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Speech at 'The Occupiers' book launch (30 March 2012)

The Occupiers: New Zealand veterans remember post-war Japan

Launch in the Grand Hall, Parliament House

30 March 2012



E nga iwi

E nga reo

E nga mana

E nga ika a whiro

Tēnā tatou katoa.

To all assembled

To the representatives

To our honoured guests

To our veterans

Greetings to you all.



Her Excellency Ms Vicki Tredwell, British High Commissioner to New Zealand

Minister Mr Tadashi Fujiwara, Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of Japan

Mr Takashi Ato, Director of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre

The veterans and their families and friends

Distinguished guests.


There are many of us who regret we did not talk more to our parents or grandparents about their experience during wartime.

We do not always take these opportunities – and it is often not until too late we realise what we have missed.

That is why oral history is such a valuable form of research. It preserves the memories of those who lived through historic events for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Today we welcome an excellent addition to New Zealand oral history: Alison Parr’s The Occupiers: New Zealand veterans remember post-war Japan.

There has been a surge in the popularity of oral history in recent years. People are recognising history is as much in the experience of ordinary individuals as in the large-scale campaigns, the strategies, the facts and the figures.

The stories of the people who were there bring history alive.

The War Oral History Programme of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage is about capturing these stories. Since the year 2000 it has recorded the wartime memories of over 150 New Zealanders.

The Occupiers is the last in the programme on the topic of the Second World War and its aftermath.

It is, in effect, the beginning of the story of the peace – a story that will unfold in the coming years with oral histories about the next generation, the children of those who lived through the Second World War.

The Occupiers is based on interviews with 17 men and women, many of whom are here today. They speak candidly of their first impressions as they arrived in Japan not knowing what to expect, the work they undertook, the conditions in which they lived and the hardships suffered by the people of a country ravaged by war.

But for me, what speaks most strongly in the book is the story of the relationship between the New Zealanders and the local Japanese.

This year is the 60th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Japan. Our relationship can be traced back over 150 years, but today it is at its strongest ever and New Zealand greatly values these close ties.

Our relationship is underpinned by over 40 sister city connections, by the many cultural exchanges between our two countries and by the personal links of the many Japanese people living in New Zealand and New Zealanders living in Japan.

We have helped each other in our hours of need. New Zealand was very grateful for the enormous practical and economic support Japan provided to Christchurch and was proud to send a response team after the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake just over a year ago.

The post-war period documented in The Occupiers marked the beginning of this new and stronger relationship.

It was the first time significant numbers of New Zealanders and Japanese people had met and lived alongside one another.

Our servicemen and women had arrived in Japan with trepidation and little understanding of the Japanese people. They came back to New Zealand with a very different view.

This is strongly reflected in the book, in comments like this one by the late Ray Schofield whose two daughters I believe are with us today:

We could recognise in them a humble, hardworking, undemanding people. We could see in them much of what we could see in our own country people at the time… the people that we saw were very much like us.

Working side by side, many New Zealanders and Japanese found themselves chatting and joking like good mates.  While officially New Zealanders were discouraged from socialising with the locals, nothing could stop the people-to-people links forming.

So it is no exaggeration to say, the veterans here with us this morning played a very real role in the positive relationship with Japan we enjoy today.

And these men and women who participated in a major episode of our history, by agreeing to share their memories, thoughts and observations have given us a priceless gift.

It is an honour to have so many of you here with us at the launch, along with so many family members and friends.

Alison Parr, I thank you for bringing to all of us the memories of these great New Zealanders. New Zealand is lucky to have a writer of Alison’s calibre in the field of oral history.

For the past eight years Alison has been involved with the Ministry’s Oral History Programme – and just two years ago I had the pleasure of launching her most recent book about life on the home front during the Second World War.

The Occupiers has all the hallmarks of Alison’s previous work: clear and readable text, sensitive presentation of the material and a gift for telling a compelling story. Congratulations to Alison and to the Ministry’s History Group on another excellent publication.

I am proud to be associated with all of the work my Ministry does, but perhaps especially that of the History Group. I am fortunate enough to be the recipient of all of the books the Ministry’s historians produce and they really are outstanding pieces of work.

I also thank Penguin Books which has partnered with the Ministry for the publication of this work and has made a very good job of it.

I now have the great pleasure of presenting a copy of the book to each of the veterans who have contributed or to their representatives. I trust it will bring back many memories and start many conversations.

Updated on 10th January 2017