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Return of the Unknown Warrior


… a day of remembrance and a day to remember

The RSA was overwhelmed with the public response to the homecoming of the Unknown Warrior and thanks all those involved in making 11 November 2004 a day of remembrance and a day to remember.


The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior serves as a focus of remembrance of the sacrifice made by New Zealand servicemen and women in time of war.

The Unknown Warrior is one of over 250,000 New Zealanders who served in overseas wars. He is one of over 30,000 who died in service. He is one of over 9,000 who have no known grave or whose remains could never be recovered.

We will never know his name, rank, regiment, race, religion or any other detail of his life, except that he was a New Zealander.

He represents all New Zealanders who were never to return from war.



The idea for a New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior dates back over eighty years to the interment ceremony for the British Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey in London on 11 November 1920. The following year Prime Minister William Massey and his cabinet considered but decided against a proposal to have our own New Zealand Unknown Warrior.

The RSA unsuccessfully called for a New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior during the 1940s and 1950s in conjunction with its campaign for the completion of the National War Memorial. The call was renewed during the 1990s as a result of Australia establishing their Tomb on Armistice Day 1993 and given impetus when Canada followed with its Tomb on 28 May 2000.

The idea gained the support of government and on the eve of Anzac Day 2002 it announced its intention to establish in New Zealand a Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to honour all New Zealand military personnel who have lost their lives in times of war.

An Inter-Departmental Coordinating Committee was established to oversee the project, which included design and construction of the Tomb, the repatriation of the Unknown Warrior, as well as one of the largest ceremonial programmes in New Zealand history. The RNZRSA as a non-government organisation was provided ex officio status on this Committee and represented by Dr Stephen Clarke.


Tomb Design

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior designed by Kingsley Baird and inspired by the Southern Cross constellation, possesses a distinctive New Zealand character, with the choice and treatment of materials, the use of symbols and language, strongly reflecting the unique cultural identity of this land and its people.

The Warrior was guided by the stars of the Southern Cross on his journey back to New Zealand. The distance of the foreign land he left behind is represented on the base of the Tomb by a night sky of black granite inlaid with light grey Takaka marble crosses representing the Warrior’s companions who died in service for their country and remain overseas. They also signify stars in the night sky. Around the base of the Tomb is text of a karanga, in Maori and English, calling the Warrior back to his homeland:


Te mamae nei a te pouri nui
The great pain we feel
Tenei ra e te tau
Is for you who were our future
Aue hoki mai ra ki te kainga tuturu
Come back return home,
E tatari atu nei ki a koutou
We have waited for you
Nga tau roa
Through the long years
I ngaro atu ai te aroha
You were away. Sorrow
E ngau kino nei i ahau aue taukuri e
Aches within me.

A cloak of bronze, decorated with four inlaid pounamu (greenstone) crosses, alludes to the Warrior’s National Flag. It was laid over his body as a celestial mantle which also represents the vital role the Defence Forces play in protecting our nation and people.


Returned & Remembered

France: 6 November 2004

The final journey home for the Unknown Warrior began on 1 November when a New Zealand delegation lead by Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshal Bruce Ferguson OBE AFC, boarded an RNZAF Aircraft bound for France. The RNZRSA National President was the sole representative of the veteran community.

The Unknown Warrior was exhumed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from among the unknown New Zealand soldiers buried at Caterpillar War Cemetery, Longueval, in northern France.

The Handover Ceremony for the Unknown Warrior took place on Saturday, 6 November 2004, at the New Zealand Memorial, Longueval. This ceremony marked the official handover of the Unknown Warrior from the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, represented by Director-General Mr Richard Kellaway, into the care of New Zealand, represented by New Zealand Ambassador to France HE Adrian Macey. It was witnessed by representatives of the French and New Zealand governments. The Mayor and villagers of Longueval, who have come to regard the Unknown Warrior as one of their own, also attended the ceremony.

Following New Zealand's formal acceptance of responsibility for the remains, Principal Defence Chaplain, Colonel Julian Wagg, conducted a short service during which wreaths were laid, including the wonderful tribute by schoolchildren from Longueval laying handmade posies.

The NZDF personnel on ‘Operation Valhalla’ did the New Zealand Defence Force and New Zealand proud and continued a great legacy of service begun by the generation of whom the Unknown Warrior belonged. During the return trip to New Zealand the National President presented each member of the NZDF with the RSA Badge in recognition of their contribution to this historic task of returning the Unknown Warrior to his homeland and as a measure of the appreciation of the RSA community.


