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Pacific War Commemorative Service address

Hon Michael Woodhouse
Minister of Veterans’ Affairs

26 April 2013

Speech

Pacific War Commemorative Service address

Bourail, New Caledonia

Veterans, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to address you on this significant occasion.

I would like to begin by extending a special welcome to our contingent of veterans of the Pacific War who have returned to the scene of their youthful exploits after the lapse of 70 years.

You have the honour of representing the thousands of men who fought in the Pacific. All New Zealanders owe you and your comrades a great debt of gratitude for what you suffered and achieved at sea, on land, and in the air in a just war against an enemy whose actions and ideology were abhorrent to us.

It is especially appropriate that we should gather here where we are surrounded by the graves and memorials to more than 500 New Zealanders who gave their lives for our nation in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Today we commemorate New Zealand's part in the War in the Pacific between December 1941 and August 1945.

New Zealand's efforts during the war were focused on the Solomon Islands Campaign, which of all our military commitments in the twentieth century was the closest to our homeland and the one that most directly related to its defence.

The struggle for the Solomon Islands is also particularly significant to us because it involved a major contribution by all three New Zealand Armed Forces.

In the past the achievement of the New Zealand Forces in the Pacific have sometimes not received the recognition they deserved.

This has certainly changed in recent years with the publication of a number of significant books about our role in the Pacific. This has also been demonstrated by the public interest in the fate of the New Zealand coastwatchers murdered on Tarawa in 1942.

The New Zealanders who fought in the Pacific not only had to combat an implacable and skilful foe, but also had to deal with the physical demands and related health problems that flowed from fighting in a tropical environment.

The personnel of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force overcame all the challenges they faced; adjusting to fighting in the jungle, learning how to carry out amphibious assaults and conducting operations over vast stretches of sea.

They maintained and enhanced New Zealand's great tradition of military service in defence of our nation and the values we hold dear.

In recent years the men and women of the New Zealand Defence Force have returned to the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and to other places in the South Pacific familiar to New Zealand veterans of the Second World War.

They have been engaged in a range of peace-support missions that have as their primary focus enabling ordinary people to live their lives in safety and freedom.

Like their predecessors during the Second World War, they have shown great respect for the people of the South Pacific combined with a high degree of professionalism and a commitment to getting the job done.

It is now more than 65 years since the New Zealand military cemetery at Bourail was established. Since 1947 it has been in the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which has done a fine job of developing and maintaining the cemetery.

To the administration and people of New Caledonia, and especially the community of Bourail, I thank you for the care and respect you have shown towards the New Zealand graves and memorials.

Each year on this day you come together here to honour the memory of all those New Zealand buried or memorialised in this cemetery. We are truly grateful to you for the way you honour and remember our fellow New Zealanders.

I would like to close with the tribute to those who are commemorated at Bourail given by the former commander of the 3rd New Zealand Division, Major-General Sir Harold Barrowclough when he unveiled the Cross of Sacrifice at this cemetery in 1955:

Here around us there are honourably interred the mortal remains of gallant comrades, and most dearly loved relatives and friends. Here too are recorded the names of many who have no known grave -- men whose courage led them so far into enemy territory that no one saw the gallantry of their enterprise, and no one could tenderly bear back their maimed and broken bodies. Here we pay tribute to them all. Some were stricken down on this island of New Caledonia. Most of them met death in the jungles of other islands dotted about the vastness of the South Pacific -- on the seas that washed their shores and in the skies above those lands and seas. We who served with them can testify, as testify we do, with pride and with no uncertain voice, that wherever Death encountered them, he found them resolute and unafraid. What greater tribute can be paid to them than to say this -- that in the path of duty they were faithful -- even unto death.

Thank you

ends


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