Interment Ceremony for the Unknown Warrior - PM
Embargoed until 2.45 pm
Thursday 11 November 2004
Hon Helen Clark
Reception following Interment Ceremony for the
Great Hall, Massey University
Tuesday 2 November 2004
This has been a momentous day, one which will remain engraved in the memory of the nation.
For me personally, it has been a deeply moving experience to have shared the return of the Unknown Warrior with so many New Zealanders. And I am very glad now to have this opportunity to spend time with some of those who are at the heart of the event.
I have looked forward to this day for the three years since I asked the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to investigate the feasibility of establishing a Tomb on New Zealand soil. I know that many of you have waited far longer for this memorial to be created.
Earlier this year I attended the sixtieth anniversary of the Battle of Cassino. Nothing can describe the sobering sight of those 343 silent graves at the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Cassino, or the daunting hillside landscape, now peaceful, on which such fierce battle raged.
And shortly after, I was in Normandy with eleven veterans for the sixtieth anniversary of the D-Day landings, and reminded of the courage of the more than 10,000 New Zealanders involved.
On both occasions I was very conscious of the privilege of being there. Countless others who would wish to have been able to grieve at the site of their comrades’ or family members’ graves have not been so fortunate.
As a place where people can come and focus their sadness, love and respect, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior will mean a great deal to many New Zealanders. To the many veterans and their families, and those who have lost loved ones through war who have gathered here today: I trust that you will find this memorial a fitting tribute to lost comrades and lost family.
For my part, I find it hard to imagine a more appropriate memorial than the Tomb created by Kingsley Baird and his team. Its dignified simplicity and its resonance with the symbols and language of our New Zealand identity create both a poignant welcome back to the homeland and a lasting tribute to our lost war heroes and their families.
A true sense of peace and honour surrounds it.
Yet there is still more that can be done in making this very important site in New Zealand’s cultural and historic landscape all that it can be. As some of you may be aware, the government has begun the process of negotiations towards acquiring land for a National Memorial Park. We are seeking to create around the National War Memorial an oasis of beauty and tranquillity – a setting more conducive to the quiet reflection New Zealanders deserve to be able to experience here.
Bringing together a project of this scale has been a mammoth undertaking – and an exercise of coordination between many different government and non-government organisations and individuals. Let me particularly mention the many hundreds of our serving Defence Force personnel who have gathered to provide a fitting farewell to one of their own. They have accorded him great honour, and in so doing, honoured all those who have been prepared to lay down their lives for New Zealand.
It is a mark of the enormous respect and honour with which the homecoming of the Unknown Warrior has been arranged, that throughout the process there has been an abundance of good will - including from the local businesses which have been prepared to close during the interment ceremony, and I thank them for their generosity of spirit.
Those involved in planning, organising and construction have given at least 200 percent, and I thank you all for your efforts.
It has been a true labour of love. You have done New Zealand proud.