While he says Wednesday’s Anzac Day service “went really well”, Cook Islands RSA president Henry Wichman is unsure of just what Anzac Day really means to the Cook Islands “in modern terms”.
Having been RSA president for 16 years now, Wichman says he himself has only missed two Anzac Day services on Rarotonga.
“For one I went to Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore and the other one I went to Waiouru (in New Zealand) to see my son graduate in the army.”
This year was the second year running that only one Anzac Day service has been held in Rarotonga.
“Normally we have two,” says Wichman. “We have the RSA’s dawn service, and a civil service which is at about 9.30.
“I’d like to see it go back to two services.”
Wichman says people need to think about what Anzac Day really means to them and questions the government’s decision to combine the two services.
“I think government are trying to make a point that there’s no point in having two, that we should only have one. I disagree, because they’re muscling in on something that belongs to us.
“There’s an article that was written; it gave four reasons why Anzac Day should be downscaled, and the thing that came out of it was the fact that everyone seems to take that time to either watch or take part in sport - for example the Anzac Day league. We also used to have the Anzac cricket here and more recently we’ve got the Anzac bowling.
“So all these things are going on, and what is the relevance of that to Anzac Day? Questions have to be asked: are we going down to one service so we can spend more time socialising and playing sport? Or is it still a day of remembrance?”
Wichman also says it seems as if Anzac Day is starting to lose its relevance throughout the wider Pacific.
“If you have a look through the Pacific, Samoa used to have an Anzac Day service but now they’ve gone away from it because they don’t see the relevance in such a thing. As a result, the RSA in Samoa collapsed. It just doesn’t exist.
“I think the only two countries that are holding the flag when it comes to returning servicemen are Niue and Cook Islands.”