Reflections on ANZAC Day

with Kurt Payne, Craig Wedge, Dawn Elvidge, Max Moss, Viv Allen.

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https://aucklandunitarian.org.nz/podcast/20180422_KurtPayne_ReflectionsOnAnzacDay.mp3

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Kurt Payne © 22nd April 2018

On the 28th of February 1961, the small Catholic Hospital in Zambia where my uncle was due to be born was going to close due to violent uprisings and sabotage. My uncle was due on the 27th and my grandmother drove up and down-pot holed roads to make sure he came early!

The hospital packed up and a white doctor accompanied the nurses up country where they we all raped and killed. Life involved sleeping with guns under the pillow and doing housework with revolvers in their apron pockets.

My grandfather, in charge of council transport, sacked a black African for gross incompetence; the mayor called him and said he could sack any white person he liked but not a black person. It was time to leave. The house was sold at a great loss and the miners striked on the day of the furniture auction so everything went for peanuts. Following this the passage booked from Durban to New Zealand had been cancelled, the ship commandeered for troops by the Canadians. 100 pounds was all you were allowed to take out of the country so all the extra cash was stuffed in the carrycot mattress, a crying baby and a dirty napkin on top ready for custom clearance though Zimbabwe and into South Africa.

A phone call at 10am advised a place on a ship departing at 2, wet laundry in buckets, baby, my 8yr old father and parents made it to the ship and though very seasick, to the shock of a cold, wet, Wellington winter, without any warm clothes. A decade or so later authorities knocked on the door, asking who are you aliens? Luckily they easily got citizenship. I often think about all those families today, fleeing war and upheaval, would it be that hard to give them even a little piece of our freedom here?

In 2016 I stepped foot on the island of Crete, to meet my distant cousin, born during world war one. When fear of German occupation in WW2 became a reality, her father dug a bomb shelter out of the rock face, lined with stone benches and cushions. Her massive home, Bella Vista had to be vacated within 24 hours and they were given a small home in Hanias old town. In a desperate act, her mother gathered up armfuls of personal British books, ledgers, charts and diaries, marched to the top of a wall above the sea and let go, the heavy books sinking to the bottom, the lighter papers floating on the waves. They never returned to Bella Vista, given to the UNRA after the occupation, interestingly the Germans never left their mark on the house.

However in the town of Hania, between tavernas of holidaying Brits is one war bombed building, a scar as fresh today as the day it crumbled, not rebuilt due to an ownership or family drama. It stands imprinted in my mind as the scars of war that we live around, right there, but often unnoticed. A scar so huge it moves me more than visiting the war graves in Souda bay or any ANZAC dawn service.


Craig Wedge © 22nd April 2018

Like most New Zealanders of my generation, I grew up learning about ANZAC Day, the significance of it in New Zealand’s history, and the importance of remembering those who had died in battle.

For a long time I didn’t question this, and in many ways I still don’t. The tyranny that was Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was plain for all the world to see, with their agendas terrifying – so clearly World War 2 was a war that had to be fought and had to be won.

Some time however in the last 10-12 years I started to become (pardon the pun) rather battle-weary of seeing the same TV programmes, the same archive footage, the same newspaper stories, nearly all focused on the same thing – the fighting and the subsequent loss of life.

For a time I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was that was making me uneasy, and then one day, it suddenly dawned on me: it was peace that I want to remember and honour on ANZAC Day, not war and sacrifice. And when I say peace, I don’t just mean the absence of war. The peace I mean is a total way of being that simply does not allow for the possibility of war.

As I began to embrace this sense of peace, I began to feel compassion for ALL the victims and casualties of war, including those of Germany and Japan. They too were victims of a tyrannical regime, either manipulated or coerced to act in ways they would have never imagined in peacetime.

This ability for someone to be manipulated or coerced to act in such inhuman ways was reinforced for me by something that Herman Goering, the deputy leader of Nazi Germany, said at the Nuremburg Trials. It is something that I find both quite profound and extremely disturbing:

“Why of course the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back in one piece. Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But it is the leaders of the country that determine policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship…

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.

Now I read this at a time during the last US Presidential election when Donald Trump was whipping up anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican propaganda in order to get more votes. I thought ‘OMG, it DOES work in a democracy too’.

