ANZAC Day is slowly drawing to a close here in Australia.
99 years ago, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was formed during World War I, and today has been a day to remember those who have served our two countries in armed conflicts throughout the past century. ANZAC day is best summed up for me in a small, bronze bell – but the story will need a bit of setup, so bear with me.
My parents come from two very different backgrounds. On my mother’s side, public servants have run in the family for generations, often in very high ranking positions in New Zealand. Her father was a public servant. On my father’s side, most of the family were labourers, missionaries and working class people. His father was a storeman. By all rights there’s no way that their paths should ever have come remotely close to crossing. World War II changed that. In 1942, both my grandparents departed New Zealand to join the war effort – my mum’s dad (Grandpa Norman) serving with artillery reinforcements and my dad’s dad (Grandpa Ivan) with the infantry. Both saw terrible things during their time in the war, and neither talked about it. In fact, growing up, we knew it was a topic to avoid.
Ten years ago, well after both my grandfathers had passed away, my family stayed with my grandmother (dad’s mum) for about a week. During this visit, my mother noticed a bell sitting in grandma’s display cabinet. It was bronze, with small claws coming down around a small bell inside, and was oddly out of place with the fine china. Grandma commented that grandpa Ivan had bought it back from the war after he had served in Africa. Mum was astounded. It turned out that her family had used a bell the grandpa Norman had bought back with him from Africa to sound dinnertime for years – the exact same type of small, bronze bell.
I know the odds are slim that my grandfathers ever met during the war, and I can’t think of many worse conditions for people to meet under. But I like to think that somewhere in Egypt, there was a small trinket stand where both my grandfathers, though separated by societal, military and many other factors, saw a little bell and knew it would make their partner back home happy, so they bought it, bringing a little hope to an otherwise scary and uncertain time. Now that’s all just speculation – but what isn’t speculation is the fact that both these men stared down death in horrible circumstances in both Egypt and Crete, both somehow survived to make it home, and both were eventually connected through the marriage of their children many years later.
This ANZAC day, I’d like to honour the memory of my grandfathers, and the memory of those who served with them in those dark days. None of them returned the same, and our lives here in Australia and New Zealand are influenced by their actions in ways we may never fully understand. I’m not one to idolise military service or to glorify the horrific realities of war, but to those who gave up so much to defend what they held dear, I offer my thanks.
And I’ll remember that even when war tears people apart, unexpected things can still bring people together.
He kotuku rerenga tahi.