Real meaning of Anzac Day comes to light at dawn service

A month after landing in New Zealand, Australian reporter Chloe Ranford attends her first Anzac Day dawn service.

Have you ever woken up so early that your caffeine-starved brain struggles to make sense of the world?

That was me during this year’s Anzac Day dawn service in Picton.

In the fumbling hours before dawn, while praying for the sun’s warmth to creep its way over the horizon, I thought myself mad.

For me, Anzac Day has held little meaning. None of my great-grandparents went to war.

My grandparents, if they were alive, weren’t old enough to remember anything save the oath of silence that haunted their parents.

I come from a family of civilians.

Only my father ever served his country, having enlisted in the British army at a young age, but he left soon after.

The only real history of involvement I have ever had with Anzac Day is one typical of my generation: a school commemoration, headed by the school principal, and held in the blistering sun in full formal uniform.

Few of my friends knew someone in the national forces. Fewer had a grasp on how important Anzac Day truly was.

As I mulled around Picton’s war memorial statue, starved of warmth and coffee, I wasn’t sure if I did either.

The Anzac Day podium was ruled by Marlborough Mayor John Leggett, Picton RSA president John McCarthy and British High Commissioner Andrew Burrows.

Each called for generations both young and old to remember what Anzac Day meant to New Zealand.

But what, I thought, does it mean? Does it act as a reminder to the cost of war?

If so, why have we engaged in wars like WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Afghan War since the first Anzac Day in 1916?

Or does it act as a tribute to servicemen and women who have served or are serving in New Zealand forces?

I was at a loss, so I asked attendees why Anzac Day should matter to younger generations.

Brian Reeves, whose father served in WWII and whose grandfather died in combat during WWI, said Anzac Day stood as a reminder to youth of the horrors of war.

“It’s important to remember what past servicemen went through,” Reeves said.

“My grandfather left my father behind, a then 4-month-old child, when he headed off to war.

“My father taught me why it was important to commemorate Anzac Day, why it was important to remember the horrors, despite he nor his friends ever talking about their experiences.”

Vietnam veteran David Brough said Anzac Day should matter to younger generations because it could prevent future conflicts.

“Wars are a waste. They’re a waste of time, of money and of people,” Brough said.

“It’s important that all generations remember the effects of the war and sacrifices that were made so that it never happens again.”

Reeves said it was harder for younger generations to understand the terrors of war because they seemed so far off.

“The further back these events become, and the more removed we are from their effects, the easier it is to forget them and their importance,” he said.

“Several servicemen die each year despite our best efforts, but Anzac Day helps make it better than it was, because people remember why war is a terrible, terrible thing.”

While older generations saw Anzac Day as a reminder, Queens Charlotte College student council member Anna Frisken said she saw it as a commemoration.

“It’s a time for respecting the New Zealanders who have served or are currently in service,” Frisken said.

“Anzac Day is becoming more prominent as the years go by and, for my generation in particular, you can see this in the service celebrations held at school.

“I myself have been involved in Anzac ceremonies since I was little, and that’s something I think we should all do because it’s important to keep the commemoration going.”

After chatting with attendees, I found myself thankful.

I would never have to experience the atrocities of war, like past New Zealanders and Australians did to protect their countries.

And I would never have to raise my children with the expectation of going to war.

That’s, what I realised, Anzac Day meant to me.

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