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Recognising the debt we owe

Thousands of people turned out to pay their respects to the members of the New Zealand armed forces who have served their country in overseas conflicts at a number of Anzac services across the region yesterday.

Although the national Anzac Day service at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington had to be cancelled due to strong northerlies gusting up to 100km/h, events in Wairarapa were largely untroubled by the weather, although a flyover as part of the service in Tīnui had to be abandoned due to high winds.

“The weather was spot on for most of the dawn service in Masterton, only starting to pick up towards the end,” Masterton RSA president Willie Simonsen told the Times-Age.

The crowd that gathered was estimated to number anywhere between 1800 and 2500 – “It’s hard to do an accurate count in the dark,” Simonsen noted, “but looking back from the cenotaph, all I could see was a sea of heads going all the way back to the road.”

Among the event highlights from Simonsen’s point of view was the “heartening sight of veterans who’ve served from the ’90s onwards”, the number of school children laying wreaths, which “took quite some time as a result”, and the pupil from Mākoura College who – despite some nervousness about being in front of such a large crowd for the first time – did a great job of reciting the Ode of Remembrance in te reo.

Carterton RSA president Rex Kenny judged that the Carterton Anzac service attracted “a couple of thousand people – probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever had in Memorial Square”.

Particularly pleasing was the number of veterans and “little kids” in attendance, as well as 50 uniformed representatives and a member of the Australian Air Force on behalf of the High Commission.

“It’s just getting stronger and stronger every year – people are increasingly treating it with great respect as a national day,” Kenny said, something he puts down to the build up to the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landing in 2015, as well as “schools doing a really good job of teaching kids about it being a special event”.

With Featherston RSA president Peter Jackson having donned his district president hat to attend the service at Hatuma, where the Anzac memorial was recently vandalised, the duty of reporting the town’s turnout fell to vice-president Stu Tulip.

A big ‘thank you’ was due to the district council for helping fund the event, he said, which saw a return to the traditional format of a march to the town’s war memorial for the laying of wreaths, followed by a march to Anzac Hall.

“Just over 100 came the dawn service,” Tulip said, while the first full parade since the covid-19 pandemic saw dozens strut their stuff down the main street, and Anzac Hall was at capacity with around 130 people, “which was lovely to see”, as was the RSA venue.

It’s understood the service in Greytown was also well attended, as was the one service in Gladstone.

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