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Operation Neptune

Issue date: 
Monday, 8 February 2016
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o te motu e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  Kia ora tātou katoa.

I specifically acknowledge: Arikinui Tuheitia, te Kiingi Maori; Hon Gerry Brownlee, Minister of Defence; Mr Andrew Little, the Leader of the Opposition; His Worship Len Brown, Mayor of Auckland; Air Vice Marshall Kevin Short, Vice Chief of the Defence Force; and Rear Admiral John Martin, Chief of Navy - tēnā koutou katoa.

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen it is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to Government House today to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Royal New Zealand Navy - the Senior Service in New Zealand.

At a diamond jubilee event, it is customary to talk about the passage of time and memorable events.

First – it’s important to acknowledge that New Zealand has a maritime history that reaches back many hundreds of years, and so too our naval tradition started well before 1941.  Today, we remember the New Zealanders who served on Royal Navy ships prior to that time – and the New Zealand Government’s gift of HMS New Zealand in 1911 to the Royal Navy.  She was the so-called “lucky ship” because she came through the First World War pretty much unscathed.

We acknowledge another milestone, the creation of the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy in 1921 and the Navy Office in Wellington.

There are Vice-Regal connections in our naval heritage – firstly, Captain William Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand.  Also though, Lord Jellicoe Admiral of the Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, came here on HMS New Zealand after the First World War, and subsequently became our Governor-General in 1920.  He is remembered as an enthusiastic promoter of sailing in New Zealand.

Thirdly, Sir Bernard Freyberg, a Governor-General in the immediate post World War Two era – who while serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Gallipoli, was awarded his DSO for swimming ashore through enemy fire, while carrying flares as a diversionary tactic.

Seventy-five years ago, when the Royal New Zealand Navy was formed, the world was gripped by global conflict.

During the course of 1941, there was little to celebrate.  Our army had been involved with the withdrawal from Greece and Crete.  Germany invaded the USSR and made significant inroads, Rommel’s troops were in the ascendance in North Africa and Japanese troops invaded southern Indo-China.

When the Royal New Zealand Navy was created by order-in-council on 1 October 1941, thousands of our men were already serving on Royal Navy ships, with many engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse battle with German submarines in the Atlantic Ocean.  The entry of Japan into the war in December of that year brought the conflict ever closer to home.

It was a tough time to take on such an important and new responsibility, but New Zealand rose to the challenge.

Today, we remember the two RNZN vessels lost to enemy action during the war – HMNZS Puriri and HMNZS Moa.  We remember the contributions of the approximately 10,000 men and women who served in the Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve in the Second World War, and all those who subsequently served in Korea, Malaysia, Bougainville, the Arabian and Persian Gulfs, East Timor and Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan.

We honour all those New Zealanders who have lost their lives in Naval service, whether it was in our Navy or in the Royal Navy.  In particular we remember the 150 men who died when HMS Neptune was sunk by mines off the Libyan coast in 1941.

Naming this year’s 75th anniversary commemorations after Neptune is a fitting tribute to the men who lost their lives that day.

The Operation Neptune commemorative programme will provide opportunities for the public to learn about our Navy’s history, and to get a clear sense of the diverse roles played by our Navy today – from peace-keeping, fisheries protection, assisting our South Pacific neighbours, supporting Defence Force operations, and taking part in anti-piracy patrols – to supporting our scientific and conservation efforts in the sub-Antarctic Islands.

2016 is also an opportunity to celebrate a huge quantum shift in the Navy 30 years ago – when many trades and specialisations opened up to women and women could go to sea for the first time.  Since then, prohibitions on women serving in combat, peacekeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian work have also been abolished.

We now take it for granted that women to make up nearly 25 percent of our Navy’s personnel.
If and when veterans from the early days of the RNZN come on board your ships, that would be just one of the big changes that they would notice, quite apart from  the huge technological advances since their day.

But some things stay the same.

What has not changed is the lure of the sea, the camaraderie, the chance to learn new skills and take on leadership roles, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Above all, there is the imperative to act as a tight unit.  There is a whakatauki that sums up the importance of teamwork, especially in a tight spot: “Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini” – My valour is not that of an individual, but that of the multitude. No one can survive alone.

I wish you all the very best for this year’s commemorative events – and for the years ahead.

“To fair winds and following seas.”

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa. Welcome again to you all, and please enjoy the hospitality of Government House.

Last updated: 
Monday, 8 February 2016

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