Defence Force Dinner 2021
Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa
Nga toa a Tu, tēnā koutou
Āku mihi nui ki a koutou, i manaaki, i tiaki i a māua ko Tā David,
i roto i nga tau e rima, kua taha ake nei.
Ka kore koutou e awhi mai,
ka kore e taea te mahi i aku mahi.
Nei ra ka mihi i runga i te aroha.
No reira, tēnā koutou tēnā koutou tēnā tātou katoa.
To the New Zealand Defence Force
To all Servicemen and women
I bid you welcome
I want to acknowledge the support of the armed forces in my term as Governor General over these past five years. Without your support, I would not have been able to carry out my duties
As my term as Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief draws to a close, this is my opportunity to express my sincere thanks for the wonderful support – and the many memorable experiences – you have shared with David and me over the last five years.
I’m sure you will all appreciate that prior to taking up this role, I had absolutely no experience of military matters or our Defence Force.
And I must confess that I was a little overawed, stepping into the vice regal shoes of a former Chief of Defence.
However you were all extremely welcoming and I was excited to have the opportunity to engage with you, and to learn.
I didn’t have long to wait. Before I was sworn in on the steps of Parliament on 28Th September 2016, my very first act was to inspect the Royal Guard of Honour. The military ceremony added immeasurably to that splendid occasion. Not only was the guard superbly drilled, the military band was magnificent and I still recall that thrilling fanfare of trumpets.
After five years, I have seen many facets of your operations, and I know that my experiences with you all have expanded my knowledge of New Zealand history, your role in that history, and your current responsibilities and interests.
I have met wonderful people, and I thank you for the respect, efficiency and manaakitanga you have extended to me, whatever the occasion.
When I first came into office, the First World War centennial commemorations were in full swing.
We had the great privilege of travelling across to the other side of the world to see the battlefields where so many New Zealanders fought and died in the Great War.
I had the honour of representing New Zealand at the commemorations of the Battles of Messines in Belgium, Be’er Sheeba in Israel and Le Quesnoy in France. The commemorations were each very different in character but all were extraordinarily emotional and unforgettable.
On those occasions I visited several of the vast Commonwealth War Cemeteries nearby and I even found the grave of my Great Uncle, Thomas Reddy, in Berks Cemetery Extension, just outside Ypres.
Another momentous experience for us both was attending the Anzac Commemorations in Gallipoli in 2018. While the combined Australia and New Zealand Dawn service at Anzac Cove was a wonderful occasion, I think our New Zealand commemoration at Chunuk Bair was the highlight for me.
In fact, I recall the Australian Minister, Peter Dutton, leaning across and offering a rather begrudging compliment that we New Zealanders always managed to outdo the Aussies in our military commemorations. He was right.
My final international trip before the pandemic confined us to these shores was to South Korea for the naming ceremony for our newest and biggest navy ship, HMNZS Aotearoa. That was such a wonderful and joyous occasion, especially as it was an opportunity to look forward to the future for our Defence Force rather than dwell on tragic events in our history.
Over the past five years, I have met veterans from diverse theatres of war. From the remarkable Bomb Gillies of the Maori Battalion, who opened Te Rau Aroha with me in 2020, to the survivors of Jay Force that we celebrated here and at Pukeahu earlier this year, the Vietnam veterans mentioned in despatches who received their citations at Government House in Auckland and Wellington in 2019 and of course the declining number of WW2 survivors who still attend our ANZAC services each year.
I’ve also conferred royal honours on a number of former and currently serving personnel who have served our country with distinction both at home and abroad.
When I have conferred honours on individual service men and women, I am well aware that some citations can only hint at the courage or expertise they have displayed, but nevertheless, I am in awe of their bravery and commitment.
Conversations with them, and with other serving personnel, have given me a deep respect for the sense of duty that inspires individuals to serve their country in this way.
The 11 Aides de Camp who have supported David and me over the past five years are also part of this story. We’ve had four army captains, four naval lieutenants and three flight lieutenants and they have all been remarkable young people, who are a great credit to the Defence Force.
They are now firmly part of our family, and when they leave Government House, we continue to follow their progress with interest.
I hope that the experiences they’ve had here, and in supporting David and me within New Zealand – and overseas – will stand them in good stead for their future roles. I’m sure there is a future Chief of Service or even CDF among their number.
At State Welcomes for Heads of State and Royalty, all three services have provided splendid colour and ceremony, especially here at Government House Wellington.
The Guard of Honour provides an appropriate sense of solemnity and occasion, and the cultural party’s kapa haka and waiata are always a highlight for our distinguished visitors.
Similarly, when diplomats come to Government House to present their credentials, they tell me how honoured they are to be received with your powhiri and military salute.
We have enjoyed the versatility and musicianship of your respective military bands on all manner of occasions – most recently, at my final investiture ceremony in Christchurch just two weeks ago.
I was pleased the pandemic didn’t stop the splendid Beat Retreat and Sunset Ceremony marking the 175th anniversary of our Army at Pukeahu earlier this year.
And we’ve greatly enjoyed our visits to the army bases at Waiouru and Papakura where we’ve learnt more about the depth and breadth of our army capability.
Each February, Waitangi has provided a magnificent backdrop for the Beat Retreat ceremonies and receptions on Navy ships. We have been royally hosted by the Navy on these occasions and I was especially delighted to be invited to be ship’s sponsor for the Navy’s newest vessel, HMNZS Aotearoa.
Attending her naming ceremony in Korea and The Commissioning ceremony in Auckland were memorable. But thanks to Captain Rooke and his crew, David and I also got to try her out for ourselves in a voyage from New Plymouth to Devonport a couple of months ago. We thoroughly enjoyed it and would love to join you again, though I don’t think we’re brave enough to volunteer for your forthcoming trip to Antarctica.
Another spectacle we won’t forget was on Waitematā Harbour - the International Naval Review for the 75th Anniversary of the Navy, in the first year of my term. I recall the day was unusually misty, with low cloud across the harbour, making the spectacle somehow even more atmospheric.
My visits to Ohakea included the magnificent Air Tattoo and international display to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Air Force in 2017.
We have had the pleasure of flights in almost every type of aircraft (except the Orions). But my most memorable flights were the 10 hours I spent on a Hercules to and from Vanuatu, in order to attend the funeral of their President in 2017. I think we spent almost as much time in the air as on the ground. Suffice to say it wasn’t the luxury I experienced on HMNZS Aotearoa!
I’m delighted that you’ll be replacing the Hercules fleet with 21st Century models soon!
On two occasions I’ve visited the Airforce’s Schools to skies programme – at Woodburne and Whenuapai – where I’ve been very impressed with the enthusiasm and calibre of the young women attending the course, and also the comprehensive introduction they are given into the opportunities the AirForce can offer them as a career.
Finally, It was an honour to be asked to officially open Defence House in 2019. Its prominent position, adjacent to the Beehive and our Parliament Building, illustrates the pivotal role Defence plays in our state apparatus.
Thousands of New Zealanders are engaged in the current chapter of Defence’s story. They are there to answer the call, whenever it may come, to protect and help their fellow citizens, as well as our extended whanau across the Pacific – and people in war-torn countries around the globe.
Thank you for everything that you do and for the generosity you have extended to us both.
It has been an honour and a pleasure to work with you, and I wish you all well.
I hope you enjoy the manaakitanga of Government House, this evening.