Thursday, April 25, 2024

Roger Childs: Anzac Day - Origins, Changes, Controversy

Anzac commemorations suited political purposes right from 1916 when the first Anzac Day marches was held in London, Australia and New Zealand, which were very much around trying to get more people to sign up to the war in 1916–1918. –Australian historian Martin Crotty

The first day of remembrance

The first Anzac Day was on 25 April 1916. This was exactly one year after New Zealand and Australian troops landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey in a joint Anglo-French invasion designed to capture Constantinople and take the Ottoman Empire out of the First World War, The first service in New Zealand, and the World, was held in the small Wairarapa town of Tinui where patriotic citizens dragged a large cross to the top of a local hill to remember the fallen.

In the early years of Anzac commemorations, the men who had died at Gallipoli, the Western Front and other Great War battle fields were honoured. Morale on the home front is always vital in wartime, and back in New Zealand the Massey Government decided in 1916 to set aside April 25 to remember the fallen and salvage something positive from the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Across the Tasman Sea, Australia did the same.

Who we remember on 25 April in the 21st century

We honour those who gave their lives in overseas wars and those who served and survived —
  • men in the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Merchant Marine
  • women and civilian casualties
  • animals such as horses, donkeys and dogs
  • those who served in more than 40 Peace Missions in places such as Timor Leste, Somalia, Bosnia.
Some also remember conscientious objectors.

As regards participation in conflicts before the Great War it is appropriate to remember New Zealanders who fought in the Crimean War — most of these originally came from Ireland and England and later settled in our country.

In the Boer War (South African War) from 1899 to 1902, the government sent 6500 soldiers, as well as some doctors, nurses and women teachers, to support the British Empire’s defence of the colonies at the Cape and in Natal, against the Afrikaner republics in southern Africa. But they did not fight as a separate New Zealand force. 230 died – most from disease. This conflict was eventually won by the imperial forces in 1902.

What about those who died in wars in New Zealand?

The inter-tribal wars (Musket Wars) from the 1800s to the 1840s killed more people – at least 40,000 – than all others wars involving New Zealanders put together. There is a strong case to be made to remember the Native women, men and children who perished in these horrific internecine conflicts.

A plaque to commemorate those who died and served in the 19th century New Zealand Wars was dedicated in September 2019 in Parliament’s debating chamber, alongside plaques remembering the fallen in other wars. The Speaker Trevor Mallard observed at the time Many New Zealanders will have ancestors who were involved in the Wars. Our Parliament’s debating chamber has long acknowledged those who served overseas, it is only right that we show the same respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our own shores.

Laws affecting Anzac Day

The first NZ public holiday on 25 April was in 1920, and in 1921 across the Tasman in Australia. Until 1949 the commemorations were just for remembering those who had died – similar to America’s Memorial Day.

Over the years there was legislation about who should be remembered and how the day should be observed.
  • Anzac Day Amendment Act 1921 stated that no commercial activities could take place, meaning the day was to be observed as if Anzac Day was a Sunday.
  • Anzac Day Act 1949 outlined the “In memoriam” function – commemorations were expanded to cover all New Zealanders who took part (not just died) in World Wars I and II, and the South African Wars. Extraordinarily for the first time women were mentioned explicitly in Anzac Day legislation! It should have happened earlier. Back in the Great War 10 nurses had been drowned when the troop ship SS Marquette was sunk in October 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The Anzac Day Act 1966 eased up on what could be done on the day. 25 April remained a public holiday but became ‘half-day observance’, meaning activities were allowed after 1pm. Furthermore the scope of the commemorations were further broadened to remember those who, at any time, have given their lives for New Zealand and the British Empire or Commonwealth of Nations.
Finally the Holidays Amendment Act 2013 “Mondayised” the day. If Anzac Day (or Waitangi Day) fell on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday was to be treated as a public holiday. The Rules stated that Shops including dairies, service stations, take away bars, restaurants cafes, souvenir stores can open with conditions limiting the goods they can sell based on the type of store they are.

Poppies – Red Purple and White

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae

In 1920 John McCrae’s evocative poem inspired Frenchwoman Madame Anna Guerin to distribute red poppies to raise money for veteran organizations in northern France. New Zealand picked up the idea and put in a large order to Mme. Guerin’s French Children’s League for 1922.

