I confess to a very similar journey to my colleague Grant Robertson in relation to ANZAC Day.
The increasing resonance and inclusiveness around ANZAC Day was illustrated to me yesterday when I was out in Onehunga Mall with a box of ANZAC poppies. A range of people reflecting the diversity of our community approached me for a poppy. On the other side of the Mall Elaine, wearing a brooch with a picture of her brother who died in World War II, was having a similar experience. Toddlers through to very senior citizens were proudly wearing their poppies.
When I was considerably younger I spent a wonderful week in Crete and was overwhelmed with the warm reception that my friends and I received once people found out we were New Zealanders. I heard a little about the New Zealanders who fought alongside the people of Crete when it was invaded and occupied by the Germans in 1941. Recently I found out a little more when I read a book by Patricia Grace – ‘ Ned and Katina – a true love story’. Eruera Rewiri Nathan/Edward David Nathan ‘Ned’ a wounded Maori Battalion soldier is sheltered by the family of Katina Toraki and they fell in love and eventually married and settled in NZ after the war. In the course of the book I got a real sense of the courage and determination of the soldiers, who were effectively stranded on Crete after the defeat of the allies, and the many Cretans who formed the local resistance. The tales of human kindness in extreme circumstances are very moving.
But I was particularly struck by the following quote from Ned following a pilgrimage organised on behalf of ex Maori Battalion members and their families in 1977 that visited cemeteries and former battlefields in Turkey, North Africa, Italy, England, France, Greece and the Greek Islands. On Crete there was a service of reconciliation and forgiveness which was widely reported in Greek and German newspapers. On his return to NZ Ned received a letter from a member of the German War Graves Commission who wanted to gain an understanding of what had motivated the commemorative event in Crete. Ned’s reply included the following statement about what occurred at the commemoration:
“I also emphasised that this 28th Maori Battalion pilgrimage to all the Mediterranean countries wherein our fallen are interred, that this was also a pilgrimage with a mission for peace. In my address at the ceremony at Maleme I also said; that it was shame and a curse on mankind; that they, our fallen had to die together to find peace one with the other, and this surely indicated that we the survivors, and the living, should intensify our efforts to ensure lifelong peace, and prevent another holocaust.”