Well hello. This space has been silent since we arrived in New Zealand nearly 20 days ago, thanks in part to my coming down with a cold. I’m sure I caught someone’s germs on the flight over from Australia.
In any case, I’m better.
There are few compact instances in which an outsider can experience a slice of national culture and tradition, and a good majority of them are in the form of public holidays.
On Tuesday, April 25, in this part of this world, I witnessed ANZAC Day, a national holiday for remembering and honoring all Aussies and Kiwis who have served overseas.
A Quick History Primer
First observed in 1916, the day marked the first-year anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or Anzacs, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey.
Allied forces were planning a swift victory over the Ottoman Empire by capturing Constantinople (now Istanbul), but the battle turned into a failed eight-month stalemate during which many soldiers’ lives on both sides were lost.
This sobering news really hit home for the two British soverign nations on the other side of the world. But the tragic event and its rememberance thereafter played a key role in developing a sense of national identity and independent importance for both countries.
Many dawn services took place in our area and around the nation, but I find it hard to motivate getting out of bed when it’s still dark out.
Instead, I began my morning by attending a hilltop cemetery service in a nearby town. Servicewomen and men, veterans, and a small crowd were gathered as words were spoken, flags were lowered, and salutes were made, all with the beautiful Bay of Islands as a backdrop.
Many people were wearing artificial remembrance poppies. Tiny, white crosses, at the feet of several gravestones denoting veterans who had passed, were also bearing one each.
Once the ceremony ended, I leisurely descended into town and stopped for a latte and some reading until the next event. Upon hearing the bagpipes being warmed up just down the block, I knew it was time to wrap up the coffee break.
The Town Remembered
A large crowd was gathered at the local Returned and Services’ Association, or RSA for short (similar to the American VFW).
The parade of local flag bearers, veterans, and those currently in service finally started. Led by the bagpiper, they marched the short distance to the town’s cenotaph memorial after which a 30-minute ceremony commenced.
At one point, two anthems were sung, neither of which I recognized. Not many chimed in during the first, but most people joined in on the second.
I later asked someone who told me that the former was the Australian national anthem while the latter, sung in Māori and then English, was New Zealand’s.
Finally, the guest speaker was introduced, a local man in perhaps his mid 50s who had immigrated from Italy many years back. He gave a remarkable account from his grandmother’s memory.
During WWII, New Zealand’s Māori Battalion came through her town in Italy, and ever since, she had always remembered their brave efforts. Decades later, after her grandson had, by chance, moved to New Zealand, she came full circle and flew from Italy to pay her respects to the memory of those soldiers.
(Note: My comments don’t do his speech justice, and I’m most likely mixing up some of the facts in his story.)
His remarks were poignant and timely. His last words reflected on how he had been made welcome in his new country and how learning more about and understanding one another is what leads to tolerance and peace in this world.
After the laying of some wreaths, a bugle solo, and military salutes, the parade marched on to a nearby church – the oldest existing church in New Zealand. Here, final prayers and salutes were given to two significant grave markers.
An Excuse to Bake
Although ANZAC Day has passed, you can still nibble at a part of history by baking some ANZAC biscuits, or cookies as we call them in America.
Try Edmonds Anzac Biscuits recipe. Note: Corn syrup is your best substitute for golden syrup if you can’t find it in the U.S, or ljus sirap if you’re in Sweden.
We made this exact recipe with our Kiwi friends in Auckland on our second night in New Zealand. The cookies are quite good, kind of a crossover between oatmeal and molasses cookies.
This recipe comes from “Edmonds Cookery Book”, one of the staple cookbooks of New Zealand kitchens (kind of like “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” in the U.S. or “Vår kokbok” in Sweden). Enjoy!