NZ Veterans Band 2012

Posted on October 2nd, 2012

Background: Co-convenor of the NZ Veterans’ Band, Michael Petterson has allowed me to quote from an email he sent to the NZ Ambassador to Belgium on 31 January 2012.  In congratulating the Ambassador, Mr Vangelis Vitalis, on his appointment, Michael went on to outline the make-up of the Band and their up-coming tour.  I quote:

“ Early last year a few ex New Zealand Army Band members expressed their wish to once again be able to play their musical instruments at a special venue or special occasion.  Since about April of 2011 the idea grew with such enthusiasm, that a band consisting of 24 members was subsequently formed – the “NZ Veterans Band”.  Members come from all over New Zealand and one from Australia and have all served primarily in Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo, mainly during the 1960’s period.  Apart from wishing to play once again as a group, one of our main objectives is to represent New Zealand Veterans and their families in remembering the huge loss and sacrifice made by so many New Zealand soldiers in Flanders during the Great War.

Subsequently and as a result of a discussion with my good friend Mr Freddy Declerck, Chairman of the Passchendaele Society 1917 in Zonnebeke, an official invitation was received by the Band.  We have been invited to attend and play various items at the ANZAC Day Commemorations in Passchendaele, Messines and Ypres (Menin Gate) in April of this year.

We have also been asked to perform at a Farewell Concert on our last evening, 27th April in the Passchendaele Church.  We have accepted this wonderful invitation and at the same time have taken the opportunity, to also organise some short tours around the New Zealand Cemeteries and Memorials in the region, for all band members, many of them being accompanied by wives/partners, plus some supporters.  The proposed tours will also include a day trip to visit and play at the New Zealand memorial in Le Quesnoy, France.  Your colleagues in Paris are being very helpful in assisting us with the protocols around our wish to perform a couple of items at the NZ Memorial.  Freddy Declerck has and still is, being extremely helpful in assisting us with preparations for our visit to Flanders.  Attached below for your information, is the official invitation from Freddy as Chairman of the Passchendaele Society.

So it came to pass.  The engagements all took place as outlined, the hospitality was superb and the experience became one of the highlights of my banding life.  It was certainly a more intimate means of experiencing the Flanders region than that available to normal tourists.

It was also a very bonding experience, reaffirming friendships made during our military service and meeting new friends with a common interest.  Not least, being able to pay tribute to our fallen countrymen who never returned from the battlefields of Flanders.

Understandably, at the conclusion of our tour there was considerable enthusiasm to do it all again.  This might have been just a little ambitious on ageing  bodies, but the sentiment was there to get together again before too long, certainly before 2017 the centennial of Passchendaele.

So it was decided that a trip to Brisbane for Anzac week 2013 would be a relatively modest but achievable and worthwhile objective.

In true military manner volunteers were called for from among Christchurch members to provide some fresh conveners.  This made sense too as that is where most members reside, the most experience exists, where the Bandmaster Chris Campbell is, close to the NZ Army Band and any other reason us North Island members can think of.

So it was a big thank you to Michael Petterson, his wife Lesley and Peter Wilson in particular for services rendered in organising the 2012 tour and welcome to Tubby Brown, Wayne Shears and Major (rtd) Tim McDavitt who have stepped forward to be the conveners for the Brisbane venture.

It has been great value to have Band member Tim McDavitt living in Brisbane for it soon became apparent that expectations of the Band to participate in the Brisbane ceremonies though highly enthusiastic, were not very practicable.  (Something to do with the formula heat x distance does not equal age x marching/playing).

So, being the good Infantry officer he became Tim resorted to a Plan B.  This appears much more doable and just as meaningful for our Anzac cousins.  It will be based around our host RSL club at Tewantin near Noosa and the tour will be:-Sat.  20 April arrival at Brisbane, various times, bus to accommodation at Australis Hotel Tewantin. Sun. 27 April departure day. In between there will be public concerts and RSL engagements within the region with the main event being Anzac Day at Tewantin RSL.  (Dawn Service, Morning Service and concert p.m.)


I have been asked, space permitting, to repeat the anecdote I told at the AGM. There is a moral to this story. At the conclusion of the Veterans’ Band tour to Flanders, members made their individual way home.  Some went directly back to New Zealand whilst others spent a little more time travelling in Europe.  Three of us players, with our wives, were in the latter category. They were bass player David Leslie and Rayna, flugel horn player John Knowles and wife Lynn, and myself (only a cornet player) with Denise.  I was not going to mention the wives, but as they proved they could run just as fast as the men on railway platforms with luggage in tow it would be churlish, not to mention inadvisable, not to mention their contribution.

So it was that the six of us, dressed in our winter jackets, were on a platform in Brussels awaiting a train to Amsterdam.  It could have been a long wait until David realised we were on the wrong platform.  There was a degree of panic among the non-military personnel present and immediate steps taken to rectify the situation.

These steps were rather rapid – certainly above Light Infantry pace – and the ladies performed with distinction, considering they were towing all the luggage.  We burst onto the new platform to the background theme “Sods Law” – yes, that’s right, our carriage was at the far end (2nd class).  But we made it and the conductor was most impressed.  Bags thrown on first, followed by human bodies accompanied by much puffing.  (That is not the Band Conductor by the way – do keep up – it was one of those train conductors).

You will remember that we were in our winter jackets.  Well it just so happened that these were the jackets on which we wore our Passchendaele Badges.  The conductor, probably known as a steward or concierge in modern terminology, took an immediate interest in David’s badge.

David, being a patient man, and possibly the only one with any breath left, answered the man’s questions.  He, the train man that is, on discovering we were all New Zealanders, became highly excited.  He was Italian you see.    The good fellow insisted we follow him and he lead us all the way through the train into First Class.  There we stayed for the entire journey.  Not content just with that, our new-found friend announced over the P.A. System who we were, where we came from and what we represented. Finally we got the chance to ask a question or two ourselves, such as “what have we done to deserve all this? His response was, “your countrymen liberated my Grandparents’ village in Italy during the last Great War.   We have never forgotten.”

That, fellow Society members, brought a lump to the throat. The moral.  Always wear your Passchendaele Society badge.  Who knows where your next upgrade may occur.

Ian Levien Member



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