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Tangiwai - Governor Gen's speech & Queen's message

Tangiwai - GG speech and Queen's message

Please see below the text of the Governor-General's speech at the Tangiwai commemorations, including the Queen's message.

The Honourable Dame Silvia Cartwright PCNZM, DBE Governor-General of New Zealand at the 50th Anniversary of the Tangiwai train disaster 21 December 2003

Nga mate * nga aitua * ka tangihia e tatou i tenei wa. Haere. Haere. Haere. The dead, those being mourned, we lament them now. Farewell. Farewell. Farewell.

Greetings. Prime Minister, Ministers of the Crown, dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen.

The Summer of 1953/54 was earmarked for a particularly joyous event: The visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. For those who are old enough to have witnessed the visit, you will remember the very special atmosphere surrounding the young Queen's arrival in New Zealand. It was the first time a reigning monarch had set foot in New Zealand. The streets were lined with thousands of people, dressed in their Sunday best, to greet The Queen and her husband. Union Jacks were waved and Royal Tour Medallions were displayed with pride.

But on the night of Christmas Eve 1953, a tragic accident occurred here at Tangiwai that dramatically changed the mood of a nation. What should have been a summer of celebration turned into a summer of grieving. Queen Elizabeth was among the first to learn of the terrible train crash which took so many lives. Last-minute adjustments were made to her Christmas speech, and in her broadcast from Auckland, she finished with a message of sympathy to the people of New Zealand.

On 31 December Prince Philip attended the state funeral for 21 unidentified victims in Wellington. They were buried at Karori Cemetery in an 18-metre long grave. On the last day of the royal tour the Queen awarded Cyril Ellis and John Holman the George Medal for their heroic rescue efforts at Tangiwai. William Inglis and Arthur Bell, who had single-handedly rescued 16 people, received the British Empire Medal.

Today, The Queen, like all of us, remembers those tragic days. I would like the read out a message from Queen Elizabeth.

Her Majesty writes:

"Both Prince Philip and I vividly recall the sense of profound shock when we heard the news whilst we were staying at Government House in Auckland during our first visit to New Zealand all those years ago. I know that there will be many at the ceremony whose lives were changed for ever by the events of that night. My thoughts and prayers are with you all as you gather to remember that terrible disaster."

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