Raglan turned on a beautiful day last Saturday for the 161 Battery’s ‘freedom of the city’ march through the town to mark the renewal of a beautiful friendship.
It had been about 50 years since Raglan locals first offered their support for RNZA’s 161 Battery, 16 Field Regiment while it was stationed in Vietnam for a war that was largely unpopular back home.
The occasion, full of pomp and ceremony, was marked by a parade down the main street by about 50 members of the Battery, some of their veterans, the RNZA band and members of the Raglan Pipe Band.
Along the way a group of locals performed the haka – as part of the challenge, and in support, of the occasion – before the parade carried on into Wainui Road, where veterans and guests were seated for the rest of the ceremony.
Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery Colonel Commandant Barry Dreyer explained that the freedom of the city charter was an ancient Roman tradition that was only extended to troops who had earned the trust of a town or city.
“It is a great honour that is not often given and is gratefully accepted,” he said.
Honorary Colonel Dreyer, a former member of the 161 Battery and Commanding Officer of the 16 Field Regiment, said he had been an early recipient of one of the many parcels Raglan locals had sent to the Battery.
Having lived in Hamilton and spent time at a Raglan bach in Rose Street, he took personal pleasure from the gifts of food, cigarettes and beer that were regularly shipped from Raglan to Vietnam in the 1960s.
“This was an amazing piece of Kiwiana that came out of Raglan,” he said.
Counillor Clint Baddeley said about 200 tonnes of parcels were sent from Raglan in an act of kindness for the troops, who felt “pretty lonely”.
He talked about Raglan entity Doug Arter – who reportedly encouraged locals to send letters, food parcels and other small comforts to every Battery member stationed in Vietnam – awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 1969 for services to soldiers overseas.
Doug, who always tried to find good quality provisions to fill the food parcels, also visited the 161 Battery in Vietnam. He complained about the tea, so set about to find a better tea to send the troops on his return, Mr Baddeley said.
The ceremony was watched by more than 200 people and was followed by a luncheon with dignitaries. Other actitives on the day included an artillary display at Te Kopua Domain, netball and touch rugby games at the Raglan rugby ground, and a dinner and karaoke competition that night at the Raglan Club.
Raglan RSA secretary-treasurer Noleen McCathie said the 161 Battery visit meant a lot to the town because “we go back a while”.
She said the Raglan Club was currently raising money to build new cabinets in the club’s foyer for its memorabilia, with a special section set aside for the 161 Battery.
“We want people to be aware of what the RSA [Returned Services Association] is all about,” she said.