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.
Thank you for inviting me to mark an exciting day for everyone involved in the Featherston Camp Memorial project.
I am delighted to be able to support efforts to develop further recognition for Featherston’s role in New Zealand’s First World War effort.
I am particularly delighted that you have chosen a work by Paul Dibble. In May, I unveiled another of his public sculptures, The Garden, in Havelock North. And like many New Zealanders, I have visited, and was deeply affected by, The Southern Stand, Paul Dibble’s monumental work for the New Zealand Memorial in London.
I felt immense pride when I saw his installation in Hyde Park and this companion piece to that Memorial will, I am sure, draw New Zealanders and tourists alike to Featherston and to the story it represents. It will be a stunning beacon for Featherston’s heritage story.
The statistics speak for themselves. Of the approximately 100,000 men who served overseas in WW1, two-thirds were trained at the Featherston military camp.
This sculpture will serve as a reminder of how this town supported thousands of men, from all walks of life, from all parts of New Zealand, who were brought here to be trained for service in a citizen army.
They included at least two of my great uncles, and it’s a story that will be common amongst many New Zealanders with ancestors in New Zealand in the early 20th century.
It’s extraordinary to think that the population of Featherston was just 700 at the time, and yet the local community rose to the challenge of supporting recruits who were far from home, and facing the prospect of conflict, injury and death in the months and years ahead.
In 2016, we recalled the generosity of the people of the South Wairarapa when I re-opened the magnificent ANZAC Hall here in Featherston, which they built for the recruits.
Today, It's hard to imagine a huge, bustling camp nearby, home to 8000 soldiers at any one time – to imagine that where there are now peaceful green fields, there were once paved streets and over 250 buildings, including 16 dining halls, 6 cookhouses, 17 shops, a canteen, a picture theatre, 3 billiard rooms, a hospital, a post office, and 3 churches – in addition to a railway siding and horse stables for the Mounted Rifles.
We remember, with great sadness, how many of those recruits did not return to New Zealand but lie in foreign fields, and those whose lives were blighted by war wounds.
When the influenza epidemic hit New Zealand one hundred years ago, the Camp housed over 3000 patients. No doubt they included local people, who would have numbered amongst the 177 who died at the Camp.
In 2014 Bernard Jervis, the foundation Chair of the Military Training Camp Trust, summed up the motivation for this memorial in these words.
The Camp brought out the best in most of those who passed through it, and involved a provincial town in the national contribution. Much of this has been forgotten, little remains to remind the people of Featherston how their family members and previous townsfolk took centre stage a century ago.
I offer my congratulations to all the people who have worked so hard to bring the Military Training Camp Trust’s vision to reality.
Your efforts will bring an important part of our history alive and remind us all that the Wairarapa community spirit, so evident in 1916, is still very much alive.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa