Friday, 20 April 2007

A self-indulgent Anzac Day rant

I bought an Anzac poppy this morning on the walk to work to celebrate Poppy Day. Well, to be accurate, Tane bought me a poppy as my wallet was lurking in the bottom of my gym bag. Unbeknownst to the naked eye, reaching into the Bag of Gym Gear of Doom for even a seemingly simple retrieval can be a deceptively time-consuming affair. Regardless, I now have my 2007 poppy, and have worn it happily all day. Except the time that I pinned it into me rather than by jumper. But I digress.

At lunchtime, I met my sister for a Coke as she had been at Archives studying for her thesis about the Pioneer Battalion of World War One. After noticing all the poppy-clad Wellingtonians around us, we started asking - why do we care about Anzac Day? Why are so many Kiwis going to Gallipoli every 25 April to drink so much that the Turkish government has banned liquor there?

I know why I like Anzac Day. As anyone who knows me (or seen my bookshelf) is aware, the two World Wars are of interest to me. I have written a thesis on the Maori Battalion of World War Two, and presented a paper about the same. Due to this interest (and Stephen's nagging), I've also been to a number of dawn ceremonies. Getting up that early is hard work, but a simple reminder that the trenches would have been a whole lot worse generally does the trick. A dawn service is worth going to if you haven't before, and if you go more than once it really hits home how the number of World War Two vets are steadily decreasing.

I like wearing the poppy, and I like sparing a thought for people that have fought in various wars. I like Anzac Day because it reminds me of my Granddad (who was in the Airforce) marching in the Anzac Day parades back in the early 90s. I also like remembering the war records, dairies and letters I trawled through honours year, and the fascinating content of these. Anzac Day to me isn't about national identity, but about remembering the multitudes of people that fought in a number of wars. It isn't even about the two World Wars specifically. We forget that Boer War vets used to participate in Anzac marches before they all died.

Daniel Keenan c. 1945

If I had to put why I like Anzac Day in a simple sentence, it would be that Anzac Day reminds me of the uniquely NZ experience in events that encompassed the whole world. It isn't about Gallipoli alone, but Guadalcanal, and fighting in North Africa and Italy. It's about having to put gun emplacements on Somes Island in the Wellington Harbour, and Paekakariki women being swept away by the American GI's posted there. It's about the stories featuring Kiwis that are unlikely to ever be made into a Hollywood blockbuster a la' Saving Private Ryan. And I am clearly a filthy liar as that is well more than a simple sentence. :)

I am curious though - why do other Kiwis care about Anzac Day? Are their reasons the same as mine? If you click here you'll connect to a site about why Anzac Day is significant to New Zealanders. It's interesting, although the reasons given aren't same as the ones I've just listed. Having gone on this self-indulgent rant, though, I have to conclude though by saying that I am enjoying wearing my poppy. And I sure am looking forward to going to Gallipoli in September.
Horray for poppies!


Bonnie said...

I think of it as "those poor bastards" day rather than any of that birth-of-a-nation/mateship/spirit of the ANZACs nonsense. There's not much about the Gallipoli campaign worth celebrating, except perhaps that we've learned from our mistakes (hint, John Howard).

I'll make some Anzac biscuits (like many other Anzac things, they're a marketing legend rather than authentic relics) and read my book of Wilfred Owen poems.

Elizabeth said...

Like I did for Waitangi Day, I took the opportunity on ANZAC Day to educate my workmates about NZ. I put up posters about the ANZACs, sent out an email, and had Tim bake some delicious ANZAC biscuits which I brought in to share. Well, I brought *some* of them in to share...