Rere ana nga roimata o Hine tērā te pae o Te Riri. Huihuia mai tātau katoa tēnei te pae o Maumahara. E nga iwi, kei aku rangatira wahine ma, tāne mā tēnā tātau katoa.
I wish firstly to acknowledge our veterans and your whānau. I would also like to acknowledge: The Hon Meka Whaitiri, Minister for Veterans; Dr Shane Reti, Deputy Leader of the Opposition; His Excellency Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps; Air Marshal Kevin Short, Chief of the Defence Force; BJ Clark, National President of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association; and Taranaki Whānui.
This Armistice Day, I wish to pay special tribute to the New Zealand Defence Force, for your important contribution to global peace and security, and your service to our country and communities.
More than a century since the end of the First World War, Armistice Day continues to be recognised both internationally and here in Aotearoa New Zealand as the day on which hostilities ceased on the Western Front.
It is difficult to imagine how it must have felt for our service personnel, to hear news that the war was over. We might imagine an outpouring of joy at the Allied victory.
Bert Stokes, a twenty-three-year-old gunner of the New Zealand Field Artillery, posted in the Forest of Mormal, recalled a more muted response:
No one seemed to want to cheer when we first heard the news. We realised that soon we shall see the home shores on the horizon and that is what the armistice means to us. For most of us tired in body and mind and with memories of the tragic field of battle this momentous announcement was too vast to be appreciated at that moment.
Bert’s words illustrate how hard it is to understand the profound impact of war on those who served.
Back home, thousands of New Zealanders flocked to parades and street parties. This was at the height of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and some gatherings were cancelled for fear of spreading the virus.
It is a sobering link to the present day, and I acknowledge there may be veterans and others who would have liked to have been here with us this morning, or at local commemorations, but have been prevented due to COVID-19.
Over the years, the focus of Armistice Day has broadened from its origins – connecting the end of the First World War with issues and themes of our time. Today, I want to reflect briefly on the theme of peace.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. The terms of peace, however, took the Allied powers four years to work out in full – as long as the war itself.
This reminds us that peace is neither an objective concept, nor a natural state. Rather, peace is a precarious balance of competing interests, perspectives, and values.
The peace following the First World War was ultimately too fragile to endure. The war led to the collapse of major empires, the birth of new nations, and the transfer of colonies between imperial powers, with consequences that continue to this day.
With the threat of COVID-19 highlighting some of the most vulnerable groups in our communities, perhaps it is also timely for us to consider that peace does not equate to wellbeing for all – and to wonder how, as a nation, we can better use the opportunities that peace provides.
On Armistice Day, we acknowledge those who have served in war, remember those who have tragically lost their lives, and reflect on the impact war has had on whānau and on civilians, throughout history.
Let us also reaffirm our ongoing, shared responsibility for peace, at home and abroad – and reflect on how it may be shaped by what we truly value as a nation.
Kia maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou.