But one day every year there is a very good reason to.
It’s April 25th. ANZAC Day.
A day when thousands of New Zealanders gather before dawn in towns across the country to honour all those who went to war. Children wear medals belonging to their fathers, grandfathers or great-grandfathers. Red poppies, the universal symbol of remembrance, are everywhere and as the sky slowly brightens hymns are sung and prayers offered. The familiar notes of The Last Post float in the air and there’s applause as the Veterans march slowly to the sound of bagpipes.
Afterwards, in the clubrooms of the Returned Services’ Associations, friends are remembered over coffee and a tot of rum.
ANZAC Day is not just another public holiday. We set our alarms gladly because we’re proud; this is our day to acknowledge courage and sacrifice and to be grateful for freedom.
On ANZAC Day we honour New Zealanders who have served in conflicts all over the world but the story of ANZAC Day begins in Gallipoli. Every Kiwi kid knows that on April 25 1915 thousands of New Zealand and Australian soldiers – the ANZACs – landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, a thin finger of land that pokes into the Aegean Sea from the eastern shores of Turkey. They know that the ANZACs fought under extreme conditions against the Ottomans who were desperate to defend their homeland and they know that despite fighting bravely, after 8 months, the ANZACs withdrew, defeated.
Although the loss of life at Gallipoli was terrible – 120 000 lives were lost – the campaign itself was not one of the major events of the First World War and pales in comparison to the horrors that unfolded on the Western Front. The Gallipoli campaign was a military disaster but it was also a turning point for New Zealand. Gallipoli changed the way we thought of ourselves. We were a small nation on the other side of the word but we had acquitted ourselves with honour and we were proud.
This is what we celebrate on ANZAC Day.
There will be no veterans from Gallipoli or the First World War at ANZAC Day services in 2014. The last one passed away in 2003. The number of veterans from World War 2 is shrinking too but the crowds gathering at ANZAC Day services are growing. ANZAC Day has become ‘our’ day. A day when we stop for a moment and feel proud.