Honouring our service men and women on ANZAC day is hardwired into our DNA, and the cancellation of 56 Auckland services - including Takapuna and Devonport - was very disappointing for many of us. The decision, on the recommendation of the Police, wasn’t taken lightly and so we all ended up doing things differently this year, but with no less respect and solemn reflection in the best ANZAC spirit.
On the day itself, after attending the dawn service at Browns Bay, I flew to Wellington to lay a wreath on behalf of National at the service at the magnificent Pukeahu War Memorial Park, in my opinion one of the finest legacies of the World War 100 commemorations. My husband Grant Kerr joined the informal mid-morning assembly at Devonport’s untidy soldier statue, where my Youth MP Tayla Woolley along with Tristram Speedy laid a wreath on my behalf. Gary Monk did the same in Takapuna with his grandsons.
The level of respect for the courage of our armed forces has never been higher. When I think back to the 1960s and attending dawn parades as a child with my father, there were far more soldiers than spectators and I remember Dad’s fury at being heckled by anti-Vietnam protestors shrilly accusing him of glorifying war. Partly as a result of the worldwide commemorations of WW100, we now understand so much more about how conflict and, in particular, the so called ‘Great War’ shaped the country we’ve become, and how the scale of our loss touched every family, school, church and community.
The visual representation of the numbers of lives lost is always poignant, and Devonport’s memorial avenue of Norfolk pines is enhanced every April with white wooden crosses representing the 64 soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War Two. It is a sobering sight for our tight-knit little community.
Late April is not the best time for picking home-grown flowers, so the idea grew to re-establish posies on the crosses with everlasting blooms that could do what nature could not, and bring together our Christmas pohutukawa with Flanders poppies. There’s a strong Devonport association with those particular flowers, immortalised in the moving poem written by fellow RSA member Chris Mullane and always beautifully performed by our own resident songbird Rebecca Nelson.
It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped to find the right flowers, but a group of us got together over Easter to place them on the freshly cleaned crosses and plaques, thanks to the enthusiastic spit and polish of the TS Leander Sea Cadets. We were joined by Mary and Tim Neal, of Melbourne, who happened to be walking by and asked if they could give us a hand, which we gratefully accepted in keeping with the camaraderie of the Australian and New Zealand ties that bind. We all do what we can to make ANZAC a special time of remembrance. I’ve carried on my florist mother’s tradition of giving poppy seeds to friends on April 25 and if they scatter the seed in a sunny sheltered spot they’re guaranteed Flanders poppies flowering by Armistice Day on November 11.