Anzac Day is always a poignant reminder of the wartime sacrifices made by those on both sides of the Tasman but, with 2015 marking the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, this year's ANZAC commemorations will have a special resonance. As a consequence, the range of events and programmes throughout the country will be simply spectacular.
ANZAC week (April 18 to 25) in Wellington will be marked with the opening of Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. The Government’s single biggest commitment to the centenary, Pukeahu has been a mammoth undertaking – construction involved diverting traffic while a tunnel was built, a huge park was landscaped, sculptures commissioned, and the National War Memorial and Carillon had to be earthquake strengthened – all in a project that spanned several years and yet finished ahead of schedule.
Overlooking the Memorial Park, the former National Museum has also had a makeover and will host one of two landmark exhibitions. The first, the Great War Exhibition, opening on April 18, commemorates the very significant part that New Zealand played in the First World War in a journey rich in personal stories of the contributions made by New Zealanders on the battlefields of Europe and elsewhere, and also at home in war-time New Zealand.
The exhibition has been put together under the personal supervision of reknowned film producer Sir Peter Jackson and his production company Wingnut Films, makers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. It’s been said that Tolkien embarked on his Middle-earth saga as a response to the destruction and desolation he saw during the Great War.
In the second landmark event, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is mounting a special exhibition called Gallipoli: The scale of our war. Te Papa has joined forces with Weta Workshop to create an experience it says will be like no other, giving visitors the opportunity to experience the triumphs and countless tragedies of this eight-month campaign through the eyes and words of the ordinary New Zealanders who were there.
The exhibition opens on 18 April, and people who may not be able to attend in person will still be able to join in the experience online – Weta and Sir Richard Taylor feature in a series of videos detailing the making of the exhibits. Weta’s involvement is quite apt - as Sir Richard points out, many New Zealand soldiers preparing to ship out for the Great War trained at a sports ground just across the road from the buildings now occupied by Weta Workshop in Miramar.
March from Cenotaph
On the Friday before ANZAC Day, Wellington will host a march from the Cenotaph, near Parliament Buildings, through the centre of the city to Pukeahu Park with an array of vintage military vehicles and, weather permitting, a flyover of warbird planes.
ANZAC Day traditionally starts early with, in Wellington, the Dawn Service at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park followed by the National Service of Commemoration at 11am, where representatives of all nations will lay wreaths. In the afternoon a service will be held at the Ataturk Memorial - a gift from the people of Turkey on Wellington’s south coast – and the Dawn Service at Gallipoli will be broadcast live on screens at Pukeahu.
Wellington’s ANZAC Week will close on Saturday evening with a Beat Retreat ceremony and final screening of the light and sound show.
Auckland’s War Memorial Museum will also feature a series of ANZAC events. The Illuminate programme features a specially created film taken from TVNZ’s new WWI drama series, When We Go to War, and rarely seen photographs of New Zealanders at Gallipoli, from the Museum’s recently published book, The Anzacs. The diary of Private Raymond Danvers Baker’s, giving a first-hand account of the journey from the Greek Islands to the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the Anzac Cove landings, will be on display in the Museum Library, alongside photographs taken by other soldiers during the campaign.
The Museum, paid for by subscriptions following the Great War, has become a symbolic meeting-place for Aucklanders to honour and commemorate the fallen and, as usual, will host what is always the country’s best-attended Dawn Service, followed by a programme of choral music and guided tours. The ANZAC Cententary commemorative programme will continue through April and May.
The ANZAC spirit will be remembered in many different ways throughout New Zealand. The Rotorua District Field of Remembrance has been installed in Rotorua’s historic Government Gardens, with crosses in this Field of Remembrance representing soldiers from the Rotorua District who lost their lives whilst serving during World War One, 1914 - 1918. The Field of Remembrance will be open from Friday 24 April until Tuesday 28 April 2015 and is beside the Cenotaph in Government Gardens.
Christchurch has a packed schedule of services, marches and other events throughout the city, including a commemorative concert featuring the iconic Woolston Brass Band.
Before dawn on ANZAC Day, the people will gather at war memorials in every city and town across New Zealand. There may be dozens, or thousands, but they’ll be there united in a single purpose – to remember.