Prime Minister's Speech to Mt Albert Anzac Day Service

Prime Minister

Let me start by saying how wonderful it is to see people up and down the country gathering together in person again this year, in commemoration of Anzac Day.

At a time when the global pandemic has so often cancelled public gatherings, it is all the more precious to be able to share this moment with all of you here.

A special welcome and acknowledgment to the veterans present today, and to your families and whānau. My very best wishes also to veterans throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, however they are marking this day.

I would also like to acknowledge today the Auckland Council and Albert-Eden Local Board for hosting this event.

In 1916, the first Anzac Day commemorations were held in sober remembrance of those who had been involved in the Gallipoli campaign.

More than a century later, this annual recognition of the service and sacrifice of New Zealanders in war remains equally significant, as we take pause to recognise all who have returned from service, and all who have been lost to us.

Anzac Day is a time to give thanks to today’s armed forces who strive to uphold the values we hold dear as they continue to serve in areas of conflict overseas.

And it is a time to acknowledge all who have been affected by war – those who have lost loved ones, those who have shared the struggles of family members returning from service, and those who have come to us as refugees.

Fresh in all our minds is the invasion of Ukraine, a most grim reminder of the fragile nature of peace, and the devastating impact of war on people’s lives.

In New Zealand we may feel a great distance from this conflict, but we are all inextricably linked to what it represents.

New Zealand has a fiercely independent foreign policy, but that has never ever meant that we sit on the side-lines. It means that when we see injustice, and a threat to the peace and stability we all long for, we act.

The invasion of Ukraine is a senseless act of war, one that is taking the lives of innocent people. It is a threat to the international laws that a nation like ours relies on - but it is also a threat to our sense of humanity.  And that makes it a threat to all of us.

And that is why, once again as conflict rages on the other side of the world, New Zealand is present. Our Hercules is carrying aid and equipment, our people are providing their skills and expertise, our helmets and body armour are protecting their defence force and our aid is caring for those who need it most.

Today, on this day, we are yet again reminded that peace cannot be taken for granted. That it must be preserved by the acts of leaders, and protected through the actions of citizens.

We must all do our part.

This Anzac Day, let us think too of our fellow New Zealanders experiencing fear and heartache for their families and friends affected by all current conflicts around the world.

For many of us, our first memory of Anzac Day would be as children, seeing all the red poppies and maybe not understanding their full significance, but having a sense that something most solemn and important was underway.

This year marks a century since the first poppy campaign in 1922. Recalling the poppies that thrived in soil churned up by fighting on the Western Front, the red poppies worn on people’s collars were moving reminders of both beauty and loss.

That first campaign was a much-needed fundraiser for the support and reintegration of service personnel from the First World War. Poppies have been synonymous with Anzac Day ever since, and a key part of supporting the work of the RSA in caring for war veterans – a cause equally relevant today.

Another important focus a century ago, at a time when grief was still ever present, was the need to memorialise those who had fallen.

Following the First World War, more than 500 ornamental memorials were built in communities throughout the motu.

Two decades later, in the 1940s, there was a move to a different style of memorial to honour those who served in the Second World War. ‘Living memorials’, as they were known, could be used for social, educational, cultural and recreational purposes and in doing so make an ongoing contribution to the community.

About 350 war memorial halls were built around the country, and one of these was the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall.

Like every community, Mt Albert has suffered terrible loss in war. A poignant example is that of Mt Albert Grammar School during the Second World War, as marked by its then Headmaster Frank Gamble. The school records:

During World War II he saw 2000 men of the school don a uniform and head off to fight, 198 of whom did not return. At every Friday assembly he set himself the dolorous task of reading, through a veil of tears, the names of those wounded, killed, or missing in action.

With funding contributed by both government and the local community, the hall in which we gather today was built in commemoration of the local soldiers from Mt Albert Borough sacrificed in the World Wars. It opened on 29th July 1961, the hall has hosted its community for over sixty years of commemorations and social events.

Like the many other memorial halls across the nation, Mt Albert War Memorial Hall keeps the memories of our service personnel fresh in the consciousness of the local community.

These ‘living memorials’ are an ever-present reminder of the many ways in which our society has been shaped by war, and the gaps through generations that are left by those who have lost their lives in service of their country.

Today, on this day of remembrance, here in this historic hall, we honour all who served in the First World War, the Second World War, and all subsequent wars and current conflicts.

We remember the courage, compassion and spirit of service New Zealanders have exhibited in the most difficult of circumstances.

And we feel great pride and gratitude that, in upholding these best of human values, the brave New Zealanders representing our nation have made their contribution to the pursuit of peace.

Let us remember them, today and always.