The Anzac Day I remember as a child growing up in 1960s and ‘70s Masterton involved my father getting up very early, rustling through the house in the dark to head out to the Dawn Parade. He would come back later, in his suit and tie – unusual for him, a motor trimmer – wearing a red poppy on his lapel and smelling of what I thought was aftershave, but was probably alcohol.
He was a Second World War veteran, a bomber pilot over Germany in the last 18 months or so of the war, probably trained to fly after the huge losses among New Zealanders in the RAF depleted their ranks. He was old for a pilot, born in 1913, just before the First World War. Fifty by the time I was born, he was 20 years older than my mother.
I sometimes went with my father selling Anzac poppies – red cones then, not the flat, black-centred circles they later became – door to door. We lived near the railway station, in a street of tidy, modest 1920s houses surrounded by streets of down-at-heel wooden villas with unkempt gardens, some of them converted into businesses: hairdressers, mechanics’ workshops, welders. We would walk around these streets, my father knocking on the doors and handing over the poppies, me carrying the bag into which people dropped their coins.
I never went to the Dawn Parade. It was a thing for men, for the men who hung out at the Soldiers’ Club. There were men’s worlds and women’s worlds – my mother and her friends, who stayed home with children and did housework and went to each other’s houses for coffee and talking, seemed to have little to do with my father’s life, his workplace with its big roller doors and its enticing, intoxicating smells of glue and paint, its oddly blind-looking cars with their headlights and windows masked with newspaper, its men in overalls, its tearoom with its long wooden benches and – oh joy! – crate of bottles of WACO soft drinks. Work was a men’s world, as were many of the other worlds my father inhabited – Rotary, the Savage Club, the Soldiers’ Club (for many years, I assumed that this was a casual term for the RSA, but Masterton’s beautiful 1918 clubhouse really was called the Soldiers’ Club), the Anzac celebrations. Women and children were only occasionally permitted in these male enclaves.
More than 40 years later, I’ve still never been to a Dawn Parade, though I’ve thought about it, mainly as a way of connecting with my father (now long dead), trying in a small way to share some of what he experienced. Numbers of people at Anzac celebrations have boomed in recent years, as the number of actual veterans has dwindled, and no doubt this year’s celebrations, the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, will be huge. New Zealanders have begun wanting to remember.
My father, I think, wanted to forget. I never heard him mention the war. But every year, he quietly got up in the dark and went to the Dawn Parade.