May I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand - in English, Maori, Cook Island Maori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language.
Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the afternoon (Sign)
May I specifically greet you: Corporal Willie Apiata VC; Robin Klitscher and Pat Herbert, President and Chief Executive of the Royal NZ Returned and Services' Association; Ministers of the Crown, Hon Rick Barker, Minister of Veteran's Affairs and Hon Peter Dunne, Minister of Revenue, Members of Parliament; Rear Admiral David Ledson, Chief of Navy; Major General Lou Gardiner, Chief of Army; Your Excellency Mr John Dauth, High Commissioner for Australia to New Zealand and fellow members of the diplomatic corps; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen.
I register thanks for the invitation to my wife Susan and me to ANZAC House this afternoon for the conferment of the Badge in Gold to Corporal Willie Apiata and to unveil a symbolic Badge in Gold to all deceased members of the NZ Armed Forces who have received the Victoria Cross.
As Patron of the RNZRSA, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the significance of these awards and particularly their conferment today on what is both Armistice Day and Remembrance Day.
It is often said that war can take a young person and prematurely age them. Young people who have seen the horrors of war—, for example that of their friends and comrades killed or injured in the service of their country—are never the same upon returning home.
New Zealand is a young country, so young that one commentator wryly noted that its history was of about the same age as that of the invention of photography. But in its commitment to defending democratic freedoms that its people cherish, New Zealand is old before its years.
The First and Second World Wars alone claimed the lives of about 30,000 New Zealanders while injuring many thousands more. New Zealanders have served and died in many other places including South Africa, Korea, Malaya and Viet Nam. New Zealand defence personnel have also served and died—and are currently serving—as United Nations peacekeepers in a number of parts of the world - in places as diverse as Timor-Leste, Kosovo and the Sinai Peninsula.
Today is Armistice Day—the 11th day of November that marks the end of the First World War—and also Remembrance Day—commemorated throughout the Commonwealth on the second Sunday in November since the late 1940s to remember all who have fallen.
The sacrifice that New Zealanders have made was illustrated earlier this year when I had the singular privilege of investing Corporal Apiata with the first Victoria Cross for New Zealand. Corporal Apiata had displayed outstanding gallantry, courage and leadership in rescuing a seriously wounded colleague in Afghanistan in 2004. His courageous deeds, in placing the life of a comrade—a mate—before his own, are an inspiration.
For more than 90 years, the Royal NZ Returned & Services Association has not only provided care to returned soldiers and the families of those who did not return, but has also worked to ensure that the lives of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten.
It is then fitting that the Royal NZ RSA should today invest Corporal Apiata with its highest honour, the Badge in Gold, which in turn grants him Life Membership of the Association. There are currently only six living holders of the award. That group includes the notably decorated woman from the Second World War - special operative, Nancy Wake.
In recognising Corporal Apiata, it seems entirely appropriate that the Association should also posthumously honour all those New Zealanders who have received the Victoria Cross with a symbolic Badge in Gold.
Before conferring the awards, I will quote some words of my predecessor of fifty years ago, Lord Cobham, whose words give meaning to the sacrifice of those who died defending democratic freedoms and protecting the innocent in times of conflict. He said:
"They died to preserve, not a standard of living, but a way of life—traditions of justice, fair play and decency, straight dealing and honest craftsmanship. It is life that changes and spoils and corrupts, not death."
He then quoted 19th century poet Russell Lowell referring to young people killed in war. The lines read:-
I see them muster in a gleaming row,
With ever youthful brows that nobler show;
We find in our dull road their shining track;
In every nobler mood
We feel the orient of their spirit glow,
Part of our life's unalterable good,
Of all our saintlier aspiration;
They come transfigured back,
Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
Beautiful ever more.
We honour those who have fallen—those who will forever remain secure from change—by not only remembering their sacrifice but also by committing ourselves to the ideals of justice, fair-dealing and honesty in our everyday endeavours - here in New Zealand.On that note I will close- and in Maori, issuing greetings and wishing everyone good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tena koutou katoa