by Chris Tobin
A former servicewoman in the Royal New Zealand Navy is worried that Covid-19 will further loosen old traditions and lead to fewer people acknowledging the sacrifices made by New Zealanders in past wars.
“Young people see Covid-19 as their concern. It’s a huge problem to them,” Julie Ayres (83) said.
“When you talk to high school students their thoughts are on Covid.
“The traditional Armistice Day is gradually going.
“It was just on the news about the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and even that has been cut back to what it used to be. It’s a different world now.
“Unfortunately, New Zealand could be in a worse position than Britain because the public only turn up for Anzac Day and then vanish.”
Throughout her life Mrs Ayres has been strongly impacted by war.
Her father returned from World War 1 suffering from shellshock. Cousins served in World War 2 and she had an aunt who nursed wounded soldiers from that conflict at Burnham.
As a boy, her husband, the late Ron Ayres, went through the German Luftwaffe’s saturation bombing of Plymouth during World War 2 and later joined the merchant navy as an engineer.
“When Ronnie went to sea he was with the famous Blue Star. The war had just finished but Britain and Europe were starving.
“The ships Britain was using came straight off the convoys. Patched up and back to sea for food.
“They were a mess. Full of asbestos.
“Ronnie never recovered from growing up in Plymouth during wartime. He died of asbestosis and lung cancer.”
Mrs Ayres expected financial cutbacks would have to apply due to Covid-19 with funding for traditional ceremonies inevitably affected.
“I think we will always get a gathering for Anzac Day but the problem is who is prepared to support it in the form of a committee.
“It needs support. At the moment in Timaru we’ve got a committee that is working quite well. It’s a mix of different groups with input from the council.
“I spoke to two high school boys they support Anzac Day but are not prepared to get involved.
“The RSAs need to soften their stance to involve more people.”
In the past she said World War 2 veterans in the RSAs would not bend, treating Vietnam War veterans, for example, poorly. Now RSAs around the country were paying the price and were unable to attract younger people, she said.
Mrs Ayres believed the dislocation with tradition was very apparent now in Britain where old regiments had been disbanded and widespread military cutbacks made.
The cost of maintaining the royalty would become more of an issue, she believed, and New Zealand might not be so responsive to paying for royal tours to this country either.
“When the Queen goes, New Zealand and Australia will look at their positions and the Commonwealth will be weakened.
“I was brought up with the trooping of the colour but the world is poles apart from when I was a kid.”
Mrs Ayres was disappointed by the number of people who turned out for the VJ commemoration at the Timaru Town & Country Club on August 15 and for the Armistice Day ceremony at Caroline Bay last year. She hoped more would attend the Armistice Day ceremony on November 11.
“Now we have to push things to make people take notice.”