The parade, which has attracted ever-increasing numbers of locals and visitors over the past few years, will be boosted this time by around 200 members of the South East Asian Veterans’ Association who are holding their annual reunion on the island.
The former soldiers, veterans of conflicts in countries including Malaysia, Borneo and Vietnam, began arriving on Wednesday.
Rarotonga RSA president Henry Wichman says most of the visitors are from New Zealand and Australia, and a few are flying in from South-East Asian countries.
“More will arrive over the next few days.”
He says the decision to hold the reunion on the island for the first time was the result of lobbying by Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera, an ex-serviceman who is an association member.
“They normally meet in New Zealand or Singapore and 60 per cent of the members who are coming here have never been to the Cook Islands before.
“It’s a chance for them to catch up with old friends and remember old times – and it’s a great opportunity for us to promote Rarotonga as a holiday destination.”
Wichman says the visitors will take part in various activities during their week on the island, with the finishing touches now being made to their programme.
“Most of them are leaving next Thursday, but some are staying longer and having a holiday.”
Accommodating the visitors hasn’t been a problem and most are staying at the Edgewater and Club Raro, he says.
With a group of 12 Vietnam War veterans from 28 Maori Battalion also visiting Rarotonga for the Anzac Day ceremony, around 400 people are expected to take part in the dawn service. They will assemble opposite the cenotaph in the grounds of the courthouse building at 5.50am and the service will begin at 6pm.
Also present will be VIP guests including prime minister Henry Puna, other government figures, traditional leaders, heads of various organisations, and what could turn out to be a large number of spectators.
“Four hundred people in the parade – that’s almost a battalion,” Wichman says. “In fact I was in a battalion based in Singapore that had 400 in it.”
The guest speaker will be the chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Air Vice-Marshall Tony Davies, MNZM.
The rest of the day’s activities will follow tradition, with armed services veterans gathering at the RSA at around 8am.
The annual “Gunfire Breakfast” which in the past has been free, will this year cost $7.00 as the RSA will have to feed a much larger number of people than previously, says Wichman. Breakfast will be washed down with the customary tot of rum before the former soldiers and their supporters launch into some serious reminiscing.
Wichman says it’s been heartening to witness the growing popularity of Anzac Day on Rarotonga, buoyed by increased interest in World War One and the 500 Cook Islands soldiers who served during the conflict.
“Anzac Day is getting bigger and bigger. We are trying to involve more youth in the service too, as they will be the ones making the decision in future years as to whether the Cook Islands will continue observing the day.”
There have already been departures from traditional observance of Anzac Day in various parts of the Pacific, Wichman says.
“It’s sad to see that in Samoa, for instance, Anzac Day is no longer a holiday, but is treated much the same as Armistice Day, with no national holiday.”