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Speech

Waihi Tunnellers Memorial

Issue date: 
Friday, 12 February 2016
Speaker: 
Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO

E kui mā, e koro mā, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.  Kia ora tātou katoa.  Ladies and gentlemen I extend warm greetings to you all.

I specifically acknowledge: Scott Simpson, MP for Coromandel; His Worship John Tregidga, Mayor of Hauraki District; and Kit Wilson, of Waihi Heritage Vision; tēnā koutou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me here today.
  
I very much regret that I was unable to attend the ceremony and events of 22 January.

It will have been a great occasion - for Waihi.  It will have been a proud day for the descendants of the men who served in the New Zealand Engineers Tunnelling Company and for descendants of the Māori and Cook Island soldiers who joined them in their work on the Western Front.

I am delighted that I could come and see this magnificent memorial for myself.  The story of the Tunnelling Company’s men is compelling, and deserves to be remembered and told.

In New Zealand, when we think of the First World War, we tend to focus on Gallipoli and what happened there.  During this five-year period of commemoration of and reflection on the Great War we are being reminded of the contributions, achievements and sacrifice of our men and women on the Western Front.

So I was delighted when I heard that the men of this unique unit from the Western Front were to be recognised in this memorial.  By all accounts the tunnellers were tough men.  They needed to be for the arduous and dangerous work they did, particularly the mining and counter-mining activities under enemy lines.

We are fortunate that their work has miraculously survived and is being preserved for all to see in the Carriere Wellington Museum in Arras. 

I understand it is a huge and sophisticated complex.  It must have been a godsend for the troops who massed there in preparation for an offensive.

The Museum in Arras will be a permanent reminder of our tunnellers’ work and of the connections we forged in times of war.  With this memorial at Waihi, we are acknowledging the home of many of the men who made that connection for us.  It’s pleasing to know that the people of Arras have shown their appreciation by becoming involved at various stages in this project.

It’s a great addition to the Arras underpass under the National War Memorial Park in Wellington and other memorials in France. 

Waihi is honouring its own today – and will continue to be inspired by the skill and fortitude of its miners who have worked here and further afield. As the whakatauki or proverb says “Tōku toa, he toa rangatira” – My bravery is inherited from the chiefs who were my forebears.

This memorial shows a determination to ensure that the effort of our tunnellers is not forgotten, and preserves their memory for posterity.

I thank the people in this community who have worked hard to make the memorial a reality.

Kia ora huihui tātou katoa

Last updated: 
Friday, 12 February 2016

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