Although ANZAC Day is always significant I will remember 25 April 2008. I was on a cycle tour of Vietnam with a neat bunch of people from New Zealand, Australia, Holland and Japan.
It was was a non-riding day, a bus ride from Hue to Hoi An. Over the trip our Vietnamese guide had shared quite a lot of his life story. He was a child in the war, his father had served with the South Vietnamese army, alongside US (and I presume ANZAC) which meant a hard life post war. Some of his family had escaped to the U.S., some had died trying.
One of our group asked if we could stop the bus, for a minute silence, to recognise that it was ANZAC Day in Aus/NZ. We explained it was to remember, commemorate, those who had served in all wars – not just the Gallipoli campaign that was the origin.
The guide was happy to do this, and join us, the common bond being loss. It was odd that such a mix of nationalities joined on what was once enemy territory in a foreign land, North Vietnam, to commemorate those who had served/died in war.
For my generation of Kiwis war is a foreign, almost abstract concept. Apart from a few unused gun emplacements, the memorials which are seen in every town and graves of those who died overseas there is little evidence of it in New Zealand. The Maori Land wars, New Zealand’s only civil conflict, are distant history even if some of the grievances are only recently being addressed.
Vietnam is a country littered with the remnants of a very recent war and multiple colonial occupations. It is impossible to avoid and some of the most memorable, moving holiday experiences were the museums and memorials.
Also notable was the hospitality, the warmth, the welcome from a country which had such a terrible recent history. It brings to mind the wise words of a WW1 Veteran:
“At the end of any war, everyone sits around a table and comes to some agreement.
Why dont' they do that before the war instead?”
Alf Razzell, Royal Fusiliers, WWI
Who's right, who's wrong... that quote sums up the futility of war for me.
My ANZAC connection:
My Mum never knew her Grandfather who died on the battlefield in the last few weeks of World War One (which ended 11th November – 1918). Although born in Australia, of German emigrants, he served for NZ where he had settled and married. He fought for King, Country and Empire against, possibly, his own distant relatives. The world is a strange place.
In Memory of Private ERNEST THEODORE BOCK
who died age 37 on 12 September 1918
29609, New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion
Husband of Isabella Jane Bock, of 19 Russell St., Linwood, Christchurch. Born in South Australia.
Remembered with honour; GREVILLERS (NEW ZEALAND) MEMORIAL
Commemorated in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission