An “overwhelming” crowd of around 7000 people packed the stands and playing field of Trafalgar Park this morning for Nelson’s Anzac Day dawn service.
District RSA president Derek Nees was delighted with the service, in particular the massive crowd that set their alarms early and arrived at the park before 6am.
“I’m overawed, totally overawed,” he said. “It’s just been totally beyond all expectations. We expected around 4000-5000, I think it’s double that – plus.”
The service marked 100 years since the Gallipoli offensive on the coast of Turkey during WWI. That campaign involved Australian and New Zealand soldiers, thousands of whom died.
The morning started with a parade from Millers Acre to Trafalgar Park and included returned service men and women, police, army and scouts.
Once there, the crowd filled each of the three main stands, with thousands more standing on the playing field. Purple lights lit up the 590 white crosses that were stuck into the turf, each cross representing a Nelson man who died during the First World War.
The flags of New Zealand, Australia and Turkey also flew from the middle of the park.
Nelson College student Solly Stephens and Nelson College for Girls student Lucy Upton had obviously spent a lot of time researching their moving speeches. They were about former students of those schools and how the war affected them.
The speech of Kutluhan Celik, the second secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in Wellington, was another highlight. He said despite the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire being enemies during WWI, New Zealand and Turkey have always been friends.
Other speakers included Nelson RSA president Barry Pont, Nelson Provincial Museum CEO Peter Millward, Nelson MP Nick Smith and Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese.
The crowd also witnessed a flyover of Trafalgar Park by replica Tiger Moth and replica Mustang aeroplanes.
Derek says it was definitely the right call to move the service to Trafalgar Park from the traditional Anzac Park. “Thank God we weren’t trying to do it over there [Anzac Park], it just never would have worked.”
He says seeing the Turkish flag flying was a highlight as was hearing the famous speech by Kemal Ataturk to the mothers of Anzac soldiers, recited in Turkish by Kutluhan Celik.
“I’ve always heard it in English, I’ve never heard it spoken in Turkish and that was special. In fact it almost brought me to tears and long may that relationship [with Turkey] continue.
“The whole morning has been overwhelming. I’m thrilled, just thrilled.”