Cheap treatment of Crete veterans disturbs PM

By Michael Dickison

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp. Photo / Getty Images
Defence Minister Wayne Mapp. Photo / Getty Images

Ageing war veterans having to pay to attend commemorations in Europe while the Defence Minister enjoyed luxury travel on the taxpayer does not "sit well" with Prime Minister John Key.

Mr Key says he has spoken to the Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp, and they will take a closer look at the level of support veterans receive.

New Zealand veterans in their 90s travelling to the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Crete received just $2000 in Government support - less than a return airfare - and were forced to arrange their own itineraries and stay in modest accommodation.

In contrast, Dr Mapp received $26,000 for flights and luxury accommodation for him and a private secretary, and Australian veterans were flown over by their Government and cared for as guests of honour.

Mr Key said the level of support New Zealand veterans had received would not seem right to most people. "It raises a legitimate point in terms of what level of support and compensation we give particularly to these old returned servicemen, people who have fought in these battles, these Diggers," Mr Key told RadioLive.

"Are we giving them the right level of support? ... I've had a discussion with Wayne about it, and I think going forward we will have to have a closer look. It didn't sit that well," the Prime Minister said.

But Dr Mapp was a "really sensitive bloke" and his itinerary would have been based on what was done previously, Mr Key said.

"I can tell you as a minister those things sort of happen around you.

"I went to Gallipoli and I didn't have a choice on where I stayed or how it worked, it was just a well-trodden path that Helen Clark had been on and many before her."

Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Rhys Jones also attended the ceremonies in Crete, with nine other defence personnel.

Seven of the soldiers were flown from their stations in London to act as honour guards, and the Chief of Defence flew business class from New Zealand with his personal staff officer and a warrant officer.

General Jones' wife, who has loved ones buried in Crete, also attended but travelled at her own expense, and the couple had some of their accommodation paid for by the Hellenic Defence Force.

Herald readers responded with outrage to the discrepancy in the way New Zealand veterans, Australian veterans and Dr Mapp were treated.

"The Government owes these veterans and their helpers an apology, and reimbursement of their expenses," said Carol Walker.

Russell Dale said he had attended the Crete commemorations for his father, who was captured there, and was not impressed by the veterans' treatment. "It was miserable, to say the least."

Garrick Chapman, a 21-year-old soldier, said he was horrified. "The very men who fought in the battles at Crete, who are still talked about with immense pride in the army today, are forced out in the cold.

"If those veterans had turned up at Arch Hill Army Base asking for help we would have paid out of our own pockets."

- NZ Herald

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