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New Zealand Reception, Crete

Issue date: 
Thursday, 19 May 2016
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

E aku rangatira o Aotearoa
E huihui nei
Te Minita o te Karauna - Hekia Parata,
Major General Peter Kelly, Rangatira, o nga hoia whenua,
Ray Ahipene-Mercer – Kaunihera o te Whanganui a Tara,
Morehu hoia o te Pakanga o Kiriti - tēnā tatou.

People of New Zealand gathered here, Minister of the Crown, Hekia Parata; Chief of Army, Major General Peter Kelly; Ray Ahipene-Mercer, Wellington City Councillor; and veterans of the Battle of Crete – Greetings to you.

Ki nga māngai o ngā whenua o Ahitereiria, o Ingarangi me whenua kē,
Rangatira mā o Kiriti,
Tenei aku mihi mahana ki a koutou.
Kia ora huihui tatou katoa

The representatives from Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere and distinguished people of Crete, my warm greetings to all.

It is an honour to be part of this gathering to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Crete.  We are particularly privileged to be joined by four New Zealand veterans from that Battle: Mr Bill Bristow and Mr Roye Hammond of the 18th Battalion; Mr Malcolm Coughlan of the 19th Battalion; and Mr Anthony Madden of the 4th Reserve Motor Transport Company.

It is their deeds, and those of their companions, as well as the deeds of our Allied and Greek partners that we commemorate today.

75 years ago, on the morning of the 20th of May 1941, the ominous appearance of gliders in the sky heralded one of the most dramatic and destructive battles for our forces during the Second World War.

New Zealand soldiers were just sitting down for breakfast, when they were confronted by the daunting sight of hundreds of German soldiers descending by parachute.

Private Walter Gibbons of the 23rd Battalion recounted:

So this is it.  Our OC simply said, ‘This is for real boys, put your bayonets on, it’s either you or them’.

The battle commenced, and over the course of 12 days, it claimed the lives of more than 1700 allied troops, many Cretan citizens, and also many German personnel.

The defence of Crete has been the subject of much re-visiting and soul-searching.  Certainly poor planning, communication problems and lack of resources played their part in this ill-fated campaign.

Whatever might have been, the fact is that we do not reserve our commemorations for victories.

Our commemorations acknowledge courage and commitment to a just cause, the sacrifice of 671 New Zealanders whose remains lie here on Cretan soil and the bonds that were forged from that battle.

The men defending Crete were out-gunned and eventually outnumbered, but they performed untold acts of courage, heroism and compassion: some remembered, some lost in the passage of time.

It was in Crete that the remarkable acts of courage of Charles Upham and Clive Hulme were recognised with the award of our highest military honour, the Victoria Cross.

It was here that Howard Kippenberger, one of our most distinguished and effective commanders, and who was to later command the New Zealand Division, earned his first DSO.

Yesterday’s unveiling of the 42nd Street memorial reminded us of another individual whose name will not be forgotten: Private Hemara Aupouri, a bren-gunner with the 28th Māori Battalion.

When the orders were given to charge the German 141st Mountain Regiment, Aupouri got to his feet and to the haka: Ka mate! Ka Mate! Ka ora! Ka Ora! – incited the men of his battalion and their Australian mates to a terrifying bayonet charge.

This inspired his New Zealand and Australian companions to unleash a fierce bayonet charge the ferocity of which overwhelmed their German foe – thereby keeping open the passage for evacuation via the Southern Coast.

Today we also commemorate the actions of courageous local people, the civilians who fought with everything at hand to protect their homeland.

They paid a price for their courage, and suffered reprisals from the German occupation force.  Despite this, many took the further risk of sheltering New Zealanders left behind during the Nazi occupation.  We will not forget their support or their sacrifice.

As we focus on the centennial commemorations for the First World War, it is all the more important to ensure those who fought in a more recent war, who are still amongst us, are not forgotten.

Their bravery continues to inspire the young men and women of today’s Defence Force as they work to enhance safety and security in the world’s conflict zones.

My hope is that the many young New Zealanders who make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli will also be drawn here to remember our tipuna – our ancestors - in years to come, and to renew our ties with our Cretan friends.

By gathering together to commemorate, we keep alive the memory of all those who served and suffered here – and we commit to our collective memory the realities and the human cost of war.

Cyril Crosland, an Army Service Corps driver and prisoner of war, spoke many years later of the war’s painful legacy:

I think it’s something that should never happen. I don’t wish it on anybody. The First World War was the war to end all wars; the Second World War was the war to end it all – and it’s still going. Where it will end, I don’t know. I’d hate to see any of my friends or children go, and go through what I went through. I’d hate it.

Crosland’s words emphasise that we best honour those who served in war by continuing to work in the cause of peace.  In this way, their legacy can guide us to a better future.

Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou – We will remember them.

Last updated: 
Thursday, 19 May 2016

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