This morning I went to the ANZAC day dawn service in Masterton. I hadn't thought about it or planned to during the week, but yesterday someone mentioned it so when I went to bed last night I set my alarm for 5.15am and decided if the weather wasn't awful I would go along. When my alarm went off it was quiet and still outside so I threw some clothes on and drove to the centoaph at Queen Elizabeth Park. It started lightly raining as the first hymn was sung but luckily the real rain held off until later in the morning when it really set in and poured down for the rest of the day.
I have only been to two ANZAC day dawn services before, the first one was in Martinborough when I was about 12. I remember that one really affecting me - the sun coming up as the last post was played, a small group of people gathered. It inspired me to write a short story about a woman whose husband died at war - I don't know that I'd like to read it now, it's probably very sentimental. But I remember being very pleased with it and my teacher liking it at the time.
The second one was in my last year of Wairarapa College. All of the prefects are required to go and as Head Girl I had to lay a wreath on behalf of the school with the Head Boy, then then we all went back to the Principal's house for breakfast. All I remember of that service is hearing one of the private school girls singing very loudly and thinking she was just showing off...
I have to say, I was pretty uninspired by this morning's service. I think my view of the proceedings was coloured early on by a mention of the Rugby World Cup. Surely there are better illustrations of why it's important to remember our history than the Rugby World Cup (I really wish the Edinburgh Fringe was on at the same time as the RWC so I could be out of the country, I think it's just going to make me grumpy for two months or however ridiculously long it's going to be).
Anyway, I'm not saying I think ANZAC day should be some rousing glorification of war because I am in no way a fan of guns, bombs, or senseless loss of life. But I do think we should remember all those young men who got promised an adventure and never came home again as well as all those involved in other ways - nurses, typists, machinists, those bringing up children alone, knitting socks, fundraising. And what I saw this morning just didn't seem to honour that. It was all very routine and dry. The only songs sung were hymns that hardly anyone knew and the National Anthem. Some of the popular songs of the WWI and WWII eras capture the emotion of the times much more accurately and I feel like even one in amongst the hymns would have been far more effective. The brass band were all there but they weren't used except for one lone trumpet player playing The Last Post. There is some beautiful and horrific war poetry that, had any been read, would have spoken more to me than the one unfeeling speech that included Rugby World Cup references.
Clearly this is only my opinion and it won't be shared by everyone - if I had the service done my way it might mean more to me, but it would equally not be someone else's cup of tea. And surely these services were originally put together by people who served in or lived through war and the pattern has been maintained over the years. But while we hear a lot about how attendance numbers at ANZAC day services have increased in recent years, I think the numbers could just as quickly decrease unless the services are made more accessible to those who haven't had any experience of war and its realities. I think it's important to remember and honour those who died, but I also think it's important to remind people of or try to give them a feel for the damaging reality of war.
It's definitely a hard balance and there are perhaps services in other parts of the country that achieve it, but the one I went to seemed more about formalities and going through the motions than any actual emotions.