Speech: Armistice address at Armistice in Cambridge

Sunday, November 8, 2015

After four terrible years, the First World War finally came to a close with the signing of an armistice between Germany and the Allied Powers at 5 a.m. on 11 November 1918.  At the eleventh hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent.  New Zealand had fired its last shots on the 9th.

In New Zealand the news of the end of hostilities was officially released around 9 a.m. on 12 November. 

There was jubilation in almost every community.  Here in the Waikato and Thames Valley, in Hamilton a large crowd gathered in Victoria Street, and a procession was formed, consisting of the Municipal, Regimental and Salvation Army Bands, gaily decorated cars and vehicles, and other displays.  The Frankton minstrels amused the crowds with various antics and displays of red, white and blue bunting were in abundance. Patriotic songs were played and sung by the crowds at Seddon Park. 

Cambridge shared in the outpouring of emotion and jubilation.  So did, across the world, the people of Le Quesnoy, the French town that New Zealand soldiers liberated just a week before in a last major action of the war, and with which Cambridge maintains a close connection.

Enthusiasm was however dampened by the influenza pandemic that was gripping the country. 

In Auckland the Acting Chief Health Officer postponed all official celebrations in bid to stop the spread of the virus.  A few days later in Hamilton the Mayor asked all shopkeepers except “essentials” such as butchers, bakers, grocers and restaurants to close to allow people who were well to be released to nurse the sick.   

The joy and relief felt at the return of peace was accompanied by sadness.  Not one New Zealand family was left untouched by loss.   Old letters, postcards and diaries from loved ones, many of whom did not come home, and interviews with surviving veterans  remind us of the tremendous courage of our servicemen during those terrible times, the strong connection to home that they managed to cling to, and the camaraderie and support they gave each other in battle. 

Among the survivors who returned were those who later died of their injuries. 

Lieutenant Frank Leslie Hunt of the Otago Infantry Battalion, in an interview for the World War One History Archive later published by Penguin Books in Jane Tolerton’s “An Awfully Big Adventure.  New Zealand World War One veterans tell their story” recalled:

“I was with a mass of New Zealand soldiers going up Chunuk Bair under heavy fire.  A shrapnel shell burst just above me, and I was knocked over – and out.

I was taken to the beach by one of the best-known bad people in New Zealand – Starkie.  He and two brothers Reid and one other chap took me down that evening when the fighting had died down, and put me on the heap with the dead people.

The next morning Colonel Thomas, who had been told that I’d been killed, came down so that he could tell my mother and father that he had seen me. He saw my foot twitch, and he had me pulled out.

I came round when I was on the boat being taken out to a hospital ship.  

Years later I saw Starkie at the bottom of High Street in Dunedin, and he stopped and said, ‘Mr Hunt – you are alive!  We carried you down and left you for dead’.  I said, ‘I’m very much alive.’ 

And I was able to see that Stark was given a job somewhere.” 

Conflict has seen the service, and the loss, of many young New Zealanders.  At the outbreak of the First World War many young New Zealand cadets became Non-Commissioned Officers and Officers serving at Gallipoli and the Western Front.  

The first cadet unit was approved by Government 150 years ago in November 1864 at Dunedin High School.

Prior to 1900 all cadet units were voluntary and in 1902 they were managed under the Education Act as Public School Cadets.  By 1911 non-school units came under the Defence Department, coinciding with the introduction of compulsory military training.  Every male aged between 14 and 21 had to register for training with a cadet unit. 

After the First World War cadets became part of the Territorial Force in Companies and Battalions, with the first Sea Cadet Unit raised in Christchurch in 1929.

During the Second World War cadets made up much of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force.   In 1941 the first Air Training Corps units were raised in England, Canada, Australia and NZ to meet the need for pilots with some training and flying experience to combat the more experienced German Flyers.

Post war cadets became part of the NZ Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force, but Sea Cadets remained open units.

By the mid 1960s cadet numbers had dropped significantly and government funding and support ceased.  After much lobbying, the 1971 Defence Act mandated Cadet Forces as a Government community partnership managed by the Chief of Defence Force.

Today’s cadet forces number  3,500 cadets and 400 volunteer officers in 99 units around the country who are all conducting their own parades in their communities at this time on this day, a fitting end to the 150th anniversary year for cadet units.

New Zealand Cadet Forces remains the premier youth development organisation that instils good citizenship among its youth members who go on to become leaders of industry, community and government departments.  Many have had long successful careers in the Navy, Army and Air Force. 

I congratulate the New Zealand Cadet Forces on its 151st Anniversary and salute the young members who are here with us today and the service of past members.

I also thank our veterans, honour their courage and sacrifice and remember those who perished to keep future generations of New Zealanders free and safe.