103 - The Changing Face of ANZAC Day


Ian McKelvie: 103 years - the changing face of Anzac Day

24 Apr, 2018 10:30 PM

When I was a boy, Anzac Day was a very solemn occasion.

No shops were open and no sport was played.

I can remember watching a large, but dwindling contingent of World War I veterans and then a huge group of World War II men, all of whom marched proudly in the parades of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Great War of 1914-1918 had taken an incredible 18,000 young New Zealanders and disfigured and injured thousands more. Only 20 years later about 12,000 kiwis lost their lives in World War II, again with thousands physically and mentally changed forever.

In New Zealand we have commemorated Anzac Day since 1915.

It's an amazing tradition which began after World War I returned soldiers sought comradeship in the quiet, peaceful moments before dawn, with obvious symbolic links to the dawn landings at Gallipoli, a day which claimed 2700 New Zealanders.

The early morning light makes a dawn service one of the most emotional and compelling commemorations of this special day.

As the 1970s rolled around and the gap since wartime reached 30 years, a whole new generation emerged.

Decision-makers, business people and parents who had no direct recollection of "the war years" started to emerge with a viewpoint that challenged the solemnity of the first 60 or so Anzac commemorations.

Shop trading laws changed to allow retailing in the afternoon and it became acceptable to hold sports fixtures, some which had Anzac in their title.

At the same time, the stranglehold on wartime service which First and Second World War returned men had held for so long became challenged by much younger blokes who had served in the likes of Korea, Malaya and Vietnam.

The contribution of service women and those left behind at home became easier to recognise and to speak of, and the solemnity slowly gave way to what I will term as "positive patriotism".

Anzac Day eventually moved with the times, much in the way that weddings and funerals evolved and changed with the times to suit the different attitudes of the new generations.

I really think these changes ensured that our commemorations on April 25 survived to be an important event each year all these years on.

Linton, Ohakea and Waiouru are all services-based, and the special character of my vast electorate makes me feel very close to this special day.

What heartens me is the broadening of the scope of the remembrance that this special day brings. Anzac Day now promotes a sense of unity more effectively – people whose politics, beliefs and aspirations are widely different can nevertheless share genuine sorrow at the sad loss of so many lives at war.

After more than 100 years, poppies are still worn, all members of the community are welcome and children can learn about the futility of war through poetry and music.

Mangaweka or Manukau, Hokitika or Halcombe, the numbers of New Zealanders attending Anzac services in every corner of our nation are increasing. We can be proud of what has become a truly national day of remembrance.