Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Anzac Day

The Anzac Day commemoration took place at dawn at the Otautau War Memorial with a fairly large group of people. Mr. A. Campbell was officiating (pictured left). I missed the first part of the ceremony where the wreaths are laid but was present for the readings from scripture, hymns and raising of the flag. With those elements solemnly completed, the crowd formed a long parade behind the pipers, police and scouts, and marched toward the Town Hall. I rushed ahead in front of the parade to get pictures but my camera was not set for the lowlight levels and everyone was just a 'blur'. Next year, I'll skip the photos and just take a video for the blog.

Shortly after the Anzac ceremony, while people were visiting in the Town Hall, the museum opened its doors, hoping to catch visitors as they strode by. Graham Barkman and John Low, members of the museum trust, had put together an exhibition called Military Memories. There are original uniforms, hats and memorabilia from both world wars including a telescope captured from a German soldier and a German leaflet from WWII saying "Ei sorrender " (I surrender).

One of the things that I felt was most moving was the painting of the soldier from WWI and a copy of a letter he had written to his brother. He talked about the trenches and how little sleep they got when they had to be in them. He said he could give more news about the war and what's happening but the powers that be wouldn't approve. He wished everyone well at home. Below the painting is the soldier's obituary. When I checked the dates, he had died just four days after writing the letter.

The display also features photographs of the first military organisation in Western Southland - the Wallace Mounted Rifles. This group originally formed in Nightcaps in the early 1900s but the headquarters were moved to Otautau after a few years. Apparently they specialised in horseriding and rifle-shooting among other things. One photo, taken at a training camp, features them on their horses, side by side. Quite impressive. The Wallace Mounted Rifles were ultimately amalgamated into the Southland Mounted Rifles by the time WWI began in 1914.

Of course the point of the exhibition is not to glorify war but to remember the people from our town who served; to consider the governments of the day that decided to send our soldiers into battle; and hopefully to be mindful to avoid such tragedies in the future by electing leaders who have a commitment to peace. As the slogan goes, war is nothing but a lack of imagination.

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