Mike Subritzky

MARCHING WITH THE ANZACS

I think it was the first year of the new Memorial Hall,
That shining replacement for the dilapidated old Miners Hall
which I knew so well. That morning, a drizzling Waihi morning,
the mist drifted quietly down into the town from Martha Hill
and the silence of the old disused Cornish pump house.

Townsfolk woke early that day and all made their way singularly,
or in family groups to Seddon Street to watch the march.
Most people were quite solemn, but the Veterans themselves were gathered
in laughing, smoking groups glad to catch up with old mates again,
outside of the towns RSA Hall. No licence back then,
the RSA Hall was only used for dances, 21st’s and wedding breakfasts.

Danny Farmer was there talking with Mr Geddes. No bulldozer today,
Danny is scrubbed up and wearing his Long Range Desert Group badges.
Many old miners who served in the Tunnellers are there too,
I say hello to the old miner from Adams Street who told us stories of the trenches,
he smiles back at me and says “I’ll see you some more.”

Some old soldiers like Col Hewen, had been up since before dawn.
He had attended the Dawn Service then had gone straight to Mass
to pray for the souls of all those men he had killed.
Anzac Day for Col and many of the others
was a day of angst, aversion and raw emotion.

Three very old, silver haired men stood together beneath the palm tree,
all with walking sticks and one smoking a pipe.
Each wore a single silver medal, with a red and orange ribbon.
They were the horse soldiers who fought in South Africa,
and it was they who would lead the Parade.

The man who yelled “Fall In” had been to our school on Friday,
and he told us the story of the poppies, and about The Great War.
He also told us that a signaller at Gallipoli was too busy to write
AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND ARMY CORPS
so he shortened the words to ANZAC and put it on a stamp.
As well, he gave each member of my class a small paper poppy
which we pinned on our school jersey. Brett Carnahan took two.

The Salvation Army Band took the lead, and formed up
just in front of the Commercial. Behind them were the three old horse soldiers,
and then the Veterans formed up according to wars I think.

The men wearing the three medals “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred”
were the Anzac’s who had fought at Gallipoli,
and they were just behind the horse soldiers.
Then the men with just the two medals
“Squeak and Wilfred” came next,
they had fought in the trenches and tunnels on the Western Front.

The next group were young men;
many were the fathers of my classmates:
Mr O’Halloran, Mr Quinlan, Mr Barron and Mr Johnson
were there. My Dad never went to Parades,
but Joe was somewhere at the back with the Scout Troop
and he wore Dads two medals on the right side of his uniform.

Most of the young men wore five medals.
A beautiful bluey/green star for the Atlantic,
a green and red star for the Pacific,
a brown star for North Africa,
and a red, white and green one for Italy.
We all knew what the colours meant.

Nearly all the men on the parade wore hats,
except for a small group of very young men
at the rear who wore just two medals…
a yellow and blue one and a “butcher’s apron.”
They were the Gunners who had fought in Korea,
and they weren’t much older than my brother Dave.
I think one was Maurice Roycroft.

People crowded both sides of the street,
some holding small paper Union Jack flags
which they had brought from Tex Rickhard.
They lined all the way up Seddon Street, past the Commercial,
past Road Services, past the fish shop, and right up past Clarke’s the chemist.

I was on the same side as the RSA and when the man
commanding the parade yelled “By the left, Quick March!”
The Sallies struck up a tune and the Veterans started marching.
I watched as they marched until Mr Morgan’s Cadet Unit went by
and then ran through the crowd, past Seath and Dillamores,
over Moresby Ave, and stood again outside the old red Hardware store.

Across the road and under the eaves of the Rob Roy were gathered
a group of women, some old and some young.
Most wore a small silver cross around their neck
that hung from a purple ribbon.
These were the mothers and widows of young Waihi
men who never made it home.
As many of the Veterans passed them they “doffed” their hats…
while the women quietly wept.

Outside the new Waihi War Memorial Hall
the man who had been to my school yelled “Halt.”
Then the Veterans broke off and everyone went into the Memorial Hall.
I didn’t think I would be allowed in, but a kindly old Salvation Army man
wearing the two Western Front medals
showed me to a seat, fairly well up the front of the hall.
He had been a stretcher bearer on The Somme.

Mr Christiansen the Mayor was on the stage, along with
several Veterans and a Protestant Minister.
I can’t remember who delivered the speech, but it was about the
historic importance of the frosted glass windows at the entrance of the new hall.

We stood and sung the hymn “Abide With Me” and also another
which I think was called “Lest We Forget.”
Those words “Lest We Forget” were very obviously
so important to all of the adults and older people who were present.

When the service ended I met Mr Golaboski outside;
he was not wearing his medals but he was in a dark suit
and he had a small gold badge of the US Marines on his
left lapel as well as a poppy.
Mr Golaboski didn’t like the Japanese as they
had killed all of his buddies at a place called Iwo Jima.

I think it was that evening after night-prayers,
when I was tucked safely into bed
and drifting over the day’s events,
I decided to become an Anzac.