Speech at 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment commemorations, Anzac Day 2016

Friday, April 29, 2016

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, distinguished guests.

My name is Nuk Korako and I am humbled and honoured to be invited to give the address this morning at the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment Anzac Day Ceremony in this very special and beautiful place.

We are all here today to commemorate Anzac Day 2016 and in particular of those men who fought and died in the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment during the Second World War.

I want to acknowledge the two veterans of the 19th Armoured Regiment who are here with us today.

Tēnā kōrua e Rakatira tama toa o Tumataueka.

Welcome Honoured Soldiers.

Leslie Fredrick Wood left behind his new wife and six month old daughter to join the 19th Armoured Regiment in 1943 as a Lance Corporal in the Regimental Medical Aid Post. He served throughout the Italian Campaign, and returned to New Zealand in December 1945.

Jock McPhail also joined the 19th at the beginning of its time as an Armoured Regiment. Jock was commissioned as a lieutenant, later rising to tank commander.

He had the distinction of commanding the first tank to enter Cassino, and later served as part of the 19th Regiment’s peacekeeping duties in Trieste, north eastern Italy.

Can I acknowledge the members of the Wood and McPhail whanau who are here today and thank them for honouring us with the presence of these two men of mana and distinction.

I want to take a moment to personally remember Lachie Griffin, a tank driver in C Squadron of the 19th who passed away a few years ago. Lachie, was known as the Mayor of Governors Bay and he often related stories to me about the close link the 19th had with the 28th Māori Battalion, especially at the Battle of Cassino, where the 28th lost over 300 men. I considered Lachie a dear friend and mentor. As recognition of his mana, Rapaki always treated him as a kaumātua of our marae. I want to acknowledge his eldest son Peter and the other members of his family who are here today.

This year, 2016, is a very special year for the RSA as it marks the 100th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association, and I want to acknowledge this great milestone of a very iconic and important organisation.

The RSA has served a vital role in the aftermath of all overseas wars, providing a place and platform in New Zealand to promote and implement the welfare of serviceman, former servicemen and their respective dependents.

The RSA is still a place that forges always a sense of comradeship, of Mateship, as returned serviceman adapt to life in peacetime and a return to their civilian occupations.

After World War I and II it was a safe haven for many Returned Servicemen, especially for those who suffered from shellshock or PTSD, which so often went untreated.

The 19th Infantry Battalion was formed in October 1939. After three months of training by stealth, the Battalion embarked for Egypt on 5 January 1940.

Over the next year they were stationed near Cairo at Maadi, where they set up camps and battle fortifications for the larger forces that would soon follow. They received their baptism of fire at the battle of Servia Pass in Greece, and then withdrew to regroup on Crete, where they assisted with the defence of the island against the German airborne invasion. With the fall of Crete they were repatriated back to Egypt, where their final engagements as an infantry unit was to establish the line at El Alamien, almost solely defended the city of Alexandria and defend against all odds, Ruweisat Ridge. Later they were withdrawn back to Maadi Camp, where in1942, a significantly weakened and disheartened 19th Battalion was converted to an Armoured Regiment.

It was at this point that the 19th Regiment was joined by its first contingent of South Islanders – the 1st and 3rd Tank Battalions.

Finally at battle strength, the 19th Regiment departed for Italy to join General Montgomery’s Eighth Army.

The Regiment spent the rest of the war in Italy, distinguishing itself in battles at Orsogna, and Cassino.

The end of Word War II saw the 19th based in Trieste, where they remained alongside the Māori Battalion for some time after the cessation of hostilities, to see the last of Tito’s Yugoslav Partisans out of the city. The 19th Regiment was disestablished at the end of WW II.

227 men had lost their lives serving in the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment and 490 were made prisoners of war.

Many of the 19th Battalion’s men were honoured for their contributions. The Distinguished Service Order was awarded to four members, 12 officers were awarded the Military Cross,

20 Soldiers, the Military Medal, and one the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Two were honoured by other governments – one receiving the United States Bronze Star, and another the Greek Military Cross.

I understand that it was a former member of the regiment who had the vision for a memorial to his fallen comrades, and in 1949 the Christchurch City Council, made available the land where this memorial stands.

