As dawn broke over Cambridge on Anzac Day, a self-proclaimed “ordinary pensioner” made his way – shrouded in darkness – to the end of his driveway to pause for reflection and remembrance.
It was the first time in more than a century, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown, formal April 25 Anzac Day events in New Zealand were cancelled.
In their place, thousands of New Zealanders chose to this year ‘Stand at Dawn’ at the end of their driveways at home in their lockdown bubble at 6am on April 25.
Among them was 95-year-old Laurie Gatfield, for whom the moment of remembrance held particular pertinence.
The early riser has attended Anzac Day services for as long as he can remember and said he wasn’t going to let the fact things looked a bit different this year stop him from paying his respects.
Mr Gatfield served in the New Zealand Army for more than a decade. It culminated in almost three years as a J Force soldier.
New Zealand troops joined the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) as Allied Forces entered Japan at the end of WWII following the Japanese surrender.
The 4000-strong J Force was deployed between 1946 and 1948.
I just remember him. He was a soldier at Gallipoli in 1915 during WWI and was deployed to France for about five years.”
After returning to New Zealand Mr Gatfield served as a regular soldier.
He recalled his time in Japan was a deployment spent “on edge”.
“The Japanese, of course, objected to being occupied,” he said, and that meant J Force personnel often faced “the odd bit of gunfire”.
Mr Gatfield said standing at dawn on Anzac Day had been different, but still very personal and very special.
For him, in moments of reflection and remembrance – as well as recalling the sacrifice of all service people lost in wars – one person was particularly always at the forefront of his mind.
“My dad – Corporal Robert Miles,” he said. “I just remember him. He was a soldier at Gallipoli in 1915 during WWI and was deployed to France for about five years.”
In a year when there were no major gatherings, Mr Gatfield reflected on the year on year increase in young people attending formal Anzac Day services as “out of this world”.
“That’s amazing – it’s pleasing to see the younger generation taking time to remember the sacrifice of their forefathers and give them due credence.”
Mr Gatfield and his wife Phyl came to Cambridge in 2009 to be closer to his sister Gloria, who lives in town.
Their family of two daughters, a grand-daughter and two great-grandsons live in Melbourne.