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Remembering the Anzacs, then and now

April 29th, 2020 By Rita Havell

This year we came together to commemorate Anzac Day under a national lockdown due to COVID-19, the way in which we remembered the fallen had to change. From our own home bubbles, we found new ways of joining together to commemorate the day.

We decorated our homes with poppies downloaded from a website and placed white crosses inscribed with the names of fallen relatives and friends on front lawns. Instead of attending public civic events such as the Dawn Parade or Anzac Day Service at the local War Memorial, this year at 6am, we stood in our bubbles beside letterboxes, at the end of driveways and listened to the radio.

With our neighbours we heard a service, introduced by the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, a piper playing a lament, a bugler the ‘Last Post’ and joined in singing the national anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’. See RNZ's coverage of how the day was observed.

Past Anzac Day commemorations

Considering the changes this year I decided to look back at past Anzac Day commemorations. Anzac Day has always been a communal event observed by local communities. The local brass band played, marching veterans were joined by school children and onlookers watched with respect.

To begin, let’s look at an Anzac Day Commemoration which was held just down the road from the Alexander Turnbull Library, on the corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay in Wellington.

Looking south along Lambton Quay as the parade marches down the street which has been cleared. Crowds line the footpaths.
Anzac Day ceremony, Wellington. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP-0683-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library.

This photograph was made in 1927. A temporary War Memorial is on the right. The Wellington Cenotaph, or the Citizens’ War Memorial as it was known, was not built until 1931. It is a typical, large, urban community scene with soldiers, veterans, a brass band in the parade. The route is lined with onlookers with children in the front row.

If you look carefully, there is a dog in the middle of the road getting ready to shepherd the marching soldiers to their destination at the Basin Reserve.

Local community

Anzac Day commemorations have often taken place at locations significant to the local community. The railway station at Petone was important to its community as the New Zealand Railway Department Workshop was sited there. The 25th April 1916 Anzac Day Commemoration was held at the Petone Railway Station.

An article in the Evening Post dated 22 April 1916, p. 6, describes the programme for the coming day: “At 3.30pm the ceremony of the unfurling of the New South Wales flag sent in exchange for a New Zealand one by the New South Wales Railway employees”, and further, “there will be a singing of the massed school children”.

If you look closely at the image, there is a woman in the front wearing a black armband. This signifies that a close member of her family has passed away and she is in mourning. On the platform, a group of school children stand ready to begin singing.

Shows a crowd, flagpole and banners next to the Petone Railway Station.
Anzac Day commemoration at Petone. Ref: APG-0589-1/2-G. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Commemorations in the regions

In contrast to the large, urban community gatherings in cities like Wellington, there are smaller commemorations in the regions. For example, this one at Cardiff in Taranaki.

Cardiff is a small dairying settlement in inland Taranaki, 5 km from Stratford. The photograph was taken around 1920, just two years after the close of the First World War. The whole community has come together to remember the fallen. On the right-hand side is the local brass band. A note on the back of the photograph reads that “the seating was borrowed from the nearby Methodist Church”.

Gathering alongside the World War 1 memorial at Cardiff, possibly the unveiling, circa 1920.
Gathering at the World War 1 memorial, Cardiff. Ref: 1/2-154967-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

School cadets

Often community groups were included in Anzac Day parades. The image below shows the Nelson school cadets taking part in the Nelson Anzac Day parade in 1917. School cadets were a school military club for boys. They learned skills such as how to drill and first aid. In this image, they are wearing their club uniforms and marching in front of soldiers.

School cadets marching in rows for Anzac Day in Nelson.
Gathering at the World War 1 memorial, Cardiff. Ref: 1/2-154967-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

In this image, a group of women and children are preparing a float to travel in the Anzac parade at Pukeroa on 25 April 1919. The float is decorated with evergreens. Three of the women are wearing cloaks. A young girl holds a ceremonial spear decorated with feathers.

Photograph of Gilbert Mair addressing women and children.
Creator Unknown: Photograph of Captain Gilbert Mair with a group of Maori women, Anzac Day, Pukeroa. Ref: PAColl-8189. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Laying of wreaths

The laying of wreaths and floral tributes on the military graves at the local cemetery and war memorials is an integral part of Anzac Day. Families and friends can decorate the individual graves of their loved ones and community groups can collectively pay their respects by laying wreaths at the War Memorial.

In this image families and friends are placing floral arrangements on graves in the Military Section of the Karori Cemetery. The graves are newly marked with white crosses and do not yet have the headstones marked with ferns that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission would later place there.

Men and women placing wreaths on the ground where graves are marked at Karori cemetery.
Group placing wreaths on graves in the soldier’s section of the Karori Cemetery, Karori, Wellington, on Anzac Day, 1921. Ref: 1/2-048324-G. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Overseas commemorations in Egypt

No matter where they were, New Zealanders commemorated Anzac Day. In 1942, this New Zealand Expeditionary Forces group in Cairo, Egypt, are preparing to distribute floral arrangements around the Old Cairo Cemetery.

Those interred would have been from both World Wars. Among the floral tributes in the bouquet placed on the ground are ferns and flax, a reminder of home to be placed in front of headstones.

Women and men wearing white and khaki uniforms stand at the cemetery.
NZEF groups at the Old Cairo Cemetery, Anzac Day. Photograph taken by M D Elias. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-02481-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The placing of wreaths on overseas War Memorials to those who have fallen far from home is an integral part of Anzac Day. Below, two nurses from the New Zealand Army Nursing Service are placing a large wreath made from ferns to honour nurses recorded on the Stone of Remembrance at the Old Cemetery at Cairo, Egypt.

Two women place a wreath upon the memorial in the cemetery.
Nurses place a wreath in Cairo cemetery on Anzac Day, 1940. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch: Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-00520-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Prisoners of War

A community group that Commemorated Anzac Day during the Second World War in their own bubbles were Prisoners of War. A programme published by the Prisoners of War at Stalag 383 in Bavaria, Germany on 25 April 1944 included sports along with a Dawn Service and March Past of Remembrance at the Old Cemetery at Cairo, Egypt.

Programme cover shows a central cross and monument with the wording "Lest we forget". At the left is the silhouette of a soldier standing with his head bowed in respect, the barrel end of his gun resting on the ground.
Darling, A E, active 1944. Darling, A E, fl 1944: Lest we forget. Anzac Day dawn service, sports, march past. Stalag 383, Bavaria, Germany, April 25th1944 [Programme cover. 1944]. [Ephemera relating to Anzac and First and Second World War events in New Zealand and overseas, and anniversaries of the landing at Anzac Cove. 1940-1959]. Ref: Eph-A-ANZAC-1944-01-front. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Dawn Service

A feature of Anzac Day observances is the Dawn Parade. “Where at the rising of the Sun and in the morning” we remember those, who have fallen.

This image is of the Dawn Parade in between the old wooden Government Buildings and the Wellington Cenotaph on 25 April 1960. Everyone appears to be at attention while a pipe band plays.

Shows a large group standing in the dawn light for the morning ceremony.
ANZAC dawn parade at the Cenotaph, Wellington. Dominion post (Newspaper): Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1960/1445-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

The Anzac Day Dawn parade is concluded by sharing refreshments. This group of veterans is sharing a cup of tea at Petone. In their lapels, they wear poppies, the enduring symbol of Anzac Day.

Unidentified veteran soldiers talking face to face while holding teacups after the Anzac Day dawn parade.
Unidentified veteran soldiers talking together after the Anzac Day dawn parade, Petone. Evening Post (Newspaper. 1865-2002: Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1956/0915-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

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