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Anzac Day Dawn Service

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 25 April 2000
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Eighty five years have gone by since that first nightmare at Anzac Cove on Gallipoli. Yet still we gather, New Zealanders and Australians all over the world, again waiting for the first light of dawn, waiting and remembering. For this is a time for memories: for remembering, or for being reminded, perhaps being told for the first time, how much we owe, what sacrifices were made, for the principles, the values, that underpin our nation, for the way of life we take so much for granted.

There will be memories of loved ones, of comrades, who died in war or as a result of war. Some of us still carry the scars. For some of us there will be reminders of scenes we would prefer to forget, of acts of heroism and sacrifice, of places that to many are just names, but to those who were there that speak of the fury, the carnage, the horror of war: places like Olympus and the Pass of Thermopylae, Malme and Galatas, Sidi Rezegh, El Alamein, Takrouna, the Sangro and Orsogna, and Monte Cassino; these and so many other places that between them claimed the lives of 12,000 New Zealanders.

There will be fewer amongst us whose memories go back to the first of the World Wars, but again there are names indelibly engraved on our national consciousness, Armentires, the Somme, Messines, Passchendaele, Ypres, on that fearful Western Front where more than 13,000 young New Zealanders died, and 35,000 were wounded.

And Gallipoli. Thousands make a pilgrimage there every year, standing silent by the little beach at Anzac Cove, trying to imagine what it would have been like, so peaceful now, but then a very threshold of hell, where one in five of the 3,100 New Zealanders who landed on that first day were dead by its close. And then the pilgrimage takes you up those steep, ravine scoured hills, fought over so bitterly for eight months, up to the commanding heights of Chunuk Bair, that legendary place which New Zealanders, in one of our army's finest hours, finally stormed and held against great odds until they could hold out no longer.

There is a memorial there which bears the names of 852 New Zealanders who have no known grave; a grim forecast of the tens of thousands in both wars whose last resting place has not been found, or whose grave bears the simple words, "Known only to God."

The campaign at Gallipoli was a disaster, but there we proved ourselves, and so we see it now as the beginning of our sense of nationhood, of who we are, of what it is to be a New Zealander. It was, too, an introduction to what nationhood means, to the reality that we do not exist in isolation from the rest of the world, but that we are a member of a community of nations, sharing responsibility for upholding human rights, for assisting the suffering and the oppressed, for securing peace and justice in and among nations.

We accepted that responsibility in the mud and slaughter of northern France and on Flanders' fields, and then 20 years later in Greece and Crete, in North Africa and Italy, in the Pacific, in the skies and on the seas. Our acceptance came dearly. Our casualties in both world wars were, proportionately to population, greater than those of almost every other participant.

Yet that was not to be the end. The scourge of Communism called us to South East Asia, and in more recent years racial or political conflict within nations has led us to play a significant part in peacekeeping operations in Africa and the Middle East, in Indo-China and the Balkans, in Bougainville and now in East Timor. Of these, East Timor has been our greatest challenge, and has reminded us of some important truths. As has been said: "The condition upon which God has given liberty to man is eternal vigilance", and that simply means that a nation worthy of the name must remain prepared to stand on its own feet in its own defence, as well as playing a responsible role in peacekeeping and peacemaking for others. Too many lives have been lost through a lack of preparedness. We cannot risk carelessly losing more.

On this day we remember with thanksgiving and with honour those who fought for freedom and justice and peace; those who died, and those who lived but carried, or still carry, the physical or emotional wounds of war. But simply to remember and to honour, without more, is an empty gesture. This day demands more of us.

It demands from us our own commitment to freedom and justice, our own commitment to peace. Almost all the conflict that has beset the world in recent decades, that has called on our own intervention as peacekeepers, has been not between nations, but between communities within nations. And so it can truly be said that peace begins at home, in the elimination of discrimination and lack of opportunity, and in the practice of tolerance and fairness and compassion.

This year has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. We are challenged to cultivate peace as a personal and national, as well as an international ideal, to learn to live at peace in ourselves, in our families, our communities and our nation, as well as to lend every effort we can muster to promote peace in and among the nations of the world.

Only by taking up that challenge with all our hearts can we do true honour to those whose sacrifice we remember today.

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 25 April 2000

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