I woke up at 5 on Thursday morning, and Wellington's streets were crowded. The dark roads and storefronts belied the busy groups of people streaming North toward New Zealand's Parliament complex, which includes the national archives, the courts, and - everyone's destination on Thursday - the war memorial. We were all there to commemorate ANZAC day.
To Australians, New Zealanders, and a handfull of other countries in Europe and the Pacific, including Tonga, ANZAC day is one of the most well-known national holidays of the year. I'm in New Zealand for a little over a month on a short term contract through work, and got to experience the holiday on the other side of the ocean from Tonga, after celebrating it there for the past three years.
The holiday started out in 1915 to commemorate the day that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs) landed at Gallipoli during World War I, starting a long and bloody battle with the Ottoman Army that cost the ANZACs around 4,000 casualties. At the time, Australia and New Zealand had recently become (the more independent) dominions, rather than colonies, of the British Empire, and the landing at Gallipoli marked one of the first international events where New Zealanders took part as New Zealanders, and Australians as Australians. The legendary heroic acts by the soldiers so captured the New Zealand and Australian public that a holiday was declared immediately upon the news reaching the Pacific, and throughout the next few years, countless poets and songwriters composed pieces heralding the "Anzac Spirit" of the fallen soldiers.
The holiday has now transformed into a remembererance of the cost and tragedy of war, and a memorial of the lives lost in WWI and every subsequent military operation since.
As I walked toward the war memorial, most of my fellow pedestrians wore a red and black poppy on their lapels, the symbol of ANZAC day. The service commemorating ANZAC day is always held at sunrise, with readings, a laying of wreathes, and a playing of the Reveille as the sun breaks over the nearest rooftops. I stood with the 10,000 other people at the ceremony, straining to hear scraps of the speeches, and enjoying the bagpipe and brass band parade at the end of the service. As the ceremonies finished and the sky grew lighter, I walked with the huge throng of people to the nearby Pipitea Marae (Maori meeting house), where we ate the traditional ANZAC breakfast. Supposedly in remembereance of what the soldiers ate that morning, an ANZAC breakfast consists of ANZAC biscuits (to Americans = spiced oatmeal cookies) and coffee with rum. Nothing like sweets and rum to start your day!
I stood in line at the coffee and rum line but they had just run out as I got to the front, so I had to satisfy myself with normal coffee. This wasn't too much of a sacrifice, as a shot of rum at 6:30 in the morning isn't quite my cup of tea - or should I say, coffee.
Apologies for any ugliness in this post. This is my first foray into mobile blogging, and it is surprisingly clunky.