About 2000 people gathered in Alexandra on Sunday for Armistice Day celebrations organised by the Alexandra-Clyde, Cromwell and Roxburgh-Millers Flat RSAs. Many also attended smaller services held in other Central Otago towns.
In a written version of his Alexandra speech, Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan reflects on how to honour the sacrifices made in World War 1.
On Sunday, 2000 people of Central Otago came together to remember the sacrifice of the people of Central Otago and the world 100 years ago, marking the moment the madness ended, when the guns fell silent.
We honoured and remembered those that served, those who fell and those who came home damaged for the rest of their lives, either physically, or mentally, or both.
We remembered too those who stayed behind. The fathers too old to go, the brothers too young. Those men who did not rush to volunteer in 1914 and were forced to go in 1916.
We remembered the mothers who had borne and raised their sons, the wives holding babies to their hip giving one last wave to that child’s father, and then waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for the occasional and sporadic letter, waiting for the telegraph boy and praying he would walk past their door.
Imagine the lives of these people at that time. One in 10 New Zealanders went overseas. For every 10 New Zealanders who went, two died and another four were injured or became seriously ill from the conditions. Only one in four came home unscathed; physically unscathed that is.
As the war ended, the flu epidemic began. A further 9000 New Zealanders died. Those poor souls must have wondered when the suffering would end.
Wars begin when sparks of ignorance, fear and hatred are fanned by those who may gain, who may profit. They will tell you certain types of people are bad, that certain races or nationalities are coming to hurt you, that there are things you don’t know about that must cause you to fear and hate others.
They will say “there is them and there is us and there is no in-between”.
Those people are talking loudly again now overseas. The hatred, the fear, the putting up walls and closing of borders, the destroying of long-term relationships and the making of threats are all the beginnings of the nationalism that is the track that leads down the road of war.
How can we, as individuals, avoid the world going down that road again, as that must surely be the best way we can honour the past sacrifices?
Do not believe the lies. Do not believe the human race is anything but one people. Do not laugh at that racist joke or that homophobic slur.
Meet anger with calm, meet greed with charity, meet hate with love.
Smile at the woman wearing a hijab or burqa; talk to the person who is not like you, find out about other people and you will discover almost always they are the same as you.
They love their children. They love their family. They want peace.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment”.
Working for peace in the present moment. That is how we must honour those of our people of 100 years ago, today and tomorrow and all the days to come.