Stories of valour Wartime memories of our residents
Thank you. To commemorate Anzac Day we thought it was appropriate to share the amazing stories of some of our Ryman residents who have served their country. We thank them for their wartime service, the contribution they made to the freedom we enjoy today and for sharing with us their personal experiences. We hope you enjoy their stories.
This booklet is not intended as a historical document, but simply to share memories and experiences of some of our Ryman Village residents.
Final leave 1941 so they all decided to get their favourite haircuts. James is in the middle. Photo courtesy of James Easton
Allan Reynish, 95 Anthony Wilding Retirement Village
llan was born in Akaroa and went to St Andrews College. His family farm at Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula.
He enlisted in 1944 and joined the 26th Battalion, and trained hard in the expectation of heading overseas. In 1945 Japan surrendered and he was discharged.
“We were disappointed because we’d worked so hard, but then I heard about J-Force and I re-enlisted to go to Japan.’’ He joined the 27th Machine Gun Battalion and he has vivid memories of the destruction of Japan in the aftermath of the bombing.
He lost a lot of mates from school in the war and looks forward to Anzac Day. “It’s all about the mateship – there’s not too many of us left now.’’
Jack Marshall DFC, 99 Anthony Wilding Retirement Village
ack Marshall was born in Balham, South London, but his family moved out to New Zealand in 1937 when he was in his late teens.
When war broke out he joined the RNZAF and headed back to Britain, and joined 115 Squadron flying Wellington bombers as a tail gunner. He survived an early crash in his career when his bomber was forced to ditch in the North Sea, but he and the crew were rescued by a fishing trawler after 16 hours adrift. Later on he switched to a pathfinder squadron, and flew Stirling bombers. He flew with
Fraser Barron, a New Zealand pilot who became a close friend. Fraser Barron was one of the most highly decorated New Zealand pilots who flew during the war. He was killed when he was just 23 when he crashed over France. Jack went on to complete 46 missions – two tours of operations – and could have ended his flying career after 45 flights but he volunteered to do one extra mission when another crew was short. The odds of survival were one in three, and he counts himself lucky to have made it through.
He married Molly in 1942, and by 1943 Jack’s war was over because he’d flown so many missions. He and Molly returned to New Zealand to start a family and had three children. He says Anzac Day is significant, and not a day goes by when he doesn’t think about the mates like Fraser that were lost. “When you fly in a bomber it is all about your crew. My crew is always at the back of my mind, every day.’’
Roger Gargett, 93 Anthony Wilding Retirement Village
oger was born in Southbridge in Canterbury on 22nd February 1927 and attended nearby Lakeside School.
He recalls that many of the Japanese did not want to surrender, and part of his job was keeping the peace and stopping them from re-arming.
At 18 he joined the army and trained at Trentham graduating as a sergeant infantry instructor, and served in the 2nd NZEF Infantry Division during the occupation of Japan. He arrived there on the troopship HMT Dunera.
“Nagasaki reminded me of Christchurch – it had a river like the Avon. It was hard to believe the devastation.”
In Japan he took part in patrols to locate Japanese prisoners and did guard duty at the war crimes court.
Roger returned to New Zealand in 1947 and joined the New Zealand Police Force where he served 37 years working in all branches including the Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), undercover work and search and rescue. He was twice
decorated for bravery in the AOS and was commended for his work as the Christchurch search and rescue logistics officer in the aftermath of the Erebus air disaster in Antarctica. In 1977 he was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Service Medal for Community Service. From 1960 to 1985, Roger attended the dawn services on Anzac Day where he laid the wreath on behalf of the Christchurch Police. This was also his final duty before he retired.
Shirley Bowker, 89 Bert Sutcliffe Retirement Village
hirley was born in August 1930 and grew up in Greymouth on the West Coast. She went to school at Greymouth Primary School and Greymouth Technical High School. Her mother died of tuberculosis when Shirley was very young, and she remembers being at her grandmother’s house at the age of nine when she heard that war had been declared. By the time she finished school, the war was over, and she moved to Wellington to complete a librarian course. It was then, in 1948 at age 18, that she had the idea to join the military.
“I wanted a home away from home, so I joined the army and I ended up with a very good job,” says Shirley. “I joined as a private and ended up as a staff sergeant.”
She was based at Fort Dorset in Seatoun before moving to the Central Military District (CMD) headquarters in Buckle Street. “I was the librarian in charge of all the libraries in the army through the CMD, which were both fiction and non-fiction, and I set up the libraries in all the camps and bought books for them. “I liked it in the army and I felt comfortable doing what I’d been trained to do. And I could buy all these books!” While the war had been finished for a few years, its impact was still far-reaching. “Even though the war was over it hadn’t been over for that long and I felt ready to be part of it if needed,” Shirley says.
the trump card she held over him throughout their time in the forces. “He wasn’t as high a rank as I was,” she laughs. “We couldn’t even eat together because he had to go to a different mess.” To solve that problem the couple bought a house in Wellington and moved off the base. Shirley’s army career ended when she became pregnant with the first of four children and the couple moved up to Auckland where Peter was originally from. She went on to teach maths and science at the Diocesan School for Girls in Remuera.
“I loved the army and I loved the organisation of it, the regimented part. It set me up Shirley also met her future for the rest of my life and it husband Peter in the army and helped me with my teaching to this day gets a kick out of career too.”
Bill Cooke, 90 Bob Owens Retirement Village
t was a trip back to Korea in 2002 that finally got Bill Cooke to open up about the time he spent there as a signalman attached to the 1st Commonwealth Divisional Signals in C Troop in the 1950s. His reticence to talk about his time there was twofold – there was a feeling that people didn’t really understand or care, coupled with a sense that his efforts over the two years he spent there had been futile.
“The tanks had been through and it was just a heap of rubble when we left,” he says. “We thought ‘what a bloody waste of time’. “We felt so sorry for the plight of the people and the terrible destruction to their country.” When he returned in 2002 it was 50 years since he’d departed New Zealand for Korea and the sights that greeted him couldn’t have been more different. “I was so amazed at the huge imposing buildings, the treelined streets and the many bridges over the Han River.”
One of Bill’s three sons, Robert, accompanied him and finally got to hear first-hand all about the work Bill did in the two years he was there. Also one of three boys, Bill, the oldest, was born in Auckland on the 11th November 1929 later being schooled in Taihape. The family moved around a lot due to his father’s work on the railways. Bill was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the railways and was working as a fireman in the Taumarunui Branch when he decided on a whim to join his two drinking buddies in signing up at the army recruitment office. Out of the three of them only Bill was deemed medically fit enough and what seemed like a big adventure began. In Charlie Troop, Bill’s work involved laying cable, in often harsh conditions. The lines had to be on poles and the men would have to hammer a steel peg into the ground before dropping the pole into the hole. Steel pickets were
then driven in each side of the pole and signal wire used as stays to hold it steady. The extreme climate – ‘stinking hot’ in summer and down to −24 in the winter – posed challenges too. “It was so cold the river froze over so that you could walk on it. All we had were these leftover uniforms from WWII but finally we got some decent woollen uniforms which was much better,” says Bill. In the summer, to the other extreme, Bill and his fellow cable-layers would strip down to their underpants while out in the field to cope with the sweltering heat – it wasn’t a popular look with the British commanders, but it made the work bearable. There were huge risks for the men, who were working in minefields and dodging mortar bombs that the Koreans would fire at them, one of which sliced open the fingers on Bill’s hand.
