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War Souvenirs More Important Than War Veterans?

20 February 2002

The Prime Minister has announced a campaign to preserve wartime memories for posterity. Lest We Forget is being co-ordinated by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to encourage people to deposit wartime letters, diaries, photographs, etc. in their local library or museum. This may be very commendable; as such memorabilia will provide future generations with invaluable insights concerning the wartime experiences of their forbears.

But what about the old soldiers themselves, the last remaining veterans of conflicts long past who risked life and limb for the good of their country? What sort of consideration is the Government giving to these flesh-and-blood, living “souvenirs” of war?

In 1990, an annual Government grant of $200,000 for the Levin War Veterans’ Home was stopped and a request last year for finance to save the Home from closure was turned down. Defence Minister, Mark Burton stated a $5.2-million bailout was not an economical way to support 360 returned soldiers. So the Home is to be sold, and the frail residents have been told they will have to go elsewhere to spend their remaining years. What sort of recognition is this for the years of self-sacrifice amidst the horrors of war?

For many of these war heroes, their fellow residents are their family and the Home their one place of refuge and security as their health and vigour drain away. The thought of moving out of their safe haven comes as a terrible shock.

Maybe the Home will be saved even yet. Apparently there are "sensitive negotiations" taking place with a prospective buyer. But what sort of values does this Labour Government espouse when it can cheerfully deny old soldiers a sense of security in their old age, and at the same time promote an expensive campaign to ensure wartime memories remain alive.

Christian Heritage puts people first. Memories are important, but the people who were vitally involved in making those memories and ensuring a peaceful future for us all are surely much more important. Our veterans should be valued for what they did and who they are, and accorded the dignity, respect and comfort they deserve – not just on Anzac Day, but for the rest of their lives.


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