Last Friday I had the privilege to be a guest at the powhiri to welcome the HMNZS Aotearoa crew to Taranaki.
The ship is the newest NZ naval vessel and at 173 metres in length is also the largest. A supply ship, it can carry up to 22 x 20 foot containers and it cost $450 million to build. Port Taranaki has been chosen as its ceremonial home port, so we can expect regular visits to the region in the years to come.
The powhiri was followed by the Charter Parade where those who serve on the HMNZS Aotearoa were given the freedom of the City of New Plymouth.
The ceremony was full of naval pomp and protocol with the band playing, naval personnel immaculately presented and exemplary marching. Establishing this local bond was clearly a very special occasion for the crew and the people of New Plymouth.
The Stratford District has a similar charter with the Wellington West Coast and Taranaki Regiment of the NZ Army. It has since been amalgamated to form the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.
This charter gives the soldiers from this regiment similar freedoms and rights in the Stratford District. I remember the charter ceremony well and the nervous experience of inspecting the troops while not knowing what I was actually looking for.
I do recall some words from the charter that gave soldiers the right to "march with drums beating, band playing, colours flying, bayonets fixed and swords drawn".
Recognising the work of our defence forces and forming special relationships with them helps remind us all of the important role they play in maintaining peace and stability in the regions they serve.
Their work comes with risk. Anzac Day remembers all those who have served their country and commemorates the thousands who have lost their lives doing so. We owe them. Their sacrifice allows us to enjoy the freedom and democracy we experience today.
At this year's Anzac Day dawn service in Stratford, the local contribution to our nation's military service and the sacrifice was obvious for all to see. Each white cross displayed on the lawn next to the Cross of Sacrifice commemorated an individual from our district who lost their life defending this country.
Many of the names are easily recognisable with a prevalence of long standing local family names displayed throughout.
To see the names of our forefathers on display has special significance. On a personal level, I note the name of Pilot Officer Lou Volzke who served and was killed in WWII. I never met him, but my father knew him well, the family link is there.
My own father also served in Italy and Egypt in WWII as a signalman and despatch rider; such were the horrors of war he never spoke of his wartime experiences.
Many of those at the dawn service would have a similar story to tell and share this common bond. It is our duty to remember them. The number of young people attending the Anzac dawn service was really gratifying and gives confidence our history will continue to be commemorated. Lest we forget.