When I was younger I strongly opposed all war for whatever reason. I was among those who found the annual ANZAC Day ceremonies difficult as they seemed to be glorifying war. Then as time went by I came to see that wasn’t necessarily the case. Ceremonies seemed to draw more on the words of the World War One poets like Wilfred Owen.
War has only indirectly touched my life. My mother lived through the bombing raids on London in World War Two and my father was a war prisoner of the Japanese, surviving the prisoner of war camps in Thailand.
Now, in my fiftieth year, I can see that war is not just a matter of black and white, right or wrong; it can be a very complex matter and sometimes action is justified. I’ve never been called on to “serve my country”, but today in New Zealand we honour all those who have done that duty, whether the cause itself was right or wrong at the time. The Unknown New Zealand Warrior lost his life in France some time between April 1916 and November 1918.
The Unknown Warrior is one of over 250,000 New Zealanders who served in overseas wars. He is one of 30,000 who died in service. He is one of over 9000 who have no known grave or whose remains could never be recovered. The remains were chosen by the Commission from the First World War Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in the Somme region of France as this was an area where the greatest number of the various New Zealand regiments and battalions are known to have fought. As the soldier’s name, rank, regiment, race, religion and other details are unknown, he represents and honours all New Zealanders who became lost to their families in war.
On return to New Zealand on Wednesday 10 November, the Unknown Warrior will lie in state at Parliament to enable New Zealanders to pay their respects. A Memorial Service will be held on 11 November at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, followed by a Military Funeral Procession through central Wellington to the National War Memorial where an Interment Ceremony with full Military Honours will take place.
As I write (Thursday 11 November, Armistice Day) the Warrior is being laid to rest in the newly created Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial in Wellington.
The proceedings are being broadcast on TV — the warrior has been carried on the shoulders of half a dozen servicemen from Parliament to Old St Paul’s Cathedral next door, and he will be carried on their shoulders to a slow march the length of Wellington (2.85 kilometres) to the Buckle Street War Memorial.
It’s very moving to see an unknown person being honoured in this way. I’d like to think he represents not only those men and women who have gone into war, whether willingly or not, but also all the victims of violence and domination, greed and aggression.
Update: the casket was borne on a gun carriage, with the pall bearers slow marching beside it. The whole event was very moving.