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"Known unto God"
On ANZAC Day eve, both major political parties announced their intention to establish in New Zealand a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to honour all of this country's military personnel who had lost their lives in time of war.
RNZRSA National President David Cox says he is delighted with the decision. "Our organisation first raised this matter of the ultimate memorial to our country's war dead back in the early 1940s, and has continued to do so over the years. Now it is going ahead, 60 years after it was first mooted, and will become a fitting monument to all New Zealanders, both living and deceased, who have served their country in battle."
Up until recent years, all Commonwealth war dead have been commemorated by the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in London's Westminster Abbey which contains the remains of an unidentified soldier, serving with the British Empire forces, disinterred from a grave in the First World War battlefields of France.
"We would be one of the last major Commonwealth countries to have such recognition for the deceased members of our forces," says Mr Cox.
Australia established their Tomb on Armistice Day 1993 with Canada following on 28 May 2000. Both countries entombed their warriors at their existing national war memorials in Canberra and Ottawa.
"Although other sites are being suggested here in New Zealand," says Mr Cox, "RNZRSA is very firmly of the belief that there is only one site for the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and that is at the National War Memorial in Wellington."
An official paper signed by Prime Minister Helen Clark as Minister of Culture and Heritage says, that by following the actions of Australia and Canada, New Zealand would be making a symbolic statement of its own independent nationhood, and therefore the Westminster tomb could no longer be representative of all three nations.
Miss Clark says with the exception of some of the country's soldiers killed overseas in the Vietnam War and since, New Zealanders who lost their lives while serving overseas are buried overseas. "There are, in total, around 28,000 New Zealand service personnel buried overseas, and for many families access to their graves can be far beyond their means."
She says a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in New Zealand would be a tangible monument for those who had lost family members overseas. "It would also remind current generations of the sacrifice of New Zealanders in overseas conflicts and peacekeeping operations."
It is envisaged that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission would be requested to select an unidentified New Zealand body at random from one of the war cemeteries in either France or Belgium. In those two countries, where in two and a half years of bloody carnage, our country lost 12,483 young men, there are 1396 graves marked with the inscription "A New Zealand soldier of the Great War, Known only to God".
To ensure complete anonymity, the Commission would be asked not to reveal the particular cemetery from which the soldier was drawn and to permanently seal the casket which would not be opened under any circumstances in the future.
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage paper says if the Canadian precedent was followed, the body would be handed over to a representative of New Zealand at a ceremony in either Belgium or France for return to its home country and a full state funeral. Before being re-interred in its last resting place in the proposed Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the body would lie in state to allow New Zealanders to pay homage to it and symbolically to their own dead.
Currently the ministry is undertaking research into the original design of the National War Memorial and looking at the possibilities of how the Tomb could be incorporated into the building, says Brodie Stubbs, Manager of Heritage Operations. He says, the four principal interest groups, RNZRSA, the Maori community, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are being fully consulted before final decisions are made.
A current suggested date for the ceremonial re-interment is Armistice Day, 11 November 2003, the 85th anniversary of the ending of the Great War of 1914-18, with a solemn parade of military personnel and veterans escorting the casket being conveyed to the burial site on a gun carriage.
David Cox says the institution of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in New Zealand does not glorify war but emphasises the tragic cost of international conflict on individuals and our country as a whole. "The Unknown Warrior would symbolise the tremendous sacrifice New Zealand has made over the last century in the struggle to preserve freedom and justice and the democratic way of life."
Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (United Kingdom)
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Australia)
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Canada)
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