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Today I joined thousands of people at the traditional dawn ceremony of ANZAC Day. Unlike last year, and the pomp and circumstance of Wellington, this year my friend and I fell out of our tents and into Small Town NZ to stand with a community who lost many of its men to an ill conceived campaign.

This was a poignant year, the first with no surviving ANZAC soldier, and it made me think hard about the key message of ANZAC Day: Lest We Forget. 

It made me think, and it made me angry.

I'm angry that Billy had to see his older brother, Paddy, with both legs blown off, lying in mud and surrounded by hell on earth. That he had to kiss him goodbye, knowing he would be dead before he could return with help. I'm angry that the last time Paddy got to tell his mother he loved her, was on a mud splattered, blood smeared scrap of paper he had in his pocket as the life ebbed from his body. I'm angry at the pints he never got to enjoy with his mates, at the goals he never got to score, and that his rough, blacksmith's hands never earned him the reprobation of his sweetheart.

I'm angry that Mary, had her legs crushed by a lifeboat when her transport was hit by a torpedo. That knowing she couldn't survive her injuries, she took off her life jacket to give to another passenger. I'm angry at the lives she never had the opportunity to save, the lives she never grew inside her, and that she never again felt the burning in her lungs as she peddled her way to Waihao Forks on her day off.

I'm angry that Rose will never have the opportunity to hold her younger brother in her arms, or to dry the tears of her mother. I'm angry that she will never marry the man of her dreams, set the world on fire with a stellar career, and at the promise stolen by the will of powerful men around her.  

I'm angry that Alan ended his life face down on a beach, the air crushed from his lungs as he was swamped by the sea. I'm angry at the sunrises he will never see, for the family who will never again wrap him in a grateful hug, and that the world is a slightly darker place without the glory of a child's smile.

Those last two people were children, and their lives have been obliterated by the effects of war, not in 1915, but in the last few years.

With the passing of the last ANZAC, the day as we know it becomes dangerously close to a history lesson, framed in traditional morality and the glory of a righteous battle. With no direct connection to the fate of the ANZAC soldiers, they are a memory, a story told about a time that has long ago been replaced.  

New Zealand values it's Whakapapa, but how can we talk about remembering, when the current focus of ANZAC Day makes it so easy to forget that the fight goes on? If we consider ourselves to be global citizens, then surely ANZAC Day needs to focus on more than the fatalities of ANZAC cove? 

Those who served New Zealand have done so, not by beating back the enemy from its shores, but by venturing out to the furthest reaches of the globe. They have given up their lives in strange lands to protect the democracy and tolerance that we value so greatly.

Wouldn't we better honour their sacrifice by reaffirming that commitment in the face of every new tyranny we see?

Lest we Forget by Zoe Shelton
Illustration by Zoe Shelton

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