ANZAC Day 25 April, “We will remember them”

Flanders poppies grow among the graves of soldiers who were killed in northern France. Grandson learned about 100 years of ANZAC history and in 2015, applied his knowledge to create a poppy remembrance garden for a school agricultural project.

Grandson knows 25 April is New Zealand’s national day to remember those fought and who died serving New Zealand during times of war. He knows his great-Grandfather fought in WWII and his ancestors fought in WWI.  He knows that in 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of New Zealand’s first major battle of World War One with the loss of over 2,700 New Zealand soldiers. He knows that since the first commemorative services in 1916,  Kiwis attend ANZAC services across the world, from dawn until dusk.

 

My childhood ANZAC commemoration memories are of services held over the years in the local rural community hall, of the silent stillness of the local people watching, moved by the drummer’s tapping accompanied by the tramp, tramp of the veterans’ feet  as they  marched in formation down the road past my grandfather’s house. I see the New Zealand flag fluttering at half-mast in the breeze. I hear the collective voice of my family, my neighbours, my community as we uttered in unison the words, “we will remember them”.  I hear the bugle sound the Last Post  at the close of our lament for the dead.

After the service, people linger. 25th April is a day to be together, to share, to retell stories.

I see my grandfather standing in silent respect, and later in conversation, he would tell that as a married man with children, he was a reservist and he managed his younger brothers’ farms while they, keen to “do their bit for King and country”, enlisted early in 1915, one of whom was ‘never the same’ after returning home from gas and trench warfare.

I see my great-Aunt, church organist and community stalwart, widowed in the early 1930s, childless and never remarried, after her husband, a WWI veteran turned to alcohol to fight his traumas and to die by his own hand.

I see my mother among a group of other war-brides, chatting about their families ‘back home’, recalling the bombing raids and rationing in wartime England, and I know that her Uncle lies in a marked grave in northern France.

I see Dad standing with an older local couple talking about his mate, their son who in WWII  was a prisoner of war with Dad, and who was shot in a camp. In 1992 at Dad’s funeral, the youngest of the three brothers in that family, delivered the eulogy. In part, he said

After my brother was killed, Ken arranged his funeral and then reclaimed his personal possessions. He carried them with him on that infamous forced march into Germany, and as soon as he arrived back in Walton he gave some of them to my parents. Years later when he felt, the time was right he gave the rest to me. I asked him why he had not thrown them away when he was enduring such extreme hardship himself. He replied, “I looked at them sometimes and thought I’ll do that tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.” Ken proved to our family that he was a true and loyal friend.

No-one ever forgets.

Over time in college, at university and as a teacher, I thought further about the pointlessness and horror of war through the words of poets like Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

The Kiwi voice heard in the poem An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier written by James K. Baxter, son of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter, tells the story of a young nation sending antipodean troops to a theatre of war in a distant country, of painful personal realisations and of the futility of war.

An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier

There was a time when I would magnify
His ending; scatter words as if I wept
Tears not by own but man’s; there was a time.
But not now so. He died of a common sickness.

Nor did any new star shine
Upon the day when he came crying out
Of fleshy darkness to a world of pain,
And waxed eyelids let the daylight enter.

So felt and tasted, found earth good enough.
Later he played with stones and wondered
If there was land beyond the dark sea rim
And where the road led out of the farthest paddock.

Awkward at school, he could not master sums.
Could you expect him then to understand
The miracle and menace of his body
That grew as mushrooms grow from dusk to dawn?

He had the weight, though, for a football scrum,
And thought it fine to listen to the cheering
And drink beer with the boys, telling them tall
Stories of girls that he had never known.

So when the War came he was glad and sorry,
But soon enlisted. Then his mother cried
A little, and his father boasted how
He’d let him go, though needed for the farm.

Likely in Egypt he would find out something
About himself, if flies and drunkenness
And deadly heat could tell him much – until
In his first battle a shell splinter caught him.

So crown him with memorial bronze among
The older dead, child of a mountainous island.
Wings of a tarnished victory shadow him
Who born of silence has burned back to silence.

by James K. Baxter

Easter Monday evening and “The day is done,”

My mother had a good memory and flair for reciting poetry and as a child it was common to hear excerpts inspired by a moment as she went about her household tasks. How could I not hear Mum’s voice as I shut the hens in their coop tonight and enjoyed the cloud formation lit by the rays of Easter Monday’s setting sun.

When cats run home and light is come,
And dew is cold upon the ground,
And the far-off stream is dumb,

excerpt from: Song – The Owl by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The cattle, sated after a long day of grazing grass, languidly bovine and disinclined to poetic gestures, were settling for the night under the Totara trees by the stream.

The day is done, and the darkness
 Falls from the wings of Night,
excerpt from: The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

No Tennyson’s white owl lives in my world. Gertrude clucked her defiance at my attempts to corral her with the other hens in the hen house. Always there is one last worm or one last slater to find. Tastier still would be my Kale seedlings that now must be grown under bird netting in the new raised garden beds.

So I sit in my garden. And I wait for the white hen to go about her routine. After a busy weekend, it is a quiet reflective moment, a chance to enjoy nature’s celebration of Easter Monday evening.

Five visitors stayed overnight so we have had a full house. There were six kids and five adults in all with one extra person who came to dinner on Saturday. The garden hosted the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Kitted out with torches, the sugar-rushed children ventured into the moonlight to explore the night world in their treehut, in the paddocks, under the trees and along the stream.

Eels transformed into alligators, pukeko assumed vulture-like proportions, deep shadows morphed into monsters and grunting possums grrrrd. Oh! How I just love The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree written by Dr Seuss.

 

 

The trees yawn and stretch their limbs to the sun

Early this morning I went for a walk. The cat stopped following me once I left the sanctuary of the garden and sat  down to sun himself by the gate until my return. The chickens gave up following me in disgust because I had no food bucket. A rabbit crouching in the long grass and I startled each other.  A white tail bobbed off at speed under the trees. A bird, hidden high in the branches, made its presence heard. Further along the path, a loud squawk was accompanied by a flapping of wings as a beautifully coloured cock pheasant took flight (or fright) from under the ferns.

No animal life stirred in the stream as the sun gave life to the day and as its fingers of light reached through the trees. Eels have retreated deep into their watery stream bed to dream of their long swim through the rivers to the coast and of their arduous journey to the spawning grounds in the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean. The trees yawn and stretch their limbs and preen themselves in nature’s mirror, readying for another day.

My humble stream moment makes me think of poems by two esteemed and eloquent New Zealand poets

“The sea, to the mountains, to the river” by Hone Tuwhare

“The river in you” by Brian Turner

No Dancing Daffodils the Day we Visited Wordsworth’s Cottage

 

Who does not know and love this poem, I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud penned by William Wordsworth? It is a poem that has never been far from my mind. I came across some photos while decluttering stuff that has piled up over the years, photos taken on our trip to the Lakes District during the English summer months a few years ago. Decluttering can wait. This pleasant memory demands attention. As a gardener, I identify with the natural landscape features, the floral and starry elements and I feel the poet’s delight at the scene before him.

There were no daffodils dancing in a springtime breeze for us the day we visited Wordsworth’s garden and cottage. Up the garden steps built by the poet himself and I went.  From our vantage point while sitting on the garden bench, we gazed at the village and lake nestled among the hills and for a while as travellers do, rested and refreshed, delighted by what we saw.

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden Daffodils;
Beside the Lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:-
A Poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Published in Collected Poems, 1815

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