Defence staff farewelled from central city

Last updated 16:00 30/06/2013

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The last remaining members of the New Zealand Defence Force were farewelled in Christchurch today.

There was spontaneous applause and cheers from the crowd when 120 representatives from the Air Force, Navy and Army were formally stood down marking the end of the largest ever internal military deployment in New Zealand's history. 

The ceremony coincided with the official lifting of the final central city cordon.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told gatherers that after the September 2010 earthquake Civil Defence teams thought it was ''inappropriate'' to call on the Defence Force for help.

''Maybe it would give the wrong impression to see light armoured vehicles rolling through the city.''

But after securing permission from Prime Minister John Key hundreds of soldiers rallied into the quake-stricken city providing everything from security to a shoulder to cry on for distraught residents. 

The 31st and final cordon reduction took place at the weekend and thousands of Cantabrians reclaimed their city taking nostalgic strolls through Cathedral Square and down Worcester Boulevard, pointing at sites where iconic buildings once stood and photographing the destruction. 

Key described it as a ''momentous day'' in Christchurch's recovery and offered his sincere thanks to NZDF. 

''What you [NZDF] have provided is reassurance for the people of Christchurch as they came to terms with this natural disaster,'' Key said. 

Parker said members of the NZDF were ''truly great Kiwis'' and said yesterday was the end of a ''three-year relationship''.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the NZDF's presence had been ''very comforting''.

''And for those of you who stopped me going in [through the cordon] because I had forgotten my proper identification then rest assured, I have forgiven you,'' he joked.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said it had been ''an absolute pleasure'' to see the NZDF so involved with the recovery. 

''The earthquakes have shown us that the NZDF is here for New Zealand when New Zealand needs it.

Their job has ranged from security, to gatekeepers, to tourism advisers, sometimes even consolation for distraught residents.

Building and demolition sites and traffic management for infrastructure roadworks mean some areas of the central business district will still be closed off.

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- The Press

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