PM: Address to the NZ Memorial Dedication Ceremony
Saturday 11 November 2006
Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister
Address to New Zealand Memorial Dedication Ceremony
Hyde Park Corner London
3.15 pm GMT
Saturday 11 November 2006
(4.15am Sunday 12 November 2006 – NZ time)
Today is a very special day for New Zealand in London.
The dedication of the New Zealand Memorial by Her Majesty the Queen brings to fruition a project long planned for.
Its genesis lay in the desire to commemorate the shared sacrifice of New Zealanders in times of war alongside the people of Britain. The presence of so many New Zealand Defence Force personnel and veterans here today testifies to that.
But the project also acquired a deeper meaning. The extent of the shared sacrifice occurred because of the depth of New Zealand’s relationship with Britain, going back to James Cook’s first voyage of discovery and, in the almost two and a half centuries since, resulting in large movements of people between Britain and New Zealand.
Our country owes much to the generations of British migrants who have brought their values and aspirations to our land. They came to islands where indigenous people were well settled, and the story of the adjustment of Maori, British, and other settlers to each other is a large part of the story of our South Pacific nation.
Thus the New Zealand Memorial project has also been a vehicle through which to express in this ancient land of Britain, with which we have so many ties, the unique national identity of New Zealand today.
It is a particular pleasure to do so through these beautiful and evocative bronze sculptures. New Zealand is a nation which values its creative people for their ability to express what is unique about us. These sculptures, in their design and through their symbols, certainly do that.
Their semi-grid formation calls to mind soldiers in procession, or head stones as in a place of burial, or the carved posts around Maori ancestral sites.
The six standards outside the main group symbolise the constellation of the Southern Cross, which sits alongside the Union Jack on our nation’s flag.
The detail in the sculptures is redolent with written and visual images of New Zealand – from the words of our authors and poets to the familiar sights of our birds, bush, and shore, the rugby ball, and the silver fern.
This special site on Hyde Park Corner will truly be a place New Zealanders are proud to call home.
The strong sense of kinship felt between New Zealand and Britain led our forebears to commit wholeheartedly to the war effort, from South Africa on the cusp of the twentieth century, to the First and Second World Wars, and to the Malayan Emergency. We also joined British forces in Korea and in the Malaysia-Borneo confrontation.
During World War One, ten per cent of New Zealand’s total population of one million served overseas, from Gallipoli to France, Belgium, and the Middle East. As for all
nations involved, the toll of injury and death was horrific. Of the 15,000 members of the New Zealand Division who fought in the Battle of the Somme ninety years ago, around one in seven was killed, and four in ten were wounded. And while the Somme and Gallipoli were very grim indeed, the first day of the Battle of Paaschendaele stands as New Zealand’s worst ever military disaster in terms of lives lost in a single day.
World War Two saw another mass mobilisation across our armed forces, with New Zealanders also serving in significant numbers in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, including at a very senior level.
One of the most famous was Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park. A veteran of Gallipoli and the Somme, Keith Park went on to play a crucial role in the Battle of Britain, in command in Malta, and then in South East Asia Command supporting the liberation of Burma.
At every level New Zealanders made their contribution. Our veterans here today have many stories to tell – from Greece and Crete, to North Africa and Italy; from the islands and high seas of the South Pacific to South East Asia and J-Force; from naval battles across the great oceans to the Normandy landings; from air defence to air attack; from the fiercely cold winters to the fiercely hot summers of Korea; to the tropical heat of what is now Malaysia – wherever it was, our people were prepared to lay down their lives for the war effort, and many made the ultimate sacrifice.
Others returned home, many injured, ill, and traumatised, for rehabilitation and the chance to build a new life. The experiences of these brave men and women in the wars of the past century and before had a defining impact on the developing character of our small nation, such was the scale of the contribution of more than a quarter of a million personnel. It must be remembered that even on the eve of World War Two, the population of New Zealand numbered only around one and a half million.
On the home front during the two World Wars, the war effort dominated the lives of New Zealanders. During World War Two, farm production was geared to supplying Britain, with New Zealand imposing rationing on its own citizens. Four million bales of wool, two million tonnes of meat, and 1.3 million tonnes of butter were shipped to Britain.
To many here today, these are neither the events of ancient history nor abstract statistics, but the events, toil, and sacrifices of their own times and of their parents.
The end of those epic conflicts did not end defence co-operation with Britain. It continues in many forms today.
And the relationship between our two nations is kept contemporary by the flows of people both ways – migrants, tourists, working holiday-makers, students, and so many others: we may be far distant from each other, but the shared heritage and values will always keep our friendship close.
The New Zealand Memorial here at Hyde Park Corner affirms our relationship, past present, and future. Your Majesty, all members of the Royal Family present, Prime Minister, and many other British dignitaries, representatives of other nations, and New Zealand friends, thank you all for making the dedication today so special.
Postscript: It is traditional at New Zealand gatherings to finish a significant speech with a waiata or song.
Ngati Ranana (London’s Maori cultural group) will now sing Po Atarau, which was written to farewell Maori soldiers leaving the shores of New Zealand for the battlefields of World War One.