No sooner has one brushed the last chocolate crumbs from one’s clothes and found those XXL sweatpants to ease the guilt, Anzac Day sneaks up from behind.
It is a time to stop thinking as much about ourselves, and instead to reflect on what it means to be a New Zealander, the sacrifices of others, and reminiscing about those from days gone by.
Anzac Day occurs on 25 April. It commemorates all New Zealanders killed in war and also honours returned servicemen and women. The date itself marks the anniversary of the landing of New Zealand and Australian soldiers – the Anzacs – on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. The aim was to capture the Dardanelles, the gateway to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. At the end of the campaign, Gallipoli was still held by its Turkish defenders. Thousands lost their lives. Among the dead were 2779 New Zealanders, about a sixth of those who served on Gallipoli. For many since then, Anzac Day marks the time New Zealand became a distinct nation - one which we look upon and remember why we join together, lest we forget.
Of course, for some, Anzac Day strikes closer to home both in their day-to-day work and own personal history. Toni Tate is one such person. Together, in the appropriately named Hall of Memories, Toni Tate and I sit down to talk about her Great-Grandfather’s legacy, shot down as a prisoner of war in World War One her 31 year career in the Air Force and what Anzac Day means to her.
WHO IS TONI TATE? IS SHE A BIG DEAL?
Toni is one woman you don’t want to mess with (except she’s UTTERLY lovely and I can entirely imagine her being the type of person you could enjoy long walks with, hearing all her stories from her job). She is highly ranked in the New Zealand Defence Force and the area she works in organises the serious missions that New Zealand Army, Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force get involved with. It is her third posting to Wellington in her career, where she’s been living in since the end of 2015
“We also coordinated the Defence Force response, on Government’s direction, for the Earthquake in Kaikoura.”
Toni started her career working specifically in payroll and accounts payable (she doesn’t do the flying herself!). As Warrant Officer of Joint Forces New Zealand, nowadays, she gets the real juicy stuff. “Sometimes I kick myself - I work for the Commander of Joint Forces New Zealand who runs all our joint Defence Force operations,” Toni explains, genuinely excited. “All our joint exercises in New Zealand, and our international exercises overseas - that’s what I’m involved in. We monitor our people working in Iraq and the Middle East. Last year, there was a tropical cyclone, Cyclone Winston, which severely damaged Fiji. Our Headquarters responded to that and organised to send in New Zealand’s ships, supplies and people up to Fiji. It was for an unknown time period, too. At short notice, it can be challenging but we get the job done,” Toni explains. “We also coordinated the Defence Force response, on Government’s direction, for the Earthquake in Kaikoura.”
HOW DID SHE GET HERE?
Toni always knew she wanted to go into the Defence Force because it was in her blood. She was born in Whangarei in Northland. “My father was an architect and we travelled around quite a bit as a family. We ended up in Rotorua, which was where I stayed until I joined the Air Force” Toni explains. I ask Toni whether she was more academically inclined or more sporty at school. “Probably everything!” Toni laughs. “I was maybe a bit more sporty? I played Hockey all the way through and continued to do so up until recently in my life.”
“My father was an architect and we travelled around quite a bit as a family. We ended up in Rotorua, which was where I stayed until I joined the Air Force”
Toni was inspired to join the Air Force after discovering that her Great-Grandfather had been a soldier and a pilot in World War One. “I started out wanting to join the Navy when I left school and it was after I realised that there was a family connection to the Air Force that I really was determined to take that route. Toni’s desire to travel also led to her to life in the Defence Force, which she hoped would let her take flight.
“‘Oh no’ I thought”, says Toni “‘I’m in trouble’.”
A young woman, just 16, Toni started out in the Air Force as an accounts clerk. She began her training in Woodbourne. On her birthday, she was called up on a field exercise. “Tate!” hollowed an officer. “‘Oh no’ I thought”, says Toni “‘I’m in trouble’.” Instead, Toni was winched up in a Helicopter for her birthday. “I hadn’t said anything to anyone about my birthday - it was rather extraordinary.”
In the late 1990’s, Toni’s trade as an accounts clerk was made obsolete. She was given a choice of going into Administration as a Trade, which kept her in the area in the Air Force which dealt with finance. Toni was then promoted to Warrant Officer (her current rank). Another reorganisation of the Air Force a few years later meant Toni was forced to make another choice. Now, she’s a General Service Airman.
"I became a Command Warrant Officer, and that led me to be selected for the position I am in now which is Warrant Officer of Joint Forces New Zealand.”
Her experience as a Warrant Officer, apart from my role in Administration means I’ve done some really diverse things. “I’ve done Career Management - where we post everybody around to different places. I’ve done a Base Warrant Officer job - this is when you’re the person on the Air Force Base, organising and coordinating the parades and ceremonies. All my other roles have been leadership roles: I became a Command Warrant Officer, and that led me to be selected for the position I am in now which is Warrant Officer of Joint Forces New Zealand.”
WHAT DOES ANZAC DAY MEAN TO HER?
“Anzac Day to me represents loss and sacrifice. While my Great-Grandfather came home at the end of World War One,” Toni says “many others did not. They were just so young. When I re-read the story of my Great-Grandfather, I am humbled. I have never been through anything like what he went through” she says, sighing. “They didn't have the modern technology that we do today, which would have made things so much more difficult. He started out as a trumpeter, aged 13, in the Army. After joining up in the Mounted Rifles, he was selected to fly planes because he was really tiny - he was actually nick-named “Tiny White”. He was also a prisoner of War, shot down in Germany. The plane he flew in when you look back now, looks like it would fall apart. These men went to war, not knowing what they were getting into. They had their own different reasons - but luckily, he came back to New Zealand.
"After joining up in the Mounted Rifles, he was selected to fly planes because he was really tiny - he was actually nick-named “Tiny White”
"People are becoming more engaged in Anzac Day and that is inspiring.”
Toni also thinks more broadly about what Anzac Day means to Kiwis “On Anzac, you can't help but reflect on our current people in the armed forces - away from home and contemporary veterans who have returned home. But I also think of the hope and inspiration that Anzac Day represents and how highly Kiwis regard it. A few years back I did a talk about Anzac at a school in the Manawatu. You could have heard a pin drop as I talked to these kids about it. People are becoming more engaged in Anzac Day and that is inspiring.”
WHAT ELSE WOULD I KNOW HER FROM? WHAT DOES SHE DO IN HER DOWN TIME?
While Toni admits that “pretty much her whole life” has been dedicated to the Air Force. “I joined up in 1986” she laughs. “People might also know me from Hockey, which I’ve played all my life up until four years ago. I carried on coaching and managing for a while. These days, Toni chills out with family and makes sure she catches the Hurricanes at the Stadium whenever possible. “I’m a true Hurricanes supporter” she twinkles.
“It’s vibrant, diverse and handy. It makes it easy to get my sons down, who live in the Manawatu, to visit me” Toni laughs.
“Be Bold. Be Humble. Be Great”
Toni will be in Auckland this Anzac Day. She also says that if people want to join up, they should just be themselves. “When people ask what it takes to make it in the Air Force, I always say “Be Bold. Be Humble. Be Great” Toni says, smiling. Safe to say, Toni Tate herself is a clear example of those three things.