Reflecting in Lockdown
When the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of traditional Anzac Day services for the first time in 104 years, we, alongside the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RNZRSA), were forced to innovate.
New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown meant we couldn’t bring throngs of Kiwis together for dawn services. What was born, #StandAtDawn, brought communities across the country and around the world together in remembrance safely from their bubbles.
When the call was made for services to be cancelled - a circumstance that had never occurred in the more than 100-year history of the event - it was time to innovate and find a new alternative.
The overarching objective for NZDF and RNZRSA was to find a way to bring people together to commemorate an important part of our heritage, at a time when people were separated and often isolated. We sought to give our serving personnel, our veterans, and their families the sense of recognition and comradery that Anzac Day has provided since 1916. The dream was to provide an opportunity for the New Zealanders that turn out every year for dawn services around the country – and around the world – to participate in the Anzac commemoration. But how? And what would it look like?
Apart, but together as one we commemorated Anzac Day like never before
There was a need to ensure that we continued to share the Anzac story. Our ongoing connection to it is a big part of the NZDF Anzac experience. We also wanted to find a way to connect that story with new audiences and ensure the event was inclusive of all communities.
We also knew some members of our Defence and Veteran community were finding the social isolation of the Level 4 lockdown challenging, and that was mirrored across the wider New Zealand community. So, we set out to build an experience that could provide a sense of connection and interaction, while maintaining the safety of our bubbles.
More than anything, there was a deep desire to build something that could be bigger than just the NZDF and RNZRSA.
Initially Stand At Dawn was an online campaign, starting with the creation of a Facebook event that became the call-to-action to #StandAtDawn at 6am on 25 April 2020. More than 700,000 people responded to that online invitations, and anecdotally, many thousands more took part in the event.
We also encouraged people to get creative in the lead up to Anzac Day. This saw an explosion of hand-made poppies and other commemorative acts, including recreations of the #StandAtDawn logo and the use of memorial items to publicly display support for the campaign.
On April 23 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced during her 1pm media briefing on national television that she intended to take part in #StandAtDawn, encouraging others to do the same. This exposure caused a huge final surge in interest in the campaign.
#StandAtDawn - apart, but together as one
Then, at 6am on 25 April 2020, a pre-recorded ‘Dawn Service’ that allowed communities to stream a ceremony via Radio New Zealand played as hundreds of thousands of Kiwis stood at dawn at their letterboxes, driveways and lounges across the country and around the world.
It was an Anzac Day that many will remember for decades to come; an incredible sign of unity and respect in a time of great uncertainty and fear. A display of the true Anzac spirit - apart, but together as one.