by Helen Martin
The national terror threat level was lifted to high following the Christchurch terrorist attacks on March 15 and lowered to medium a month later. The first many of us heard about how this was to affect our local Anzac Day commemorations was via a Facebook post then a New Zealand Herald report informing that the Kaipara Memorial RSA Anzac Day services, along with most other West Auckland-based Returned Services Associations locations, were to be cancelled due to fears over potential counter-actions to the attacks. Many were outraged, but it turned out the decision, following discussions between the police and the Returned Services Association, was that selected services were to be held indoors, not cancelled entirely. This was primarily because police felt they didn’t have the numbers to cover all outside venues and were worried someone might drive a vehicle into the crowd. Our RSA was visited by police, who did a risk assessment of the Parakai site and the Helensville Parade area and advised the RSA they couldn’t make the areas safe.
Kaipara Memorial RSA therefore cancelled its traditional outdoor events and held a well-attended service in the Helensville community hall, while locals went ahead and independently organised and ran a dawn service at Parakai Cenotaph and a wreath-laying event at Helensville Cemetery, both of which were also well-attended. As always, the RSA club rooms were open all day for people to gather and share food, stories and companionship.
The Kaukapakapa Anzac Day service went ahead outside the community hall, with over 500 people turning up, far more than usual. The event is run by the community –specifically Athol McLachlan, John Tucker and Megan Paterson – and is therefore independent of the RSA. The organising committee invited Rex Keane from Kaipara Memorial RSA to MC.
Despite their independence from the RSA, the community group had to go through considerable red tape to get the show on the road. After Auckland Council arbitrarily informed Megan by email the service was cancelled, MP Chris Penk and Board member Phelan Pirrie intervened. “They were both amazing going into bat for us and we would not have pushed it through without their support,” says Megan. There was also intense pressure from the police to cancel, but after their risk assessment and lengthy discussions they agreed the ceremony could go ahead if, to mitigate the risk, the entrance to the carpark was blocked off by the local brigade’s two fire engines once the service began. While there is usually no police presence at the service, this year four armed police were there.
Also there from Trentham was a representative of NZDF, Wing Commander Michelle White.
Asked why she fought so hard for the event to go ahead Megan, who has spent many hours posting information on the online cenotaph about the Kaukapakapa men and women who have done war service, says, ”It did get pretty scary, especially when the Council said we’d be liable if anything went wrong, and I did spend most of the service watching the road in case there was a drive by. But I’ve got very attached to ‘my’ soldiers. They went to war so we could be free, and we shouldn’t have had to fight another battle to honour that.”