Speech: Kaitaia War Memorial Re-dedication Ceremony

Speeches
Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mihi

He mihi ki ngā iwi a Muriwhenua. Tēnā koutou. 

He mihi hoki ki a koe, Riapo Puhipi, e te rangatira a Te Rārawa. Tēnā koe. 

Otirā tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa. 
 
To the people of Muriwhenua, I greet you all. 

To you also, Riapo Puhipi, I greet you and your acknowledged status as a prominent leader of Te Rārawa. 

And to you all I offer my warmest welcome.  

Less than a year after the landing at Gallipoli and with the horrors of the Western Front yet to come, around 1000 Kaitaia residents gathered near here on 24 March 1916 to mark the loss of life and service of the community’s men in the Gallipoli campaign.

It’s hard to really fathom how all those there at that time were feeling - war was still raging in Europe with no end in sight, and the news that did make it to New Zealand was grim.

Riapo Puhipi, or Leopold Busby as he was also known, was the driving force behind the idea of commemorating those who had fought, spearheading a fundraising campaign for the memorial, on land gifted by prominent Kaitaia local, Colonel Allen Bell.

With a son serving at the time in Gallipoli, the scale and severity of the conflict would have been very real for Busby and no doubt a motivating force in initiating the campaign for the memorial.

I can imagine that those involved in bringing the Italian marble angel and its plinth into New Zealand at the time were only too aware of the irony.

They were shipped from Italy, at the height of the ongoing war on the European continent to New Zealand.

The plinth was engraved and prepared in Auckland before the journey by horse and cart to Kaitaia.

The memorial’s inscription is striking in that it is fully bilingual and uniquely local in its message, while conventional commemorative inscriptions at the time often used excerpts from the bible or British poetry.

Leading New Zealand historian, Dr Jock Phillips once commented on the poetic nature of the Kaitaia War Memorial’s inscription.

He said, I know of no other memorial that is quite so evocative.

This speaks to the strength in the Mangonui County community’s united stance and its undertaking to recognise the service and sacrifice of those from the district.

The service and sacrifice originally commemorated on the memorial - that of the New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915 - are considered to be an important part in the shaping of our national identity.

And the site’s national and historic significance, as a category 1 registered historic site, reaffirms its place in our country’s history books.

Now incorporated in Remembrance Park along with the memorial listings of those who served in the Second World War, in South Africa, and the conflicts in Malaya-Borneo and Vietnam, the restoration of the Kaitaia First World War memorial is a timely and appropriate acknowledgement of one hundred years since its first dedication.

At this time of nationwide commemoration, it is memorials such as this which really bring home to us the impact of conflict on small communities, in New Zealand and elsewhere, and the families left reeling from the loss of life and the devastating effects of the war.

When this monument was first dedicated, too many young men had already been lost or left wounded and traumatised by the unfolding events of the First World War.

More were yet to be lost on the battle fields of Belgium and France.

Let us consider for a moment what these men would have given to be back with their families and the familiarity and beauty of communities such as this.

I commend you on your efforts to revive this memorial and your commitment to ensuring the sacrifice and contribution of these men is not forgotten.