Heather Roy's Diary: Who To Share A Trench With?
Friday, September 12, 2008
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Who Would I Share A Trench With?
This week has seen reference to preferences about trenches - there's an old piece of army humour that says: "never share a trench with anyone braver than yourself."
There are so many significant dates and issues around this time of the year that to address just one would be to deny appropriate coverage of others that are equally worthy. Instead, I thought that I would focus this week's Diary on something that is both topical, and which addresses the character of men and women that we would want to see as our leaders - those that we would willingly "share a trench with".
Yesterday (September 11) marked the seventh anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. On the September 12 2001, NATO invoked Article V for only the second time - the first relating to Bosnia - and the US declared a War on Terror'.
Amidst all the rights and wrongs of this event and its follow-up, it is important to note the significant loss of life amongst first responders - fire, ambulance, police and the like - who rushed to the scene to save lives, despite personal risk. These are people that I would share a trench with.
On 12 September 1977, Steve Biko died in police custody. In 1953, Nikki Kruschev was elected as Secretary of the USSR's Communist Party, thus locking in what we now refer to as the Cold War. While it may seem incongruous to many - as I disagree with much of what the latter stood for - these are both people with whom I would share a trench. They were people who held true to their principles, despite personal cost.
On 15 September, we remember two of our most significant military engagements. It was on this day in 1916 that the last major action of the Somme Offensive at Flers-Courcelette was launched by Allied forces. The tank appeared for the first time in this battle. This was the first major Western Front battle for the NZ Division in WWI. Months of fighting and privation had preceded this attack. Significant casualties had been borne. Despite this, they went forward boldly. These were men I would share a trench with.
A 23-year-old Kiwi Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, NZ Rifle Brigade - along with 12 of his men - was ordered on 12 Sep 1918 to exploit initial success at Gouzeaucourt Wood, France. Sgt Harry Laurent - later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions - located a strong enemy position and charged it at once. In the hand-to-hand fighting that ensued, 30 enemy were killed and 112 others surrendered. Sgt Laurent and his troops are men that I would want to share a trench with.
Sgt Donald Brown, a farmer before joining the 2nd Otago Battalion, was also awarded the VC at the Somme on September 15 1916. South-east of France's High Wood when his company had suffered very heavy casualties from machine-gun fire, 26-year-old Sgt Brown and another man advanced to a point within 30 yards of an enemy gun. They killed four of the crew and captured the gun. When the company's advance was again held up, Sgt Brown and his comrade rushed another gun and killed the crew. On a third occasion, the Sgt attacked a machine-gun single-handed, killed the crew and captured the gun. This is a man I would share a trench with.
Battle of Britain Day is also commemorated on September 15. This is the day Germany suffered its worst air force casualties in one day - 60 aircraft vs 26 of the RAF. This caused the postponement and ultimate cancellation of Operation Sea Lion - the invasion of England. The British and Commonwealth air force personnel, who rose above huge odds to secure a free world, are men and women I would share a trench with. Rodney Hide has joined the campaign for a London memorial to New Zealander Sir Keith Park's role in that staunch defence of freedom.
It is a bitter irony that I write this in the shadow of a Government that has disbanded those same squadrons who fought to give them the ability - but not the right - to do so. To seek out photo opportunities relating to our brave and our dead, to throw money - rather than real solutions - at the core role of protecting Kiwis, is not the action of people I would wish to share a trench with.
One of Churchill's lesser known quotes is this: "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."
If I could leave only one legacy of my time in Parliament it would be to see our debating chamber, after this election, filled with people that all Kiwis - regardless of their political colours - could say they would proud to be represented by, or to share a trench with.