Lady Freyberg replies to the toast to the Armed Services at the reunion of ex-service people at Uepohatu Marae in 1947. See the programme here.
Lady Barbara Freyberg was the wife of the Governor General Sir Bernard Freyberg and a member of the New Zealand Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Lady Freyberg was very active in the welfare effort for troops of the New Zealand Second Division. She led the ‘Tuis’, who ran the New Zealand Forces club, that served tea and refreshments. The Club and the Tuis provided a popular Kiwi-style home away from home for all New Zealand troops in London, the Middle East and Italy.
In Cairo, Lady Freyberg supported soldiers wounded in action, she would visit with them and keep updated on their progress. She would also personally write letters of condolence to the families of these soldiers that died.
The marae hosted events held on the 12th and 13th of September that included cultural competitions with local school children and the opening of the Uepohatu War Memorial Hall. The hall was built to commemorate East Coast soldiers who died during the two World Wars.
A reunion of ex-service people (including members of the Maori Battalion) was also held.
At the Investiture held on the second day, seventeen decorations were presented to servicemen and women who had served abroad and on the home front.
The gathering was an important one. attended by thousands including the Prime Minister Peter Fraser, the Leader of the Opposition Sidney Holland and other members of Parliament. Sir Bernard Freyberg, the Governor General opened the hall and unveiled two memorial tablets inside.
Site editors note: some of the recording is indecipherable, where word is unknown it is replaced with (?)
Colonel Awatere, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen. I feel that it is a very great honour to have been asked to reply to this toast, this evening. An honour to have been asked to be present at such a notable gathering and also to speak in the presence of such eminent other friends. I would have hoped that I were a worthier and more representative member of the ex-service women. But it is as I say a very great honour for me to propose or to take part in this toast of the Armed Forces of the Crown as represented by that group of ex-service women who were such a very gallant sisterhood.
It was my privilege to serve in a humble capacity in the welfare services of the New Zealand Division. And in view of my general present appointment, as well as for the incomparable experiences that my war service gave me, I am all the more grateful to have had what I might call this opportunity of a preview of New Zealand through her service men and service women overseas.
I am particularly glad to be associated in this toast this evening with Colonel Dittmer. For on the first occasion when I had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Dittmer it was also another very notable occasion for me. The first occasion when I had the great excitement and pleasure of meeting members of the 28th Battalion. The famous Maori Battalion which was afterwards to win such undying fame and glory. This occasion was in June 1940, a very dark and difficult moment of the war. I had just flown back from Egypt where I had had the great interest and pleasure of meeting members of the First Echelon. And in London it was suddenly a night that the Second Echelon had just landed in the United Kingdom. A group had been formed called the New Zealand War Services Association at the instigation of the High Commissioner to render such welfare services as we were able to any New Zealanders who might be in England. So we were called together at short notice and told that this large body of New Zealand troops would be coming on this embarkation leave to London within a few days and would we please do something about it.
We had no club at that time and the only New Zealand building in London, New Zealand House, was small and overcrowded. But we were fortunate in being able to take a theatre almost next door to New Zealand House and there we set up a reception centre and divided ourselves into groups who would take charge of sightseeing, entertainment, and hospitality and shopping and try to do all we could to give the New Zealanders who had just landed, a happy time.
Well, when I first met Colonel Dittmer he walked into this centre, into the private hall of the (?) with a large number of the Maori boys which, he looked rather worried as if he were trying to count his chickens and keep close hold of them. And when I made a rather timid suggestion of a programme of entertainment, he gave me rather a stern rejoinder. But when he discovered that we were out to do our best and were anxious to do what we could to give his boys an enjoyable time he thawed completely and became very kind and co-operative.
That was the first of many and subsequent meetings with members of the Maori Battalion. And I have so many pictures in my mind of happy days in Egypt and in Italy during those periods of leave when they came to the clubs. And I shall always associate them with that wonderful charm and gaiety and (?) and fun which had made them such splendid ambassadors of their race wherever they have gone and have endeared them to people of many lands.
It is indeed an honour and pleasure for me to have been here today, and I join in this toast with a full heart and many grateful thanks for having been given the honour to address you. [applause]
Sound file from Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero.
Image: Lady Freyberg, New Zealand Forces Club, Cairo, Egypt. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-02387-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23032681