“My mates weren’t impressed when I came back with my ticket before them!”
« On another occasion, the men were divided into two groups and sent on an assignment – the other group were all killed, some of the 48 New Zealanders who were killed in Korea, and a stark reminder of just how arbitrary survival could be. Bill also caught malaria and went into a coma, prompting cheers from his fellow patients in the hospital when he ‘came to’ after seven days rather than the predicted 10. However, he suffered unpleasant night sweats for years afterwards. During his two year stint, which saw the men’s allegiance switch from King to Queen, Bill swotted up and studied for his engine driver exams, preparing for his return to New Zealand.
“My mates weren’t impressed when I came back with my ticket before them! But there wasn’t much to do on a cold night in Korea!” he laughs. Bill returned to the railways and that was his career for the next 40 years. He lived in Frankton and married the girl next door, Valerie. When she passed away in 2018, Bill moved into Bob Owens Retirement Village to be nearer to two of his three sons, at the same time fulfilling a lifelong dream to live in the Bay of Plenty. He always takes an active part in Anzac Day commemorations and 2020 will see his first one marked in the village.
His efforts in Korea in 1952–54 were finally given true meaning during his trip back in 2002, where Bill and the other men were overwhelmed by the ceremonies the Koreans put on for them and the gratitude they expressed. “The ceremony I will always cherish was at Kapyong when we presented scholarships to the children of the Kapyong Buk Middle School,” says Bill. “The Mayor gave a speech telling us that we would never be forgotten, making us proud to have been members of the K-Force.” He was also delighted to see which building in Seoul was the only one remaining – the railway station!
Photo courtesy of Bill Cooke
Charlie Douglas, 97 Bob Owens Retirement Village
little mouse running up the side of a horse’s foot and promptly being stamped on, is Charlie Douglas’s first memory of the start of World War II.
Born on 15 September 1922, in Thames, Charlie grew up on a farm in Kaiaua. He was just a teenager, deer culling in the Haast, when he got the call from the army. He wasn’t keen to leave, but he finally went by pack horse to Cromwell and had a medical. He was in the Wairau Valley when he got the order to go to camp in Nelson, then Blenhiem and Papakura for training. Charlie was in the infantry and did an anti-tank course. After further training at Maadi Camp, Egypt, he headed to Italy, but they were held back as the Battle of Monte Cassino was on, and there were so many casualties. They caught up
with the others in Cortino and gradually they headed north. He recalls being with a mate in Italy, when they dug a shallow trench. The ground was hard so they didn’t dig deep. His cobber sat his small backpack between them. It was just big enough to hold his mess tins, socks and a small bit of soap. A tank came up behind them through a patch of maize. They heard the shot as it went between their heads and hit the small pack, wrecking the soldier’s tins and a paperback book. Charlie laughs as he remembers his mate cursing the shooters over the few ruined belongings. Another close call was at night in Forli. Charlie was in a house sleeping at the top of the stairs. About midnight there was gunfire, then one shell popped and came screaming through the roof, through the ceiling, through the wall and landed by his head. It didn’t go off!
“You are trained for it,” says Charlie. “I used to get more nervous if there was nothing happening as I knew it would happen soon. It’s not like on television. You never see the enemy because if you do, they see you too. You keep your head down.” Charlie has strong feelings about war. “Anzac Day is a memory of failures – I don’t need a special day to remember my mates, they’re always in my mind. There is no glory in it at all. I never wear my medals. I know they mean a lot to others, but not to me. It is part of the glorifying of war.” Charlie made some good friends during that time. He is the only surviving member of their gang of four and has written many poems about his mates, their experiences and his feelings and opinions about wars.
Jack Morgan, 96 Bob Owens Retirement Village
ack Morgan was born in Stratford on 2nd December 1923. He turned 18 in 1941. Five days later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the USA entered the war.
On March 1st, 1942 Jack was conscripted into the army in the Taranaki Regiment. Jack worked hard and wanted to get to the top. This was an ethos he had all his life. He was transferred to Palmerston North to the 1st Taranaki Battalion and sent to Trentham. After two and a half years in the army, Jack was getting fed up as he wanted to go overseas. If that wasn’t going to happen, he decided he would go into farming as it was a reserved occupation.
underage, the director of mobilisation recommended he go overseas (as they were running low on men) but not in an infantry battalion. Jack was sent in the 9th Mechanical Transport for all purposes. Jack headed away in the 13th Reinforcements in 1944 and sailed to Egypt. He disembarked at Port Tewfik then went to Maadi Base Camp, close to the pyramids where the NZ Divisions were based. Italy was next, and Jack sailed to Taranto. He travelled by truck to Bari and then by rail in cattle–trucks, to Florence. There, Jack had a driver and they collected the Division's partly destroyed vehicles to repair or use for parts. These were later handed over to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).
He went straight to the top, to mobilisation and got a good dressing down, but afterwards the colonel warmed to him and “Monte Cassino was a terrible said get your father’s written spot. After the bombing consent and come back and and shelling the town was see me. He did. destroyed with buildings Even though Jack had poor gutted. The Railway Station eyesight in one eye and was where the Māori Battalion
had fought and suffered 60% casualties, was more or less a shell.” Single men in the 13th, 14th and 15th reinforcements, plus volunteers were assembled in Florence to go to Japan as J-Force occupation troops. Jack spent nine months in Japan. He landed in Kure on the inland sea at a large naval base where massive ship – building took place, including now destroyed submarines that had been planned for the Pacific. After establishing and working in his own valuation firm in Palmerston North, Jack later moved to Bethlehem, Tauranga where he developed a kiwifruit orchard. Thirty-eight veterans went back to Monte Cassino for the 70th anniversary commemorations and Jack was one of them. And Anzac Day? “To me it means remembering the loss of chaps I knew and grew up with – a day of remembering friends and people who did not return.”
John Bell, 97 Bob Owens Retirement Village
ohn was born on the 22nd June 1922 in Wanganui, one of 11 children and grew up on the family farm at Bell’s Junction, near Waiouru. At 18 years old, in August 1941 John was called up and did three months training at Waiouru. After the attack on Pearl Harbour in December of the same year, John was conscripted and went into the army in Palmerston North. John was a machine gunner in the 27th Machine Gun Battalion and was posted overseas in 1943 with the 10th reinforcements. He left New Zealand as one of 7,000 men on the Nieuw Amsterdam heading to the Middle East.
After Egypt, he was sent to Italy as, although Italy had capitulated, there was still great danger. John (‘Ding’ to his friends) was considered lucky and had many a ‘close shave.’ Once near Sant’Angelo clambering up a hill being heavily mortared and carrying machine gun ammunition, “as though it was in slow motion I saw mortar hit just above me, ricochet off and go down the hill and explode.” “That luck stayed with me all through,” said John, “at Cassino three of us were standing talking, a shell landed, the other two men were killed and I got a clod
of earth in my eye, a black eye and concussed.” As head front-line medic and the aid to the major who asked him to find a place for wounded, John found a house on a stop-bank 8-10m from the Germans. He went upstairs to check there were no snipers inside and an Armor Piercing High Explosive (APHE) intended for tanks flew into house and exploded. John walked out unscathed!
“The shelling, the mortar fire and sniper fire was unrelenting and constant. It was pretty miserable.”
