Wednesday 25 April 2007
It’s an privilege to be once again with you today to honour our soldiers who gave their lives for us.
As a people we spend time thinking about battles and we remember these in our speeches and our literature. Today I'd like to think about battles and how they impact on people's lives forever, and the role we can play as a small, vibrant country at the end of the world which remains committed to being international peacekeepers.
We had a family wedding a couple of months ago. One of our friends arrived with an envelope sent to his father in 1936. It was addressed to "Francis Haynes, Le Quesnoy, Aorangi Road, Christchurch. My friend informed me that his dad had come back from the First World War and had named his home after a famous battle he had participated in, in 1918.
This envelope started me thinking. For Francis Haynes, a young man from NZ, this form of OE was one which would change him for the rest of his life. He even named his home after that memory.
I just happened to go to Le Quesnoy. I was the first Christchurch Mayor to visit there since the Kiwis liberated the village in 1918. When Captain Averill, who was to become a famous Christchurch doctor, led his troops over the stone walls of this town he did it in a way which endeared the locals to the kiwi way of doing things.
They cut down some local plane trees and made ladders and scaled the walls in a non destructive way and the town remained intact and the people are still grateful over 90 years later. The Mayor of the town greeted Pam and me with huge emotion. As did the Mayor of the nearby town.
Their towns memory of the kiwis is a strong one. Le Quesnoy has raised the NZ flag, alongside their national flag, every day since 1918. In their Council chamber is a Maori carving. They keep the graves of our young men who paid the ultimate price for their commitment to peace looking magnificent.
It is impossible to wander amongst the graves and not shed tears for those resting there. They will not grow old as we grow old. They didn't. A grave of an old man was of somebody in their middle 30's. Most were in their late teens or early 20's. Their commitment to the people of Le Quesnoy has never been forgotten.
Late last year I was made an honorary member of the Italy Star Association. I wear their badge with pride today. I have already attended a ceremony with them today at Victoria Park. I have befriended this group of returned servicemen over the past 8 years and have been entertained with their stories, on many occasions.
Of love affairs which were experienced as they passed through villages. Of love affairs which have been rekindled decades later after letters from Italy were confiscated by parents back here in New Zealand. Of villagers feeding our blokes, even though they were the enemy, because women have great compassion for other mother's sons. Of the enormous cold. Of the poor equipment they were given.
When I first went onto Marae I often heard opera and wondered why. The Italy Star Association informed me that this was because the Maori Battalion learned Italian easily and they took to opera like ducks to water.
All these are stories of ordinary people's experiences and how they shaped their lives. The 19th Battalion, which fought in Italy and throughout Europe, has been creating a memorial to their battles at Victoria Park since 1949 and this is well worth a visit.
As they came back to NZ and lived their lives as normal family members they kept their camaraderie and they remembered their mates they left behind. In doing both these things they have also created something for us to look after and to nurture to thank them. We will remember them.
One time when I was in Japan there was an article in the paper by a well known Japanese leader. He wrote about his mother. He reminisced about a American pilot parachuting to the ground, and being captured, after his plane had been shot from the sky. His mother sat at the dinner table that night and said to her family, "there will be a mother in America worried about her boy's safety tonight".
When the war was over she cooked a big feast for her family to celebrate reason coming to their country again. Her delight was curbed when all of her sons did not come home from the war front.
It is never the choice of any parent for their children to be involved in conflict. Parents grieve on both sides of a conflict. We see that every night on our TV screens.
Just last week a friend of mine, the Mayor of Nagasaki, Mayor Itoh, was gunned down by an assassin. I was asked by Mayor Itoh and Mayor Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima, to be one of the seven international Vice Presidents of Mayors for Peace.
Mayor Itoh was a man of peace. He was born in Nagasaki two weeks after the nuclear bomb was dropped. He was one of the very lucky ones, as many foetuses died in their mother's womb after the bomb was dropped. Mayor Itoh was committed to peace but he was an absolute realist.
In his speeches he spoke about Japanese aggression causing the war. He spoke about racism between Japanese and Korean peoples. He always used the statement in his speeches "let my city be the last city in the world to experience a nuclear bomb". He led delegations to the United Nations calling for the abandonment of weapons of mass destruction. I accompanied him in 2005 and we marched with 40,000 people through the main streets of New York. Mayor Itoh led that march.
When we were in Nagasaki Mayor Itoh arranged a wonderful dinner for a group of Mayors from around the world to attend. I sat next to the Mayoress of Hanover. As she and I, and our Japanese interpreter, engaged in conversation it became a matter of interest to us that here we were in the peace movement promoting the end of nuclear weapons and our parents had all met during a crisis in their countries history. The Mayoress of Munich's parents had met in the German SS. The Japanese interpreters parents in the Japanese armed services and my parents had met in the NZ Air Force.
We had all met as a result of our cities being against nuclear weapons one generation after our parents had been at war.
The Mayor of Nagasaki, Mayor Itoh, had been the one who had brought us together. He the realistic one. He who admitted that his ancestors had made serious mistakes and caused the war. He didn't want anything to happen which would provoke the same sort of response ever again in the world. He was brave. He was passionate.
The day after our dinner at a ceremony to remember those who had died in the nuclear bomb I sat along from the Mayor and the then Prime Minister of Japan. You could cut the air with a knife the atmosphere was so bad between the two men. One wanted to rearm Japan the other, the prophet, was saying let my city be our warning. Never get involved in the war machine again.
That Mayor Itoh, a man of peace, should be mown down by an assassin's bullet is tragic. We will remember him.
To those of you here today who lived through the dreadful experience of war, I say---tell your family your story. Before it is too late. Our world has a terrible energy level which it commits to war. This country stops today and remembers the battles and the wars this country has participated in.
Let us share our stories. Let us raise our voices and say; here we are. NZ the honest broker. NZ the peacekeeper. We are prepared to play our world role. We are small, strong and committed.
As we remember those who will not grow old let us use this day to celebrate their stories, both sides of disputes, and recommit ourselves to our role as a successful world peace keeper.