Homecoming: 10 November 2004

Wellington Airport

At 10.00 am on 10 November 2004, the Unknown Warrior was welcomed back to New Zealand soil with a short ceremony at the RNZAF Air Movements Unit at Wellington Airport.

A Tri-Service Guard of Honour, the New Zealand Army Band and a New Zealand Defence Force Maori Cultural Group accorded the Unknown Warrior full military honours on arrival. As the casket was ceremonially slow marched off the RNZAF C-130 aircraft, the Cultural Group acknowledged the Unknown Warrior with a Powhiri and the Guard of Honour accorded him a General Salute.

Inside the terminal building, the casket was placed on the catafalque and a vigil mounted. The Chief of Defence Force and single service Chiefs paid their respects.

Later the casket was placed in the hearse and following a second General Salute, the cortege, with a military escort consisting of two LAVs, left for Parliament.


Arrival at Parliament

At 12 noon, the cortege arrived at Parliament for the Defence Force to formally hand over the Unknown Warrior to the nation.

A Tri-Service Guard of Honour and the Royal New Zealand Navy Band were formed up on the forecourt. A kapa haka group was also present. The ceremony was conducted in the presence of the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, Ministers of the Crown, Members of Parliament, diplomatic and national veteran organisation representatives who filled the steps of Parliament.

As the Bearer Party approached the steps of Parliament, the Unknown Warrior was accorded a General Salute by the Guard of Honour followed by a karanga and haka powhiri performed by the kapa haka group.

The Bearer Party then ascended the steps of Parliament House and entered the Legislative Council Chamber where the casket was placed on a catafalque and a vigil mounted for the Lying-in-State.

At the official wreath-laying ceremony the Governor-General presented the Unknown Warrior with medals representative of service by New Zealanders in the First World War (1914–15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal), the Second World War (New Zealand War Service Medal), and in operations since 1945 (New Zealand Operational Service Medal).

This was followed by a special visitation by veterans' representatives and the RNZRSA presented the Unknown Warrior with its highest honour—the Badge in Gold.


RSA Badge in Gold

The Badge in Gold was presented to the Unknown Warrior at a special visitation by the RNZRSA National Executive Committee, prior to the public Lying-in-State in the Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament Buildings, on 10 November 2004.

The original New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association die was used to strike the badge, acknowledging that the Unknown Warrior was a comrade of First World War founders of the RSA. The Badge was engraved with the date ‘11th November 2004’ in recognition of the date of the Unknown Warrior’s journey to his final resting place. A replica was also struck and it is intended to be displayed in a specially constructed display at National Headquarters. Manufacturing the Badge was the 100-year-old Wellington firm of Mayer & Toye, the makers of the first RSA Badge in 1916 and makers of the RSA Badges today. The RNZRSA also acknowledges the generous donation of the gold for the 24 carat Badge, by Oceana Gold Ltd as well as Newmont Waihi Gold Ltd.

The Badge in Gold is the Royal New Zealand Returned And Services’ Association’s most prestigious Award. It can only be granted by RSA delegates from around the country, meeting as the National Council, on the recommendation of the National Executive Committee.

At this year’s National Council meeting, delegates unanimously awarded the Badge in Gold to New Zealand's Unknown Warrior, and, on this unique occasion, in the form of the original Badge of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association.

The Badge in Gold was instituted in 1920 with the first recipient being His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, and significantly, the presentation was conducted in this very Chamber.

Since that time the list of recipients has grown to include Monarchs, Governors-General, Prime Ministers, Military Commanders and RSA rank and file members who have selflessly dedicated their lives to the Association and the well-being of the veteran community in general.

There are currently six living holders of the Badge in Gold—four of whom are here today.

The Badge in Gold is a fitting tribute because the Unknown Warrior paid the ultimate price for his service and now he is finally returned.

In the Association’s 88–year history, the Unknown Warrior is the 60th and the first posthumous recipient of the Badge in Gold. It is also the most significant, because it is awarded in remembrance of all those New Zealand servicemen and women who died, and are buried in foreign lands, in the service of their country.

It is my great honour, on behalf of all RSA members, to present our Badge in Gold to you—our Unknown Warrior.

You are now one of us—WELCOME HOME.

