Thursday 16 April 2015

Anzac Day 2015: Going to Gallipoli - or staying home?

"On the brink of WW1 overload" - that was the title of a newspaper article I read recently. The author complains of being "already up to my eyeballs in the centennial commemoration of the Gallipoli landings" and adds that "in this week's Tasman Leader, we had six Anzac-related stories and I had to delay a seventh."

It's true there are masses of events being organised for the days, weeks and months surrounding this year's Anzac Day. Every time I open the newspaper, there seems to be an advertisement for another event, exhibition or concert. 

Here in Wellington alone, there is the Field of Remembrance at the Botanic Garden - 


the official opening of Pukeahu National War Memorial  by the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Prime Minister John Key, with performances by Louis Baker, the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir and the Tudor Consort Choir, along with the Royal NZ Airforce Band (18 April) - 

followed by the opening of the Great War Museum at the Dominion Museum, designed by Sir Peter Jackson and his team at WingNut Films, and open until 11pm for the first two weeks -

the Sound and Light show at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park (every night from 18-25 April) -

the opening of Gallipoli - the scale of our war, a new exhibition at Te Papa - 

the Anzac Day street parade, featuring vintage WW1 vehicles (24 April) - 

And that's not to mention all the events of Anzac Day itself - the dawn service, the citizens wreath-laying service at the Cenotaph, our local community service, the 11am national service at Pukeahu, the afternoon service at the Ataturk memorial, the outdoor big-screen live broadcast of the dawn service at Gallipoli...

... plus several art exhibitions, the NZSO Spirit of Anzac concert, an Anzac Eve vigil service at the cathedral, even a cricket museum photography exhibition...

... and everything else going on all around the country, as shown on the ww100 website.  

Yes, it's easy to feel overwhelmed

But I also like the fact that so many people are finding so many creative ways to think about war and its impact on society, and what World War One (as well as previous and subsequent wars) have meant to us in New Zealand. I like the fact that some of them are peace vigils, poets for peace and other events run by organisations like Peace Movement Aotearoa, or this exhibition at Thistle Hall on Cuba St, called Remember the peacemakers

Rather than feeling overwhelmed or overloaded, I've decided to keep an eye out for all these events, but just focus on a few. Some are small but meaningful, like the very short, one or two-line diary excerpts from 100 years ago that Radio NZ has been broadcasting between programmes, Some I have come across by chance, like a display case at Wellington Central Library holding original letters, creased from unfolding and refolding, sent to a young woman from her cousins, fiance and brother (only one of whom survived), all away at war. 

A few days ago, I walked through the new Pukeahu National War Memorial Park for the first time (it's not officially open, but was finished ahead of schedule so people have been able to walk through it for the last few weeks). Workers were busy setting up lighting and seating for the opening ceremonies on Saturday, and it reminded me of seeing the same activity going on in the week before Anzac Day 2014 at Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and the Anzac Commemorative Site at Anzac Cove. 

This time last year, I was just setting off for Turkey with a wonderful group of people called the Gallipoli Volunteers. 

Soon the 2015 Gallipoli Volunteers will be setting off, along with thousands of people who won tickets in the ballot (including my cousin and other friends). It's going to be an amazing experience for them. But I'm looking forward to Anzac Day here in Wellington. Starting today, when I gave some money and took a poppy from an NZDF man on Cuba St. "Last year I was at Anzac Cove for Anzac Day," I said, and he swapped the hand that was holding the collecting bucket so he could shake mine. "Have you ever been there?" I asked and he said no, but he would love to go one day. I feel very lucky to have been.  

Poppies on the Gallipoli peninsula, April 2014

Tuesday 15 July 2014

Applications open!

Want to apply as a Gallipoli Volunteer for 2015? Applications have just opened!

You can find out more on the Conservation Volunteers page of Program notes, and that's us - the wonderful Gallipoli Volunteers 2014 team - in the photo!! - taken at Lone Pine I think. (Any of the GV2014 team are welcome to correct me!)

