Kiwis gather at Westminster Cathedral in London
Thu, 03 Mar 2011 5:43p.m.
By Melissa Davies
Many of New Zealand's London-based community have come together to express their grief at the loss of life.
With the help of Facebook, about 5,000 people heard of a service to be held at Westminster Cathedral, and turned up.
In what she says was one of her hardest performances Hayley Westenra took a deep breath before singing the words that would put a lump in the throat of every ex-pat New Zealander – the national anthem. Westenra was born and bred in Christchurch, and her family still live there, as do the families of many others at the vigil.
When they sang the national anthem it echoed through Westminster Cathedral, and when it was finished all that could be heard were muffled sobs - Westenra's included.
"It's pretty emotional singing the anthem at the best of times so it wasn't the easiest of performances, but really special to have so many New Zealanders in one place here in London,' says Westenra.
She was planning to visit home in May but will now bring her trip forward to be with family.
"Knowing that my dad was right in the middle of it all on Cashel Mall, that was pretty scary, but thankfully they're all fine. But now everyone's just grieving for those that did lose their lives."
"We can regard this service as a long-distance vigil," says Derek Leask, New Zealand High Commissioner, "as the people of Christchurch, the people of New Zealand and people from around the world try to deal with the greatest calamity of their lifetime."
It has affected so many around the world. Five thousand people turned up to the London vigil, so many that some had to stand outside in the bitter cold.
The organisers say their initial plan was for a small service for people they knew, but the response was overwhelming.
"We booked the church and then sent an email to about 80 Kiwi contacts and they just sent them on to their friends and their friends, and within a few hours had so many responses," says Joshua Stent.
Prime Minister John Key also responded, sending a note which was read by Mr Leask.
"With the support of many people from all over the world we will get through this. Though lost lives will never be replaced, and though Christchurch will never look the same again, we will rebuild this great city.
"Distance may divide these Kiwis from their homeland, but the earthquake has touched all of them."
This is the first of many fundraisers and services for the Christchurch earthquake planned for Kiwis in London. The High Commission is also planning an official memorial to happen when the recovery operation is complete.
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