Diggers in the desert


Wednesday, April 24, 2002
Speech by Central Otago Mayor Malcolm Macpherson, at Clyde at dawn and Alexandra at 11am

Later today, as dawn breaks over the Gallipoli Peninsula half a world away from here, Minister of the Crown Sandra Lee will talk about the thousands of people all over New Zealand who will attend services of remembrance just like this one.

She will say, and these will be her exact words, that we stand together, New Zealanders and Australians, all around the world,

"to remember the loss of so many lives at Gallipoli and in all the wars and conflicts that have followed. We will not forget those who have laid down their lives. It is our responsibility, as today's New Zealanders, today's Australians, today's Turks, today's citizens of the world, to ensure that the sacrifice of all those who have gone before us was not in vain."

ANZAC day is about an event that changed the world. It certainly changed our world, and all over New Zealand there are memorials, like this one here behind me, that mark 'all the wars and conflicts that followed'

Everywhere you travel in this country, and especially in rural New Zealand, our memorials list the names of those who left to fight in the [the Boer War and the] two great wars, and didn't return. Sometimes, all that remains is the war memorial. The communities have gone, but the memories, the memorials, have not.

We take our war memorials for granted, we drive past them every day, but visitors, tourists, are struck by how many there are.

They are such a prominent part of our landscape, so noticeable to people from other countries, because every community in New Zealand, no matter how small, sent young men to fight overseas.

And at the end of the war, they built memorials to remind us, 87 years after Gallipoli, how many went and didn't return, and who they were.

We haven't forgotten. And we won't. ANZAC ceremonies around New Zealand and around the world will be bigger than ever this year, as more young Kiwis turn out.

5,000 in Dunedin this morning, 4,000 in Christchurch. As many as 3,000 will join Sandra Lee at Gallipoli later today.

The Governor General is in Thailand, where dawn is breaking about now, at a place called Hellfire Pass, to commemorate those killed as prisoners of the Japanese building the Thai-Burma railway.

My father left Alexandra as a young man to go to the second world war. His feet had hardly touched the sand in Egypt before he was captured. He spent four years as a prisoner in Italy and Germany. At the end of the war he was force-marched across what is now Poland, and was lucky to survive.

I can remember travelling all over Otago and Canterbury to Returned Services and Prisoner of War picnics as a kid, and the annual concerts, and of course, ANZAC day. It meant a lot to him, and to his family.

What's really gratifying to me, and I'm sure it would have been to him, and to all the other returned servicemen and women who are no longer with us, is that you have all chosen to assemble here today to remember them.

On their behalf, thank you.

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