Dinner for Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence
Rau rangatira mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Nau mai haere mai ki Te Whare Kawana.
Distinguished guests, warm greetings to you all.
Welcome to Government House.
And I offer a special welcome to Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence.
You’ll forgive us if our thoughts drift elsewhere at times this evening, as it’s not yet a week since the dreadful events in Christchurch and we are all bearing that pain.
It’s at times like these that priorities shift into sharper focus.
We take strength from our friends and we reflect on what’s truly important to us.
Just last week, we celebrated Commonwealth Day at here at our Parliament Buildings, along with people from some of the 53 Commonwealth Nations.
Consistent themes came through – about a common heritage, about shared values and goals, and a desire to maintain those ties into the future.
The Commonwealth heritage we share includes our experiences of armed conflict, particularly in the First and Second World War.
Of the over 30,000 New Zealanders who died on operational service of our country in the 20th Century, the vast majority served in those two wars.
Their remains lie on foreign soil, on the other side of the world.
We have consigned their care to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. And its cemeteries have become sites of pilgrimage for generations of New Zealanders.
They’ve made the long journey to pay personal homage, whether it be in North African deserts, on the shores of secluded bays in Crete, on rugged Gallipoli hillsides, or on the rolling fields of Flanders.
They’ve sought out the graves of their forebears, and placed poppies at the foot of headstones and Memorials to the Missing.
They’ve found some solace in the care bestowed on the graves and gardens.
The First World War centennial commemorations have encouraged more New Zealanders to become involved in finding out about their ancestors’ war service – and I can count myself amongst them.
I was able to visit the grave of my great uncle Thomas Reddy in Berks Cemetery Extension when we attended the WW100 commemoration of the Battle of Messines in June 2017.
I recently discovered that another Great Uncle, Archibald McNeil, died in action in the Somme in 1918 and is buried at Knightsbridge Cemetery.
I also have an Uncle buried at El Alamein War Cemetery. I hope I will be able to visit that site one day too.
I think almost every family whose forbears were living in New Zealand at the time would have similar stories.
So, Sir Tim, my message is that the Commission’s work continues to be valued by many thousands of New Zealanders, and we are very thankful for the care you take of our war dead.
Once again, welcome to New Zealand.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa, I hope you enjoy the evening.