Victory in remembering
One of my strongest childhood memories is of getting lost. I was four years old and it was ANZAC Day, the day on which Australians and New Zealanders turn out to honour those service men and women who lost their lives in wars.
The landing of Allied troops at Gallipoli on April 25 is commemorated every year in both countries as ANZAC Day (for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps), as well as with ceremonies around the world in countries where our troops served. It was first marked unofficially in 1916, before becoming a national public holiday in both countries in the 1920s, with dawn services and public marches now intended as remembrance for all fallen and serving troops from all wars.
Growing up in New Zealand, with a World War II veteran father, it was an annual rite that was never missed. Dad marched with the survivors from his battalion and others from wars before and since “his” war. We gathered at the local war memorial, on a triangle of land in the heart of our town. It was a family ritual, watching the laying of wreaths and hearing the mournful solo bugle play the Last Post.
Nearly every New Zealand and Australian town has a war memorial, usually in the main street. They are part of the fabric of our lives.
On this particular ANZAC Day, when the crowd dispersed the children had permission to run ahead to where our car was parked. I ran with my sisters and cousins, but my little legs had trouble keeping up with the older ones and they disappeared in the crowd. I turned into the wrong side street…and was lost. I don’t know exactly how long I wandered around alone, looking for my family, but it was at least long enough for my parents to become distraught and the police to be called. A couple of hours, perhaps.
Eventually, I found myself in an alleyway beside a railway cutting. Now, I know that for an adult that place is only about two minutes walk from the Cenotaph where we had gathered for the ANZAC Day service. Two elderly women – taking a shortcut through the cutting – came along and found me. I knew my name, and – unsurprisingly in a small town – one of them knew my grandmother. They walked me to her house, about 1.5km away. From there, my parents were phoned and soon arrived to claim me. Relief and tears all round.
So the war memorial on the triangle of land – where we continued to go every ANZAC Day for the first 20 years of my life – holds strong memories for me. So when I heard that the memorial that had stood there since February 1923 had been shifted to a new location, I was horrified. How dare anyone tamper with my memories?
Change is something we often resist, especially when it is linked to long traditions. and I’ve heard that I was not the only one who felt this way about the local council’s decision. The truth was, the location was difficult and crowds each year were growing.
So a couple of years ago, the granite Cenotaph was moved to an inner-city park and a new war memorial created around it. And when I visited it last week, I realised that it was a good move. Last year, an estimated 7500 people took part in Whangarei’s ANZAC Day service, among them hundreds of children, many wearing their old family members’ medals and insignia in tribute. And the new setting is lovely.
A black marble wall stands behind the old Cenotaph, which was created to remember those from the local district who gave their lives in World War I and has been restored, the 130 names on it newly gilded with gold leaf. The wall carries the 470 names of those who died in the South African War, World War II, and wars in which New Zealanders served in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. Each year, the parkland in front of it is set up with a formation of white crosses representing those people’s sacrifice. It is called the Field of Remembrance.
The Cenotaph’s new inscription reads: “Let silent contemplation be your offering”. This place of peace and beauty makes it easy to offer that. Nearby a small waterfall adds to the atmosphere.
But I still had a question. Who is the beautiful figure in white marble who stands atop the Cenotaph, one hand stretched upward, the other holding a simple wreath of leaves. It seems she is the symbolic figure of Victory, and this is one of only 13 war memorials (of the 900 in New Zealand) to carry a female figure.
And so I rejoiced in this beautiful new setting and let go of my desire to cling to the past. This year, my visit was not timed so I could attend the ANZAC Day service there today…but one year soon, I’ll be there to honour the men and women from my home town – my father and uncles among them – who served their country when it called them.
Lest we forget.
15 Responses to “Victory in remembering”
A moving and personal piece. Thank you.
I love that a woman figure is used…maybe why New Zealand has a more understanding social psyche.
Is there a reminder at the old site?
I had a little chuckle to myself when I reached the part where you explain how you turned into the wrong side street. Your wrong turn was luckily nowhere near the blunder that was Leopold Loyka’s.
Thanks Lee :-)
Well that made me laugh too, Mark. I had not thought of that particularly parallel in my story! Poor old Leopold.
Interestingly, the NZ government history site that I gleaned that info about the female figures on war memorials also noted that they were used “proportionately far more than in Australia”. I’m not sure what that signifies about the two countries societies, though.
Oh, that’s a much better place for the Cenotaph, Lee. Looks good there.
I too have a bad memory of an Anzac Day at the old place. When we were in the 7th form, we were all to go to the Dawn Service – in our school uniforms, of course. Jenny and I somehow got the meeting place confused and ended up at the RSA where we found ourselves marching in the parade with all the old soldiers. When we arrived at the Cenotaph we could see the rest of the girls and the headmistress standing in the general area – and they could obviously see us. Afterwards, we marched back with to the RSA and had a cup of tea, and the old soldiers all welcomed us and said how nice it was to have us march with them. Next day at school, we were summonsed and told what silly girls we were and how embarrassed the headmistress was to see us in the parade in our uniforms. We were made to feel humiliated (not the only time I had a run-in with Miss Jones – Patricia Bartlett is another story!!). However, my mum pointed out that as the granddaughter of a WWI veteran, I had every right to be there to represent him!
That’s a funny story, Penny. These days, children and grandchildren are encouraged and welcomed to march in the place of servicemen in their families. I think it’s lovely. You were ahead of your time!
The figure is certainly unusual, most of the war memorials have a soldier. I was considered too young to accompany the family to the march with my father and only attended one as an adult when my high school age son was in army cadets (Camberwell Grammar in Melbourne). The cadets helped the collection of Australia’s allies who were marching and we met veterans from Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Britain, all sorts of places. I had a long talk to a former paratrooper who does a jump every birthday, but told me how sorry he was that they made him jump with a support person once he turned 80!
Yes, you are right, soldiers are the predominant figure on war memorials – so it’s nice to see different ones. I also found that Victory is usually winged, but this one does not have wings which makes her even more unusual. Great story about the paratrooper! Thanks Jan.
Wonderful yarn. Well written.
Well written and heartfelt Lee and to reminisce about a child getting lost in a Kiwi town and being returned safe to her parents. You probably found my blog well after I wrote a story about Toowoomba’s Mothers’ Memorial. I just emailed you a link
Interesting..well some of the memories from childhood could never fade like this one,Getting lost in the crowd as a child and not be able to find our parents
A beautiful story Lee and it looks like a lovely and peaceful place for the new memorial.
Beautiful piece Lee . And may the world look towards a beautiful peace one day.
Thank you Bev. And I agree with your sentiment.