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Burton: On My Way to the Somme book launch

On My Way to the Somme

Speech given at the On My Way to the Somme book launch


Good evening. It is my pleasure to be here at tonight's launch - both as Minister of Defence and as MP for Taupo.

In a week when we have unveiled a plaque in Parliament to commemorate the life of a great New Zealander, Lt Colonel William George Malone - whose bravery and leadership were recorded during that best known and most tragic of our World War One engagements - Gallipoli - 'On My Way to the Somme' provides a haunting reminder and a human voice to another terrible conflict of the War. We are forced to reflect that these words are indeed the words of men who witnessed and experienced, the Battle of the Somme.

This book gives us a glimpse - an informed, realistic, yet personable glimpse - of what it was like.

From the orders the Division received, to how they were carried out, to the thoughts of those involved. The photos in the centre pages are a visual reminder of these men who fought, and fell, in a foreign land that was so far from home.

'On My Way to the Somme' will, I think, stand both the scrutiny of a wide readership and the test of time, and prove to be a very important historical and human record.

Its subjects speak about the tragedy of war, the uncertainty, the horror, the homesickness, and also the comradeship of serving within a division.

The Battle of the Somme was of course one of the Great Wars most horrific battles and to understand it is to understand something of what shaped the young nation of New Zealand. >From our population of around one million at the time, in the order of ten per cent served overseas during World War One. So many did not come home, and of those who did many were severely injured and traumatised.

Next year is the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It is fitting that our government has also declared that 2006 will be the Year of the Veteran.

It is books such as this that will play an important part in helping us to remember the sacrifices that these soldiers made on so many levels for our country. Their suffering engraves on our consciousness the need and our obligation, to work for a more harmonious world; to act always in the interests of peace, tolerance and understanding.

While remembering the sacrifices these servicemen made, we must also remember to value the courage and dedication of today's and tomorrow's servicemen and women who continue to risk their lives abroad.

Today, we have around 500 service men and women in more than 12 countries around the globe, including Sinai, Timor Leste, the Gulf Region and Bosnia as well as Afghanistan.

I am always very proud of the achievements of those who live, and have lived, in my electorate.

Andrew - during your time as a journalist on the South Waikato News, you kept the people of Tokoroa informed of the events that were taking place around them. As the author of this book, you are using your considerable talent to inform, to educate, and yes - despite its most serious subject matter- to even, in part, entertain your readers, through the stories, the lives and the experiences of those who were part of these events, that shaped our history and have established our nation.

Once again, I would like to thank you for inviting me along tonight to be part of this launch. I wish the book, and you Andrew, every success.


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