The two Vantage Black Sticks teams will make history on Thursday when they play their home Pro League internationals against Australia at North Harbour.
The games are being played on Anzac Day, a first for the sport, in a double header. They are the return legs of the matches in Sydney late in March, when the sixth-ranked women’s Black Sticks grabbed an impressive 3-1 win, while the eighth-ranked men were well beaten, 5-1 by the world No 1 Australians.
There will also be curtain raisers involving the Defence Force women's and men's teams of both countries.
It will be a chance for hockey to acknowledge the sacrifices made by men and women on both sides of the Tasman in times of war.
Within the New Zealand teams, there are players who have special family reason for paying special homage to their relatives on Thursday.
Take Black Sticks’ men’s pair Shea McAleese and Harry Miskimmin. Both have relatives who had a significant part to play in the conflicts and who lost family members to war.
In the case of McAleese, his father was named Daniel Patrick, after his two uncles, who died in the Second World War.
McAleese, who had relatives who fought in Gallipoli and Palestine and in the First World War, and had four great uncles who fought in the Second World War, two of whom died at war.
Patrick Walsh, a tank commander in the 19th Regiment New Zealand Armoured Corps, was killed at Castelfrentano, Italy in January 1944. He was 22.
Daniel McAleese who was in the Pacific Fleet, flying Grumman Avengers when he was shot down attacking Kiirun Harbour, Taiwan, and died, along with his entire crew, in April 1945. He was 25.
‘’We didn’t hear any of the details about it until later on in life and were able to understand the ramifications of everything that happened and what they went through,’’ McAleese, who has won 284 caps said.
One fascinating, if non-Anzac, war story, concerns McAleese’s maternal grandparents.
Both born in Oslo, his grandfather Jens was a Norwegian resistance fighter. Injured and on the run from German forces, he sought shelter in a house.
The family hid him for a fortnight until the Germans had moved on.
While there, Jens met Else, who was a member of that family, and they later married. They moved to New Zealand and while Jens died several years ago, McAleese’s grandmother still lives in New Zealand, at a sprightly 90.
‘’Grandma has never spoken a word about the war. She hated it,’’ McAleese said.
‘’I don’t think we will ever appreciate how tough it was for everyone involved back then. It was just a horrible time, but something they had to do to protect everyone.’’
In Miskimmin’s case, his great grandfather Havilah Down fought in the first World War in France. One of the outstanding servants of New Zealand hockey, he served as secretary of the national association from 1924-59.
His son, Selwyn Down, was in the air force in the Second World War and was shot down over the Pacific. His body was never found.
In turn, Miskimmin’s grandfather, Brian Gapes, fought at El Alamein in 1942 and Monte Cassino two years later. He played hockey for Wellington for many years. His brother Jim also did time in the second World War as an air force pilot.
Harry Miskimmin, whose father Brent and uncle Peter are both former Black Sticks representatives, is up to 54 International caps. Both McAleese and Miskimmin are in the Vantage Black Sticks squad for the Anzac Day clash.
‘’I do always think about the young kids going off to war,’’ Miskimmin’s mother Robyn said of the time Anzac Day arrives each year.
‘’I think of them at my boys’ age going off to war.
‘’I’d love Dad to be here seeing Harry playing in an Anzac match. That would be incredibly special. It is a big day. ‘Lest we forget’ is huge and to have this hockey on Anzac Day is fantastic.’’
Official events marking the significance of the day start at 2.10pm on Thursday. The Ode of Remembrance will be at 2.26pm, followed by the playing of the Last Post.
The women’s international will start at 2.30pm, with the men to follow at 4.30pm.