CDF Speech: Armistice Day 2018

The speech presented by the Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Kevin Short at the Sunset Ceremony marking the end of the First World War held at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on Sunday, 11 November 2018.

No reira, e te Tii, e te Taa, e ngā rangatira, e ngā toa

[Therefore, to the esteemed, the chiefly, the warriors]

Tātou katoa kua huihui mai nei i tēnei wā

[To all gathered here today]

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

[I greet you all]

· The Governor-General of New Zealand, Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy

· Minister of Defence and Minister for Veterans, the Honourable Ron Mark

· Chief Executive of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Renee Graham

· Members of the National War Memorial Advisory Council

· Members of the Defence Force, past and Present

· Members of the Diplomatic Corp

· Distinguished guests

· Ladies and gentlemen

We gather today to mark 100 years since the signing of the Armistice.

This sunset ceremony is full of symbolism.

We — Defence Force personnel, and members of the public — have been gathering here each evening since the 25th of April 2015, reciting nightly the Ode, and a bugler has played the Last Post.

Historically one of the functions of this bugle call was to signal to those who were left on the battle field — the wounded or those separated and lost from their comrades — that the fighting was over, and to follow the sound to safety and rest.

Tonight will be the final Last Post Ceremony of the First World War Centenary.

Armistice of course records an end of hostilities; the start of the healing.

But the mood of the troops was not triumphant. This War, the first on a truly industrial scale, and fought with frightening new technologies that had cut down so many young lives, had left too deep a scar for that.

It is sometimes best to hear the words of those who were there when the news broke.

Lance Corporal Eric Wilson Hames said:

“Nobody had expected it so soon. We were a bit dazed, and not at all demonstrative. I doubt if we even raised a cheer. The Prospect seemed unreal.”

And Bill McKeon, who heard the news while in a military hospital, wrote:

Then suddenly it was all over. I had been allowed up for a few days to test my legs when the news came through. It was received quietly. The nursing staff staged a little party in each ward and expected us to warm up to some pitch of enthusiasm. We couldn’t do it. We were too tired, mentally and physically, and too full of memories to let ourselves go. We remembered all those good comrades who would never return, the flower of New Zealand’s youth cut down in its prime. No longer would we hear their cheerful voices and march with them along the straight French roads to the tune of “The Great Little Army”

For many it would be several months before they would make it home. When they did return, we know they carried a heavy burden from their experience.

There were physical injuries. And of course, there were those with what was then known as ‘shell shock’ — what we might know nowadays as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — PTSD.

As your professional head of our Armed Forces, I reflect that the impact of war on today’s service people can be much the same — of carrying the burden of their experiences.

Our nation asks ordinary people to do an extraordinary thing: to serve — and to fight — a long way from home.

Some will not come home alive. For those that do, there can be real challenges reintegrating, and coming to terms with their experiences.

So in this there is a common link between those who serve in uniform today, and those who have gone before us.

So appropriately, I will conclude with a whakatauki or proverb, that has prominence within the New Zealand Defence Force haka:

Matu atu he toa, ara mai ra he toa

When a warrior falls; another rises to take their place.

And I finish with this final thought about the symbolism of this last sunset ceremony. It is this: we should not just remember those who struggled in the cause of our nation, who served and who sacrificed.

We can go further. We should remember those in uniform today, who draw inspiration from those who served before, as we continue to stand committed to serving our country — as a Force for New Zealand.

Ko te mātua, he matakīrea tō tātou, ko te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa mo Aotearoa

[The New Zealand Defence Force is first and foremost A Force for New Zealand]

Lest We Forget

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