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PM: “Recognising New Zealand Veterans”

Tuesday 11 April 2006

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister

Address at Whakatane RSA

“Recognising New Zealand Veterans”

Richardson Street Whakatane

2.15 pm

Tuesday 11 April 2006

I am pleased to be at this strong RSA today in the “Year of the Veteran”. I understand that the Whakatane RSA has around 2000 members, of which around 1030 are ex-Service personnel.

Of these, there are around 330 returned servicemen, who served in a range of conflicts, including in World War Two, Malaya, and Viet Nam. Your president Graham Hall is a Viet Nam veteran. I thank you all for your contribution and service to New Zealand.

Our Labour-led Government is committed to honouring and supporting veterans, preserving their legacy, and passing on to future generations the lessons they learned.

That is why the Government has designated 2006 as the “Year of the Veteran”, so that we all can express our appreciation for the contribution made to our nation by the service and sacrifice of our veterans.

In the past five years, New Zealand has commemorated significant anniversaries from the World War Two era; the sixtieth anniversaries of the Battles for Crete, El Alamein, and Cassino, the D-Day landings, and the end of the War in Europe and the Pacific, We also commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the armistice in Korea in 2003.

In 2005, we commemorated the ninetieth anniversary of the Anzac Landings at Gallipoli, as we did the eighty-fifth anniversary in 2000, with a large New Zealand military and veteran presence.

In marking these important anniversaries, our government has sought to involve both veterans and young people, and to raise public awareness of these incredible events, many tragic, which impacted on our nation and its families.

In 2004, New Zealanders witnessed the return of the Unknown Warrior, to be interred at the new Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at the National War Memorial in Wellington. The journey home and the dedication of the Tomb touched the public’s hearts. Many hundreds of people queued to see the casket lying in Parliament’s Grand Hall, and thousands more lined the streets of Wellington to see the casket on a gun carriage pass by on its way to the Tomb. Now the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior serves as a focus for remembrance of all those who died serving New Zealand overseas.

This year, 2006, is the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. It is also the sixtieth anniversary of the return home of Kiwi troops from the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, and of the beginning of demobilisation.

As well this year, preparations are underway for next year’s ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele, which remains the worst disaster in New Zealand military history in terms of lives lost in a single day.

I have been proud as Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture, and Heritage to be associated with many projects recognising our country’s war history and its impact on New Zealand.

Oral histories of key engagements in World War Two have been written in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, recording the personal stories of those who served in Crete, North Africa, the Italian campaign, and the Merchant Navy, and of those who were held as prisoners of war. Two more volumes are in production, on the War in the Pacific and on the Home Front.

New histories are being written on the Kiwi role in D-Day, and on the Viet Nam War. We are beginning a First World War Centenary Project, and an oral history of those who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s in the shadow of war.

We have also produced a booklet on the battlefield at Gallipoli and a guide to the war cemeteries on the Western Front in France and Belgium, and helped plan a walking track from Chunuk Bair to the sea at Gallipoli.

Our government has signed a shared memories agreement with France to commemorate our shared military history, and we are in the process of negotiating a similar agreement with Belgium.

As well we are ensuring that New Zealanders’ sacrifice and service is not forgotten offshore.

In 2001 the New Zealand Memorial on ANZAC Parade in Canberra was dedicated, and last year a memorial to the New Zealanders who died in Korea was dedicated in the United Nations War Cemetery in Pusan.

This year’s major project is the installation and dedication of the New Zealand Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London, in memory of all the New Zealanders who fought in the defence of Britain in the twentieth century and of our shared heritage with Britain.

At home in New Zealand, we are working on plans for the New Zealand Memorial Park to be developed adjacent to the National War Memorial.

For me, all those projects have been very satisfying to be involved in, as I believe such recognition of the impact of the war years on our families, our communities, and our nation is long overdue.

The “Year of the Veteran” takes these remembrances a step further, by providing all New Zealanders with the opportunity to honour the courage and sacrifice of those who have served our country in times of war.

As well, we honour the contribution that our veterans have made to the development of their communities here at home in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a small nation when compared to some of our larger and more populous neighbours in the world. But despite our small size, our service commitment has been huge. In the First World War, New Zealand, with a military-age male population of barely 250,000, sent more than 100,000 soldiers overseas. 18,000 of these men never returned home; and another 41,000 were wounded.

During the Second War, New Zealand once more made a massive commitment. Over 200,000 men and women served in our Armed Forces, and 135,000 of these were mobilised overseas. With over 36,000 casualties, our casualty rate was proportionally the highest of Britain’s Commonwealth allies.

The last time that New Zealand as whole had to face the reality of a state of war was during World War II. Since then, however, our Service personnel have served in many conflicts, emergencies and peacekeeping operations all over the world.

Those deployments include J-Force, Korea, Malaya and Borneo, Vietnam, Bosnia, the Gulf, East Timor, Bougainville and Afghanistan. Some of these are still in progress, most notably in Afghanistan. Only yesterday I announced a further extension of New Zealand’s deployments there to September 2007.

I want to especially acknowledge the Viet Nam Veterans here today. The Viet Nam War was this country’s longest and most controversial military engagement of the last century.

I know that for many veterans of that conflict, there is still a feeling that the country doesn’t fully understand the realities of New Zealand’s involvement, and the aftermath for veterans and their families.

Outstanding issues remain around the exposure of New Zealand forces to a toxic environment, and we established a joint working group to look into these and other issues.

Former State Services Commissioner, Michael Wintringham, has been appointed to chair the Joint Working Group and a consultative process. A final report to government on what action can be taken to assist in the resolution of the grievances felt by veterans and their families is expected soon.

It is important for us to remember that the impact of service can be considerable, not only for the veterans themselves, but for their spouses, their families and their communities. During this "Year of the Veteran", it is essential that we also remember the role played by the wives, husbands, families and friends of our service personnel in supporting our veterans.

During the "Year of the Veteran", there will be nation-wide activities and initiatives, on which the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, Rick Barker, the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, and the RSA have been working.

The key aim of the “Year of the Veteran”, however, is to provide opportunities to recognise veterans in our local communities. The Year of the Veteran Community Grants Fund will assist local communities which wish to mount events and projects to do that.

As a lasting expression of appreciation to those who have served New Zealand in times of war or emergency, special “Year of the Veteran” Certificates of Appreciation and lapel badges are being presented. Every veteran of a recognised war or emergency is eligible for this recognition of New Zealand’s enduring appreciation and gratitude for their service, and the RSA can ensure that those eligible are so recognised.

In this "Year of the Veteran", we wish also to recognise those members of our communities who have volunteered their time, skills, and effort for the benefit and support of veterans. ‘Year of the Veteran’ Commendations will be a way of saying thank you to those volunteers for their hard work and support.
2006 also marks the ninetieth anniversary of the founding of the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association, an organisation with a proud history of dedication to the welfare and commemoration of our servicemen and women, past and present.

In 2006, the "Year of the Veteran", we in New Zealand have the opportunity to show our veterans that our appreciation of their service does not dim with the passing of time or changing circumstance. We must continue to be aware of the value and meaning of their service.

ENDS


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