Queenstown residents have joined a mass turnout around the country to pay respects at Anzac Day dawn services this morning.
The Queenstown Returned and Services Association hosted a dawn service for the second year running with hundreds turning out despite dismal wet weather. More than 8500 turned out in Dunedin to mark the day which recalls the bloody Gallipoli campaign in World War I.
In the Wakatipu, a parade from the Memorial Gates at Queenstown Bay to the Memorial Centre was followed by a service led by Queenstown RSA president Dave Geddes.
Geddes, acknowledging war veterans in attendance, told the packed centre: “Most people here probably have no idea what war is like – there is nothing like experiencing it in the flesh.
“You know what it’s like and you know what it’s like coming home after having served in a hostile environment. You symbolise what Anzac Day is all about.”
During World War I Kiwis and Australians fighting side by side forged a collective identity, Geddes said, adding if he ever had to go to war again he’d want it to be with our “cobbers” from across the ditch.
Noting it was the 100th anniversary year since the start of World War I, Geddes said: “It’s almost impossible to imagine the carnage and horror of that war. Soldiers were fed a daily diet of death, suffering and destruction that defies comprehension today.
“Living conditions were appalling. Those men and nurses who cared for the sick and wounded were true heroes and deserve to be recognised as such – we must never forget them.”
Queenstown Lakes mayor Vanessa van Uden addressed the service, which was also attended by Wellington-based consul-general Peter Sams, of the Australian High Commission, and a group of Australian air force servicemen.
Van Uden: “Very few of us will ever realise the shock of a bullet…a head full of the faces of loved ones as life fades away on foreign soil.
“You go to war to preserve something good for the people who come after – we are those people and today is our chance to say thank you.”
In a nice touch to close the service, Queenstown musician Craig Smith – famed for his Wonky Donkey children’s song – sang a moving tribute written specifically for the day called ‘Lest we forget’.
An Anzac service was also held in Arrowtown this morning.