Joe Hendren

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Random historical interlude #4: Long history of protest on Anzac day

In my previous post I stated that there has been a long history of intolerance of anti-war opinions in New Zealand, with the treatment of conscientious objectors being one example.

Today is the 30th anniversary of an action taken by four Wellingtonians on Anzac Day 1967, where they attempted to lay a wreath "To the dead and dying on both sides in Vietnam. Why must their blood pay the price of our mistakes?"

They were prevented from placing the wreath at the Cenotaph like other citizens. Despite one Returned Services Association (RSA) representative indicating they could lay it later (which they did), on doing so university lecturer Christopher Wainwright and student Christopher Butler were arrested by the police for disorderly behaviour and resisting the police. A judge later quashed the later charge, but upheld the other charge because they had presented "a point of view, however sincerely held, which they knew would be annoying to some and offensive to many". So much for free speech.

In 1970 the Christchurch Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) made a wreath from the poster of the My Lai massacre with the words "To the victims of Fascism in Vietnam". The Mayor of Christchurch at the time, Ron Guthrey, tore the wreath from the memorial and threw it away. It was put back later, only to be removed by the police. A Hamilton veteran of the Korean war turned his medals into Guthrey as a protest against the betrayal of the values for which he had fought.

A later Mayor of Christchurch, Neville Pickering, refused to attend the 1972 service as he believed the attempts the RSA to control the service, such as placing a cordon between the memorial and the crowd and vetting all inscriptions meant the ceremony was no longer a citizens service. The PYM attempted to place their wreath for the third successive year, only to have it thrown down, stamped on and utterly destroyed by the mob.

Mayor Pickering said "I can fully understand the sensitivity of former servicemen who watched their comrades being killed. But the older generation should show greater restraint and tolerance".

- Material sourced from Elsie Locke's excellent book 'Peace People'

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