« His luck ran out the night he and the light extinguished. was captured by the Germans. John safely delivered the He escaped in the confusion baby boy in candlelight, when the train they were on wrapped him in a big shell was attacked by Allied planes. dressing and handed him John ran for eight to ten hours back to his mother. in the mountain ranges until In a bizarre coincidence, exhausted and sick, he was 50 years later when John and discovered by some Italians his wife Noeline returned to who sheltered him. He was Italy they met the bambino finally returned to his NZ he delivered and was redivision after ten days away. introduced to the boy's mama. John still finds it difficult to talk about this time. “As a soldier “It was a tough war. It was fighting I had a job to do. I had bloody and it rained a lot. a duty and somebody ordered We lost a lot of men and me to do it but on this one the fighting was some of I was alone.” the fiercest of the war. Especially at Monte Cassino. During one ferocious battle The Germans weren’t going John was called upon to to give up. Cassino was the deliver a baby for a young worst battle area I’ve ever Italian woman in labour. During been in. The shelling, the the birth a mortar shell landed
mortar fire and sniper fire was unrelenting and constant. It was pretty miserable.” John attended the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Cassino. It was a moving time for him. On Anzac Day when he was younger he always went to the dawn parade. “When we came back, for 30 – 40 years nobody talked about the war. Once I wrote it down I could talk about it.”
Photo courtesy of Bill Cooke
Innes McNeil, 95 Bob Scott Retirement Village
nnes was born in Auckland on 23rd January 1925.
He was educated at Auckland Grammar and belonged to the cadet unit at the school. On leaving school in 1940, Innes worked at the St Helier’s Post Office and in 1941 joined the St Helier’s Home Guard. He applied to join the air force soon after turning 18 and started basic training at Linton Camp, near Palmerston North, where he was selected to take a flight rigger’s course at Nelson Air Base. A flight rigger has the responsibility to check that the aeroplane is fit to fly in all respects except for the engine, which is certified by a flight mechanic.
In later years Innes has reflected on the immense responsibility of that job. They were all highly trained and knew what was at stake – near enough was certainly not good enough! After a posting to an operational training unit at Ardmore, and a six week commando course, Innes now 19, was given final leave before heading to the Pacific Theatre. Innes served in the Pacific for about sixteen months, servicing and repairing aircraft. His first posting was Nasouri, Fiji working on PV1 Ventura bombers. Following that he served in Santos, Guadalcanal, and for a year he was in Bougainville at Piva North Strip.
He stayed on in the rear party at the end of the war, cleaning up and attending to visiting aircraft. During this time Innes helped to crate up a Japanese Zeke (Zero) fighter that had been captured and was being prepared for shipping back to New Zealand. He chuckles as he wonders if his initials are still engraved on that aircraft that is now on display at the Auckland War Memorial Museum!
“I suppose many of them are still above American mantel pieces as war trophies.”
« Innes remembers the Americans being keen to buy mementos and easily tricked by his cobbers. Some ‘blacksmiths’ would make swords out of truck springs and punch a few Japanese ‘letters’ on the blades. “I suppose many of them are still above American mantel pieces as war trophies.” The British Navy aircraft carrier HMS Venerable had come out to the Pacific, after the war in Europe was over. Innes was among those who replaced several navy riggers and mechanics who came
ashore, and he remembers it as a tremendous experience watching the planes take off and land on the deck. Sometimes they would miss the hook wires and crash into the big wire barrier slung across the deck! Innes doesn’t recall being sea-sick and speculates it could have been due to the navy issue rum! Innes came home from Bougainville, via Noumea on his last tour, on the TSS Wahine which had been converted to a troop ship. It wasn’t a pleasant trip and he mostly slept on the deck because of sea-sickness.
After his discharge, Innes rejoined the Post Office, went to Morse school and was appointed to the Auckland Telegraph Office. In 1951 he joined the BNZ and retired from there in 1985 as Chief Manager Group Properties. After a lifetime of involvement in various community and charitable organisations, Innes was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 2005.
Photo courtesy of Stanley Daubney
Melvin Norton, 89 Bruce McLaren Retirement Village
el was born in April 1931, and grew up in a small village in Hertfordshire, UK called London Colney.
Mel began his basic training at Cardington in Bedfordshire before moving to Bridgnorth in Shropshire for military training.
He left school aged 14 in April 1945 and went to work at an engineering firm.
He was then posted to Weeton, “I was still kept on reserve for near Blackpool to train as another seven years but was an engineer on jet engines not called up again.” before being sent to Jever in “I went to work at De Havillands northern Germany. making parts for Blue Streak “There were three squadrons guided missiles.” of De Havilland Vampire In 1964 Mel moved with his aircraft there and I was posted wife Sheila and two boys to to No 4 Squadron.” New Zealand, where he ran “The job of the station was to power stations first in Napier, keep a flight of three aircraft in then in Otara in Auckland. the air all the hours of daylight, He moved into Bruce McLaren fully armed.” Retirement Village when it “Each plane had four 20mm opened in 2014. cannons and they were ready Mel always attends the to fire at any time.” remembrance service held “This was a defence against on Anzac Day and had a hat any interference from the made to wear with his medals. Russians. They were made aware of these precautions and it was hoped that this would deter any action on their part.”
“I had a works badge that said I was on war work and that entitled me to go to the front of bus queues and also to get an extra loaf of bread a week,” says Mel. When he turned 18 he was exempted from doing the national service because he was working in a reserved industry, so he was able to finish his apprenticeship as a toolmaker. He registered for national service at 21 and decided to join the Royal Air Force as a regular serviceman. This was in 1952, during the time that Cold War tensions were building.
Mel was in the RAF for three years and wanted to re-enlist but was unable to due to medical reasons.
Nancy Osborne, 92 Charles Fleming Retirement Village
an was born in Taihape, where her father worked on the railway.
“When we got called up at 18, we had to go into either the armed forces, or essential work. “I had been in St John’s Ambulance since I was nine, and I thought I would try to get into medical. I was accepted for the air force before the war finished, but they would not enlist any more women at that time.” In 1947 they decided to keep the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) going. Nan got the ticket and away she went.
strike and the clinic at Wellington wharf was run by the services. It was an intensive time for Nan. “They slotted us in to help at 5pm after our classes finished. We had to get on the tram and get to the wharf, and work until 10pm. After that came study.” In 1953 she was sent to Fiji, the start of an exciting time working overseas. “It was the right time to be there during the royal visit. The air force had a lot to do with the organising of it.
“We formed the guard of honour on the jetty when Queen Elizabeth II left for Her initial training was at Samoa, in a specially fitted out Wigram. “I went to Hobsonville, Sunderland aircraft. We then which was the flying boat had to quickly get changed, station, as a junior medical jump into work-suits and get orderly. Then to the medical on the high-speed rescue school at Ohakea.” After three launch in case an emergency years at the medical school rescue was needed.” Nan graduated and returned They also did a lot of work for to Shelly Bay, Wellington. the Fijian Government. Following this, she was selected “We managed the arrival to go on a special course at medical documents for Teal Wellington Hospital for another flying boats when they berthed year, and on completion she at Laucala Bay. We had to received state registration. spray the aircraft on arrival, and even provide blood at a During this year of study in moment’s notice! 1951, there was a watersiders’
“We visited ‘Leper Island’ (the leper colony on Makogai Island) every few months to check on the people there and give inoculations. We used to take treats for them. It was terrible.” In 1954 Nan went to Changi, Singapore, where they did medical evacuations back to Australia. “I went there twice. The patients had to be stabilised before going to Darwin. “I visited nearly every Pacific island with medivacs. No day was the same. There was a lot of responsibility.” On her 27th birthday she visited the Malcolm Club in Singapore and it was a thrill to hear Vera Lynn and Tony Bennett sing. Nan recalls Anzac Day – everyone was involved, cleaning and polishing the night before, and up at 5am for the dawn service. Of her time in the services she says, “After ten years of very satisfying service, I would definitely repeat my time again.”
Alan Burgess, 99 Charles Upham Retirement Village
orn on May 1st, 1920 Alan Burgess is a Sydenham boy and proud of it!
a palliasse, fill it up with straw and collect three blankets. I thought my throat had been cut.”
He went to Phillipstown School and lived in the street behind He left for Egypt on the RMS Lancaster Park. Growing up Aquitania, one of the last of during the depression years, the four-funnelled ships. Alan remembers there were He remembers the stop over only two people employed in Fremantle where they went in his street. He was lucky. into Perth. This was a last His father, a cabinetmaker, chance for some shenanigans. was one of them and he “After a few beers we pinched had an apprenticeship as (or borrowed) an Austin 7 and an upholsterer. a few of us carried it up the steps of the Town Hall!” Alan was “at the pictures” the day war was declared. Next came more training He wondered what all the at Maadi Camp in Egypt, noise was about when he (“hot!”) getting used to driving stepped out. “I went and the much larger American had a few beers.” Sherman tanks. Alan joined the army but his mother did not want her only son going away to war and wrote a letter to inform them he was under age. When he was 21 he got called up and trained at Waiouru. “I got fairly drunk on the train.” When they arrived there was a foot of snow. They slept in Bell tents. “You had to go get
Heading off to Italy their ship hit a mine and they rolled. “The mine tipped us over but the paravane saved us. We could see the shore so the captain ran it aground at Brindisi where divers patched it up. They continued on to Bari, where they experienced their first action. The Germans bombed them in the harbour, but luckily missed.
Alan fought in the Battle of Monte Cassino and watched the historic abbey being bombed by the Americans. “It was just flattened; it was all rubble.” “I was a tank driver there. You always think you are never going to get killed. It’s going to be someone else all the time. That’s how you survived. I lost quite a few mates. You were trained in it though, so you carry on.” He finished up in Trieste, then headed to England to play cricket in the New Zealand services team in 1945. Alan is a former New Zealand representative cricket player and first-class player for Canterbury. After the war, he ran his own upholstery business in Christchurch. In 2004 Alan returned to Monte Cassino to commemorate the 70th reunion of the WWII campaign.
Jack Brunton, 91 Diana Isaac Retirement Village
ack Brunton has an affinity with military history and remembers in detail serving in a conflict zone that now marks the border between North and South Korea.
Born on the West Coast in 1928, Jack served in the New Zealand Army. He started his military career aged 20 and over the next 27 years he attained every rank from private to major – a couple of them twice, he jokes. That time started at Burnham, then Jack moved to Waiouru where he joined the armoured corps. In 1952 and 1953 he was in the Korean War front line. He started his tour of duty in Pusan, a port on the south of the Korean peninsula. He remembers spending a few days in Seoul before moving to the front line just below the 38th parallel. The ongoing conflict between North Korea (with the support of China and the Soviet Union) and South Korea (with the support of New Zealand, Australia and the
United States), took Kiwis including Jack up to the Battle of the Hook which took place in May 1953. He remembers firing north into a fixed position on the enemy hillside. They fired shells at 210 yards range into the Korean tunnelling system. The Korean and Chinese troops were replying, mainly using rifles and other small arms. He was attached to the British 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the regiment’s Centurion tanks, and counts himself lucky to have survived with only a ‘very, very hot’ shrapnel wound to his lower arm. There were 19 tanks in each squadron. “I was pretty lucky. About six months of it was fighting and six months was learning to operate the guns and machine guns. I could work the radios because they had the same radios in their tanks as we were taught back here.” After about four months, he was promoted to sergeant and to be the commander of the
four personnel that manned the Centurion, regarded as one of the most successful tanks in the world. The team usually comprises a driver, a radio operator, a gunner and commander. He did a couple of R&R (rest and recreation) stints in Tokyo remembering it as a time to have drinks with mates. As a commissioned officer in the mid-1970s he spent the last of his overseas army years based in Singapore, but also visiting Malaysia. He worked as a quartermaster for the New Zealand Infantry Battalion, in charge of the logistics around food, clothing, ammunition and weapons. His family travelled with him at the time with his children enjoying the experience of being at a multinational military school near Nee Soon, connected with one of the port areas of Singapore. At the end of 1975 he became the civil defence officer for Canterbury lasting in the role for 10 years.
Arthur Joplin, 96 Edmund Hillary Retirement Village
rthur Joplin was born in Auckland and went to Auckland Grammar before joining the RNZAF.
He trained as a bomber pilot at Ashburton and Wigram before heading to war in 1943.
“You got into a fairly big room with so many pilots, navigators and gunners and you looked around, more or less, to see who you’d like to fly with, or they looked at you to see what you would be like as a pilot and somehow or other you formed a crew!
He joined the squadron as a novice pilot in 1944 but admits he was pretty ignorant of the squadron’s already legendary reputation.
“With my knowledge of the RAF I didn’t know what all the fuss was about really. I Bomber Command had the didn’t know what the Dam highest losses of any allied “That was how we got our Busters were because all that force in World War II, with bomb aimer, Lofty Hebberd time that the Dam Busters almost 50% killed. Including from Mosgiel. I went up to one thing was going on we were casualties and prisoners of chap, he was a bomb aimer, training in New Zealand, so war that number went up to and he said he was crewed we didn’t hear much and we 60-70%. But none of that was up but try that chap over there, didn’t know much. on Arthur’s mind at the time. he’s pretty good. So that’s “So when I learned afterwards “I think to me it was a big how we got hold of Lofty!” where I was it was quite a adventure,” he says. “You were he laughs. shock really, to learn that we’d going out of New Zealand Then the orders came through got there more or less on our and going through the Panama that he would be joining the own ability in a bombing range.” Canal which you’d read about most famous Royal Air Force and heard about. It was all bomber squadron of all – 617 an adventure.” – which flew the Dam Buster Arthur describes the raids in 1943. formation of his crew as quite an arbitrary affair.
“I just loved flying, there’s nothing like it.”
« Those abilities were put to the test on November 12th, 1944 when Arthur flew his bomber to attack and sink the German battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord using giant Tall Boy bombs. “The Tirpitz was the biggest battleship there was, and it was stuck up in the top of Norway. “It was daylight, so they knew we were coming and they were shooting at us. “I think we were very, very lucky that we got a couple of direct hits and a few around about and that did damage to the Tirpitz and it rolled over and sank,” says Arthur. On his 10th raid he was returning to Britain in bad
weather and was forced to crash land. Two of his crew died and his legs were badly injured, and he still suffers from the effects of the crash today. His war was over and he returned to New Zealand to work in his family’s textiles business. His fondest memories are of training in the South Island, flying his trainer across the Canterbury Plains. “I just loved flying, there’s nothing like it. I flew four operations before I was 21. It is hard to comprehend now, it is all such a long time ago.” In January 2016, Arthur was awarded France’s highest honour, the Medal of Knight of
the French National Order of the Legion d’honneur. Arthur admits he is not a huge fan of Anzac Day commemorations. “I get a bit sad about it all. You realise that you lost a lot of friends.” He adds: “I think it’s great that the young people are going and they might realise the damage that war does, but there was no pleasure at going to war. “You’re doing a job and you did it, but you couldn’t think too much about it, otherwise you couldn’t cope.”
Photo courtesy of Richard Lambert
Ron Mayhill DFC, 96 Edmund Hillary Retirement Village
on Mayhill was born in Auckland and trained as an observer / bomb aimer before heading to war.
“I left school in 1941. I knew when I finished my schooling I would be conscripted. We got a very quick run through the Air Force.
in Bomber Command, flying Lancaster bombers.
think about that. I never did. Through the war, or after.”
He was in a crew of seven aged from 18 to 20 years. “I think we were possibly the youngest crew in Bomber Command.”
Ron flew 27 missions over Europe, including dangerous missions deep into the heart of Germany to bomb targets including Stuttgart, Danzig, Kiel and Russelsheim. Missions lasted for up to 10 hours, with the crews leaving at dusk and returning as the sun rose.
But the war wasn’t real to Ron until he arrived in Britain. “The early training was exciting; “Bomber Command had the we had uniforms and were highest losses of any allied seeing new countries. force in World War II. We had We thought it was wonderful.” almost 50% killed.” Ron trained in Canada then travelled on the RMS Queen Mary to Britain where he joined the 75 (NZ) Squadron
With the enthusiasm and optimism of youth on his side, he didn’t dwell on it. “We didn’t
As the radar operator, he helped the navigator, guiding the aircraft to the target and dropping the bomb.
“I think we were possibly the youngest crew in Bomber Command.”
« On his 27th mission he was badly wounded when his Lancaster was hit by flak. He managed to complete the mission and was awarded an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts – he was just 20 years old. He returned home after three and a half years in the RNZAF, a veteran and still only 21. “It is hard to believe really.’’ He was temporarily blinded and spent a long time recuperating from his injuries, but his flying days were over.
He returned to New Zealand in 1945. His training and travels had kindled a strong interest in geography, and he became a geography teacher at Auckland Grammar. Ron has only recently resigned as President of the New Zealand Bomber Command Association. He has travelled to Britain and Europe 16 times since the war, including a trip in 2012 when he led a group of veterans to see Queen Elizabeth II unveil the memorial to Bomber Command.
In 2015 Ron was awarded the Medal of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour – France’s highest honour. Ron is pragmatic in his reflections of those years: “World War II had to be fought. When you go into a war you’ve got to win. You don’t come second in a war.”
Photo courtesy of Richard Lambert
Ann Musters, 99 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village
nn was born and bred in London, not quite within the sound of Bow Bells, she says, but in Kennington, South London.
near Winchester, and completed her officer training in Greenwich, where she became a second officer and deciphered enemy codes.
Her uncle was the Bishop of Southwark and her father commuted every day to work at the Admiralty, then during the war became the Director of Naval Meteorology.
Ann remembers in those uncertain times a bomb being dropped near Worthy Down but luckily no one was injured. She thinks the German bomber was most likely offloading his bombs as he was being chased back to France.
At 12, Ann moved to Winchester with her close-knit family. Her uncle had become the Bishop of Winchester Cathedral. Her schooling was at St Swithun’s, Winchester until she was 19, when she volunteered for the Wrens just a couple of days before war was declared with Germany. She worked in a naval air station at Worthy Down,
Edinburgh in Scotland was her next posting, with a few weeks in Donibristle in Fife, then Ann was posted to the Orkney Islands. Her husband to be, John, was there at the time and she asked to go too. “I got to love the Orkneys. We had great fun cycling and walking there.”
When John, who was in the Royal Navy was sent away, Ann volunteered to go to France. She went straight to Normandy. “France was still occupied by the Germans, but they were being pushed back. It was nice and it was different,” she remembers. Ann and John married in 1943 at Winchester Cathedral. John had returned home after his ship had been chasing the German battleship Bismarck across the Atlantic. They emigrated to New Zealand after a few visits because they liked it here, and to be closer to their family. Ann and John were married for almost 70 years.
Claude Teece, 101 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village
laude admits laughingly that he’s “seen a few summers!” At 101 years of age, World War II now seems a long time ago.
Growing up in the rural area of Harakeke, between Upper and Lower Moutere, Claude lived a peaceful and quiet life on the farm doing odd jobs for his father, and apart from the war years, lived in the area his whole working life. He trained at Burnham Military Camp, south of Christchurch for about three months and served in the Eighth Army (a field army) as a truck driver from the end of 1940 until 1943. Much of his driving was delivering food, ammunition,
fuel and troops. He was lucky to spend some of that time with his brother Allan who was also a driver. He shipped out to Egypt with the Third Echelon of the 2NZEF for further training at Maadi Camp then in March 1941 was deployed to Greece as part of the Campaign to defend Greece from the invasion of Italian and German forces. As the Germans advanced the Allied troops were outflanked, and with the surrender of Greece Claude was evacuated to Crete. Claude recalls destroying their own gear by driving their trucks over a cliff so they could not be used by the
enemy, and then walking down to the beach to board the destroyer HMS Hotspur. From Crete they departed for Egypt on a cargo ship, in a convoy of 18 warships, seven merchant ships, one aircraft carrier and two battleships. Claude remembers the war as being an adventure, but also a horror at times, however he says never feared for his life even though he saw some of his “cobbers” killed when German fighters strafed their convoys. He remained in Egypt until June 1943, when he sailed back to New Zealand.
Owen Hurst, 96 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village
ery few can say they volunteered for the Air Force, then joined the Army, returned to the Air Force then went back to the Army and finished up in the Air Force again! But for Owen Hurst it was a roller-coaster ride of disappointment, contrasted with the thrill of his dream of being a pilot
At 18 he applied to join the Air Force, but his eyesight was not quite good enough to be a pilot, but he was accepted for the Army. They were based at Forbury Park and St Clair School. “I quite enjoyed it,” he said, “we were active and fit, and we worked hard.”
The Japanese threat started to become very real in New Zealand when Owen was sent to Ashburton. Born in Southampton, England, “The battalion – we were Owen and his family emigrated the 2nd Platoon of the NZ to New Zealand when he was Scottish Regiment – had to go only six weeks old. By the time overseas when I was 19, but he arrived in Dunedin, he was my parents would not agree three months old. to let me go.” Times were hard during the The battalion left without Depression years and his him and Owen had to make family moved to Fruitlands some changes. “I wanted in Central Otago, to an to be a pilot by hook or by experimental apple orchard. crook.” He applied again Owen went to school there, but and was accepted. after the orchard was “frosted Two years later Owen started out” and the trees removed, flying training on Tiger Moths the family returned to Dunedin at Taieri. “It was very special.” where Owen finished his schooling at Highcliff School However, the Air Force then and Kings High School. decided they only wanted pilots who could fly multi and When Owen began a trial at single engine planes. “We were the Otago Daily Times (ODT) put out and that was the end as a photo-engraver he knew this was what he wanted to do.
of that.” Returning to the Army was the only option and Owen returned as a training sergeant. Surprisingly, after spending nine months in the Army, and on final leave to go overseas, he got a telegram to return to the Air Force for flying training! Owen was posted to Harewood for a Tiger Moth test flight which was at night, and then to Wigram to train on Harvards. “It was marvellous,” he said. Later, Owen moved to Ardmore where he was waiting for an overseas post, but the war was nearly over and there was little to do. He joined up with the Transport Unit to fill in time for two months, then finally the war came to an end. Owen went back to Dunedin and continued his six-year apprenticeship at the ODT and married in 1946. “There will always be wars,” Owen thinks. “I don’t know what the future holds, but it concerns me.”
Stanley Daubney, 94 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village
t was the loss of a loved uncle and aunt that was the catalyst for Stan Daubney to join the Royal Navy. The Yorkshireman’s uncle was lost at sea in the submarine HMS Swordfish and his grieving wife of only one week, was killed by a landmine while walking on a Plymouth beach. Born in the heavily bombed industrial city of Sheffield, England on September 14th, 1925, the young teenager Stan was spending his nights in the family’s Anderson air raid shelter.
“I thought ‘why should I be sat here?’ I wanted to have a go at the Germans. They had dropped a bomb in our street so I thought you can get killed here just the same as you can anywhere.” He recalls walking home one morning through the broken glass and fires after being hauled into the Avery scales factory basement the night before, by an air raid warden. “I was trying to get home and a bloke pulled me down on the ground. They (the Luftwaffe)
had bombed the retail area instead of the factories. “All them big shops, all the windows had been blown out and there were shop dummies lyin’ in the street.” Stan was so keen to ‘do his bit’ towards the war effort, he left his good job as a crane driver (considered an essential service) in the steel works, to become a labourer. “You didn’t have to go till you were 18. I said I were 18,” but they checked and saw he was only 16 so they offered to let him volunteer until he turned 17. So in May 1943, at 17, Stan joined the Royal Navy where he remained for the next four years of his life. After his training, Stan left on the RMS Queen Mary from Greenock, Scotland and travelled to New York to commission the newly built landing ship HMS Highway in Norfolk, Virginia. It was one of the many Lend-Lease ships built in the US for the Royal Navy.
HMS Highway carried a crew of 200 plus 300 troops and 24 landing craft. “They called us the Highwaymen.” As quartermaster, Stan’s job was to steer the ship, work as a coxswain on the landing craft and guard the gangway when the ship was in port. They carried the landing craft inside the ship, by lowering the stern until it filled with six feet of water and they could float in. The water was then pumped out. The HMS Highway crew took troops (20 per landing craft) to battle spots in Italy and the beaches of the Mediterranean, making daily landings until the end of the war in Europe. Stan recalls one particular night when the ship was at the rear of a convoy of 12 taking much needed supplies to Malta.
“They called us the Highwaymen.”
« They were under the cover of darkness and only one porthole was open for viewing while steering. Stan was steering and kept in the convoy by following a small red light on the stern of the boat in front.
If they had stayed in line, they “Then we’d take them back would have been the target to the ship. I did that for – the last ship in the convoy. three months. They couldn’t believe their luck. “When the Japanese After the war in Europe surrendered, after the ended, they headed to Americans dropped the Burma where they served atomic bombs, we were in under the leadership of the boats ready to land in At the end of his shift a chainLord Louis Mountbatten. Singapore. There were 10 smoking colleague replaced ships ready to land 300 troops Over three months in Burma him. The colleague mistakenly each and take Singapore they made 30 landings in the started to follow the reflection back from the Japanese.” jungle on the beaches of the of his cigarette in the porthole Irrawaddy River where Stan For the next three months and it wasn’t until the officer would drop off the fierce Stan would go ashore in the on the bridge, who had been Gurkha troops armed only craft and take a working party sleeping, awoke and yelled, with their distinctive curved of 20 Japanese prisoners to “Hard to port. We’ve lost kukhri (knives), a quarter of a and from their Penang camp. the convoy!” that anyone mile from where the Japanese realised that the HMS Highway He returned to England to be were camped. had been inadvertently demobbed, three days before turning starboard. “Twenty Gurkhas would sneak his 21st birthday in 1946. up on them. We would When they arrived safely in Stan believes he may be the wait and hope it was the Malta, they discovered the only living crew member of Gurkhas that came back ship directly in front of them HMS Highway. and not the Japanese! had been torpedoed and there were no survivors.
Photo courtesy of Stanley Daubney
Alice Arrowsmith, 95 Evelyn Page Retirement Village
n 1924 Alice was born in Sukkur, British India, in what is now Pakistan.
Alice’s mother died when she was young and her father re-married. It was decided that Alice would be sent away to a private boarding school in Ghora Gali, Murree, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This was about a 600 mile journey from her home. Alice was at the school when the devastating Quetta earthquake struck, killing tens of thousands of people. Her eye was injured when she ran from a building where the roof collapsed. On completion of her school studies Alice decided to follow her two sisters into a nursing career and joined the India Military Nursing Service, training in Agra, the city famous for the Taj Mahal.
Once qualified Alice was sent to Egypt near the end of the war to replace the homecoming troops. She nursed German prisoners of war in a very primitive military hospital in the desert on the outskirts of Cairo. Alice, a lieutenant, was soon promoted to captain and one of the prisoners was assigned as a ‘batman’ or servant to assist her. She lived in a tent. That tent caused her quite a few problems when she accidentally burnt it down! She was virtually court martialled and hauled up before a committe of big colonels. Luckily they let her go with a warning. But not without making her pay for the tent!
The war ground to a halt and Alice was demobolised. She had the choice of either going to England or New Zealand. She chose New Zealand and arrived there on the HT Samaria, a former liner of the Cunard line, taken over by the Royal Navy as a troopship. In Auckland she nursed at Cornwall Hospital, and then Hanmer Springs in the South Island. In Hanmer she started pen-pal relationship with the man who became her future husband. Don Arrowsmith and Alice married, and lived in Rotorua and Auckland. Alice now lives at Evelyn Page Retirement Village.
John Wills, 102 Evelyn Page Retirement Village
ohn Wills was born in September 1917, the oldest of six children raised on a Gisborne dairy farm. He joined the army in 1940 as part of the Third Echelon and began training in Trentham. His first assignment was 10 months in Fiji with the 29th Battalion escorted over by HMNZS Achilles. Because he had owned a motorbike he was put in the motorcycle platoon carrying a Lewis machine gun.
After that he was sent to the Middle East on board the RMS Aquitania. Their base was Maadi Camp, and John changed to artillery, driving the anti-tank gun in the 7th New Zealand AntiTank Regiment.
In Libya during November “They didn’t treat us very well of 1941 John was involved in at all. Luckily I had a friend who a tank battle with the Germans had a great coat that could “with Rommel himself,” keep us both warm at night.” John says. After about 10 weeks, early in “There was a dust storm and a January 1942, they were freed few tanks on fire. We had a few by South African, Indian and jokers killed and it was all over, Kiwi troops and travelled back we had to surrender.” to Cairo to recover. That was when he became one of 1,100 soldiers taken prisoner. “They gave us to the Italians and they marched us in to Bardia.”
John says he ‘did a few battles up and down’, working as a driver in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. He was involved in the Second Battle of El Alamein, in late 1942.
“Breakfast was a few coffee beans broken up in a big drum of water, lunch was “There were 900 guns fired watery soup and dinner was using every known gun for biscuits as hard as bricks. about two hours.” It rained every night and nearly everyone got dysentery,” John recalls with a grimace.
“I was flat on my back when I came to. The first thing I did was feel my head to check for holes in it.”
« John remembers digging trenches for the guns before spotting around 20 German planes flying south. He went off to get his own gun when he heard a bomb coming down. “I was flat on my back when I came to. The first thing I did was feel my head to check for holes in it.” “Then I saw my boots sticking up, so I knew my feet were still attached! I lost my truck though, it blew three wheels off it.”