Like most of us here today, I have never had to experience the horrors of war. I chose a civilian career, and I have been fortunate enough to live my life in a time when civilians have not been called on to put their lives on the line for the defence of their country and its ideals.

But every Anzac Day, my whānau and I reflect on those of our own and other men from our ancestral villages of Rapaki and Tuahiwi who never came home. I think of my two great-uncles: Henry Korako, who lies buried in Belgium and Waitere Manihera at Chunik Bair, Gallipoli.

I think with pride of my two grandfathers and great uncles who served in the Māori Pioneer Battalion in World War I, and my father and uncles who served in the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, in the 6th Field Ambulance and the 28 Māori Battalion.

They did come home and I am proud to wear their medals today.

E hoa ma (friends) - I want to highlight in my address this morning the real significance of whānau and why it is important to keep alive the memories of those soldiers who did not come home and those veterans who did, through holding fast to the stories, medals and citations their loved ones have left behind.

These documents are now family treasures that help preserve the memories from that period when so many sacrifices were made.

I saw the significance of this personally when, in my previous career in tourism and living and working in Europe for over 20 years. After I took my Dad back to Cassino he said that I should bring veterans and whānau back to these places because it would allow old soldiers to have some closure and say farewell to their mates, to give whānau members time to tangi or cry over their loved ones who did not come home.

A number of years later I did just that by putting together and leading four tours at different times, called Hikoi Maumahara – Journeys of Remembrance.

These tours covered the 1st and 2nd World War Battle sites visiting Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Italy, Crete, Gallipoli, Greece, France and Belgium with World War II veterans and their families.

Like the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment, the 28th Māori Battalion was attached to the 2nd New Zealand Division, so our journey also took us in the footsteps of the 19th Battalion, when they were first an infantry unit and later an armoured regiment. I have stood on the battlefields of Cassino, Orsogna and Trieste; I have been to Servia Pass, Corinth and Mount Olympus in Greece and Suda Bay and through the White Mountains to Safkia in Crete.

I have visited the Cairo suburb of Maadi, which once housed over 75,000 New Zealand soldiers, in a camp established by the 19th Infantry Battalion. I have been into the Western Egyptian Desert and through the Battlefields of El Alamein and Ruweisat Ridge.

On those tours, families brought with them the only physical connections they had left of their loved ones, in the form of medals won on the battlefields we visited, letters, bibles and photos, along with the dreaded telegram informing their whānau that their loved ones had made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country.  

To me, it was a powerful reminder of how the value of those individual memories from these global events were carried through the generations by families, and of the importance of those original documents that carry those  memories. Truly family taoka or archival treasures.

We all carry the legacy of whānau members who fought for our country, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our children carry that legacy forward to the next generations.

“Mo tātou, a mo ka uri a muri ake nei – For us and our children after us.”

Today e hoa ma, we continue that legacy through our faithful remembrance of Anzac Day. This is a day that every New Zealander, regardless of race, religion or political affiliation, can consider sacred.

Some of us remember our family connections to those who gave their lives. But we also must remember those who stayed at home, especially mothers and wives, who kept the home fires burning.

But even without these family connections, this is a time to honour our veterans’ contributions, to the peace, freedom and security our country enjoys today.

Through our faithful commemoration of Anzac Day, through the stories of those who were there, and through historical documents held by families and memorials such as this, we will remember them.

Thank you to the organising komiti of guardians who ensure that the legacy of the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment is not lost in the amnesia of history and the work that you do to keep alive their legacy in this beautiful and special place

Finally and most importantly this morning, I want us all to remember those members of the 19th Battalion and Armoured Regiment alongside the other men from Cashmere, who are profiled and remembered in St Augustine Church and also all New Zealanders and Australians who died in active service, or later as a result of their wounds.

We also remember those who returned home, but have now passed on.

No reira e ngā tama toa o Tumataueka, Haere atu rā, Haere atu ra ki te Pa o Te Whakawairua. Takoto mai takoto mai.

Rest now and forever.

No reira: Apiti hono tatai hono tātou ki te huka mate ki te huka mate. Apiti hono tatai hono ki te huka ora ki a ratou

Let the dead be the dead and the living be the living.

And let us not to ever forget those who made the supreme sacrifice for our country.

Tēnā koutou katoa. Thank you