Heather Roy's Diary: New Zealand Memorial
Heather Roy's Diary
New Zealand Memorial in London
Kiwis overseas often like nothing better than a reminder of home. The New Zealand contingent who travelled to the UK to unveil the New Zealand memorial left London on Monday morning, and as we drove around Hyde Park Corner - where the memorial sits - we got a clear view in the 4am darkness of the illuminated Southern Cross constellation embedded in the top of six of the 16 sculptures that form the memorial. Words don't do justice to the memorial, and photographs taken at the unveiling can be viewed at http://www.mch.govt.nz/projects/memorials/london-media- gallery.html. The crosses point south - the way home for wandering Kiwis - and being farewelled by the depiction of the Southern Cross seemed particularly fitting.
The NZ memorial was dedicated by the Queen on Armistice Day (Saturday 11 November). It commemorates the enduring bonds between New Zealand and the United Kingdom both in times of peace and war. This will become a place in London for people to celebrate days of significance to New Zealanders - Waitangi Day and Anzac Day in particular.
The New Zealand contingent included members of each of the services of our defence force - army, navy and air force - along with a cultural group who sang a waiata, Po Atarau, which is better known to some as 'Now is the Hour'. We also had representatives of the RSA, 32 veterans, politicians, and a group from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Dave Dobbyn, now something of a New Zealand icon himself, sang 'Welcome Home' and Hayley Westenra led the National Anthem.
Many were surprised by the strength of the Royal Party which included all of the Queens immediate family except Prince Edward, and it was clear that an importance was given to the memorial by the British. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also attended and gave an address. The service was concluded by a haka amongst the standards and the Royal Family departed through a 'Guard of Honour' formed by the New Zealand veterans. The Queen stopped and spoke for some time with just about every veteran, despite suffering from a slipped disc in her back. The other royals also took some time to speak with the veterans and many told me later that Prince Philip was able to identify every medal and Camilla had been very interested in where they had each served. Each veteran felt the honour of the occasion.
Armistice Day commemorates the end of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the UK everything comes to a stop while 2 minutes silence marks the anniversary. This is most surprising in shops, where everyone literally stops their shopping as a mark of respect.
On the Sunday following Armistice Day - Remembrance Sunday - services are held around the world, including in New Zealand. The New Zealand MPs in the UK were invited to the service held at the Whitehall Cenotaph in central London. We went to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which is entered from Downing Street, just opposite No. 10. We were allocated a first floor balcony which overlooked the cenotaph. The Royal Family were on one side of the cenotaph and laid wreaths, while other dignitaries including Tony Blair, Helen Clark, Baroness Thatcher and Sir John Major were on another and also laid wreaths. More wreaths were laid, including one by John Campbell, President of the NZ RSA. Once the official party had retreated to a reception inside the Foreign Office approximately 10,000 veterans marched past the cenotaph in their individual units. One unit travelled on matching mobility scooters and one very elderly gentleman marched as best he could with his walking stick, his wheelchair pushed alongside him 'just in case', although the determination on his face indicated it wouldn't be needed. The veterans had time marked for them with a variety of military bands, which added significantly to the pomp and ceremony that the occasion demanded.
At the reception I had the good fortune to meet Margaret Thatcher. We shook hands and had a short conversation about the importance of remembering those who had served their country.
What it is to be Kiwi
Both ceremonies on November 11 and 12 in London highlight our country's history and what it is that contributes to our national identity. Kiwis feel proud when the All Blacks or Silver Ferns do well, or when we win Olympic medals. The haka and national anthem evoke feelings of national pride. However it is not just success on the sports field that should make us feel patriotic, but rather who we are, what we do and where we come from. New Zealand and New Zealanders received the warmest of receptions last weekend in the UK. We do have enduring ties, but as a nation, we can hold our heads high on the world stage. I can report that it was quite something being an ambassador for New Zealand.