Australia lost five five Diggers in one day yesterday, the country’s worst single-day combat death toll since the Vietnam War. Prime Minister Julia Gillard cut short a foreign trip and headed home. Australia, just as a reminder, fields 81,000 troops across its army, navy and air force from a population of less than 28 million.
So imagine the impact on New Zealand when the small Pacific island state lost three soldiers from its force of less than 11,000, of whom 2,377 are reservists. Now I bring a personal view to all this. My nephew is a Digger and returned a few months ago from Afghanistan, where these New Zealanders died.
So many Kiwis live in Australia, and vice versa, that sometimes it’s hard to tell where one country begins and the other ends. But one thing that marks New Zealanders from their Antipodean brethren is their wholehearted adoption of many aspects of Maori culture. For example, when you fly Air New Zealand you are often greeted with Kia Ora, the airline’s official motto. It’s Maori for hello, more or less. There is even an official government list of 100 Maori words every New Zealander should know. A friend of ours whose five-year-old son is half New Zealander and half American already knows at least one haka and delivers it with great conviction. I was tipped to this video by a former British SAS friend who said, “so much raw emotion is difficult to handle.”
The honored dead are Cpl. Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Cpl. Jacinda Baker, 26, and Pvt. Richard Harris, 21. The funeral service was held at the Burnham Military Camp in Christchurch.
Steep yourself in the raw emotion these soldiers offer in tribute to their fallen. Tip your hat, bow your head and remember.