Prince Charles lays wreath at Auckland cenotaph

MATTHEW THEUNISSEN, KIERAN CAMPBELL, MICHELLE ROBINSON
Last updated 18:28 11/11/2012
Fairfax NZ

The Prince and Duchess meet New Zealand veterans at the Auckland Museum.

Royals at Armistice Day commemorations

Prince Charles enjoys a moment with a Kiwi veteran from the British Airborne Forces during the Armistice Day commemorations outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Prince Charles enjoys a moment with a Kiwi veteran from the British Airborne Forces during the Armistice Day commemorations outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

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With a gentle wave from their BMW, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have departed from a warm welcome at the Auckland War Memorial Museum where several hundred people turned out to greet them today.

There were war veterans, royalists and a cautious hongi during the couple's first major welcome to New Zealand, on the final leg of their Pacific tour for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Prime Minister John Key said it was a thrill to meet the royal couple - but he wouldn't say what he joked about with the Prince during the Armistice Day commemoration ceremony.

''They said they had a lovely night's sleep at Government House, so that was good, and they're having a great time,'' Mr Key said.

Labour Party leader David Shearer met the Prince briefly and said their topic of conversation was weather.

''We were just saying that if he'd been here the day before it'd been brilliant sunshine,'' Shearer said.

Before the laying of the Armistice Day wreaths Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attended an official Maori welcome by Ngati Whatua in the museum's World War II Hall of Memories.

The Duchess' feathery black hard-brimmed hat, by designer Philip Treacy, caused some hesitation at her first hongi.

''You can try,'' she told Ngati Whatua's Grant Hawke, before leaning in for a brief hongi.

''Lucky she didn't have a flat nose like mine,'' Mr Hawke said with a giggle after the powhiri.

Next in line, Taiaha Hawke, said he was ''a bit of a hongi expert'' and was not put off by the Duchess' hat.

''You've just got to take the lead,'' he said.

Prince Charles received glowing reviews for his address to the powhiri in Maori.

Grant Hawke said it was ''very eloquent''.

''He did his mother proud,'' Mr Hawke said.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown was another to address the gathering.

"Sir we hope you and your wife will have a wonderful time here and you will come and visit us again and enjoy our beautiful city. No rera tena kotou," Mr Brown said.

The royal couple also had morning tea in the museum with 10 war veterans who served in New Zealand's armed forces.

Graeme McKay, who was an army captain, said the royals were very easy to talk to.

''I guess they get lots of practice. He made you feel as though you were the only person in the room. He was asking where I'd served and I said I'd been in Korea and Malaya, and we discussed what it was like over there. It was a pretty nasty war in many ways, and the prince was impressive with his knowledge about it.''

Mr McKay's wife, Nan, said she was surprised by the Duchess' small stature.

''She was not quite what I expected - she's so little and so petite and she's so pretty and so charming. She makes you feel like she's actually interested in meeting you, which is a gift. I was just incredibly impressed with her.

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''She was beautifully dressed, beautifully groomed and just completely charming - they were both charming. They talked to all the old soldiers and they made them feel important.''

RNZN veteran John Dallow, who served in the Korean war, was equally impressed.

''I would have thought that they'd get a bit tired of doing this sort of thing all day every day. They must have to do an awful lot of it, but they were genuinely interested in what I did in Korea and what the navy's function was. I thought they were both absolutely charming.''

After the powhiri and before the commemorative ceremony, Prince Charles and the Duchess were given a small private tour through some of the rooms at the museum by director Roy Clare.
 
Prince Charles was reportedly fascinated by the museum's copy of the Highgrove Florilegium, a detailed collection of illustrations recording plants at his Highgrove House in Gloucestershire.
 
It is believed to be the only copy in the southern hemisphere and one of 175 published for the Prince's Trust.
 
He was also shown Sir Edmund Hillary's diary, known as the Everest Diary, from 1953. It is part of the collection of Sir Ed's personal papers held at the museum.
 
The diary was open to show his style of writing and give a glimpse of the dramatic day-to-day events of the expedition.

Armistice Day wreaths were laid by Prince Charles, Messrs Key, Shearer and Brown and there were wreaths also from New Zealand Defence Force and Returned Services Association representatives, Ngati Whatua and consul generals from Australia, Britain and Japan.

Afterwards the royals met some of the approximately 500 people gathered for the ceremony with some fans calling out "we love you"

"I shook his hand, I said we love you, God bless you," Sisilia Brown said. "He said God bless you too," she said, grinning.

Mr Key said the enthusiasm of today's crowd reflected the affection New Zealanders still have for the monarchy.

''He's the future King of New Zealand so it's extremely important,'' Mr Key said.

''I think you can see by the polls around that New Zealanders' support of the monarchy is extremely strong. If anything it's been growing in recent years.''

British Airborne Forces Association members were also on hand to "meet the boss".

Nine veterans of the forces have come from across the country to commemorate Remembrance Day and meet Prince Charles aka "the boss" and at the end of the service Charles and Camilla sent some time shaking hands with veterans.

"He's the colonel in chief of the Parachute regiment," association secretary Roy Tilley said.

He served in the British Territorials and in Germany from 1960-65 supporting the armed forces and engineers.

Tilley is pleased to see Armistice Day becoming more widely recognised in New Zealand along with Anzac Day.

Actor Dean O'Gorman's grandfather Ron Cossins was among ex-World War 2 soldiers at today's commemorations.

He had a chat with Prince Charles today, telling him he served with his father.

"He was on a destroyer. We served in the same war area north of Africa, in the Mediterranean and Italy."

Cossins was a parachuter, the regiment which Prince Charles is the colonel in chief of.

One person who did not echo all the support was New Zealand Defence Force veteran Kingi Taurua, who wasn't allowed to stand with his comrades beneath the cenotaph because he was holding a protest sign.

He said he supported the Royal visit but was concerned that Waitangi was not on the itinerary.

Mr Taurua, who served in Vietnam, Malaya and Borneo, was told by police he had to remain behind barriers with the rest of the public.

The royal couple have concluded their official engagements for today.

They will spend tomorrow in Auckland, and fly to Wellington on Wednesday.

-APNZ and Fairfax News NZ

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