As the program says - this is an amazing experience that provides volunteers with an opportunity not just to attend, but to be involved in the Anzac Day commemorative services.

Applications close on 27 August 2014.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Going to Gallipoli?

Since being back in New Zealand, it's been great to hear from different people who've said they enjoyed reading this blog while I was away. I'm glad that all the technological challenges were met and overcome, and I managed to find time to record what we were doing each day (or most days!)

Gallipoli is such a special place and I feel as if the landscape has lodged in my heart now. It was also special to share the experience with the Red Coats of 2014, an amazing bunch!!

If you have got a place in the ballot to visit Gallipoli for Anzac Day 2015 - congratulations! You will have an unforgettable time and you can read about what to expect (and keep up to date with news) on this New Zealand Government Gallipoli 2015 site.

For the Aussies, there is a similar site here.

If anyone is interested in applying for the Gallipoli Volunteer Programme for 2015, you can read about it on the Conservation Volunteers Australia site.

Sunset at Anzac Cove, 24 April 2014

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Not the only ones

We weren't the only ones having an amazing experience at Gallipoli - here is a lovely blog post by Rebecca Nelson, a New Zealand singer who travelled to Turkey with the New Zealand Defence Force Band. It was Rebecca who sang the New Zealand national anthem at the dawn service and she was also part of the group that sang at Chunuk Bair. It's lovely to read about some other people who also visited many of the same battle sites and cemeteries, bonded together as a close-knit group and felt sometimes overwhelmed by the emotional impact of such a special place.  


Sunday 11 May 2014

Home again

Today it's four weeks exactly since I set off on the way to Gallipoli. It must have been one of the most intense four weeks of my life, full of new sights, new experiences and new friends (and plenty of onboard movies!)

Now I'm sitting at my desk at home, watching the dawn service and Chunuk Bair Anzac service on Maori TV. It almost seems impossible to believe I was actually there, but it's quite true - there I am, about 40 mins in on the Chunuk Bair service (and about 20 mins before the rain arrived.)

Sir Jerry Mateparae, Governor General of NZ, gave a memorable and thoughtful address at both services. I especially like what he said at the dawn service (at about 27 mins): how this time next year, people will be focused on the events of exactly 100 years ago as the first troops landed early in the morning of 25 April 1915, and the Turkish troops up on the hills braced themselves to defend their homeland. This year, he said, we can still reflect on that, but "in the space before the centenary begins", we can also remember the peace that was there 99 years ago before war descended. That peace was something that came through the dawn service, in the sound of muted birdsong and the waves on the beach, and in the crescent moon and glittering stars above, and the line of the hills silhouetted against the blue-black sky.  

"When we remember our brave forebears, we pay them the honour they deserve. It is also a time for reflection on war and its impact, and it is a chance to enlighten new generations about the events that shaped their world, and to encourage them to strive for peace."

He closed by quoting the Ode in Maori: 
I te hekenga atu o te ra,
Tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata,
Ka maumāhara tonu tātou ki a rātou.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
I also appreciated the tribute he paid to the Turkish people, "our most gracious hosts".

You can read Sir Jerry's speech at the dawn service here, and his speech at Chunuk Bair here.  

Thanks to Maori TV for great coverage of the event.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Katherine Mansfield in Menton

Menton is a little town in the south of France, very close to the Italian border. Many New Zealanders would know that Katherine Mansfield spent some time there in the last few years of her life - although I didn't realise that it was such a short time (and such a short life, after all) - she arrived in January 1920, spent intervals in England in Switzerland and was dead by 1923.