24 April 1922 was the first Poppy Day in New Zealand and over 260,000 were sold, earning £13,166 ($1.4 million in today’s terms). Some of the money was sent to war-ravaged areas in northern France and the rest to unemployed Kiwi returned soldiers and their families. It wasn’t until 1931 that New Zealand began to produce its own poppies.

Purple poppies were later sold to remember the contribution of animals and 24 February became Purple Poppy Day. On that day in 2018 a Memorial to the animals who had served in wars overseas was dedicated outside the Waiouru Army Museum.

The white poppy was promoted to widen the concept of who should be remembered on Anzac Day. Two of the promoters were Kapiti’s Shirley and John Murray. Shirley described the white poppy as an international symbol of remembrance of all the casualties of war….

Wars of the middle and late 20th century

These conflicts cost New Zealand thousands more lives and added to the numbers of Veterans who marched in Anzac parades and were remembered on the day. World War Two, the Malayan Emergency, the Korea War and the Vietnam War saw tens of thousands serve overseas.

However, the Vietnam conflict was unpopular with the New Zealand public as it was felt that the Americans were pressurising our government into defending corrupt South Vietnamese regimes in the fight against communism in Southeast Asia. Large numbers marched in the streets in protest and James K, Baxter wrote a poem about why New Zealand supported the US in Vietnam. It was called “A bucket of blood for a dollar”.

There was no official welcome home for the forces who had served. Vietnam Vets were not welcome in RSAs and it wasn’t until 1987 that they were allowed to march on Anzac Day. Eventually in 2006 there was a formal government apology and two years later on Queen’s Birthday there was a “welcome parade”.

Shirley Murray kicks up a storm

Honour the brave whose conscience was their call,
answered no bugle, went against the wall,
suffered in prisons of contempt and shame,
branded as cowards, in our country’s name.

World renowned hymn writer Shirley Murray’s Anzac Hymn brought protests from throughout New Zealand and overseas, especially because of her third verse, shown above. She dared to include conscientious objectors in the people we should honour on 25 April each year.

“I wrote my hymn in 2005 with the firm intention of honouring the Day and paying tribute to my two uncles who at the ages of 21 and 20 volunteered for the Otago Mounted Regiment and survived Gallipoli.

I also wrote with the firm intention of commemorating the tremendous courage of those who refused to kill or wear a uniform. Ormond Burton, whom I had met in my student days, was my hero.

I thought of him as I wrote the central verse which was deemed so suspect that the Kapiti Coast District Council, having used it once, banned the hymn thereafter.”

Keeping the memories alive in the 21st century
Click to view

Over the years many stamps were issued to remember the wars New Zealanders had served in, but in the late 20th century attendances at Anzac Day service dropped away, but over the last 25 years there has been renewed interest.

The descendants of family members who had served in New Zealand forces overseas were encouraged to wear their medals at Anzac Day services on the right hand side. In many centres war memorials have been spruced up and in Wellington there have been two important developments.
  • In 2004 an unidentified body came from France and on Armistices Day, 11 November, after a service in the Anglican Cathedral Service – Kapiti’s Commander John Granville marched behind the coffin to the War Memorial where “the soldier” was interred in the grave of the “unknown warrior”.
  • In front of the old war memorial a new National War Memorial Park was developed in 2015 -Pukeahu – and impressive exhibits were provided by the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, France, Turkey and the Pacific Islands.
Late last year in the Eastern French town of Le Quesnoy a New Zealand museum was opened. The town was liberated by Kiwi soldiers in one on the last actions of World War One. Many of the exhibits in the museum were developed by Weta Workshops.

Anzac Day 2024

Another Anzac Day is coming. We’ll have the traditional dawn parades and other gatherings around the war memorials of the nation: the veterans will march, wreaths will be laid, flags will be lowered and raised, the speeches will be delivered and the Last Post and Reveille will be played on the bugle. We will also have also had the reminders: Lest we forget and We will remember them.

Some children and other will wear their forebears’ medals and all present will have their own thoughts and memories.

Roger Childs is a retired teacher who taught History, Social Studies and Geography for 40 years. This article was first published HERE

1 comment:

Manukacorp said...

Thankyou Rodger for this educative article
I will alway's pay respect to the efforts and sacrifice of all those who have died and survived these horrific wars