So how do we get to a peaceful state, where that we cannot be easily manipulated or coerced? All the great spiritual teachers seem to say the same thing – peace always begins with oneself and within oneself. This peaceful way of being would be entire sermon on it’s own, so on that note, I’ll finish by quoting a Native American warrior who was encountered by the acclaimed tracker and author Tom Brown Jnr when he did his first vision quest:

“A true warrior is always the last to pick up the lance or go to battle. His battles are fought with the lance of love and understanding. His enemies are prejudice, greed and bad medicine, and the biggest battles are always fought within himself. So do not go out upon the earth to battle demons of the physical world, for your hatred will be like theirs. Instead, go out as a true warrior, with love and understanding.”


Dawn Elvidge © 22nd April 2018

ANZAC Day — I think of my father who enlisted in 1915 — a keen athlete, a gymnastics champion, a skilled cabinet maker — returned an amputee, gassed, and hands tight with skin grafts. I think of Uncle Allan too. An engineer, conscripted in 1941 to dig out tunnels under enemy lines, – back home he could tolerate only space and silence. War wastes lives in death, and brutally re-aligns lives of others, of those who return and of those who stay at home. We are not glorifying war in remembering them.

In the 1940s home life for me was dominated by war — listening to war news and father marking the allies’ progress in Europe and the Pacific with little flags on a big world map on the kitchen wall; and mother teaching us to knit long scarves, sew hussifs, and stitch calico wraps around parcels for soldiers — and to be grateful for the food and clothes we could buy with our ration cards, and to be careful in pulling the blackout curtains and to be happily helpful every Sunday, when on return from church, several cousins in uniform would come for roast dinner and a sing-song around the piano. We would always end with

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.

There was no mention of the horrors of war — horrors the older men had faced, the horrors the younger men were about to experience. There was with the young generation an enthusiasm to seek and celebrate peace and freedom.

Our family always attended the Dawn Service and the ANZAC Parade – though father couldn’t march. The only thing I ever heard him say about the war was ‘Stretcher bearers were the only heroes of war’. In the 1970s, my children, then in their teens would not come to the services with me — they condemned what they called the ANZAC glorification of war. That was the general attitude then; and attendances at the Dawn Service plummeted. Recently greater crowds attend — the grand-children and great grand children recognising that the day is not glorifying war but honouring those who, in raw patriotism sought peace and freedom.

I remember father’s funeral. A grey August morning in Christchurch, a long RSA guard of honour, the haunting notes of the bugler’s Last Post and a strong male voice calling out –

They shall not grow old
As we who are left grow old
Age will not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning we will remember them.

What? With thoughts and prayers we will remember them? Remembering is not enough. A hundred years of thoughts and prayers have not stopped wars — the wars are less personal, the brutal shocks are delivered by remote control.

Two decades back I really believed we could achieve global democracy — all citizens throughout the world, respecting the worth and dignity of each and every one. But nationalism is strident again, wars rage, thousands of refugees are again the victims of war. national greed for power and resources dominate. Why do we manufacture weapons? Our defence budget is $456 per capita – minimal compared to others, but what if that was added to a “Defence of Citizens’ Rights” budget for health, education and housing. We can not celebrate peace and freedom yet.

Nor do we glorify war in remembering past wars on ANZAC Day — but remember remembering is not enough. Can we build a society that refuses to go to war?


Max Moss © 22nd April 2018

National holidays inform us about the history and culture of their respective countries. Bastille Day celebrates the start of the overthrow of the French monarchy.  The Fourth of July celebrates the American colonists’ declaration of independence from Great Britain.

Our three most sacred holidays are Christmas, Easter, and ANZAC Day.  The first two tell us modern New Zealand was conquered by Christians.  We have no Maori holidays.  Maori are invisible.  Our third holy day, ANZAC Day, tells a unique story.

I know of no other countries besides New Zealand and Australia whose most holy secular holiday is about defeat, not victory.  Every year ANZAC Day reminds us of a military disaster, the senseless slaughter of our boys because of the stupidity and arrogance of the British imperialist class.

Most countries have natural enemies whom they have fought for thousands of years.  New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland, are among the very few who do not have natural enemies.  We don’t have an artificial line on our landscape called an international boundary. We have not been taught to hate the people on the other side of that barbed wire fence. 

