Saturday, April 25, 2020

Anzac Day 2020

Today, for the first time since WWI Dawn Services to mark Anzac Day have not been held in New Zealand. Instead at 6am this morning people who wanted to remember and pay their respects to forebears were asked to stand at their gates for a moments silence. Usually large groups gather at cenotaphs up an down the country for Dawn Services and I usually attend the Timaru one as a mark of respect to my two grandfathers who both served in WWI.

Last year I bought a new home opposite the public gardens in Timaru our cenotaph is at the end of Memorial Avenue beside the hospital on the other side of the gardens from where I am living so I walked across the gardens to pay my respects at the cenotaph just after 6am, the time the usual ceremony is held. The was only one other person there this year. Usually the street in front of the cenotaph is blocked off for the few hundred people, and ever dwindling numbers of veterans, that gather.

'Tis indeed strange times but hopefully here in NZ the light is at the end of the tunnel as our Covid- cases have reduced to about 5 per day over the last week and we will be easing up our lock down requirements on Tuesday (Anzac Day ha been Mondayised as a public holiday) and maybe life can return to a new sort of normal in the weeks ahead.

The Timaru cenotaph just after 6am this morning.

Memorial Ave is usually blocked off and a few hundred people gathered for the Dawn Service, not this year.

The other thing I found online last week was the service record of my Grandfather, Robert Joseph (Joe) Murray who served in the infantry in the 32nd Specialised Company on the Western Front in 1918. Joe was from Gore in Southland and was a green grocer before the war (and post war too), born in December 1899 he would have been 17 when joined up and barely 18 when he arrived in France, the same age my son is now.  By the looks of it he he was posted to the reserve battalion for the Wellington regiment (I would have expected him to have been posted to the Otago regiment but there you go) when he arrived in France and would have served at the front later in the year.

Joe survived the war and was called up and served in the homeguard in Invercargill in WWII. He had 6 children with his wife Elsie, the youngest of whom was my mother born on May 11th 1941, at which time NZ troops were fighting the Fallschrimjaeger on Crete. Two of his children, my aunts and uncles are in their mid to late 80s and are still alive.

Like many his generation Joe never spoke of his war time experiences to his family, he just returned to civilian life and got on with things. My mother only ever recalled him speaking of the war once and that was to me and her when I was about 12 and he was staying with as an 80-something year old. Joe passed away in about 1984 and I recall the last post being played by one of his former comrades at his funeral. 

Lest we forget the sacrifices of everyday men and women  like Joe who did their duty when it was required. 


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