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Changing of the Royal New Zealand Navy Queen's Colour

Issue date: 
Saturday, 1 October 2011
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

Mihi and acknowledgements
E nga mana, e nga reo, nga rangatira o Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa, nga apiha me nga toa o Te Taua Moana o Aotearoa, E huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou, kia ora tātou katoa.  Distinguished guests, leaders of the New Zealand Defence Force, officers and sailors of the Royal New Zealand Navy, ladies and gentlemen—warm greetings to you all.

I particularly want to acknowledge: Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, Minister of Defence; Rear Admiral Jack Steer, Vice Chief of Defence Force; Rear Admiral Tony Parr, Chief of Navy; Air Vice Marshall Peter Stockwell, Chief of Air Force; Major General David Gawn, Commander Joint Forces.

It is a great honour for me to be the Reviewing Officer for this special occasion.

It is especially so because today I have the rare privilege to present on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of New Zealand, a new Royal New Zealand Navy Queen’s Colour. 

It is also special because today we celebrate the service the Royal New Zealand Navy has given to New Zealand.
I would like to speak briefly about both matters.

The Royal New Zealand Navy
The history of the Royal New Zealand Navy is intertwined with the history of New Zealand.  As a nation, we have always been bound to the sea. From the beginning, it was the sea that brought to this place our peoples, our food and our wealth. 

We have a seafaring heritage and most New Zealanders—Māori and Pākehā alike—are descended from those who came here by sea. 

As the New Zealand writer John Mulgan once said: “New Zealanders are all the time standing on the edge of these seas.  They spend their lives wanting to set out across the wide oceans that surround them in order to find the rest of the world.”

And as a seafaring people, we have sought to protect our shores and our seas and those of our allies.  It was from this deep connection with the oceans that surround us that the Royal New Zealand Navy was born.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1941 when my predecessor, Sir Cyril Newell, signed an Order in Council.  However, in 1913, the Naval Defence Act had established the New Zealand Naval Force as a separate division within the Royal Navy.  The division was formally designated the New Zealand Division operating from the New Zealand station in 1921.  In its various guises, the New Zealand Division performed with distinction, valour and honour in peace and war throughout its short life.

It was the Navy that first alerted New Zealanders to the disaster that hit Napier in February 1931, and it was the Navy that led the rescue and recovery effort, providing the essential supplies and personnel that brought relief to the people of the stricken city.

Eight years later, in December 1939, it was a New Zealand ship, HMS Achilles, along with the British ships HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax, that fought the German pocket battleship, Graf Spee, at the Battle of the River Plate.  The New Zealand White Ensign flew proudly from Achilles’ mainmast.  As battle loomed, a signalman had run aft with the Ensign shouting ‘Make way for the Digger flag!’

The Navy also demonstrated its mettle in January 1943, less than two years after its establishment, when the two minesweepers, HMNZS Moa and Kiwi, attacked and sank a Japanese submarine during the struggle for Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. 

Kiwi’s captain rammed the submarine three times, doing massive damage to his ship but also mortally wounding her enemy.  Moa’s captain, later Sir Peter Phipps, became the first New Zealand naval officer to be appointed Chief of Naval Staff, and later he was the first Chief of New Zealand’s Defence Staff.

The Queen’s colour
The indomitable spirit and values of the Royal New Zealand Navy are also symbolised in the Queen’s colour that I have the honour to present on behalf of Her Majesty.

In the Navy, the colour is recognised as a fleet’s most prized possession.  In olden times they were seen as a rallying point and if a ship struck or lowered her colours in battle, it was the recognised symbol of defeat.

As I have intimated, the changing of a colour is a rare event.  The old colour was presented by my predecessor, Dame Catherine Tizard on Queen’s Wharf in Wellington in September 1991.  That colour will be honourably and permanently laid up at the Devonport Naval Base later this month.

The colour being presented today is just the fifth the Navy or the Division has held.  The first was presented by Governor-General Lord Galway on behalf of King George VI at the Basin Reserve in 1937.  The second and third colour were presented respectively by Her Majesty the Queen, in 1953 and 1970.

The 1970 colour marked a significant change.  It was a New Zealand colour!  The 1953 colour was based on the White Ensign with the Cross of St George and the Union Flag.  As Her Majesty said in 1970:
“Time moves on and conditions change. The new Colour bears the stars of the Southern Cross and this represents the absolute responsibility of the people of New Zealand for its own security and defence.  This does not mean that New Zealand stands alone. The friendship of allies and associates will remain a strong as ever …”

Those words remain as true today as they were when Her Majesty made them 41 years ago. 

In conclusion, the Royal New Zealand Navy continues the proud tradition of the first master mariners who made landfall here.

The Royal New Zealand Navy holds proud to its vision: “kia mau mana motuhake e te taua moana o te ao – to be the best small nation navy in the world.”  It has delivered to that vision time and time again.  The officers and sailors of the RNZN uphold the exemplary service of those who have gone before them.  In more recent times, New Zealand ships have participated in patrols with other Allied navies while New Zealand sailors have worked alongside their counterparts in the Army and Air Force as peacekeepers.

The Royal New Zealand Navy has given dedicated and sterling service to New Zealand and to New Zealanders, both at home and abroad, and both in times of peace and times of conflict.  Along with the wider New Zealand Defence Force, the Navy continues to bear “absolute responsibility” for the defence of New Zealand and its people.

As Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief, I congratulate the Royal New Zealand Navy on reaching its 70th anniversary. 

And it is both a privilege and an honour, on behalf of our Queen to present the Royal New Zealand Navy with its new colour. 

I will close with the immortal words of Psalm 107:
“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.”

No reira, kia ora huihui tātou katoa.

Last updated: 
Saturday, 1 October 2011

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