The choice of Lt Gen Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae as New Zealand's Governor General last year was an inspirational one in our ever-humble opinion. Sir Jerry had a distinguished military career, and is a leader of men. We met him at the graduation of a relative at Waiouru a few years back, and it was hard not to be impressed with him. He was warm and engaging, yet his mana was obvious. The fact that he is a Wanganui boy is an added bonus.
Sir Jerry will have done it tough in the last few weeks with the death of five NZDF personnel in Afghanistan. And yesterday he made an emotional speech at the memorial service for Corporal Lance Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris. As retired head of the NZDF, Sir Jerry knows only too well not only the inherent risk of serving in Afghanistan, but also the positive achievements that New Zealand's Provincial Reconstruction Team has made.
Accordingly, here is his speech in full courtesy of the the Governor-General website, and with no additional commentary. Sir Jerry's heartfelt words speak for themselves:
E a matou hoia toko toru o te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa me Ngāti Tūmatauenga, Hoki wairua mai, hoki tupapaku mai ki te kainga, ki Aotearoa. He tamariki toa koutou na Tūmatauenga, Na pakanga koutou I tango, Takoto ki roto I te honore nui tonu, Moe mai I te moenga roa, Okioki I roto I te Kaihanga. Ka mate! Ka mate! Ka ora! Ka ora! Rau Rangatira ma, whānau ma, E huihui nei, tēnā koutou katoa.
To our three soldiers of the New Zealand Defence Force and the Army, welcome home to New Zealand, both in spirit and in body. You are brave children of Tūmatauenga - the god of war. Warfare has taken your lives, but you lay here in great honour. Sleep the long sleep and rest within the Creator.
I die! I die!
I live! I live!
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I extend greetings to you all.
I specifically acknowledge: The family and friends of Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris; Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister and Ministers of the Crown; David Shearer, Leader of the Opposition; Lt Gen Rhys Jones, Chief of the Defence Force; Service Chiefs and Commanding Officers; Members of Parliament and members of the Diplomatic Corps – tēnā koutou katoa.
Two weeks ago today I stood before you as New Zealanders mourned the loss of Lance Corporal Pralli Durrer and Lance Corporal Rory Malone who lost their lives to insurgent fire in Afghanistan. And I acknowledge the presence today of Major Craig Wilson and four others who were wounded in the attack.
Two weeks later, with the pain of that loss so fresh and raw in our memories, we gather again.
We gather to mourn the loss of three members of our Provincial Reconstruction Team – H1008511 Corporal Luke Tamatea, K1018196 Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and C1027205 Private Richard Harris – who were killed by a roadside bomb while on a patrol in Bamyan province.
We gather to remember the service of three young New Zealand soldiers, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of New Zealand and for the mission to Afghanistan.
We gather to join with their families, friends and their mates-in-arms, particularly from Crib 20, to share in the grieving, to recall their sacrifice and to celebrate their lives.
These three young soldiers represent the best traditions of New Zealand’s contribution to resisting tyranny and to bringing peace and stability to conflict-ridden lands.
Although we live in this settled part of the world, New Zealanders understand this calling well. We have always sought peace and negotiated settlements to international disputes. We understand the imperatives of collective action against tyrannies and evil regimes.
And we understand that when all other options have been exhausted, principled words must often be backed by principled action. We are proud of our Kiwi tradition of standing up for what is right and for doing what is right.
At times like this, with 10 New Zealand soldiers having lost their lives in Afghanistan – five in a matter of weeks – it is natural that we question why we are there. In a democracy, it is right that we can and should ask questions.
The three young soldiers we mourn today knew well the risks of service in Afghanistan. It is a place where safety can never be guaranteed, and it has a tortured history of conflict that stretches back many centuries.
They also knew of the positive contribution the Provincial Reconstruction Team is making to the lives of the people of Bamyan province. They have rebuilt hospitals and roads. They have helped deliver education and health programmes. They have helped the local people rebuild their provincial government and establish their own security. They have helped them rebuild their lives.
It is easy to talk of a positive contribution from afar. Those who have served in Bamyan have seen it. They have seen it in the faces of the Afghan people they meet every day. They have seen it in the bright eyes of the children they meet, the boys and girls who play in the street, who can go to school and who can look to the future. The three we mourn today saw and knew the good that they were making to the lives of others, both as a team and as individuals.
I now turn to the families: Sarah Erb, Luke’s partner, and Lynn McSweeny, Luke’s mother and their wider families; Geoffrey Fosbender, Jacinda’s partner and Joyce Baker, Jacinda’s mother, and their wider families; Sandra Harris, Richard’s mother and the wider Harris family.
There is nothing I can say that can replace your loved ones. There is nothing I can say that will erase the painful grief that burns in your hearts for those whose lives were tragically cut short.
What I can say is that those you lost served with great honour. They demonstrated at the highest level courage, comradeship, commitment and integrity, which are the values the New Zealand Defence Force holds as central to underpinning its ethos.
They are fine examples of ordinary New Zealanders who answered the call of service. They were, as the late Sir Leonard Thornton, Chief of Defence Staff in the 1960s and 1970s noted, in the tradition and character “of the Kiwi solder at all levels—responsible, resourceful, compassionate and professionally competent.”
Today, Corporal Luke Tamatea, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker and Private Richard Harris begin their last journey. They have returned home to rest. They have returned home to find peace. They have returned home to enter the long sleep.
To close, I will quote a poem from the book Voices from a Border War by the late Brigadier Bob Gurr, who commanded 1RNZIR in the mid-1960s. It is appropriately entitled, From Home:
Below the port side wingI call on the deceased to rest with the deceased and for the living to be active in the domain of the living. Ka apiti hono tatai hono, te hunga mate moe mai moe mai. Ka apiti hono tatai hono te hunga ora ki te hunga ora. No reira, kia ora huihui tātou katoa.
The Alps have sent a white farewell.
Their final rampart
Above the ocean shore
Now, my senses fill
With the scents of home,
Northern Rimu, Ponga, Kahikatea,
The total Totara reckoning
The rain and mist will come,
On that long shore
A constant beckoning.