Once again, we have been ashamed at how little we know about the involvement of other countries in the world wars. We attended the Armistice Day service at Invercargill cenotaph and were shocked to learn that 7,000 people from Southland, New Zealand had been killed in World War I. In total, almost 17,000 New Zealanders lost their lives in the war, and at the time the country’s population was only one million.
I later spoke to a campsite owner whose grandfathers had both fought in the war. He spoke of their willingness to go to the other side of the world to fight, saying that he remembers his grandmother referring to England as ‘the motherland’ even though she had never even visited. He also talked about the shock the soldiers had when it all ended. In New Zealand, there were immediate celebrations. This was something that was replicated at the cenotaph memorial - church bells rang out, emergency vehicles sounded their sirens and pigeons were released. But for the campsite owner’s grandfather, it was rather different for him as a soldier on the other side of the world. I’ve never really thought about how strange it must feel to go from fighting a war with every waking moment being dedicated to that cause, to it suddenly being over. It was certainly an eye opening conversation.
The service itself was very interesting as you could clearly see the different cultures that have made New Zealand the place it is today. Many of the readings and poems were in both English and Maori. We were standing next to a row of retired servicemen, all of whom had medals. One of them was a Maori, and other people touched foreheads with him to greet him. There was also an obvious Scottish influence to elements of the service with the pipers in their kilts. About a quarter of the population of New Zealand is of Scottish decent, and many of Invercargill’s road names reflect this heritage.
We are more grateful than ever to those who gave their today so that we can have our tomorrow.