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77 Years On - Airwomen’s Reunion

16th to 17th November 2018
By Lorraine RICE
Following on from a successful Airwomen’s reunion in Queensland in 2016, late last year a group of enterprising women decided it was time to hold another reunion in New Zealand. 
Wikitoria Ward-Holmes-Murcott was the Convenor, drawing together a committee of four in the beginning - Mana and Murray Kidd and Joyce Dean to get things underway, later joined by myself and Martha Ngawaka.
The weekend started with a Mix and Mingle on the Friday night at the Papakura RSA. The Reunion was officially opened by the Hon. Judith Collins, MP for Papakura who also presented 10 women with their NZ Defence Service Medals. Judith was a great choice for the Medal presentations as during her time as a Government Minister, she was instrumental in getting the Medals instituted for those who served in the past – either in the Compulsory Military Training scheme or in the Regular services – Army, Navy or Air Force. Initially the medals were for those who served three years – but prior to 1977, women who married or became pregnant were forced to leave the service. These women can now apply for a medal claiming that they were unable to complete their original term of service. 
My husband Horace and I worked on the Registration desk on the Friday night – handing out name badges and goodie bags. We were so lucky with donations from sponsors for the bags that we had to have a second bag ready for them to grab on their way home. Horace wasn’t particularly keen to attend as he said he wouldn’t know anyone. Within the first 30 minutes manning the door, Horace was astounded to meet a cousin of his father’s. Awa Hudson (née Hill) saw ‘RICE’ on Hori’s nametag and asked where he came from, then promptly told him she knew Waata, Dickie and Keita Rice and asked if he was related to them. Waata was Hori’s father so they were busy calling each other ‘cuz’ for the rest of the weekend.
Although there was a cash bar, the finger food supplied by the RSA restaurant team was terrific and kept coming for over a couple of hours. Photographs of all the different trades were taken by the official photographer, sports teams and the years we all joined up. We were given a link to the photographer’s website and ordered our pictures online and they arrived the following week. There was a Photo Booth set up with a stunning backdrop and large frames for all to take their own shots for the family album. The star of the night here was Myrtle Perenara from Gogglebox fame on TV3 – she was willing to have her photo taken with anyone for a donation to the ATC troup that had provided staff to clear the tables. 
Entertainment on the Friday night was to be Country music and many were up doing Line dancing but it wasn’t long before the guitar came out and Mona McKenzie spent most of the night playing all the old songs we all knew so well. The day on Saturday was left free for all to do their own thing, a trip to Whenuapai was organised for some, others went shopping or used their Gold cards to travel to Waiheke Island. 
On Saturday night the official Reunion dinner was held – again at the RSA in Papakura. The guest speaker was Squadron Leader Liesl Armitage, a C130H pilot from RNZAF Whenapai who spoke about her background in the Australian Air Force and her secondment to the RNZAF which led to her leaving Australia for good and joining the RNZAF. She told us of her training in Australia and Canada, her service in Afghanistan and entertained us with her quick wit and personal story. She stayed for the rest of the evening, answering questions and sharing tales with us all. Liesl left us in no doubt that the RNZAF is still a real choice for women wanting a career with meaning and opportunity.
On Sunday we travelled to Papakura Army Camp to attend a Church service at St Mark’s Chapel. This chapel was formerly located at Hobsonville and with the closure of the base there, it was moved to Papakura to become the chapel for the Special Air Service. The service was held by Wing Commander Di Woods, CHAPCL2 who flew from Wellington just for our service. She told us of her previous service at Whenuapai and Hobsonville, so it was perfectly fitting that she was there to hold a service for Airwomen in the former RNZAF Chapel. The organising committee set up a small choir which quickly grew and although our first song could have done with more practise, by the time we had lifted the roof with ‘God Defend New Zealand’ and ‘Whakaria Mai’ – both in Māori and English, the Padre thought we would pass any audition. The Padre’s homily – the past, present and future offered a genuine time for reflection. We spoke aloud the names those we had lost in the past, recognised the present around us and thought quietly of what we could offer the young women in our circles for the future – then called their names softly. This was a truly moving tribute to our service and left us thinking of what we could do to encourage and mentor those who may follow us.
After the service we were warmly welcomed into the mess for a wonderful lunch. The afternoon’s entertainment was to visit the Warbirds at Ardmore and many of the visitors moved on there, others left to travel home reflecting on the friendships we had renewed and how 30 or 40 years really wasn’t that long ago. 
All of us attending this reunion and those in the past, will attest to the fact that joining the RNZAF was one of the best decisions we made. We became part of a whanau – all sisters and cousins together. Years later, we still ‘sign up’ to meet again and relive ‘The Days of Our Lives’.
Next Up:
• Reunion at RSL Currumbin, Gold Coast, Queensland – 7th to 9th June 2019.
• Reunion at Hornby Workings Mens Club, Christchurch – 24th to 26th April 2020 – ANZAC Weekend.
• Check out the RNZAF Reunion pages on Facebook if you want more details. LR