The Badge accompanied the Unknown Warrior to the Memorial Service and throughout the Funeral Procession to his final resting place at the National War Memorial the following day. The Badge will be displayed, together with the medals and the flag which dressed the casket, in a purpose-built display case which will be located in the entrance to the Hall of Memories, close to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.



More than 10,000 New Zealanders travelled to Parliament during the night of 10/11 November to pay their respects and lay a poppy in remembrance at the foot of the casket. At times the queue stretched down the steps of Parliament to the Seddon Memorial, but an hour long wait, as well as rain, did nothing to deter those wishing to pay their respects. It was a most moving sight and a wonderful tribute. Not only did visitors pay their respects to our war dead but they thought of our living, by spontaneously and unprompted, leaving donations for veterans’ welfare.


A Day to Remember: 11 November 2004

Memorial Service

A Memorial Service was held on 11 November at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, commencing with Two Minutes Silence at 11am. The Service was attended by Her Excellency the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief Dame Silvia Cartwright, Prime Minister Helen Clark, and General Sir John Wilsey GCB CBE DL representing the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, military chiefs, diplomats and over 1,000 invited guests, including a war widows and a large number of war veterans.

Funeral Procession

At the conclusion of the Memorial Service, the Unknown Warrior was carried shoulder high from the Cathedral through an Honour Guard of Distinguished Veterans and placed on a gun carriage, whilst a lone piper played the specially commissioned Lament for the Unknown Warrior of New Zealand, first heard at the Handover Ceremony in France five days earlier.

Immediate Past National President, Mr David Cox MBE, made the presentation of the Badge in Gold to the Unknown Warrior:

The full Military Funreral Procession moved off to the Army Band playing the commissioned Funeral March Fernleaf Headstones.

A crowd well in excess of 100,000 lined the 2.85km long processional route through central Wellington whilst above their heads fluttered the RSA Remembrance Banners with those most appropriate words ‘We will remember them’.

It was particularly moving to observe the respectful silence paid to the Unknown Warrior by the thousands lining the route.


Interment Ceremony

The final act was the Interment Ceremony at the National War Memorial when the Unknown Warrior was buried with full military honours.

As the funeral procession approach the lower forecourt of the National War Memorial the Dunedin RSA Choir sang In Flanders Fields, which set the emotional tone for this final ceremony.

In her eulogy, Dame Silvia Cartwright poignantly reminded everyone that:

Here is the young New Zealander who takes this place of honour for himself, and for those in his own or any war we have been a part of, where what we value, and what defined us, was defended. In honouring him, we honour too his family, their memories of a place and a time, with that saddest of words, ‘unknown’.

Poet Vincent O’Sullivan then recited his commissioned poem Homecoming—Te Hokianga Mai, with its final stanza:

Solemn the speeches and the drum
That draw you to the unguessed tomb,
But more than these, the sounds that come
To us as once to you, from
Bach and backyard, from marae and town,
Our standing where you too have stood
‘Now and forever, home is good.’

The Unknown Warrior was then carried to the upper forecourt and to his final resting place to the beautiful music of the Choral Commemoration Memento for an Unknown Warrior, composed by long-time National Carillonist Timothy Hurd QSM and incorporating the words of the karanga which appear on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. This piece of music is now sung at commemorative events held in the Hall of Memories thus connecting the symbolism associated with the Unknown Warrior into the ongoing commemorative life of the National War Memorial.

Mr Tamati Paraone, National President of 28 Maori Battalion, recited the Ode in Maori, whilst the RNZRSA National President followed with the recitation in English.

Each of the RNZRSA’s eight District Presidents then placed samples of soils and other items into the Tomb to acknowledge the service personnel from their districts who had given their lives to the nation. Soil from France was placed in the Tomb by the Ambassador for the Republic of France, HE Jean-Michel Marlaud.

The ceremony concluded with floral tributes by the Guests of Honour and the singing of the National Anthem.

A poignant moment during an interval in the ceremony were the calls of native birds perched high in the trees surrounding the National War Memorial—a New Zealand welcome home to a long lost son.

The day concluded with a special sitting of Parliament to speak to the motion ‘Tomb of the Unknown Warrior—Recognition of Service of New Zealanders’.

In the evening, a Veterans' Dinner in honour of the Unknown Warrior provided a fitting means to bring a long, emotional, but most of all, fulfilling day to a close.


In the days, weeks, months and now years that have followed that historic day a steady flow of visitors have made the pilgrimage to the National War Memorial to pay their respects to the Unknown Warrior. He is now the soul of that most sacred place.



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