“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
April 25th 1915 will forever be a date entrenched in every New Zealander’s heart and mind. It was the day that New Zealand came of age. The disaster that Gallipoli became for both New Zealand and Australia was the catalyst that forged the unshakable bonds of friendship and duty that characterizes the transtasman relationship today. ANZAC day brought home the reality to both our countries, that King and empire courted us in her time of need, however the indifference that went into the planning of the Gallipoli landing drove home the message that we were on our own. It was time for our country to carve her own path into modernity, alone, without mother England at the helm,
War and its horrors is something that every country in the world is familiar with. History is littered with appalling stories of genocide, famine as a result, heinous war crimes that go unpunished, inhumane treatment of fellow human beings. Korea, my adopted home for over half a decade understands first hand the harrowing consequences of battles fought over conflicting ideology. It was on this peninsula that the Cold War became unmistakably hot in 1950, and millions of troops and civilians lost their lives in the 3 year fratricidal struggle. Australia and New Zealand were part of the International effort that was led by the United States under the UN banner which sent troops to this Peninsula, to once again fight another man’s war and come to grief on another man’s land.
Living abroad has brought home to me the magnitude that all of Australia and New Zealand’s service men and women through the years have had to make. New Zealand in particular is a proud little nation of peace promoters. We are renowned for our easy going kind of attitude, our tolerance of difference, but most importantly our disposition to ‘mind our own business’. ANZAC troops volunteered to fight for and die for the liberty and freedom of people they never knew. In lands they never worked, in ideological struggles they never understood.
It is true that other countries send troops to help allies during a war. And a lot of American soldiers died in Europe and Africa and nearly every continent in the world. I do not wish to diminish their sacrifice. Dying for one’s nation is the ultimate sacrifice, that we all must honour. And the US has their memorial days as well. However I will unashamedly say now that I believe Kiwis are unique. Our country has never started a war with another, we have never entered a war for conquest, strategic dominance, hegemonic authority, oil. But we believe in always helping a friend in need, in doing what’s right. So if a Kiwi thinks that someone has been hard done by, it’s in the New Zealand psyche to stand up for that person. This is the real New Zealand spirit, and I really hope that modern New Zealand rediscovers the true sense of charity and sacrifice that I was always led to believe set us apart from the rest of the world. Our Politicians in particular could do with a refresher course on what it means to be a New Zealander.
I pay tribute to the ANZACs a lot more here in Korea than when I lived in New Zealand, and as I mentioned before this is because I really feel the magnitude of their sacrifice more here. When you move half way around the world, to a country where you can’t speak the language, know very few people, without any family members it’s easy to become overwhelmed. The frantic life over here, the inescapable congestion can make you feel very far from the calm streets of suburban Auckland.
But then I stop and think, what it must have been like for all those service men and women. Especially the ANZACs, volunteer troops, leaving the surroundings of lush farmland and native forests, golden sandy beaches, beautiful lakes, community centred towns of burgeoning prosperity. Leaving behind all friends and Kin, to fight in a war that was made by egotistical men, without the sense to foresee the horrific consequences of their chess like game of inter state rivalry.
I think about what it must have been like for our service men and women who served in the first world war. Notwithstanding the fact that we are as far removed from the rest of the world you can get without possibly falling off of the face of it, to be suddenly thrust into the throes of world stage conflict. And knowing that many of them may not return. And in the end, far too many never did. I think I can process that emotional state a little better now living so far away from home.
If you’ve never lived away from New Zealand you never really learn to appreciate how special it is to come from our little corner of the world. You leave New Zealand, but you never really leave New Zealand. Every kiwi will always leave their heart at home. And knowing that I will return one day isn’t enough to stave off the occasional bout of yearning to return. And then I think about the ANZACs, and the thousands upon thousands who never got to return to New Zealand, and my heart breaks for them and their families. And I learn to appreciate them so much more. Knowing that their sacrifice is something that I will never ever come close to ever matching in my lifetime.
My tribute to the ANZACs will be to always strive to use my hard fought liberty to live my life to the fullest. The greatest tribute I can offer to those who fought for my freedom is to never take it for granted. Through their sacrifices, and the sacrifices made by millions of other allied soldiers from around the world, we enjoy the opportunity to pursue our lives in relative peace. Prosperity is possible because of these people. Don’t waste the opportunity, be mindful of who came before, but most of all honour them every day in striving to build your dream, in helping to preserve rights for others and most importantly in living life to the fullest.
Lest We Forget.
Photo of the New Zealand War Memorial in Korea unveiled in 2005
*NB in WW1 New Zealand contributed 103,000 troops to the war effort, it represented over 10% of the entire population, one of the highest per capita contributions of any country involved in the war.