He was very pleased later on in Tripoli, to get an improved model of anti-tank gun. “We were the first four to get a 17-pounder. It could fire a shell through nine inches of steel at 3,000 yards.” He says he took great pride in his role and was promoted to sergeant. John was in Italy when his war came to an end. It took a while to settle back to New Zealand life but using the
government assistance to help ex-service personnel returning from the war, he returned to farming. He never gave up his love of motorbikes, buying one aged 85. In 2012 John was part of a group of veterans who returned to El Alamein for the 70th anniversary of the battle.
James took this photo as he had worked as a photographer. Taken just before leaving for Singapore in Tamworth, Sep 1941, Part of 4th and 5th Reinforcements Photo courtesy of James Easton
Ron Cackett, 94 Evelyn Page Retirement Village
on claims he was known as the village idiot – why? “I put my age up and ran away to join the navy.”
He was born in Puddle Dock, Kent, England in a two up/two down cottage with dirt floors downstairs and a well outside. There were only about six cottages in the small village, so Ron who was born in January 1926 went to the closest school in Hextable. He left school at twelve and with war looming, the local builder gave him a job building air raid shelters. He was a busy lad, doing evening firewatching, and because of his local knowledge of the district, was a messenger for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP). “Our house was like a pepper pot with bombs. We had two air-raid shelters. One out the back and one inside.” One night the village got hit by a load of fire bombs. Clearing up, Ron’s younger brother collected a barrow load of unexploded fire bombs thinking they might be worth a bob or two! “My ol’ daddy went spare! Dad put them in a nearby pond.”
“I volunteered in 1942. I lied about my age and joined the Royal Navy.” Ron did ten weeks training at the HMS Collingwood shore establishment at Fareham, England, then went straight overseas. He travelled on a troop train to Glasgow and was sent on the Aquitania with eight to ten thousand others to the United States of America. From New Jersey he boarded a troop train to New York and a week later was sent to Vancouver. In Vancouver he joined the HMS Thane, an escort carrier. They took part in exercises with the US Air Force and visited San Francisco. Ron travelled widely with the Royal Navy, protecting convoys and ferrying aircraft for use in the European Theatre. In Panama they picked up 200 US marines, took them to the naval base in Norfolk, Virginia where fully packed with aircraft, they headed to New York and back to England. On arrival in England, after unloading they headed
straight back to New York, then Capetown in South Africa. These were dangerous times to be travelling. Ron, a navy gunner, also served on HMS Ajax the sister ship of the HMS Achilles. Ron hadn’t had leave for two years, when on the 15th January 1945, the HMS Thane was torpedoed close to home. They had called into Belfast, picked up nurses and left without an escort. Ron was busy down below packing for his well-earned leave. She was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Irish Sea, causing an enormous hole extending almost to the keel. The U-boat also hit and damaged a Norwegian tanker in the area. This happened just 10 days before Ron’s 19th birthday. Ron also served on the RFA Cardigan Bay for a month, but when the war in Europe finished, Ron was on the HMS Ajax in Trieste.
James Easton, 103 Grace Joel Retirement Village
ames ‘Curly’ Easton was born on the 12th December 1916 in Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow, Scotland.
He was soon sent on a boat Ban Pong, Thailand, a journey to Singapore. The conditions which took four days. on the island were basic with There were around 40 men open drains running through in each truck so lying down the streets. James was posted His family left Scotland for was impossible. onto front gate duty and after Winnipeg in Canada before a relatively uneventful start to “If you wanted to relieve settling in Australia’s Hunter the war, he found himself being yourself you had to get a guy Valley in New South Wales bombed by the Japanese. to grab each hand to hold when James was 12. you out over the back while They had no tanks and no These big moves possibly the train was going. You can planes so fighting off the ignited the wanderlust in imagine what that was like Japanese became a challenge. James, because it became with 40 guys especially when They held them off for two to a bit of a theme throughout dysentery struck.” three months until they were his life. captured and marched off The men learned that they had During the Depression years to the troops’ base in Changi, to build a railway going up to he spent ‘a few years hobo-ing’, where they were set some Kanchanaburi in Burma. They jumping trains and living under gruesome tasks. would march by night, set up bridges and later became a camp and work 16 hour days, “Parties of us were put back street photographer, once fuelled only by a cup of rice into Singapore to clean up. again travelling around NSW. with three beans in it. Cleaning up we found When war broke out he would quite a number of bodies,” “The slightest thing you’d get take photos of the men says James. bashed,” says James. wearing their new uniforms. “They’d grabbed all the “There would be bodies floating He then got called up to do his Chinese they could and down the river all the time. compulsory three months decapitated them, putting “We were hit by so many with the Militia – the then their heads on posts. diseases, malaria, dysentery, name of the Australian Army We found six Chinese with and you’d have them Reserve – and after that he their hands tied together altogether. All while cutting put himself forward to with barbed wire, all shot.” through the jungle. You worked fight overseas, becoming a In 1942 James joined 3,500 no matter if you were sick or Signalman in 8th Division Aussies and 3,500 Brits not, you worked.” Signals of the Australian designated as F party who Army at the age of 23. were sent in cattle trucks to
“We went back the same way we came in, in the cattle trucks.”
« Cholera was one of the worst diseases – you could be dead within eight hours. And with no medicines to hand, the prognosis was bleak. The bodies would have to be burned to prevent further spread of the infection. James says the bridge over the Kwai, which later became the subject of a famous film, was assembled by POWs, rather than built, with the pieces coming from Indonesia. For the 3–400km length of railway he reckons there would have been 100,000 people on the route, all labouring by hand, sometimes standing waist deep in water. He remembers Australian war hero Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop having ‘a hell of a time’. “They struck rock so they had to use dynamite. All you got was these little baskets to carry, for 16 hours a day, all the while suffering from malaria and dysentery, getting weak and thin on it.”
“It was actually good to get back to Changi, after 14 or 15 months up on the railway it was like coming home! And we put on a bit of weight and we weren’t getting bashed. “We went back the same way we came in, in the cattle trucks.” By war’s end, James was down to 7.5 stone – his normal weight was 12 stone 4lb. He and his fellow POWs spent about a month with medics before the three week trip back to Australia. On arrival, they stayed in a POW centre to ease them into civvie life. He says it was a long time before he could sleep in a bed again. Many of his mates suffered terrible nightmares, but James managed to develop a technique to prevent them. “Whenever I felt one coming on I’d dream of nude women. That took it away immediately!” he laughs.
James had the idea to ‘go into showbusiness’, referring to the touring fairgrounds that would travel around the country. He loved the travelling so much he only stopped in his 90s. While James puts his survival of the war down to ‘a lot of luck’, his approach to life has always revolved around having a wicked sense of humour. However, when it comes to paying tribute to his fallen comrades James takes his duties very seriously. He has travelled to Singapore and Thailand six times to pay his respects at the POW cemeteries and only stopped his annual trips back to Sydney to march on Anzac Day at the age of 94. James recently celebrated his 103rd birthday. He plans to attend this year’s Anzac Day commemorations in the village.
On a British ship called SS Largs Bay from Singapore October 1945, 3 weeks after release from Changi Photo courtesy of James Easton
Rae Dempsey, 95 Grace Joel Retirement Village
ae was born in Lyttleton in September 1924 and went to West Lyttleton School and Christchurch High School.
