War and remembrance

Page 6 – Symbols and ritual

There are many symbols and rituals associated with how we commemorate war and the fallen. The red poppy is one very familiar symbol both here and in many other countries. While in New Zealand the poppy is associated with Anzac Day (25 April), elsewhere it is typically worn around Armistice Day (11 November). Find out more about the significance and choice of the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

1. Compile a list of some of the symbols, words and images your class can think of that are commonly associated with commemoration and remembrance. Your students could discuss the importance of such symbols and, with the centenary of the First World War (2014-18) looming, perhaps consider an appropriate symbol or image to represent this important milestone for New Zealanders today.

2. While Armistice Day is increasingly recognised in New Zealand, Anzac Day remains our country’s focus:

  • How many of your students have attended any of the various Anzac Day ceremonies?
  • Get them to describe for those who have never witnessed such an event what a typical dawn ceremony looks and 'feels' like.
  • Why does it take this form?

Anzac Day is rich in tradition and ritual. It is, essentially, a military funeral, with all the solemnity and symbolism such an event entails: uniformed service personnel standing motionless around a memorial, with heads bowed and weapons reversed; a bier of wreaths laid by the mourners; the chaplain reading the words from the military burial service; the firing of three volleys; and the playing of the Last Post, followed by a prayer, hymn, and benediction.

  • Is it time to overhaul the ritual associated with Anzac Day?
  • Is it really relevant to younger New Zealanders? The generation that fought in the Second World War is passing away so to keep things relevant for the 21st century isn’t it time to change?

Lest we forget: class debate.

There will be students in your class for whom occasions such as Anzac Day and the whole deal of commemorating the war dead will have absolutely no meaning. Perhaps their family background means they have no involvement in any of these wars. Maybe they simply don’t care. An alternative discussion or debate could be that 'Anzac Day has no relevance to New Zealand in the 21st century.'

  • Divide your class into groups of four.
  • Ask half of the groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Anzac Day has no relevance to New Zealand in the 21st century.
  • Ask the other groups to prepare arguments that support the notion that Anzac Day remains as relevant to New Zealanders now as it ever has.
  • Ask each group to add their thoughts to two lists either on the board or on large sheets of paper.
  • Now select six members of the class to debate this question, applying the usual rules of a formal debate with a team in the affirmative, a team in the negative, speaking times etc.

Alternatively consider the following moot

  • 'Anzac Day and the whole Gallipoli thing: seeing as we lost and it was full of blunders, shouldn't we forget it?'

‘Mondayising’ Anzac Day

In 2012 Labour MP David Clark introduced a private member's bill into Parliament which aimed to ‘Mondayise’ the public holidays of Waitangi Day and Anzac Day on those years in which they fell on a weekend. The essence of his argument was that it was unfair that Kiwis missed out on a day off on such occasions. The idea, maybe not surprisingly, appeared to have widespread public support. An alternative opinion which also had some support argued that Anzac Day shouldn't just an excuse for us to have a holiday. Some fear its meaning or significance would be lost if it simply became part of a long weekend. In the end the bill was passed in April 2013 with a very narrow majority (one vote) indicating how closely divided opinion proved to be on the matter.

What do you think about the idea? There are many ways you could discuss or consider this as a class, including:

  •  completing plus and minus charts
  •  letter writing
  • a mock parliamentary debate on the bill
How to cite this page

'Symbols and ritual', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/classroom/war-and-remembrance/symbols-and-ritual, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 6-Aug-2014

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