Nelson WW2 veteran John Beeching will get his bronze memorial plaque after all, but it’s the kindness and generosity of Nelsonians – not the government – that has made it possible.
Last week, Nelson Weekly told the story of London-born Beeching, who was set to miss out on the plaque reserved for veterans, because he has lived too long.
The 93 year old has lived in New Zealand for 64 years, but because he is classed as a “Commonwealth veteran”, he won’t qualify for the plaque when he passes away, due to recent changes to the war pension’s act which came into effect on 1 July 2016.
But since the article was published, four generous people have come forward offering to cover the $500 cost of John’s plaque, including an anonymous Auckland man, Port Nelson’s chief executive Martyn Byrne, a group of locals co-ordinated by Murray Leaning, and most recently, Nelson man Ian Martyn.
There has even been support from as far away as Canada.
Ian runs the not-for-profit business ‘medals reunited’ and spent 37 years in military himself, with a significant portion of that time in the air force in the same ranks as John.
“When I read the article, it really burned me up – especially because John is the patron of the RSA. They’re just skirting it for a few beans,” says Ian.
“So, I just jumped into the white pages, found John’s phone number and told him: ‘I’m paying for your plaque, and that’s that’, and then we met up.
“I have now organised it all with John’s son Greg, and when the time comes I’ve told him to send the bill through to me,” he adds.
“I just don’t know why they don’t wind it down once all the WW2 veterans are gone, and then change it.
“It’s just sheer politics from a bunch of bean counters in Wellington, and I think it is also poor form at a local level.”
John says he has been very humbled with the kind offers of support, but he’d still like some answers about why Commonwealth veterans have been left in the dark.
“I’m just gratified with amazement; I thought we’d get some reaction, but certainly not anyone paying for it,” he says.
“But I’m just the catalyst – everyone wants answers.”
In a statement to the Nelson Weekly just yesterday, Minister of Veterans’ Affairs David Bennett says that in 2010 the Law Commission conducted a review of the War Pensions Act 1954 and found it had not been adapted to the changed social, military and legal context.
“The Veterans’ Support Act 2014 clearly defines its intention to best serve New Zealand veterans, who served at the direction of the New Zealand Government,” Mr Bennett says.
It is not know how many Commonwealth veterans will be affected by these changes, with the national RSA office stating that they do not keep the numbers of Commonwealth veterans, with their “primary focus” being New Zealand’s 41,000 veterans.
Meanwhile, the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, based in the UK, say the only figure they could provide is 129, which is the number of ex British servicemen/women they have recorded on file since 2010.