Guest Speech to Havelock ANZAC Day Service, 25 April 2017 – Captain (Retired) Hon Heather Roy
“It is sobering to think that in the first half of the 20th Century the big OE for most New Zealanders was going to war.” (Dr Chris Pugsley, 2012)
I’ve watched two excellent movies in the last week – The Water Diviner and Beneath Hill 60. I could also have watched several others or any of a number of excellent documentaries that have been programmed on our TV channels to coincide with today’s commemoration. Most have focused on World War One – fitting, given that this is the third of four years of commemorations marking the centenary of the Great War. However, while TV can now take us into battle scenes, it cannot take us into the hearts of those who chose, or were compelled, to be there.
Marlborough is blessed with fantastic weather and a relaxed lifestyle. It represents, in many ways, the New Zealand of our childhood memories. Those same memories – of endless summers, beaches and entertaining friends have sustained young Kiwis from their first days in Devonport, Waiouru and Wigram through the privations of Gallipoli and a thousand other scenes of conflict from Bloemfontein to Flanders, Tobruk to Panmunjom, Sintang to Dili and Basra. To understand what servicemen and women thought during the hours of boredom between battles you need only look around you.
This year, 2017, we pay tribute to the efforts of our brave military personnel who fought in battles 100 years ago – the Battles of Messines, Passchendaele and Beersheba among others. These were horrific battles fought in terrible conditions. At Passchendaele, on 12 October 1917, 845 New Zealanders paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives – still the greatest loss in any conflict NZ has participated in. Another 2,700 were wounded that day in the mud and rain. We also remember those who came home, many physically wounded or forever psychologically affected by the things they saw and were expected to do, in order to secure the freedoms that we all now enjoy.
ANZAC Day however not only commemorates Gallipoli, World War One and World War Two, but also recognizes Kiwi servicemen and women who have served in all subsequent conflicts and peacekeeping efforts.
Alongside the current commemorations of World War One, we must also recognize the sacrifices of New Zealand’s contemporary veterans. Since the end of World War Two there has been an emphasis on maintaining peace. Governments have progressively expressed involvement in conflicts in terms of peacekeeping. But if peace is the absence of war then we have a long way to go yet.
In total, there are approximately 41,000 kiwi veterans. New Zealanders have been involved in 42 different theatres of war since the Vietnam War ended. These deployments have produced about 30,000 veterans. Each have their own stories to tell but many prefer not to. My grandfathers were the same, and I suspect it has been that way since time immemorial.
What is a contemporary veteran? It is fraught trying to pinpoint a definition without offending some and I’ve come to the conclusion that it may be better not to try. I have served. I spent 10 years in uniform as a Territorial Force sapper and Reserve Officer, but I am not a veteran. I haven’t spent time on an operational deployment so I can’t express what it is like to have travelled to unfamiliar parts of the world and participated in conflicts that belong to others.
What we can do is listen to the words of those who have served their country in this way.
Major Clare O’Neill, an Australian sapper who served in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2008 in a 2015 article talked about ‘who’ contemporary veterans are:
“Contemporary veterans are a diverse group with no ingrained stereotype. Some are still serving military members and will march in today’s Anzac parades with their units. Others have transitioned to civilian life and may march under an ex-services banner. Some will opt to stand undetected on the sidelines while others who hold painful memories of war may wish the day was not filled with military reminders.”
Mark Campion, New Zealand RSA National Support Service Manager and a veteran himself of Bosnia, East Timor and Afghanistan, wrote an article published on Poppy Day last week in which he too talks about the contemporary veteran.
Many he said “do not feel like veterans. Our deeds are not legend like those who went before us into larger conflicts and in whose shadow we served … Our conflicts were different. The trenches of World War One, the Battle of Britain, or the steamy jungles of South East Asia are what most people imagine when they think of a Veteran. They fought their war and what was in front of them, and they did New Zealand proud.”
Mark went on to explain that today’s conflicts are different because there is no front line or clear enemy. He explained that conflicts contemporary veterans have served in are “characterized by a level of complexity and uncertainty different to our forebears. But these are often no less dangerous and stressful because of this. We always needed to be alert not matter where we were, whether on land, sea or air.”
Mark Campion’s main message however was this:
“There is one ‘battle’ we have all fought – and that’s adjusting to life after operations overseas, coping with death, the suffering of innocents, injuries and illnesses, and when we transition out of the military it can be tough. In some ways, we are better prepared for conflict than for the peace of home life”.
Mark’s current role is one where he oversees the support to all returned servicemen and women, from the few living World War Two veterans through to those who have served in our recent peacekeeping missions – Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Afghanistan and Iraq to name just a few. Many, however, don’t seek support despite the need they might have.
So how is this relevant to each of us here today? It is encouraging seeing so many Kiwis going to ANZAC Day services to remember those who have served. We come together today to remember those long gone. Their legacy to us is the gift of freedom. For this we owe them a great debt. I think they would be very satisfied if they thought we took this debt seriously and acted to repay it by remembering, not just on this one day a year, but the other 364 days too. We can each play our own small part by supporting those we know who have served. It may be by taking an elderly veteran you know to a doctor’s appointment or to the RSA because they can no longer drive. Or perhaps by taking them a meal when you know they are struggling to get through the day. It may be by assisting in some way a contemporary veteran (and their family) having difficulty integrating back into the “peace of home life” after the terrible things they may have seen while serving in a New Zealand uniform. When a kiwi puts on an army, navy or air force uniform they can be and are asked to put themselves in harm’s way. Equally, there should be no difference when considering our traditional allies who now live here or are visiting.
We must also not forget the ‘new’ New Zealanders who have experienced conflict in their own countries before making New Zealand their home. If we are to integrate immigrants into this country, we must acknowledge that many of them too have their own memories and stories of war. In many cases, war is the reason that they are here.
ANZAC Day to me is not just a reminder of the brave and good deeds of the past, but the freedoms lost when the state curtails personal freedom in the interest of the greater good.
We who have served and those that know us can look into our own hearts and draw deductions with confidence about what the fallen would want us to remember. Amid the chaos and discomfort, the exhaustion and the boredom – one desire rises above all others – PEACE. But the price of peace is eternal vigilance. We have some way to go in achieving that.
Lest we forget.