Clark: Book Launch - The Big Show
TUESDAY 6 JUNE 2006
Rt Hon Helen Clark
LAUNCH OF THE BOOK
The Big Show: New
Zealanders, D-Day and the War in Europe
Edited by Alison Parr
Tuesday 6 June 2006
Thank you for the invitation to launch this book today, on the 62nd anniversary of the D-Day landings by Allied troops on the Normandy beaches in France.
D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War in Europe.
It is hard for us to imagine the sheer enormity of D-Day. On 6 June 1944, nearly 6000 ships left English ports, ferrying 130,000 Allied soldiers bound for the French coast. 7500 planes carried 23,000 paratroopers.
Two years ago I joined sixteen other Heads of State or Government for the sixtieth anniversary ceremonies in France, at Arromanches beach in a cold wind blowing in from the English Channel.
Her Majesty the Queen came, as did United States President George Bush, Chancellor Schroder of Germany, and the Prime Ministers of Australia and Britain, among others, hosted by President Chirac of France.
The speeches that day emphasised not only the lasting sense of appreciation and friendship which France feels towards its wartime allies, but also the importance of the reconciliation which has occurred, and most especially that between France and Germany. A number of specific and complimentary references were made in the French television broadcast to the size of the New Zealand commitment to and sacrifice at D-Day.
Among those many tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen on D-Day, were New Zealanders and eleven of them are with us today. Their stories are in this book of oral histories produced by Alison Parr of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and form part of the From Memory War Oral History Programme.
At the time of the landings, many of New Zealand’s forces were deployed in Italy and the Pacific. Even so, there were 10,000 Kiwis on active service with the RAF or the Royal Navy at the time of D-Day. With this book, we now have a home-grown, New Zealand perspective on the events which occurred in Normandy 62 years ago.
The book tells of the experiences of men like Jim Pollok, on board a ship bombarding the French coast. It tells of others on ships on the look-out for German torpedo boats, like Gordon Forrester, 20 at the time of D-Day. He was, as he puts it, ‘a hardened man by then’. This was very dangerous work. We learn that two days after D-Day, Terry Scott’s ship was torpedoed. Terry made it to safety, but 37 of his crewmates did not.
Men like Jack Ingham and Eric Krull were officers on landing craft, responsible for getting the soldiers ashore in fierce winds, heavy seas, and among the wreckage of other boats. ‘It was a hell of a mess really’, Eric recalls.
One of the many trying to get ashore was a Christchurch electrical engineer whose job was to set up radar contact after the landing: ‘How could it possibly be that I, Ned Hitchcock, could be sitting in a stalled truck, in deep water, in a rising tide with nothing but an enemy-held beach ahead?’, he asked.
Six thousand New Zealanders were in the RAF on D-Day — transporting paratroopers, patrolling the beach heads, or bombing targets. It was tough, cold, dangerous work.
George Wirepa’s job was to lay face-down in the perspex nose of a Lancaster, aiming the bombs: 20,000 feet up, minus 30 degrees. For the task he was kitted out in a battery-powered electric vest, electric pants, and electric gloves.
Alongside all this was a complex simulation designed to draw attention away from the invading force. Lancaster bombers dropped reflective aluminium strips to create the impression on radar that hundreds of ships were headed for another part of France.
Les Munro recalls the effort of flying with no course or altitude deviation, dropping these strips every 4 ½ seconds precisely, hour after hour.
For months afterwards, many of these men continued missions over and around Europe. In the skies above England, Philip Stewart intercepted the V1 flying bombs — the doodlebugs — which were headed for London.
Two of the men here today were shot down behind the lines — just five days after D-Day in Trevor Mullinder’s case. John Morris had the good fortune to be picked up by the French Resistance and smuggled to safety. I was particularly pleased that it was possible to interview one of his rescuers, Madame Lucienne Vouzelaud, who risked her life so that John could return home.
As that story shows, this book touches on the shared history between New Zealand and France.
Two years ago New Zealand and France formally agreed to the Shared Memory Arrangement, to ensure that our shared experiences in the two world wars were not forgotten.
This book is our first major publication under that Arrangement, and it is an important contribution to the recorded history of our countries.
I would like to convey my appreciation to Monsieur Hamlaoui Mékachéra, French Minister of Veterans Affairs, for his commitment to the Arrangement.
I ask His Excellency Monsieur Marlaud to accept a copy of the book on his behalf. I also acknowledge the Ambassador’s own efforts on this project, and would like him to accept a copy of the book as well.
I also thank the team at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage which has worked hard to produce this book. Oral historian Alison Parr conducted all the interviews, and they will now be lodged in the From Memory Collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Most of all, I would like to thank the men who shared their memories. Their stories are powerful. Yet, in typical understated New Zealand style, they say that they were ordinary Kiwis, just doing their job.
As fighter pilot Russell Clark says, ‘We were just … the ordinary boys in the street.if you take any cross-section in the street, they’d have done the same thing as we’ve done. Just time and place determined that we were the ones that were doing it.’
It now gives me great pleasure to launch The Big Show: New Zealanders, D-Day and the War in Europe.