The Royal New Zealand Navy came into Wellington today for its seventieth birthday. I wandered down to the waterfront and took a few photos.
It was a fabulous, fabulous spring day. Brilliant sunshine, warm breezes – well, look at the pictures. A step up, I think, from Soest, Netherlands. And a trip down memory lane for me. In another century I wrote my master’s thesis on New Zealand’s naval policy 1909-14. Then in 2000-01, I wrote a book which the RNZN very kindly adopted as their official 60th anniversary history, Blue Water Kiwis. This was launched (not literally, of course) from the flight deck of their frigate Te Mana, in a very nice ceremony MC’d by the Head of the Defence Force, the New Zealand equivalent of the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nice guy. It was a memorable evening. Can’t believe it’s been a decade.
Since then, the navy’s expanded – got a new logistics ship, two blue-water patrol boats, and four inshore craft. Every so often, politicians looking to razor back a bit of budget question why we have a navy. I could trunk on about New Zealand’s blue-water trade routes, our international obligations, and humanitarian peace-keeping work in places such as Dili. Or about the way they’ve plucked people from certain death in stormy oceans.
But I’ll just say this. Back in February, when Christchurch was hit by an earthquake and 185 people died, HMNZS Canterbury was in Lyttleton. They had men ashore within minutes, helping – an organised, disciplined and well trained force who knew what to do and could be brought to bear. Then the ship toggled back and forth between Wellington and Lyttleton, bringing heavy equipment, supplies and everything else needed.
That wasn’t the first time the navy had done this, either. In 1931, ships of the New Zealand Naval Division (the predecessor of the RNZN) hastened to help Hawke’s Bay folk whose homes had been mashed by an even more lethal quake. ‘Thank God for the Navy’, a survivor said afterwards. Too right.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011