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Under lockdown: Anzac Day in Devonport as respects are paid in different ways

Flagstaff Team

The sound of remembrance… Bill Rimmer plays at the dawn service held at O’Neill’s Point
cemetery, Bayswater. Photo: Chris Weissenborn.

Devonport Druid and former RSA president Chris Mullane reports on Anzac Day celebrations 2020.

There is no doubt that Anzac Day 2020 was like no other. It is true that many of us did miss gathering for traditional Anzac commemoration ceremonies. However, there has been much to celebrate in the wide ranging demonstrations of Kiwi ingenuity and creativity that have sprung up as a result.

During our daily exercise in the weeks leading up to Anzac Day, we witnessed ever- increasing window displays of teddy bears and other favourite stuffed toys wearing pop- pies. Many families adorned their fences and porches with home-made poppies of all sizes and wreaths of many descriptions, lovingly crafted from egg cartons and other recycled materials.

Others flew flags or displayed home-made banners bearing the words “Lest we forget” or “We will remember them”.

For the most part, our local schools were already linked up with pupils online from the start of lockdown and amongst their ‘home bubble’ activities children were encouraged to create and share wonderful examples of how they wanted to acknowledge those who had served.

Somehow, the restrictions of level 4 strengthened community bonds and our connection with the privations experienced by earlier generations in times of war, disaster and pandemics.

Perhaps this spontaneous community response offers a message to those organising future Anzac Day commemorations. Yes, tradition is important, but there are many ways of honouring the fallen other than just the usual style of ceremonies that follow a time-worn pattern, largely inherited from our British forebears. Perhaps it is time to develop our own particularly New Zealand format for such important community events honouring the past and also celebrating the present?

This was epitomised on Anzac Day itself by the many ways in which people ‘stayed alone’ while ‘coming together’. Many stood at dawn by their gates, some sharing impromptu ceremonies on Bluetooth speakers with their immediate neighbours. Throughout the day, people came in ones and twos to lay a floral tribute and pay their respects at the Devonport Memorial, or used various online options to commemorate with family members or old comrades elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas. Others, while still respecting level 4 rules, pushed the envelope a little.

O’Neill’s Point dawn ceremony… Chris Mullane pays his respects. Photo: Chris Weissenborn.

One example was a dawn ceremony held in Bayswater. At 6.00am, strictly observing two-metre spacing, a small number of local residents, including veterans young and old, gathered at O’Neill’s Point Cemetery to lay wreaths at the military headstones of two young Maori soldiers from World War One.

Bill Rimmer played The Last Post. The Ode was then recited in te reo Maori by currently serving Navy veteran Leading Seaman Te Orangapumau Elia and in English by myself. This was followed with a lament played by piper Chris Lucas. And then, after a minute’s silence, the bugle sounded Reveille and the brief ceremony was over.

It was a fitting way to honour the two soldiers who, while undertaking pre embarkation training at Narrow Neck, had died from influenza. One had died on 2 November 1918, barely a week before the war ended, and the other on 20 November, only nine days after Armistice was declared. Their service numbers show they had joined the army together 84749 Pte T. Chase and 84750 Pte T. Oneroa. They were probably close mates. They lie buried side by side.

For over 100 years they have been our sons too. We will remember them!

Social distancing made a big difference to Anzac Day around Devonport in 2020. Residents stood along the streets at 6am, to pay their respects, while poppies and memorials hung from fence posts, gates and even cars.

A unique year… the usual crowd of several thousand was much reduced in 2020
Honouring the fallen… Sharon Adams got set up in Nicoll Ave the day before Anzac Day
Making a statement… A vehicle adorned with poppy and flag in front of a Victoria Rd home

This article originally appeared in the 8 May 2020 edition of the Flagstaff. Read online here.

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