Thursday, April 26, 2012

We will remember them

One of the reasons autumn is my favourite season is because of those days that make you want to sit on the slightly damp grass under the impossibly blue sky and gulp in as much fresh air as possible. It’s those days that look like summer, minus the scorching heat that is replaced by air with an icy edge. The freshness of it feels like the moment the clock strikes 12am on January 1st each year – it’s the start of something new and exciting.
Yesterday was one of those days. April 25th; a day of both mourning and national pride for New Zealand and Australia as we commemorate Anzac Day. We bow our heads in prayer and thanks to those ordinary men who became extraordinary heroes who are remembered nearly one hundred years on.
The number of people attending Anzac services around the country and around the world steadily increases each year as the number of veterans dwindles, and for that, I personally feel extremely proud of my fellow New Zealanders, and glad that those men and women who fought for our right to live free are remembered.
Usually I get up before dawn to attend the dawn service at the cenotaph in Wellington and last year I reported on the Masterton dawn service. But this year, I decided to do something different.
While working for the Wairarapa Times-Age, I became aware of a tiny rural Wairarapa town called Tinui, which was the first place in the world to hold an Anzac Day service on April 25, 1916. Reverend Basil Ashcroft held a service for the people of Tinui at the Church of the Good Shepherd, before a group of men and boys carried a wooden cross up Mt Maunsell which would serve as a memorial to those who had died in the war. It was replaced by an aluminium cross in 1965, which was given a category one Historic Places Trust Classification last year.
I researched the place, and found I could not get its story out of my head. While numerous news stories had been written about it over the years, I felt the town and its people deserved its story to be told in more than just a few articles, so I approached the chairman of the Tinui Anzac Trust and proposed that I write a book about it.
To my surprise, he took me completely seriously despite my age and the fact I have never written a book before and gave me a tour of the town and told me of its history. At the end of the tour, he thanked me for taking on the project and said he was grateful that the younger generation was still interested in the Anzac story.
And so I took my first step towards making this dream become a reality yesterday, and, with my parents and sister in tow, we drove the one hour, 45 minutes from Stokes Valley to Tinui to stand in the brilliant sunshine outside the War Memorial Hall. As the tui sang behind us, the New Zealand flag flew proudly in front of us as people spoke and prayed and together we sang our national anthem before tears of sadness and gratitude came to our eyes at the sound of the Last Post as three war planes flew over our small gathering.
Following the service, we were treated to some country hospitality in the hall, with a massive morning tea spread, and then we made our way towards Mt Maunsell, where we half walked, half rode quad bikes on the trail walked 97 years ago by the people of Tinui to carry the cross to the top.
A few metres from the top, I wondered aloud why they had chosen that particular spot, and on reaching the cross and looking out over the town of Tinui surrounded by acres and acres of farmland, I had my answer. For there, at the top of the mountain, I felt the spirits of the fallen were very much alive and from that point, they could watch over their town, seeing it change and grow as the people in it live their lives free from war because of their sacrifice. And from the town below, its people can look up and be reminded of the realities of war and the freedom of peace.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.



  1. What a lovely post (and pictures). In Canada, our Remeberance Day is in November and it always warms my heart to commemorate it. Thanks for taking me to your tradition in this post. And good luck on your project.

  2. It's a lovely post and especially the inscription on the memorial, it's touching.
    Autumn is also my favourite season for exactly the reason you said; the combination of blue sky and that fresh age, it makes you feel alive. Like Dana above, our Remembrance Day is in November. There's something about Autumn that lends itself to this kind of event, or perhaps it's just my notion of what's fitting coupled with my like of Autumn, but I think something would be lost if the day fell during summer and it was sweltering hot (which is by not means a given in the UK).
    I think you've done a fine job in upholding the tradition too. It's something I try to do, no matter how much I am against the current military strategy around the world undertaken by my government, those who have fallen in the past were more than any doing it for the right reasons. Even when I lived in Madrid I managed to get hold of a poppy and wear it in memory of people who died to uphold freedom and peace.
    Great post, Sarah.

  3. Lovely! You do honor to the memory of those who sacrificed their lives. The chairman's faith in you, regarding your book project, is obviously well placed. Thank you for sharing this. And the great photos too. What a beautiful country you live in!

  4. ANZAC Day is my special day, a day when I honour my father who survived only a few years after the war, along with so many more. What a great post, and more so, what a great plan you have to share this history with us all. I wish you all the very best with your research and know you can spin the words to bring home how horrendous this period was especially to small town NZ.
    Anne Ashby