A Bridge Over the story of John Masters, veteran fighter by Allan Marriott was officially launched, 19 November 2009, at Papanui RSA. Vietnam veteran and author Bill Barnes was MC for the occassion, intoducing addresses from Robin Klitscher, National President, Royal NZRSA, Hon Jim Anderton, MP, and Allan Marriott.
I stand here before you this evening feeling hugely inadequate for the occasion.
Many possible opening gambits occur – for example the quote “we stand on the shoulders of giants”, in this case the shoulders of a single giant called John Masters. But I'm cautious about that particular one because, as his book so amply points out, things are not always what they seem.
And so it might be for this saying. It has a long history. More than 300 years ago in 1676, the great scientist Isaac Newton admitted he had borrowed from others when he wrote “if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” At the time he was having a particularly bitter feud with Robert Hooke over credit for new scientific work. And so his letter to Hooke admitting he'd relied upon the work of others might appear to be an olive branch of apology. But it could take on a less generous character when we take into account that Robert Hooke was in fact very stunted in stature; dwarfishly short, with crooked shoulders. And so, in his reference to high-standing shoulders the waspish
Not so here. The duty I now have is a much more pleasant matter, straightforward and without room for hidden or back-handed meanings of any sort. It's a matter purely of compliments and nothing else. I mentioned the
Our career paths did not intersect until we both served in combat in
I and family had been posted to
Now, I read with interest of John's experience that when he deployed to Borneo while I was deploying to
Thus John went to Borneo while we went to
The differences were even more stark than that. The story of John Masters and the Gurkha Hariparsad is graphically told in the book. There is absolutely no way of matching that story; nor even of standing on its shoulders. To attempt to do either would be as false as
And indeed, with that as the centrepiece the first few chapters of the book give point more generally but very clearly to a conclusion recently reached by the Law Commission that those who have been put into harm's way by the Crown in uniform deserve consideration over and above other citizens who are not veterans.
A little over ten years later, our paths did converge on
Last year there was in
Last year and as reported on Page 210 of the book, John had to endure a “This is Your Life” in this very establishment. I could not be present, but in a message sent on the occasion I said this:
“Many is the time I have landed my helicopter under the snouts of your guns on the southern outskirts of Nui Dat, even as they fired to protect our troops in the field. Metaphorically since then in the aftermath I have done the same thing - watched and admired as you continued to fire your protection of those same troops in a different but no less effective way.”
What John Masters learned in the jungle of Borneo so long ago about facing the odds and persisting despite them has enabled him to stand high on his own shoulders ever since, and to achieve things that most others would have given up on. Veterans owe him an impossible debt of gratitude for that.
But the wear and tear has not been John's alone. What the book also brings out, both clearly and rightly, is the heavy toll taken also upon Alisoun and the family as John has struggled to attain his goals so unselfishly on behalf of others. As veterans we owe them at least as much as we owe him.
And we also thank Allan Marriott for setting it all down in everyday language to help us understand the extraordinary life of this man who has been decorated in the field, welcomed into an alien society as one of their own because of it, overcome his own demons of self-doubt and uncertainty, provided consistent and powerful leadership both in combat and in peace, broken through the hard shell of disbelief that had frustrated the Vietnam veteran community for more than 30 years, rescued an old soldiers' home, and been recognised by the Sovereign for all of that. Oh, and as Allan points out, has also been arrested and charged with inciting a riot.
Of this stuff is the book made. And the man.
But in closing, I have one further duty. I am also a messenger for others. I have here for John Masters two envelopes. One contains a card for the occasion from the Minister of Veterans' Affairs the Honourable Judith Collins; and the other from Prime Minister the Honourable John Key.
And on that note I am very happy to announce this book launched.
John Masters Speech: