Speech to Armistice Day National Ceremony 2018
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy Governor-General of New Zealand,
Members of the diplomatic community,
Ladies and gentleman.
Today the Carillon and Wellington’s ‘roaring chorus’ has recaptured the wave of spontaneous jubilation and hope which swept New Zealand when news of the Armistice broke.
As the Stratford Evening Post reported on the 13 Nov 1918 ‘The ringing of the fire-bell, whistles blowing, the tin-can band of the boys, and other devices with which to make a noise joyfully, soon spread the great news over the countryside.’
A hundred years ago however, the celebrations were tempered by stark loss. This same news items went on to say ‘It almost seemed good to be sad for a moment, and then joy won, and the rest of the day was spent with the spirit of thankfulness uppermost, and with an exuberance of pleasure, tempered with remembrance’
By November 1918 we were a nation reeling. New Zealand’s total war losses had surpassed 16,000, a toll that was cruelly compounded by the influenza pandemic which killed about 9,000 people in New Zealand over the course of two months.
Many soldiers would return to lives very different to those they had left months or years ago. Many found it difficult to settle down - not all were able to walk straight back into their old jobs, homes, relationships or social groups.
When Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence ‘Curly’ Blyth went back to farming in Waipukurau, he found he was only able to stay put for a few days before he had to move away.
Lawrence explained the effect that war had on him as someone who had enlisted at the age of 18:
“I had a different outlook in life. You’d been through all these different things, mixed with all these different people. The change was quite dramatic.”
Today we remember all the lives changed by the First World War. We consider the families across New Zealand that faced an uncertain future without loved ones in a world indelibly altered by the horrors of industrial, modern warfare.
The centenary of Armistice signals the final chapter in our WW100 commemorative period.
The WW100 programme has had a huge impact across Aotearoa during these four years – connecting hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with our past, our ancestors, our tūpuna and each other.
What has shone through during this time has been the willingness of people from all walks of life – from veterans to school students – to engage and reflect on the legacy of the war and what it means to them.
Just as communities last century rallied together to support the war effort – responding to Lady Liverpool’s appeal by fundraising, sewing, and of course knitting – New Zealand united again, this time in remembrance.
So while our formal commemorations are drawing to a close my hope is that the essence of the commemoration will endure.
I hope we will continue to engage with our communities’ war stories and memorials. I hope that re-discovered chapters of family history will be passed on to the next generations and that we will never forget the service and sacrifices our forebears made.
This Armistice Day, as we reflect on the human toll of war we are reminded to value the living and to hold fast to hope.
In a world where conflict remains all too prevalent, we look to how we can achieve a better future.
We think of our commitment as a nation to the ideals of peace, multilateralism and inclusion.
We will best honour our forebears by continuing to hold fast to these values as we work for the next generation and for our future.
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou
We will remember them