Anzac day has always started with attending a dawn service, but up until this year I have been a spectator – usually somewhere towards the back because I struggled to get out of bed in time. This year though I had a role to play in official proceedings at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Dawn Parade. My day started with a 4am wake up call, I dressed in a bit of a daze as a WW1 nurse, had a bite to eat and drove off to the museum.
There were four of us dressed in WW1 uniforms representing the different services, army, navy, airforce and nursing.
Somehow we arrived just in time, the boys got uniformed up in the car park, and we were guided through the museum by security to reach our starting position at the top of the stairs. There we stood waiting for the ceremonies to start. It was an amazing sight – standing between the two columns at the entrance to the museum, looking out over a sea of people. The sky was black, the air was still, the rain from Sunday vanished. Barely a breath of wind stirred the flags on the cenotaph, and five soldiers stood like statues, motionless, each with their back to the cenotaph. The faces in the crowd nearest us looked our way, camera phones pointed at us. But most of the crowd was watching the cenotaph, the podium and the procession of veterans marching in.
From our vantage point we could see all the little behind the scenes actions going on. An elderly lady standing halfway down the terrace near the stairs was brought a chair to sit on by a kindly event worker – medics were called softly in to attend an elderly man who had fainted, and everything was done so quietly and efficiently that it made no disturbance on the solemnity of the event.
Soon we heard the words ‘Germans, New Zealanders and Pommies’ our cue to march. Bruce was on my left and whispered ‘weight on right, step on left’ and we were off. The eyes of how many thousand now trained on us as we set off down stairs, in the dark, and I in a long dress… but we didn’t stumble! Later I found out that we were being televised not just within NZ but had been seen on TV in Adelaide as well!
Safely in position down by the cenotaph we provided a backdrop for the Karakia and were then stood facing the cenotaph for an hour, no fidgeting allowed! No looking into the numerous cameras! Essentially trying to behave like a good little nurse – and I think I did OK – I didn’t faint!
Afterwards we were surrounded by a crowd of curious folks – interested to talk and to find out who we were and why we were there – as well as have their photos taken with us. One lady approached me and voiced her thanks for being there representing nurses, she herself was a registered nurse and felt Anzac Day should do more to commemorate the role nurses had played; hospital ships at Gallipoli had been terrifyingly close to the action, sometimes even within machine gun fire.
It was a thoroughly amazing experience to be involved in the dawn service, with any luck I will be taking part next year as well. Next year I hope to be a little better prepared. No last minute panic about a missing headscarf thing (maybe I’ll even know its proper name!), I would also like to know more about the nurses I am representing, in order to be able to answer questions. Plus (you guessed it) I’d like to have made my own uniform. This one was hired from First Scene.
To view the full service click here and watch it on demand from Maori TV.
Many thanks to my good friend Bruce for asking me to take part, it was a pleasure and a privilege.
We will remember them.