Sharing a memory, a story, and a prayer for the peace of the world moving forward to the future. Then following the local pipe band, a group of veterans, and a mishmash of local groups from the Scouts and Guides to the Cadets to the local marae for a special Anzac biscuit and a well-deserved coffee (and for some of the old blokes, a dash of Rum too...).
This year has been different. This is our second Anzac day marked from afar. Our first, in Varanasi, India, was remembered quietly, just my husband and I and a little moment of silence amongst the colourful and noisy Ganges river. This year, we congregated alongside thousands of fellow Kiwis and Australians beside the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park, London.
There were a few notable differences between our London ceremony and those at home. Firstly, the lack of a gunshot to start the service and pipes to end it—unsurprising given the real estate that overlooks Hyde Park Corner and peoples' dislike of random noise at the literal crack-of-dawn. Secondly, the enormous queue to get in—bag checks and metal detectors were in full use, a not-so-subtle hat-tip to the unfortunate potential consequences that large gatherings of people hold in 2018. Thirdly, the presence of HRH Harry and his wife-to-be Meghan. We knew being in London increased our chances of some royal spotting, but this was a nice extra bonus for the day. And finally, singing God Save the Queen, alongside the Australian national anthem and New Zealand national anthem (in both Maori and English). We used to do this in Wellington, but dropped it many a year ago now!
Despite the few differences, the rest of the Anzac service remained mostly familiar, especially the bits that pull on one's heartstrings—the playing of the last post and the reading of "The Ode" by Poet Laurence Binyon:
"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."
As I get older I can't help but reflect on what it must have been like in 1914. Young men going off to the great beyond not knowing what they would find. Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Wives, and Children not knowing of the status of their child, sibling, or partner who was off defending our way of life. For me, this Anzac day isn’t just about remembering those brave men who stepped on to the shores at Gallipoli. It is about remembering and honouring all the men and women who have stepped on to unfamiliar shores. We will not forget those who have served this country in times of war.
We will remember them, wherever we may be.