ANZAC Day 2020

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We promise the dead that we won’t forget them or their sacrifice.

These words that seemed so hollow for so long suddenly have life breathed into them by the shared sacrifice of this pandemic. The very freedoms and civil liberties that were the fruit of armed engagement from our history have been taken from us with the speed of the Spanish Flu epidemic that followed the slaughter of the First World War.

In this moment we seek the courage of our forebears as the fabric of normal is ripped asunder. Normally ANZAC Day is for me a solemn promise from this generation to the next that we will never waste their lives with the ease we threw generations into the mincer of war, but under a pandemic lockdown it is the need to know the journey we walk now was one already trailblazed by our collective Whakapapa.

History is always watching.

Kia Kaha New Zealand.

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The Gunner’s Lament

A Maori gunner lay dying
In a paddyfield north of Saigon,
And he said to his pakeha cobber,
“I reckon I’ve had it, man!

‘And if I could fly like a bird
To my old granny’s whare
A truck and a winch would never drag
Me back to the Army.

‘A coat and a cap and a well-paid job
Looked better than shovelling metal,
And they told me that Te Rauparaha
Would have fought in the Vietnam battle.

‘On my last leave the town swung round
Like a bucket full of eels.
The girls liked the uniform
And I liked the girls.

‘Like a bullock to the abattoirs
In the name of liberty
They flew me with a hangover
Across the Tasman Sea,

‘And what I found in Vietnam
Was mud and blood and fire,
With the Yanks and the Reds taking turns
At murdering the poor.

‘And I saw the reason for it
In a Viet Cong’s blazing eyes –
We fought for the crops of kumara
And they are fighting for the rice.

‘So go tell my sweetheart
To get another boy
Who’ll cuddle her and marry her
And laugh when the bugles blow,

‘And tell my youngest brother
He can have my shotgun
To fire at the ducks on the big lagoon,
But not to aim it at a man,

‘And tell my granny to wear black
And carry a willow leaf,
Because the kid she kept from the cold
Has eaten a dead man’s loaf.

‘And go and tell Keith Holyoake
Sitting in Wellington,
However long he scrubs his hands
He’ll never get them clean.’

James K Baxter
1965

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Anzac day brings me memories of the objectors to war who would not conscript so were arrested and some taken to the front line, put up as targets after sadistic humiliation and torture by our own troops.

    The evils of war. There is no glory for troops, their families nor the country. Just sadness and sympathy for all those murdered by the hands of men on either side.

    Massey the Prime Minister was not a Kiwi and was a professed “British Israelite” which was a group seeking to establish a state of Israel in land to be taken from its natives mainly mixed Arab people who lived in peace with each other. Massey volunteered NZ troops as soon as Britain declared war. A puppet of Britain and traitor to Kiwis. The brain washing then started in earnest.
    Many were strong minded enough to see the wrong of what was happening.
    https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/first-world-war/conscientious-objection
    Our brave objectors must be commemorated as they stood against the wrong of war.
    https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/the-military-objectors-list
    The resistance came from many quarters. Youths were incarcerated for refusing to do CMT at the age of 14 years.
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/spectrum/audio/20153182/spectrum-for-19-october-2014

    A wider protest and recorded NZ history of the ordeals endured.
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/ideas/audio/1852921/ideas-for-1-february-2009

    It carried on through WWII.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/features/80862022/shame-of-conscientious-objectors-passed-down-family-lines

    A good friend of mine Stanley Gordon Knight was conscripted in WWI and sent to Europe ending up in France.
    The mud was deep and casualties high. British officers were put in charge of NZ troops and appeared to have little regard for life. Several times Kiwis were commanded to stand and charge into machine gun fire.
    Stan related that twice Kiwis waited till firing started then shot the British officer who was shown to be ruthless with Kiwi life.
    Stan was a humble man and suffered with gas poisoning from that war. He said the gas came, they had no protection but were not allowed to retreat to cleaner air. The pommy officers had masks.

    WWII Ormy Burton was a hero in WWI after rescuing dying Kiwis on the battlefield while under fire. By no means a “coward” but a very brave man. In WWII he was arrested for reading from the bible “Thou shalt not kill” in Cuba street.
    NZ was much more punative to its objectors than other Commonwealth countries. The RSA deserves shame for their part in this.

    “In New Zealand, in spite of lobbying from supporters, more than 200 ‘military defaulters’ were still in camps or prisons at the end of 1945. In December, the RSA national executive made an unsuccessful attempt to get the government to keep the men detained for 12 months after the end of the war – and disenfranchised for a further 10 years. The last detained conscientious objectors in New Zealand were not released until May 1946, nearly 10 months after the war finished.”

    Then there is the execution of Kiwi soldiers for a number of given reasons.
    Many were suffering from shell shock or PTSD in today’s language.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Zealand_soldiers_executed_during_World_War_I
    https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/first-new-zealand-soldier-executed
    Today we would regard many past Kiwi soldiers as youths of college age.

    So today we may mourn many young lives, parents in their prime and others who either volunteered or were conscripted to fight wars mainly for the profit of others literally. And the many shattered bodies and minds of those who returned along with families and friends who tried there best to support them.
    More often than not the govt walked away.

    I shudder at the glory narrative associated with war and the lies perpetuated to the public even on this day.

    Anzac looks to be an opportunity taken be some in preparation for further war and conflict.
    World peace is not talked about.

    • Thanks for this John W. A daughter forfeited a chunk of her School C English internal assessment mark by refusing to write an essay on the glory of war. She said that there was no glory in war. I’ll copy this for her.

      I knew how NZ conscientious objectors were treated very brutally; think I have all the WW1 poets, and can find it hard to read or to think about that terrible time. A few years ago, an Act supporter expressed indignation to me that a NZ university – Otago or Canterbury – had a Peace Studies dept.

      Many families never recovered from the experiences of their kinsfolk in war, and only today, we read yet again of the high levels of PTSD in the NZDF – and against a background of odious John Key yelling like a gin-soused fishwife for Andrew Little to get some guts and send other people’s offspring to the war in Iraq.

      And by an ironic sickly twist of fate, one of the would-be replacements of the smiling assassin, is the smiling pomegranate, who went to Iraq, and came back a very rich man indeed.

      When will we ever learn ?

  2. And a WW1 poet:

    The Dead

    BY RUPERT BROOKE

    These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
    Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
    The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
    And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
    These had seen movement, and heard music; known
    Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
    Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
    Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

    There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
    And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
    Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
    And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
    Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
    A width, a shining peace, under the night.

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