ANZAC Day has past; the poppies are gone from lapels, the wreaths cleared from the cenotaph steps. The medals of long-dead grandfathers are back in their boxes and the business of remembering is packed up for another year. The crosses are gone now too. A Field of Remembrance on the lawn in front of the Auckland Museum commemorating the men and women from the Auckland region who went to war and did not return.
I watched people walk amongst those crosses. Some were looking for a specific name; a grandfather or great uncle. Others were simply curious. Older people walked slowly, children ran between the rows, enjoying the sunshine and the experience of something different.
It is 100 years since a disastrous military campaign at Gallipoli robbed thousands of men of their lives and stole from as many families their sons, brothers and fathers. For New Zealanders, Gallipoli was the first large-scale loss of life in World War I; the first inkling that following the “mother country” (Britain) into war mightn’t be a great adventure — “over by Christmas.” Almost a fifth of the Kiwi troops who landed at Gallipoli died there.
Many, many more were to die in Europe — on the Somme and at Passchendaele — and in the Middle East. Those who survived suffered wounds, sickness and psychological damage that largely went undiagnosed and untreated. And of course, their suffering rippled outwards, changing the lives of the women and children they returned to. Women’s suffering in wartime is so often ignored.
Many years ago I read Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain (recently made into a movie). Vera Brittain served as a VAD (voluntary aid detachment) nurse during WWI, tending the sick and wounded while her brother, fiance and their friends who had volunteered to serve in the British Army were all killed. I took the title of this post from her poem Roundel, written for the loss of her fiance, Roland Leighton. I’ve included it below.
(“Died of Wounds”)
This is my last post (no pun intended) on the subject of ANZAC Day — at least until next year (honest, I promise) — but I did want to share these photos of visitors to the Auckland Field of Remembrance, and Sally’s weekly photo challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally seemed a good place to do so. You can see Sally’s images, and those of others who have taken part in the challenge here.