Return of stolen medals to Waiouru Army Museum
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Defence
21 October 2008
Speech at the return of stolen medals to Waiouru Army Museum
Chief of Army Major General Lou Gardiner, Police Commissioner Howard Broad, Museum Executive Trustee Don McIver, parliamentary colleagues the Hon Mark Burton and Simon Power, Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae, Museum Board members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here today to mark the return of the ninety-six medals stolen from the Army Memorial Museum on December 2nd last year.
They are part of this nation’s taonga and their loss would have been an incalculable cost to our nation’s heritage.
I would like to thank Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Bensemann and his team of up to forty police officers and Environmental Science and Research staff who have invested over 15,000 hours in Operation Valour. I welcome the laying of charges in Court against those alleged to be responsible.
I also acknowledge those members of the public who helped the Police recover the medals, in particular Tom Sturgess who, along with Michael Ashcroft, provided the reward which helped insure that the medals were returned.
I want particularly to welcome the family members of the medal holders who are here today. Over twenty VC’s awarded to New Zealanders have either been gifted or lent to New Zealand museums. Your enormous generosity and public spiritedness has allowed the actions of our heroes to be remembered and honoured for generations to come.
While keeping our medals safe, we want all New Zealanders to be able to view them as a proud part of our country’s history.
These medals, and the stories behind them, are a vital legacy for us which should not be lost for future generations.
Security for the medals has been significantly improved, both here as well as at our other military museums.
The cabinets displaying the medals have been upgraded and a security shutter system has been installed in the Valour Alcove. The Museum’s doors and windows have also been strengthened, and external lighting upgraded.
Once completed, the cost of the upgrade will be over $1.5 million, but it is an essential investment.
To win the VC or the George Cross, the recipient must have demonstrated most conspicuous gallantry, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice or extreme devotion to duty.
Yet none of the men honoured here took credit for their medals, preferring instead to accept them on behalf of the men they fought alongside. This selflessness was matched by their wives, children and grandchildren who have sought nothing in return for making their family’s medals publicly available.
Earlier this year, the same selflessness was demonstrated by Corporal Willie Apiata VC who donated his award for outstanding courage to be held by the New Zealand SAS Trust on behalf of the nation. Thank you Willie for both your courage and your generosity.
Over recent times, we have seen a resurgence of interest in New Zealand’s military history.
On ANZAC day thousands of young New Zealanders travel to Gallipoli or attend dawn services at home.
I was privileged in 2001 to have the opportunity to experience first-hand the emotion of the Day at Anzac Cove and at Chunuk Bair. Young New Zealanders who make this journey do so not to glorify war, but to pay tribute to an earlier generation of young men whose actions gave birth to our sense of nationhood and place in the world.
The Waiouru Army Museum, which last week celebrated its thirtieth birthday, has an important role to play to remind us of their sacrifice.
Today we welcome the medals back to Waiouru and remember and pay tribute to the courage of those who earned them and what they did on behalf of our country.