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.