I don’t know how old I was when I first went to a Dawn Parade, but I was short enough that knees were more visible than the backs of heads.

There was something of a routine to being woken up, bundled into coats and hats, and heading off in the cold car. There was frost, and there was drizzle. Some years the sun rose a bit earlier than others. Some years the pastor droned on a bit long. It was always a time of reflection, the gunshots always made me jump, and there was always eggs benedict when we got home.

As I got older, things changed. The weather was more reliably wet. The parade of veterans was slowly replaced by their grandchildren, although those who continued to abide insisted on walking strong and proud. The soldiers responsible for standing at the cenotaph slowly transitioned from statue-like beings who you could hardly see breathing, to young and unsteady hands. I wonder now if those young men and women were being looked after in their quite difficult and uniquely isolating jobs. I hope they were, but from the memories of hardened faces over the post-service cuppa, I fear they were not.

As a teenager, I stopped attending Dawn Services. Frankly, I was not much of an outside person, so I didn’t go to the later Civic Parade either (today, I learned that not every town has a civic parade. I found that interesting). It wasn’t until university that I attended a civic service, this time in a new city.

Hamilton has a belltower. That belltower often rings for ANZAC and Armistice. It is not done by machine – there is a group of real people, making the bells peal out by working together as a team. I am a bellringer, and I’ve helped, once.

Another year, I stood and watched a dear friend be part of the civic service. It was bustling and shorter than I remembered. It seemed all the groups in Hamilton had come out to be a part of the parade.

Last year, I paraded with my Scout group. There were only a few of us, the youngest was five years old, but we paraded proudly, and it was amazing to be a part of the service directly. We formed up in lines and made sure we were in the correct part of the parade as it was very long, and we chatted with the friendly Army Cadets (who were, of course, much more organised than us, although we weren’t shabby at all).

This year, I am in a new city once again. For the first time in a decade, I got up early, but this time I didn’t have my family. I bundled myself up in thermals and put on my uniform. I got a ride in with another kaiārahi (scout leader) who was new to the city – and we found a mixed group of Scouts of all ages from all over Wellington, who were also confused and vaguely lost! But we found the way together and ended up in the seats in the front.

It was very special, being at the front, but also special for other reasons. Pukeahu is a beautiful memorial; the Tui playing a soundtrack for the Governor-General, replaced by the seagulls through the hymns, and the sparrows at the closing prayer. It was so exciting to see all the distinguished guests in person – people I had heard about or seen on the news, but never imagined passing in real life. The entire service was very polished – shout out to the NZ Secondary School Choir who were absolutely fantastic. I’ll also say the service hits different when you are the same age as the soldiers whose stories are told today. And then there were the cameras and event managers flitting everywhere, with the occasional mad dash of a cameraman trying to get to a new position.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t homesick. But in the end, drizzle, cold, and a mere 500km from home is nothing. I had comrades in the other Scouts, and that unity was felt through the whole service – three countries, a whole city, all one. While not dying amidst muddy chaos 17,000 km away from home is not a high bar, it is a standard we remember today. It happened in Gallipoli in 1914, and it happens again in Ukraine, and in other parts of the world, today. We have unity and peace in New Zealand today, but it is something we all must work to maintain together.

Happy ANZAC day and peace be with you. 

The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA) supports our Armed Forces and their families. Our Defence Force has soldiers deployed in Europe to support Ukraine. They are also deployed in Korea, Lebanon, Egypt, Qatar and Kuwait, Jordan, South Sudan, and Bahrain (and if you are curious, read more on the Ministry of Defence and NZDF websites). When they come home, they need support. We also have personnel supporting the COVID-19 response here, as well as protecting our waters and the South Pacific, and helping out in natural disasters around the Pacific. It’s hard mahi, but it’s also crucial, and supporting those who carry out this work is important too.
Donate or volunteer today.

Another charity that provides valuable peer-support for veterans is No Duff. They are by service people, for service people, and they cover all services of the NZDF. Check them out on Facebook and Givealittle.