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ANZAC Day Parade

Issue date: 
Sunday, 25 April 1999
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

"These laid the world away; poured out the red sweet wine of youth:
Gave up the years to be of work and joy, and that unhoped serene
That men call age; and those that would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality."

Words of the poet Rupert Brooke, soon to die at sea on a troopship on the way to Gallipoli.

A year ago today, I was at Gallipoli. As the first glimmer of dawn appeared over the tops of the hills, my wife and I stood on the beach at Anzac Cove. Around us, only just visible in the dark, was a sea of faces; seven, eight, nine thousand of them. They were mostly young; New Zealanders and Australians. They had come as pilgrims, to discover something of themselves and of their nations. They had been there all night. Now they stood in utter silence. The only sound was of the sea lapping on the shore.

How different it had been 84 years ago. No silence then. Young New Zealanders and Australians were there though, in their thousands too; 3,100 of ours. At the end of that first day, one in five of them lay dead.

In the early afternoon we stood on that other legendary place, Chunuk Bair, the commanding height of the Peninsula. There was rain now, driven by a bitter wind. Our Maori service guard, wearing only piupiu, shuddered in the cold. But again there was silence. No-one moved. We tried to picture to ourselves August 1915, when the New Zealanders stormed the hilltop, and for three fearful days held it against huge odds until they could hold it no more. On the memorial we read the names of those who died there, 852 of them have no known grave, one only 17 years old. And then we went with some youngsters from New Zealand and some youngsters from Turkey to plant trees as a living memorial.

11,600 New Zealanders served at Gallipoli. Over 2,700 died there; over 4,700 were wounded, some of them later to die of their wounds. Today, we honour them, all now gone.

The campaign at Gallipoli was a disaster, but it was 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. For it means, does it not, an acceptance of responsibility as a member of the community of nations, responsibility for upholding human rights, for assisting the suffering and the oppressed, responsibility for peace and justice in and among nations.

It was in acknowledgement of that responsibility that our First Expeditionary Force went on from Gallipoli, some to the Middle East, most to the mud and the slaughter of the Western Front — Armentires, the Somme, Messines, Passchendaele, Ypres — suffering unbelievable casualties: 13,250 dead, 35,000 wounded. Today, we honour them, as still do the people in those towns and villages of northern France, where there are permanent memorials, and each year tributes, to those who, in the words of one memorial, came from the uttermost ends of the earth.

Twenty years later the responsibilities of nationhood summoned us again, to Greece and Crete, where the memories of the New Zealanders are still strong, to the deserts of north Africa, to Italy, to the skies, and the oceans, to the islands, of the Pacific. Once again, we answered that summons, with all our strength. And with the loss of another 11,600 young lives. Memories of those days are clearer and the honour we render often more personal. Every family represented here will have its own: perhaps of the sights and sounds and privations of war, or of the anxious waiting at home, the tragedy of loss, or the joy of reunion, the rationing and the blackouts, the fear of invasion, the rejoicing that at last it was all over, the world could return to sanity, the United Nations would ensure peace and justice for all, war would be no more.

But of course it was not to be so. The Iron Curtain came down, and with it came conflict — in Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam - and again we were called to arms and again we responded with the resolution, the initiative, the courage, for which our service men and women had become renowned. And with more lives, more casualties, more memories.

And then our obligations gave us a new role, a role as peacekeepers, or in providing humanitarian aid, in the Sinai, in Somalia, in Bosnia, in Bougainville. At the present time we have 139 service men and women, fine ambassadors for New Zealand, carrying out this vital work on 14 different missions around the world. And yet conflicts continue. The horrors, the savagery, of Rwanda, and now of Kosovo, prompt again with great poignancy and great urgency the songwriter's question: "When will they ever learn?" When indeed.

Anzac Day is a day to remember with thanksgiving and with honour those who fought for freedom and justice; those who died, those who lived but carried or still carry the physical and emotional scars of war. But to remember and to honour is empty gesture without more; without giving meaning, lasting meaning, to what they did and endured.

Perhaps, like me, you watch and read about events on the other side of the world with a sense of utter helplessness. Perhaps like me you want to cry out: "Stop the violence and the cruelty. These are your brothers and sisters, made in the same image as you and me." But how futile that would be. Who would listen?

So what then can we do? For one thing, we can give the fullest possible support to those who work for peace; to our leaders in government, to international organisations. We can ensure that this nation continues to make its voice heard very clearly in the councils of the world. And we must be willing to play a responsible, effective role in keeping the peace and in maintaining security with a strong and well-equipped defence force. In other words, we can — indeed we must — continue to exercise the responsibilities of nationhood in the community of nations.

But of course there is more. For the responsibilities of nationhood go well beyond filling an international role. Nationhood derives from the spirit of the people themselves. It grows from a unity of purpose, based on commonly held beliefs and values, on a shared vision and shared aspirations, on a love of country, a pride in the achievements of its people, and a commitment to the wellbeing of them all. This is what is meant by patriotism, a word that is at times, and very foolishly, denigrated; but one that, rightly used, sums up the foundation and the responsibilities of nationhood as they concern us, personally, as individual citizens.

We have reason to be proud of our country and the achievements of our people. We are in so many respects an energetic, innovative, caring society. Yet we have faltered a little of late. We have not always remembered that with rights and privileges go responsibilities. We have at times been all too ready to complain and to demand rather than to be appreciative and to share. In the name of freedom, we have countenanced attitudes that have led to divisions in our society, even to its basic foundation, the family, being undermined.

As a result a gulf has opened up, a gulf that is especially and most painfully apparent among our young people, those who are our nation's future. On one side of the gulf are the great majority, talented, energetic, committed, determined to be good New Zealanders. On the other side, there are those who have come to be called "at risk." These are the ones who suffer abuse or neglect at home, who drop out of school, who are unemployed, often unemployable, who find solace in substance abuse and excitement in violence, and at times escape in suicide.

My friends, the wellbeing of our nation depends very much on whether, and how soon, we bridge that gulf. To accomplish this is perhaps the greatest challenge facing our nation; not just our government, not just our welfare organisations, but each one of us. The challenge is, I have no doubt at all, one that those whose memory and whose deeds we honour today would have us take up with all our energy.

On the Commonwealth War Memorial at Kohima, in north-east India, perhaps the westernmost point of the Pacific war, there are these words:

When you go home, tell them of us, and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today.

It is in what we do with that tomorrow, which is our today, and in what we do to prepare the tomorrow that belongs to our children and our grandchildren, that we can best, most truly, honour and remember them.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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