Hobson Article - May 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

For many years now I’ve made the slow, thoughtful grind up Ayr Street in the pre-dawn chill in time for the Anzac Day dawn ceremony at Auckland War Memorial Museum. 

It is always deeply rewarding, taking the time, alongside a large crowd of friends and neighbours, to reflect on the sacrifices of our forebears and on the ideals for which they fought. 

This year is special because Anzac Day marks 100 years since New Zealand soldiers landed at Gallipoli.

Like most Kiwi families whose roots in New Zealand extend back to that period, my family suffered from that brutal campaign. My great grandmother’s brother, Edgar John Penman, a trooper in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, was killed in action at Gallipoli, on 19 May 1915. He was 20. His death, one of the 2,779 New Zealand deaths that occurred during the 8 months of the campaign, broke the hearts of his entire family, with the sadness of his young life cut short lingering with my great grandmother for decades.

As a young boy I was fond of my great grandmother, Ethel, primarily because she’d lost her short term memory and would repeatedly offer us mellowpuffs whenever we visited.  But looking back now, she was my direct link to that awful conflict.  In her long life she’d also borne the horror of watching two of her sons go off to the Second World War.  Fortunately, both returned, although one was a prisoner of war for many years.

In our neighbourhood people will gather at Newmarket, at College Rifles, at Auckland Grammar School, and elsewhere, as well as at Auckland War Memorial Museum. 

For me, Anzac Day is also a time to be thankful that ordinary New Zealanders of my generation and my father’s generation have been spared from such calamities.  We all hope that our children’s generation will likewise not be drawn into a great war.  And much of our international engagement as a small country dependant on collective security, sets out to achieve that end.  There will always be local and regional conflicts; we play our part, alongside like-minded countries, to help where we can to end those conflicts and to prevent their spread.

The New Zealand centenary of the First World War, WW100, marks the role the nation played in a global event. The experiences of New Zealanders are a part of our sense of who we are. The centenary will touch many New Zealanders at a personal level, building respect and understanding over the next four years.

April 2015 will be marked by the opening of Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington; and the dedication of the Australian Memorial there on 20 April. The Australian Memorial is a reciprocal gesture to the New Zealand Memorial built on Anzac Parade in Canberra. It acknowledges the unique Australian-New Zealand relationship, including our shared military history.