THIS year’s Anzac Day was pretty special for nine-year-old New Zealand boy William Antrobus.
Not only was it his birthday, but he got to wear his great-grandfather’s medals for service in North Africa in World War II at his first dawn service at the cenotaph in Wellington.
“It’s special to me since people from both sides of my family have been in the war,” William told AAP.
He was one of thousands of New Zealanders who turned out en masse around the country to mark the 97th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli and to remember fallen servicemen and women.
An estimated 15,000 flocked to the ceremony at the War Memorial Museum in Auckland, joining Prime Minister John Key, veterans, including around 200 who served in WWII, and others to honour the dead.
Mr Key, in his Anzac Day message, said the Anzac spirit nurtured on the battlefields of Gallipoli was alive and well.
“We saw it in Christchurch last year as ordinary civilians risked their own lives to try and save others from the rubble.
“We saw it when Prime Minister Julia Gillard said to me on that terrible day, ‘Anything you need, we will get to you’,” he said.
In Christchurch, a cross made from some of the ruins of the Christ Church Cathedral was erected in Cranmer Square for the city’s dawn service which attracted around 5000.
In the capital about 3000 paid tribute and there were other large turnouts around the country.
Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae and Mr Key, diplomats, including Australian and Turkish representatives, veterans and a crowd of about 1000 attended the commemoration and wreath-laying service at the National War Memorial later in the morning.
Sir Jerry, a former chief of the Defence Force, taking part in services for the first time as the Queen’s representative, said the day was a time to pause for thought.
“It is a time for us to ask how we can continue to give meaning to the values of comradeship, courage and compassion our Anzac soldiers upheld against great odds,” he said.
He also reserved special mention for the three New Zealand soldiers who have died since the last Anzac Day – SAS troopers Corporal Doug Grant and Lance Corporal Leon Smith were killed in action in Afghanistan last year and Corporal Doug Hughes died there earlier this month.
Defence Force personnel will maintain a vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior until dusk.