'Nobody fights for the flag' - ex-serviceman

Chris Mullane, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the New Zealand infantry who served in Vietnam and later advised the US military on leadership after their unsuccessful Vietnam campaign, gave the 24-hour Flag Summit an entirely different perspective from other former servicemen.

"Nobody fights for the flag, I can tell you that right now. All this stuff about fighting and dying under it is a misconception. Now is the time for a flag change."

The CEO of the RSA, Dave Moger, told the Summit yesterday that over 95% of the 100,000 membership was against changing the New Zealand flag. But Mullane, who is also the president of the Devonport branch of the RSA, said the perception that the flag was emotionally attached to New Zealand soldiers was not correct.

"When I was in Vietnam, I didn't see the New Zealand flag at all. We had a regimental flag which had two silver ferns and a Kiwi on it - that's what flew over our base.

"I didn't see one New Zealand flag when I was there. Oh, yes...I did - one. It was in Saigon and was flying alongside the national flags of other nations involved in Vietnam.

"The Second New Zealand Division in World War II had a black flag with a silver fern; at Gallipoli, the only New Zealand flag there was taken there by Malone [Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone, commander of the Wellington battalion] who rolled it up and put it away because the Turks started using it as a target."

The New Zealand Navy didn't change from the British ensign to the New Zealand version until 1968; the Air Force similarly didn't change the roundel on the planes to a New Zealand version until well after the war. Dave Gallaher, the former All Black captain and soldier who died in World War I, was buried with the Southern Cross and the silver fern marking his passing.

"So I'd like to meet anyone who thought they died under the flag," said Mullane.

"I'd probably need a ticket to another life but no one chooses to fight for a flag; I'm an old infantryman and I know you fight alongside your mates and they rely on you and you rely on them."

The current flag was iconic, he said, but it was "absolutely" time for a change. He was a fan of the Kyle Lockwood red, white and blue silver fern flag because it reflected our past as well as our future.

Bill Rayner, Grey Power Auckland zone director, did not favour change: "Flag change has to come out of major political, national and social change - not just for something to do.

"Flag change in other nations has come exactly for those reasons. We talk about Canada but part of the reason they did that was because Quebec was talking about seceding. South Africa changed its flag too but we all know why that flag had to change."

Rayner said New Zealand had already been through a recent flag change. He pointed to his youth when the Union Jack was commonly flown and cinema fans sang God Save The Queen before the movie began.

The flag change seemed to be about seeking a national identity for New Zealand but he felt, even though the flag might change one day in the future, the current flag reflected that identity.

The Treaty of Waitangi had two parties in it - Maori and people from Britain who had set up our political, justice and other systems. It was good Maori grievances had been addressed but the second half of the treaty was about the British connection.

"It [the current flag] represents the British culture which, along with Maori culture, is what New Zealand is based on. It reflects our past and that is important; Pakeha New Zealanders are almost a separate ethnicity these days.

"I hope the new flag [which wins the preference voting] is defeated and then we have a proper referendum at some stage in the future."

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