World War 2 hero John Beeching will miss out on a memorial plaque reserved for veterans, because he has lived too long.
Born in London, John, 93, served in World War II as a pilot for the Royal Air Force. He has lived in New Zealand for 64 years and calls himself a Kiwi – but because he is classed as a “commonwealth veteran”, he won’t qualify for a memorial bronze plaque when he passes away, due to recent changes to the war pensions act.
From 1 July 2016, Veterans Affairs New Zealand (VANZ) no longer accepted applications for plaques and headstones in respect of commonwealth veterans – only New Zealand veterans.
Although commonwealth veterans can still be interred in a service cemetery, the cost of the plaque, which is around $500, has to be met by the veteran’s family or estate.
If John had passed away before the change his bronze plaque would have been covered.
John says it is “unbelievable” that VANZ would even consider the change.
The patron of the Nelson RSA calls himself a “naturalised New Zealander” and has more than played his part, commanding 57 different Mosquito combat planes in dozens of missions over Europe.
John came to New Zealand in 1953 when he was 30 years old, landing here “the same day as the Queen,” he says.
He and his wife Wendy live in The Wood, where John still works part-time at the Cawthron Institute as a handy-man.
“I want to know the name of the person who decided this and what their reasons were, because it’s totally incomprehensible – you’re looking at peanuts here. The whole thing is so nit-picking,” he says.
“We all fought for the same thing during the war – don’t forget, half of the air force was made up of commonwealth people.”
VANZ told Nelson Weekly that they spend approximately $45,000 each month to fund an average of 117 memorial plaques and headstones. But it refused to say why it had changed it policy, or how many veterans will be affected.
“We’ve lived here all our lives, you know, I’m a New Zealander by choice,” says John.
“I think I have contributed a lot to New Zealand – I’ve never had a day’s dole in my life and I’m a life member of the RSA, you know, what do you have to do?”