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Huge crowd marks ANZAC Day

Wednesday April 26, 2017 Written by Published in Local
As a New Zealand Defence Force bugler sounds The Last Post, a conch player looks down on the ANZAC Day ceremony from the steps of the courthouse contemplating the sacrifi ces Cook Islands servicemen have made in confl icts from World War I to Vietnam and, most recently, Afghanistan.17042513 As a New Zealand Defence Force bugler sounds The Last Post, a conch player looks down on the ANZAC Day ceremony from the steps of the courthouse contemplating the sacrifi ces Cook Islands servicemen have made in confl icts from World War I to Vietnam and, most recently, Afghanistan.17042513

During wars the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack; however yesterday morning, men, women, and children all emerged from their homes to remember Cook Island soldiers who served in wartime.

 

The early morning service drew the largest crowd, estimated to be about 1000 seen in living memory, uniting people from Rarotonga, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Anzac Day marks the landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) troops at Gallipoli during World War I.

There was barely room to move among the crowd that extended as far as the Empire Theatre, reaching Banana Court and blanketing the courthouse roundabout in Avarua.

Henry Wichman, president of the Cook Islands RSA said he was surprised at the large crowd that attended the service.

“Once I looked beyond those who took part in the parade, I was shocked at the large turnout, it exceeded our expectations and was the biggest turn out we have seen.”

Families could be seen wearing poppies and matching t-shirts that honoured their ancestors and relatives. 

Returned Services Association veterans joined those of the South East Asian Veterans’ Association (SEAVA) and the 28th Maori Battalion (D company) as they marched to the Cenotaph at about 5.30am.

Veterans of various conflicts took pride of place in the procession and they were joined by family members of those unable to march. They proudly wore the medals of their loved ones who served their country.

Madre Major Stephanie Craw led the opening prayer, blessing the morning’s occasion with a reading from the gospel of John 15:12-17.

Charlie Rani reiterated the importance of Anzac Day for the Cook Islands, later welcoming guest speaker Air Vice-Marshal Tony Davies, Chief of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Davies spoke of the sacrifice servicemen and women made, honouring the wounds and grief their families still bear to this day.

“We remember those that paid the supreme sacrifice so that we can live in peace. We remember those that suffer through their physical and mental scars, including those of kin, whose grief and sense of loss can never be eased.”

Davies also recognised the vast contribution made by the Pacific Islands, in particular Niue and the Cook Islands, 102 years ago.

“When news of the war reached the Pacific, it was clear that men and material would be called for to fight in Europe. That initially 45 men from the Cook Islands, together with 150 men from Niue, volunteered to join the Maori contingent, demonstrates to us all the sense of duty and pride to serve alongside Britain and its allies,” Davies said.

Davies spoke of the stark difference soldiers faced upon their training in Auckland and their arrival in Egypt, offering insight into the raw experiences of many soldiers.

“But volunteer they did and - despite the problems of language, the wearing of boots, European diseases and the cold climate - they took their place among those we remember today.”

Utia Raiatea, whose great-grandfather served during The Great War, followed with his tribute to the ANZACs, and could be seen respectfully wearing his forefather’s medals.

As dawn approached the island, dignitaries and representatives of various groups were invited to lay wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph.

The Last Post’s haunting notes sounded by a New Zealand Defence Force bugler carried across the still air. Next to him on the courthouse steps was a conch player, signifying the unity of Cook Islanders and visiting nationalities during the special ceremony.

A minute of silence ended with the lighter bugle notes of the Reveille, followed by the British national anthem God Save the Queen and the closing prayer.

The crowd was then spellbound by a song called Ode for the Fallen performed by the Mauke Enua Cultural Group that had come over for the occasion from New Zealand.

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