The navy has made a little Whangārei boy's day after he was spotted standing to attention next to the navy's top brass with a toy gun during Waitangi Day celebrations at Waitangi.

The final formal event each Waitangi Day is the Beat Retreat, a ceremonial lowering of the flag at the Treaty Grounds.

More than 100 sailors, a brass band and a kapa haka group from the Royal NZ Navy — along with the head of navy, Rear Admiral David Proctor — took part in Wednesday's ceremony.

Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge stands to attention with his toy gun alongside Warrant Officers Joseph Gray (left) and Pete Johnson, Rear Admiral David Proctor and ex-serviceman Hirini Henare. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge stands to attention with his toy gun alongside Warrant Officers Joseph Gray (left) and Pete Johnson, Rear Admiral David Proctor and ex-serviceman Hirini Henare. Photo / Peter de Graaf

After a concert, a rifle volley and lowering of the flag, the Rear Admiral and top officers saluted as the sailors marched from the parade ground.

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At that moment 5-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge, also dressed in a spotless white shirt and clutching a plastic gun complete with flashing lights and machine gun sounds, came running from the crowd and took his place next to the navy bigwigs.

When they stood to attention and saluted, the Whangārei youngster puffed out his chest and did the same.

Warrant Officer Joseph Gray chats to 5-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Warrant Officer Joseph Gray chats to 5-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge. Photo / Peter de Graaf

His exemplary parade ground performance was not lost on a navy officer who invited him to meet the sailors and watch as the real rifles were packed away.

Connor was even allowed to briefly hold a rifle — unloaded and under close supervision of course — and was surprised to find how much more it weighed than his plastic version.

Proud dad Rodney Phillips said Connor was fascinated by all things military and was keen to join the armed forces some day.

Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge's outstanding performance on the parade ground was rewarded with a chance to hold a real rifle. With him are Warrant Officer Joseph Gray and his father Rodney Phillips. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge's outstanding performance on the parade ground was rewarded with a chance to hold a real rifle. With him are Warrant Officer Joseph Gray and his father Rodney Phillips. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The navy's involvement in Waitangi Day commemorations goes back to 1890 but the maritime force's relationship with the Treaty Grounds was cemented in 1946 when the Waitangi National Trust was struggling to pay for repairs to the badly deteriorating flagpole.

The navy was asked to build a replacement and still carries out its maintenance.

In 1990 the trust conferred on the navy "the right and privilege, without further permission being obtained, of marching at all times with drums beating, bands playing, colours flying, bayonets fixed and swords drawn through the lands of the Tai Tokerau, especially the Treaty Grounds".

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This year the off-shore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington took part in the commemorations.

Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge joins Warrant Officers Joseph Gray (left) and Pete Johnson and Rear Admiral David Proctor in saluting Navy sailors as they march from the parade ground. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Five-year-old Connor Petersen-Hodge joins Warrant Officers Joseph Gray (left) and Pete Johnson and Rear Admiral David Proctor in saluting Navy sailors as they march from the parade ground. Photo / Peter de Graaf