KM standing in the garden at the Villa Isola Bella (1920)
She went there because she was sick with tuberculosis, then called consumption, and the only cure the doctors could offer was to escape England's damp climate and go somewhere warmer. The reason Menton became so popular and well known - for invalids, especially - was due to an English doctor. Dr James Henry Bennet was also suffering from consumption and came to Menton in 1859. He credited its sunshine and dry air for curing him, and wrote a book called Winter in the south of Europe (1861) in which he praised its beautiful gardens, full of orange and lemon trees, and its welcoming society. People flocked there and created a small English community, with an English church and English grocer; soon there were hotels, balls, and everything to attract tourists.

Many writers and artists have loved this part of the south of France, but I didn't know that W B Yeats died there. In 1938, he came with his wife to stay in a hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the next small town along the coast. He died there in January 1939 and was buried in the town's cemetery up on the hill. The war intervened so his remains couldn't be returned to Ireland until 1948, by which time it took some detective work to identify exactly where his grave was.

Katherine loved Menton, and she adored Isola Bella, a villa on the side of a steep hill, not far from the Menton Garavan railway station. She said about Menton: "I love it as I've never loved any place but my home." The villa is now privately owned, and the KM room is the basement part of it,with a small garden and a bathroom around the side. It's not far at all from where Mandy and Brian are staying - down one road, up another one and under the railway bridge.The same train line runs below Mandy and Brian's flat, which makes a nice connection between the two places.

Just as you can’t go to Gallipoli without remembering the men who were there 99 years ago, so here in Menton, you try and picture KM looking out at these views or walking these streets. At dawn when the buildings in the old town glow in the early morning light, or in the evening when the sunset colours are pretty but muted (like the pastel shades of the houses) and the air is still and clear, like Wellington on a good day, you can’t help wondering what she was thinking: did she feel far from home, or did she feel at home? Did it remind her somehow of NZ – the houses perched on cliffs, the blue sea, the sunsets, the wide sky?

Saturday 3 May 2014

(Not quite Gallipoli, but) Menton

Warm and grateful thanks to Mandy Hager (current recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship) and Brian for looking after me so well in Menton - you can read more about their experiences of settling into French life on Mandy's blog - the good parts, as well as the more challenging bits!

The airport bus from Nice gives a brilliant introduction to this part of the French Riviera; on the motorway as far as Monaco, then hugging the cliffs above the sparkling Mediterranean, winding through small towns and villages, and streets that seem even narrower than Wellington ones. 

We spent the first afternoon wandering round the old part of Menton, all cobbled courtyards, steep lanes and pastel coloured houses with shutters and rows of washing hanging from the windows.

Dark clouds started to gather as we explored the cemetery – final resting place of many who must have come, as Katherine Mansfield did, to seek a cure for consumption; some inscriptions are in English, others in Russian or other European languages, and many of those buried there were born elsewhere and died young. Other graves were family plots, some looking sadly abandoned, with weeds sprouting amidst cracked concrete. (William Webb Ellis, founder of the game of rugby, gets a statue as well as a grave.) The storm finally broke, with fat raindrops starting to fall and thunder rumbling around the hills – on and on and on – like a very atmospheric setting for a story!

Amazingly, the Italian border is only 5 minutes away from Mandy and Brian's flat – cross a small bridge, and you’re in another country.

There are several tiers of roads here: the smaller ones wind along the coast while higher up, under limestone cliffs pitted with caves, the toll motorway crosses viaducts and dives in and out of tunnels. So many tunnels – we didn't keep count, but there must have been dozens between Menton and Genova (or Genoa.) The toll road is a marvel of engineering, but it looks incongruous against the backdrop of villages, old houses, castles and church spires. We had lunch in a small town called Imperia, at a pizza place popular with the crews working on the boats in the nearby marina. Afterwards we carried on to Genova for a wander round the Old Port area, and on the way home, bought bottles of local red wine for 2 euros each.

Mandy and Brian in Genova
Ten minutes in the other direction is another country again - Monaco - where the palace is fairytale-perfect, the cars and boats are gleaming and expensive, there are defibrillators on every corner and  all the stands are being set up ready for the Grand Prix in another few weeks.