100th ANNIVERSARY OF NEW ZEALAND INVOLVEMENT IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN WAR

  • Jenny Shipley
Prime Minister

Queens Wharf, Wellington

Your Excellencies Sir Michael and Lady Hardie Boys, Mayor Mark Blumsky, men and women of the services, cadets, ladies and gentlemen.

We stand here today at the place where the first contingent of New Zealand soldiers departed for overseas combat in the South African War, 100 years
ago.

At that time, New Zealand felt her ties to Britain strongly, and responded to her request for soldiers without hesitation.

We were the first of Britain's colonies to volunteer to send forces and did so nine days before war was officially declared!

Ten contingents left our shores, with some 6000 men going to South Africa.

Of those, 228 never returned - victims of combat, disease, accidents and the searing sun - we remember them particularly today.

Our involvement in the South African War was the first significant sign of nationhood for New Zealand - we came of age as a country in our own right, as we fought for the first time under the New Zealand flag.

New Zealand's willingness to assist in South Africa has characterised our attitude in all wars, and more recently, peace-keeping operations, ever since.

New Zealand has always stood ready to play its part, and regardless of the rights and wrongs of the South African War from the perspective of a century, New Zealanders have always been willing to serve overseas in support of strongly held national values.

Then as today, our soldiers go with the blessing of the nation as a whole.

As we commemorate the departure of these first New Zealanders to leave this country to serve overseas, I cannot but help think of the soldiers I saw off last month to help secure peace in East Timor.

The latest troops to leave these shores are off to wage peace, not war, in a foreign land, again for and on behalf of the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand people.

One thing that has not changed in 100 years is the sadness and the worry of loved ones farewelling their sons and husbands and fathers, and these days, daughters and wives and mum's as well.

That never diminishes - the fear that those leaving may not return.

While our troops in East Timor will, God willing, suffer few or no causalities, there are always risks when troops operate in unsecured environments.

I certainly got a sense as I farewelled the first wave of our troops from Ohakea last month of the concern and worry of those who are left behind.

And so I would like to commemorate today all those who were left behind 100 years ago, keeping the home fires burning, and home life ticking over, while always worrying about the fate of their loved ones.

It is never an easy decision to send your defence forces into dangerous situations, and yet New Zealanders want and expect us to stand up for what is
right, and against what is wrong.

That is why we are in East Timor now, and it is also why thousands of young kiwi men and women have served overseas, in a variety of wars, emergencies, peace keeping and peace enforcing situations over the last century.

Each generation of solider climbs on the shoulders of the brave men and women who have gone before them - starting with the soldiers who we remember here today.

All those that leave New Zealand as soldiers share a common bond of being Kiwis - with all that makes us special and unique, and also, among the very best soldiers in the world.

As we look back today, we remember those who left these shores for an uncertain future in a war not of their making.

Without knowing it they started us on our path to nationhood. I think they would be very proud of how the little country they left behind, 100 years ago today, has turned out.

We remember also those that followed them - a century of Kiwi men and women leaving New Zealand to fight and to die, to win and to survive, to achieve great glory and suffer great loss.

Our duty is to learn from them and to continue to fight, in a different, more peaceful way, for the ideals that saw the first soldiers leave these shores a
century ago.