Anzac Day Service, Wellington Cathedral

25.4.11

Nau mai! Haere mai ki tenei ra maumahara ki nga hoia
Greetings and welcome to this day of commemoration of our soldiers

E kore ratou e wareware hia e tatou
We will always remember them

No reira tēna kotou tēna kotou tēna kotou katoa
So therefore, greetings to you all.

It is a great honour to share this Anzac Day with you in Wellington.
Anzac Day is one of New Zealand's most important public holidays, with its tragic origins.

Where I come from, Armistice Day was renamed and moved to a Sunday in November, and became known as Remembrance Sunday. I recollect as a child in foggy autumn London, the silence to honour the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month when the Armistice was signed, and to remember all who died in war.

I wondered then why that hadn't really been the last war, the "War to End all Wars" as it was called but it was not. The League of Nations failed to prevent the Second World War, with a new generation following in the bloody footsteps of their fathers and uncles. My grandfather fought in France, in the Border Regiment in WW1 and my father fought in Egypt and then Monte Cassino, with the Royal Artillery. Neither would willingly speak of their experiences.

Can we ever learn the lessons of history rather than repeating them, with greater firepower, more advanced technology and increasingly complicated media spin?

The story of Anzac Day mirrors the pathway of this country over nearly a century of vigorous history. The day has changed from being a day of mourning to being a day of commemoration and nation-building.

From the first service in 1916 in the little Wairarapa hamlet of Tinui, to the massive modern gatherings of young New Zealanders and Australians at Gallipoli itself, and all around the country, this day has seen a renaissance in its meaning and relevance.

It has also seen some myths arise such as Gallipoli being a victory for New Zealand. No, it was a complete military disaster and culminated in an Allied retreat in December 1915.

In retrospect, it is difficult to say whether the Gallipoli Campaign defined NZ as a nation or whether it made NZers aware of how little some of the hawks of the British Empire valued the people at the furthermost ends of its empire. Reading about some of the campaign strategies and their execution, their appalling negligence of appropriate landing places, times and communications, Southern men seemed all too expendable.

I read the stories of the NZ soldiers – Maori and pakeha, and of the Australian soldiers, including aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders whose role has long been underplayed. Some soldiers experienced more equality as brothers-in-arms than they did at home.

Osmund Burton, a hero of the First World War who subsequently became a leading pacifist, believed that "somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme, New Zealand very definitely became a nation."

On Anzac Day, we don't often hear of the Tainui people, led by Princess Te Puea, who led a campaign against the conscription of young Maori men. Many objectors were imprisoned in places like Mount Eden prison, where dozens were killed by the inhumane conditions there.

Tuhoe leader Rua Kenana was arrested and charged with sedition for arguing that Maori should not fight for a Pakeha king and country when Maori ancestral lands had been confiscated fifty years earlier.

The actual historical events of 1915, while deeply embedded in our national story, still yield further information to historians and add to debate, with books, plays and films regularly giving us more to think about that disastrous episode.

One author, Maurice Shadbolt, made it his job in the 1980s to interview as many of the Gallipoli survivors as he could before they died.

His book, Voices of Gallipoli, tells the story from the point of these men who were there, and the sense of deep anger they felt about the horror of the situation they found themselves in and, frequently, their guilt at their own survival.

Several of the men Maurice interviewed had never spoken to their closest family of the experiences they had had there, crossing the infamous daisy patch, facing continual bombardment, thirst, illness, and the stench of death and the loss of their fellow soldiers.

Perhaps the experience of the First World War ensured New Zealand was a less militaristic nation, and when the Second World War broke out New Zealand had more independent choice over its actions and how it would give support to what was the cause of freedom.

When we look beyond Anzac to our international role in today's world we can note and commend the work done by New Zealand and Australian defence personnel in peace-making and peace-keeping operations in troubled regions of the world.

In Canterbury, the NZ Army has showed its present-day values of courage, commitment, comradeship and integrity in its work in the aftermath of the earthquake.

This focus on peace and reconstruction is good because Anzac Day commemoration was never a glorification of war. Out of that carnage came a deep bond with Australia and a respect that turned to friendship with Turkey.

Today let us remember, and learn from, those who faced the horrors of war and those who were conscientious objectors, those who died on foreign battlefields and those who brought decades of mental and physical suffering home.

Let us also remember the friends and families, farms, towns and cities that suffered the loss of men at the height of their physical abilities. Just yesterday I unveiled a plaque at Wellington High School's 125th reunion, commemorating those students who had died in WW1, WW2 and Korea.

Despite momentary setbacks from our imperfections or lack of mutual understanding, despite hasty words or poor advice, despite competition for scarce resources and the search for local or global advantage, I believe our individual, civic and national aims are best aspired to with peaceful hearts.

To restate the final phrases from Kevin Rudd's 2008 Remembrance Day Speech:

"Today we remember those who fell, we honour the contribution they have made and we commit ourselves afresh to the great cause of peace."

The speech delivered may vary from this text.