Monday, 2 May 2011

I write this column, racked with guilt, on Anzac Day

I write this column, racked with guilt, on Anzac Day. For this is the first time in 18 years, with the exception of two overseas sojourns, I’ve not actively paid tribute to those brave and selfless souls who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Some friends asked us to join them at Dawn Parade but the weather looked a bit dodgy and I’d stayed up late the evening previous watching the latest Bruce Willis movie. There’s a rather sad irony in the fact I’d chosen the comfort of a sleep-in off the back of a corny action flick rather than reflect on the plight of those who’d seen real action.

I can’t plead ignorance, only apathy, because my family has a real Anzac connection. My grandfather cut his teeth at Gallipoli, later having the misfortune to serve on the Western Front in one of the bloodiest battles of them all, the Somme.

My uncle saw action in World War II in Italy, including the battle at Cassino. Family folklore famously had him being quoted during a Southland snow storm at lambing as saying “Cassino was luxury compared to this. The only bastard I had to worry about over there was myself!”

The greatest disappointment of my father’s life was the war ended when he was 17 before he could enlist. For young farm boys war was a great adventure and a chance to see the world.

The Anzac connection does not end there. A third generation has taken up the reigns in the form of my brother, who had a mid-life change of direction from farming to academia when he completed a doctorate in history based around Gallipoli.

There’s one more war connection. I owe a lot of what little knowledge I’ve accrued over the years to Alan Young, a wonderfully inspiring headmaster I had at Riversdale primary school 40 years ago. He, too, was a veteran of Cassino and I can recall being enthralled when he regaled us with the good bits of his wartime experience, albeit a much watered-down version for young and impressionable ears.

I remember, in panic, doing the sums on the probable timing of a likely World War III. There was a 25-year interval (1914 to 1939) between the beginning of the Great War and World War II. Logic therefore suggested 1964 was the year for another all-in scrap. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 had seen the world narrowly avert World War III, so I figured, sitting in my classroom in the late 1960s that we were well overdue for the big one. So much so, I hoped we’d get World War III out of the way before I got to the age of conscription!

As it transpired, my fears were groundless. Mercifully, unlike my Anzac predecessors, I didn’t have to put my courage to the test. And mercifully, unlike my Anzac predecessors, age has wearied me and the years have condemned. As a result I’d probably be as much use in the heat of battle as Don Brash at a nuclear-free rally.

As a final aside, the other memory that sticks in my mind from primary school days was Alan Young’s assertion that it was a matter of when, not if, Foot and Mouth Disease arrived in New Zealand and the disastrous ramifications it would have for our economy (remembering that these were the Holyoake years of milk and honey, when our economy was almost entirely dependent on agriculture).

Thankfully like World War III, Foot and Mouth has yet to eventuate. The prospect of either doesn’t bear thinking about. And I can’t think of a time since the 1960s when agriculture was more important to the New Zealand economy. Lest we forget. ENDS>

Footnote: Jamie Mackay is the host of the Farming Show which airs on Radio Sport and Newstalk ZB. In a past life a Southland sheep farmer, these days he comments on farming, politics and sport for a living from the relative safety and comfort of his radio studio in Dunedin.


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