Imagine if all of Northland is a Turkish colony.  New Zealanders would all be taught to hate Turks.  We would not celebrate ANZAC Day because Gallipoli would be just one of many battles we had fought to protect ourselves from “them,” the Turkish barbarians. Because we don’t have a land boundary with anyone, we don’t have anyone we have to destroy to fulfil our national destiny.  ANZAC Day warns us to be wary about empires who seduce us into their conflicts and use our youth as cannon fodder.

Both of my mother’s parents were Swiss.  But she grew up in Germany, where her family owned a paper factory.  On the morning of November 9th, 1938, she walked to school amidst the broken windows and smashed stores of Jewish businesses that had been destroyed the night before in the Nazi anti-Semitic frenzy known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.  A voice inside her said, “This is not my country.”  Only 18 years old, she left Germany to live with her grandparents and relations in Switzerland.

In Switzerland she did not see the terror of war around her, but she was repeatedly told about those who disappeared at the hands of the Gestapo, those who had returned from the front horribly disfigured, and her many family and friends who had been killed. Her hometown in Germany was carpet bombed.  In 15 minutes everything she grew up with became rubble. The war killed her father, Max, and her brother, Kurt.  Kurt is my middle name.

Bill Nash, Di’s father, whom I never knew, volunteered for the RAF at age 33.  He was a combat navigator and bombardier flying deadly missions throughout the war.  One day he and his squadron of 48 men had breakfast together and took off on another mission. They were ambushed by Nazi fighter planes.  Through Bill’s headset was a growing crescendo of screams as his mates burst into flames.  He watched helplessly as they nosedived into the North Sea.  Silence.  At evening mess there were 48 chairs at his squadron’s table.  32 were empty.  Two thirds of his squadron had been killed in a quarter of an hour.  In RAF Fighter Command, every day you flew was a lottery with death where the odds always favored the grim reaper.

Bill Nash’s body was not damaged in the war, but his mind was.  In those days it was called “war neurosis.”  Nightmares and bouts of insanity haunted him for his remaining 40 years.  He was an emotional train wreck.   In 1986 he died in bed in Auckland of natural causes.  A book was lying open on his chest:  Noel Coward’s “Destination Unknown.”

Seventeen years after Bill’s death my mother died in her home at Whangaparaoa.

My mother and Bill Nash died 17 years apart.  But they died on the same day, ANZAC Day. 

“Lest we forget.”


Viv Allen © 22nd April 2018

My Dad Trevor told me that he was not keen to go to war because he had heard the horrible stories from his uncle and other soldiers who had returned from WW1. He wasn’t a conscientious objector but thought that wars didn’t achieve anything except bloodshed and misery and he wanted no part of one. He was already 27 years old in 1939 and maybe a little more mature and wiser and not so gung-ho as the usual 18 year old cannon fodder. For 10 years from the age of 17 when Dad left the family farm in Tuakau after an argument with his domineering father – until he was 27 he worked on high-country sheep stations in the South Island – just he and his horse and dogs. At 27 he had saved enough money and decided to enrol in a two year agriculture science diploma at Massey in Palmerston North.

Conscription in NZ started in July 1940 when Dad was finishing off his diploma at Massey. So early 1941 found him at 29 years old doing temporary work in farms around Auckland awaiting his callup. Then he thought of a plan. Knowing he was extremely colour-blind he applied for the air force. Time went by and finally they rejected him. Then he applied for the navy and they too rejected him but by now it was 1942 and he’d managed to evade the war hoping it would end soon. Finally, in 1942 the army got him and he was sent to the Melanesian islands where he served for 2 years as the guy who ran the wires up the hill with a radio so that he could tell the gunners the distance and angle to fire the guns at the enemy.

My Dad died of cancer aged 70 but I was only 26 so I feel robbed of the time I could have spent with him. I didn’t have much time to get to know him as an adult and ask him all those questions that I would have liked to ask him. But, I did ask him once if he believed in god and what he thought of mainstream religion. He told me that his family were believers who regularly attended church but after his experience in the war he was now an atheist. He said that during the war there was a lot of time when there was no fighting and his battalion (not sure what the correct name for his group of soldiers) used to help the local villagers. They sprayed DDT to combat malaria and did other things to help improve the lives of the locals. He said that after the time he spent with the local people he just couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t be ‘saved’ because they were pagans in the view of the Christians. He found them to be good, honest hardworking people who he viewed as equals. If his Melanesian friends couldn’t be saved he was no longer a Christian – so he instantly became an atheist.