Reconciliation and Remembrance were the two prominent themes of the European armistice commemorations. As the new Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister with responsibility for New Zealand’s WW100 programme, I was invited by the French President Francois Hollande to attend the Armistice Day memorials in France and was able to visit some of the significant battle sites across the Western Front.
The first of many breathtaking experiences was at the Tower of London which featured 880,246 red ceramic poppies to commemorate each of the soldiers who died. “Blood swept lands” marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and it’s one of the many outstanding events I’m looking to adapt for our New Zealand commemorations.
How could I go to Europe and not attend the All Blacks game in their 24-21 victory over the English team at Twickenham. To mark the World War I Centenary, the players featured poppies on their uniforms and Prince Harry wore one of our NZ WW100 Badges. A moments silence was observed for the 13 Fallen All Blacks including Dave Gallaher, the captain of the 1905 “Originals”, who died following the Battle of Passchendaele.
There are 7 main sites in Belgium and France recognizing the 12,500 NZ soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and there were many other local connections.
The Arras Tunnels and the adjoining Carriere Wellington museum highlights the remarkable contribution of the NZ Tunneling Company, the first group to reach the Western Front who performed the dangerous duty digging underground tunnels that were vital to the Allies forces. On my return to Takapuna I met with the Keily family, father Tom and siblings Louise, Peter and Bernard, the son and grandchildren of Snapper Thomas Keily who fought around Arras.
The museum is currently searching for pictures of any of the New Zealand tunnellers and soldiers for a commemorative exhibition so please contact my Takapuna office if you have any names or photographs.
On behalf of the people of New Zealand, I laid a wreath and read the “Ode of Remembrance” at the nightly memorial ceremony at the Menin Gate attended by more than 10,000 people. Apart from 4 years of Nazi occupation in WW2, there has been a ceremony there every night since 1927 and it’s an enduring and poignant reminder of the significant ANZAC contribution which to this day is still appreciated by the people of Belgium and France.
At the Passchendaele Memorial Museum another local North Shore connection features in pride of place with a sculpture from Devonport artist Helen Pollock. ‘Falls the Shadow’ with the soldiers’ outstretched arms is made of clay from the battlefield of Passchendaele where many soldiers drowned in the terrible mud.
A powerful symbol of peace and regeneration.
I attended the Armistice Day ceremony at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette which again acknowledged the significant contribution of New Zealanders in WW1.
I also held talks with my French ministerial counterpart and he accepted my invitation to install a French memorial in Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. The park opens in Wellington ahead of next year’s Anzac Day.
As usual I will be attending the dawn service in Auckland and the Devonport parade on Anzac Day.
Meanwhile there are our own local skirmishes to attend to with Mayor Brown over the dropping of the long overdue Lake Road redevelopment and the Local Boards ongoing delays on the NOWSC. I’ll keep you posted on progress.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Christmas and safe and relaxing summer holidays. My office will be closed for part of January but back on deck from the middle of the month.