26 Apr 2012

Anzac Day dawn services draw large crowds

9:16 am on 26 April 2012

Large crowds have attended Anzac Day commemorations around the country marking the 97th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

Up to 20,000 turned out to the dawn service in Auckland, while services at other centres also drew big numbers on Wednesday.

In Christchurch, some 5000 people listened to the address from the Governor-General, Lieutenant General Sir Jerry Mateparae, who spoke of the courage, compassion and commitment of Anzac soldiers who died at Gallipoli.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker recognised the work of New Zealand and Australian armed forces in the aftermath of the destructive earthquake of 22 February last year.

The service took place for the first time in Cranmer Square, rather than Cathedral Square where the ceremony was held before the February quake.

A cross made of wood salvaged from the quake-shattered ChristChurch Cathedral was placed on top of a temporary cenotaph in the square.

Large crowd at Auckland service

In a fine and warm early morning in Auckland, up to 20,000 people gathered at the dawn service outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The ceremony began with bagpipes ringing out in the still air before veterans marched onto the museum square to quiet applause.

Prime Minister John Key was among the dignitaries who paid their respects. Auckland mayor Len Brown laid a wreath on the Cenotaph and, accompanied by students from New Zealand and Turkey, placed a cross in the Field of Remembrance.

The service wound up with a Hercules flying overhead.

National service follows dawn ceremony in capital

In Wellington, more than 3000 people turned out at the Cenotaph where a single shot heralded the beginning of the dawn service.

The crowd stood silently as some 100 military veterans marched to the memorial.

In the opening prayer, Salvation Army chaplain Lt Col Peter Savage made special mention of the three servicemen who had died overseas in the past year; SAS soldiers Corporal Doug Grant and Lance Corporal Leon Smith, and Corporal Douglas Hughes.

The French Ambassador to New Zealand, Francis Etienne, spoke of the importance of commemorating Gallipoli.

"Enemies of a century ago have become the friends of today. This is the reason why it is so important to remember. The worst of conflicts can lead to the most ... enduring peace."

Mr Etienne noted the significance of the day for France which lost more than 10,000 soldiers at Gallipoli.

Later in the morning, some 400 people attended the National Commemorative Service and wreath-laying ceremony in the capital.

The entire service was held outdoors for the first time since National War Memorial was consecrated in 1932 in a dress rehearsal for the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign in 2015

Prime Minister John Key and the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae attended the service.

Meanwhile, about 150 people, including Turkish ambassador Ali Yakital, attended a service at the Ataturk memorial on Wellington's south coast later in the day.

The memorial was unveiled in 1990 and erected in honour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who served as a divisional commander at Gallipoli and went on to become the first president of modern Turkey.

Members of the iwi Taranaki Whanui performed a haka and powhiri, as the crowd crammed around the memorial on a ridge above Tarakena Bay.

Veterans moved by public interest

In Hamilton, more than 2000 people of all ages were at the dawn service. Among them was WWII veteran Bruce Murcott who served in the 24th Battalion in the Middle East and is believed to be the sole survivor of the 15th platoon that began camp in 1940.

He says the public seem to be more involved in Anzac Day services. "That's why so many have turned out. Makes me feel very good."

Ypres deputy mayor Frans Lignel says the Belgian town will never forget the sacrifices made by New Zealand soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Every day at 8pm a bugler plays the Last Post at the Menin Gate in the town in honour of soldiers who died in the battle on the Western Front.

Mr Lignel was among more than 2000 people who attended the dawn and civic services in Hamilton and says there is a strong bond between his people and the men who died fighting for peace.

"They did their duty but they never came back ... We take care of your boys and we put flowers on their graves."

A bugler from the town, Raf Decombel, played the Last Post and Reveille.

In Whangarei, the crowd of at least 2000 was the biggest many had seen at an Anzac service in the city.

People lined the grass banks of the amphitheatre at Laurie Hall Park, where the service was moved three years ago to accommodate growing crowds.

The focus of the service has become a small field of remembrance where school children stake hundreds of white crosses in the park, each with the name and photograph of a service man or woman killed at war.

World War II veteran Ross Pennington was moved to tears by the sight of so many people turning out in the pre-dawn darkness. "I just couldn't believe all the kids, it was really good," he said. "The way Whangarei turned out is great."

Whangarei's cenotaph is to be moved to the park in recognition of the fact that the ceremonies have outgrown the old site.

Thousands at Dunedin service

Some 5000 people attended at Dunedin's dawn service, at the Cenotaph in Queens Gardens.

More than 50 wreaths were laid on the stone memorial just south of the city centre in a half-hour ceremony involving pipe bands, school students and cannon fire.

Defence Force director-general of Reserve Forces, Brigadier Sean Trengrove, told the crowd the dawn service represents the time of morning called Stand To, when soldiers stand ready at first light, guarding against the possibility of a surprise attack.