Saturday, 12 November 2011


The CN tower is red tonite and the lighted signs on the public buses read 'Lest We Forget.' People are wearing poppies. Facebook is full of posts about relatives and memory.

It's Remembrance Day here in Canada (and Veteran's Day in the US) and they really go all out here to mark the moment. Recalling 'returned servicemen and servicewomen,' as we might say at home, on 11 November makes sense because it marks the last day of WWI although in NZ and Australia we have our day of remembrance on ANZAC Day instead. It's still a WWI-related date (25 April, the beginning of things at Gallipoli) but not the end of things and much as the beginning of things, or so the mythology goes: NZ and Australia were apparently born as nations on the cliffs of Gallipoli, as men from both places fought an impossible fight.

For some reason it feels striking that this is the only special day which isn't in the opposite season here than it falls at home: the weather in late April and early November are comparable, whereas other shared days take place simultaneously with snow or rain in one place and sunshine in the other. This day to remember our dead - our specific dead, our dead from specific moments and specific histories - falls at the beginning of winter in Canada and at home.

Like many people, I can't help but have mixed feelings about the memorialisation of certain wars, and I remember sitting in the carpark of the Army Museum in Waiouru with Megan and a sleeping Matiu in the backseat. We talked at length about what histories we wanted to tell him about and what dimensions of masculinity we wanted to valorise. We found ourselves thinking about the glamorisation of war and the problem of over-simple stories about conflicts and the various possible paths to their resolution. We talked about how we knew he would be exposed to all of this anyway, and the risks of limiting a child's understanding of the world by creating too contrived a bubble of reality around them. As I recall, we drove away, Matiu still sleeping, and decided to leave it as an experience he would have with others... sure enough, he has visited the Museum more than once with his beloved Koko (our Dad) while roadtripping to visit the Somervilles in Tauranga.

It's possible to talk yourself into a corner, though, and miss the opportunity to engage with something on your own terms.

Whatever I may think about war and militarism and selective memories and violence, today was like an early ANZAC day for me, and although both of my grandfathers fought in WWII of course this year I've spent a lot of time thinking about Grandad because his passing is still so recent. War shaped him deeply through its impact on his own life as a member of the 28th Maori Battalion, its impact on his family (especially the loss of his brother Hamuera Paul but also the chance to meet the nurse he later married, Nana), its impact on his generation, and its impact on his world.

I still find it unbelievable he has gone, even though I have strong memories of saying goodbye. One of the memories I will never lose - and that I remembered today and will rememebr again next April - is standing in the graveyard, in a classic Halcombe 'breeze' and light rain, surrounded by whanau, singing for the first time the hymn he sang so many times so far away for other men.

Au, e Ihu, tirohia
Arohaina iho rā
Whakaaetia ake au
Ki Tou uma piri ai
I te wā e ake ai
Enei ngaru kino nei
I te wā e keri ai
Enei awha kaha mai

Tiakina mai ahau
I te wā e rurea nei
Aratakakina e koe
Roto te marino nui
Aua au e waiho noa
Awhitia mai rā e Koe
Hīpokina iho au
Raro i ou parirau

Rānea tonu ana mai
Tau aroha atawhai
Kaha ana mai ko Koe
Ki te muru i ngā hē
Puna o te oranga
Whakahekea tenei wai
Kia pupū i roto nei
Tae noa ki te mutunga

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