She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in 1942 and was posted to Wigram Electrical and Wireless School. Rae was chosen as one of only two from this class to be posted to the Northern Group Headquarters in Auckland, in the cipher section. They were excited as they thought they would be going to an airport, but instead they were sent to the old Teachers’ Training College in Mt Eden where they looked down on the volcano’s crater!
They were called before the commanding officer, and were told this work was so secret they could not even tell their parents where they were and what they were doing. The next morning they were introduced to where they would spend the next two years – in an underground tunnel where they worked six hour days. Not quite the airport setting they had envisaged! However, Rae has fond memories of her work there – “That was the most interesting thing I have ever done in my life, career-wise. We took the codes down and two commissioned officers
deciphered them. But we ended up knowing what they were.” They all had to be delivered to army, navy, air force and the American services. They knew when Pearl Harbour was bombed and when Sydney Harbour had submarines in it, but they could tell no one. “It was fascinating.” “I always hoped I’d meet a famous American like Gregory Peck, said Rae, but I did meet an officer called Ray Bolger a shortish man. He was the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz!” Rae became an accountant and did the book-keeping for her husband, Rob’s building business.
Rob Dempsey, 94 Grace Joel Retirement Village
ob was born in Australia fleet. Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, on 6th September 1925 joined them at Manus Island and came to New Zealand at and went on to Hong Kong. seven years of age. He lived in “We were practising off the Christchurch, then moved to shores of Japan to bombard Lyttleton. At 18 he joined the Tokyo when the Americans navy, was sent to Auckland dropped the first atomic and trained on Motuihe Island bomb on Japan. We saw the for three months. He was sent mushroom of it.” overseas as there were no ships available in New Zealand. They were at sea, about 20 miles off the coast. When the His first stop was Guadalcanal second one was dropped, where they picked up they were sent to Tokyo Bay American servicemen, sailed and by that time, the to the Port of Los Angeles and Japanese surrendered. took the train to New York. The HMS Duke of York The SS Ile de France, which anchored alongside the was converted to a troopship American flagship the took them to Glasgow. He USS Missouri where the took the train to Portsmouth, surrender terms were signed. enjoyed a week or two of leave Admiral Fraser was the in London, and was posted to British representative. HMS Duke of York. “I was given time off to They trained at Scapa Flow see the small Japanese in the Orkney Islands, in destroyer come in with its gun the North Atlantic. Dodging depressed and a Japanese U-Boats they eventually got admiral walked up the steps to Malta. Then when Victory of the Missouri, where he was England (VE) day came along frisked at the top. they were off to the Pacific. We were given a certificate The HMS Duke of York was the to say we were there – it flagship for the British Pacific
was a wonderful sight and afterwards the Allied air forces had a fly past – I have never seen so many aircraft in all my life. It was an enormous feeling of relief, and an amazing experience to be there.” They went back to Hong Kong, but there the fighting was still continuing – it was a total blackout, they were behind the times. When they finally surrendered Rob could go ashore. “Hong Kong was a bustling place at one time. There was nothing left in the shops and the poor Chinese were going hungry. The Japanese had stripped it.” He signed off in Sydney and returned to Auckland and was discharged in Lyttleton. Rob went on a two year carpentry course for servicemen and worked in his own business as a builder.
Bruce Hill, 88 Hilda Ross Retirement Village
ruce was born 30th December 1931, and raised in New Plymouth. He was conscripted at 18, and this was his introduction to a long and distinguished career in the New Zealand Army.
their weapons hidden in the jungle, formed a guerilla army and shot some British rubber plantation managers, which created a rebellion.
The Malayan Emergency – a communist uprising which he decribes as the “British Vietnam” 1947 to 1958.
Britain had a lot of losses but gradually forced the communists out of the towns. Chinese market gardeners houses were burnt down and they were forced into new villages surrounded by barbed wire and search lights to prevent the communists getting supplies from them. The British had a lot of power. They were not only the army, they were the government.
After World War II, the British, who had quietly supported and trained the Chinese communists to fight the Japanese, refused to let them become leaders. The communists retrieved
At times the New Zealanders would be in the jungle for two or three months. The Kiwis were expert in the jungle and were desperately quiet, often using sign language. This unnerved the communists.
After his three months training he decided to leave his job as a newspaper reporter and joined the army at 20. During that time he was involved in three campaigns:
If the communists were captured they would be hanged, but if they surrendered they would be treated well and given surrender money. An aboriginal leader brought in five communists to Bruce after he was assured he would get money and they would not be killed. Many others surrendered and got straight on a plane to Hong Kong! Borneo in the 1960s – when the British were withdrawing from Borneo, Bruce fought against the Indonesians who didn’t like the idea that Borneo should be joined (with Singapore) to Malaya, to form the new state of Malaysia. Bruce was in New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS) then.
“As a regular soldier you don’t get to choose your wars.”
« He was a young married man when he went to Borneo and his wife was due to have a baby. He was in Borneo when the baby was born in New Zealand. He was nearly killed in Borneo and he realised how hard that could have been for her. Bruce and his family subsequently went to Singapore in the early 1970s for a two year posting and this time his family was with him. During this time he was sent to Vietnam. He was 40 then, and a bit too old to be patrolling, so he was in Australian Headquarters in Nui Dat, Phuc Toi Province east of Saigon.
“We lost men there. The communists were brutal, well organised and very determined.” “We were aware a lot of people did not want us there; but then a lot of people did. We were also aware there was good reason for us to be there. We were also conscious that our government didn’t really want us there, but were forced to send us there!” New Zealand got a special trade deal to sell beef to America for the first time ever. “When we were fighting, risking our lives, we knew there was a trade deal going on and our lives were on the line!”
As a regular soldier you don’t get to choose your wars. When the soldiers got back, a lot of New Zealanders didn’t like them for having been there and they couldn’t wear their uniforms very often. “They should have been booing the government, not us!” Bruce started as a private and went through every rank to finally become a major. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire) after 30 years service.
Photo courtesy of Ron Cackett
George Roberts, 88 Jane Mander Retirement Village
eorge had a harder start in life than most, being a foundling baby in Christchurch, born in March 1932. His first few years were spent in an orphanage in Ferry Road before he was fostered out to the Roberts family.
He remembers moving up to Auckland in primer four and going to Albany Primary and Northcote Intermediate. Like many children of that era, George left school at 14 and went to work at Stotts Butchers. After the war, compulsory military training (CMT) was reintroduced and after turning 18, George was eligible for the first intake in 1950. While the training was just a matter of weeks, the impact it had on his life was far-reaching. He initially returned to the butchers but later did another
six weeks training and joined the territorial army where he remained an active member for many years. It was while he was with the 9th Coast Regiment of the Coast Artillery that he met his wife Hazel. He later worked as a firefighter and was based out of various Auckland stations including Parnell, Auckland, Takapuna, and East Coast Bays. When CMT was stopped in 1972 George was one of those keen to see it reintroduced because of the skills it gave him in life. He believed there were great benefits including confidence and discipline that could be instilled in young men who may have had a similar rough start in life to him, with the ultimate hope that would reduce the rising numbers in youth crime.
George and Hazel married in 1954 later having two children, Gaylene and Gavin. Hazel started driving school buses which eventually led to the couple buying into a bus business which later took them north to Whangarei. At one point they had a fleet of 35 of Whangareiâ€™s Blue Buses with George managing the business and Hazel still driving. In 1996 George was awarded a Queenâ€™s Service Medal for public services. He wears that medal proudly alongside those he received for his CMT, his firefighting and his territorial army service and is always actively involved in village commemorations for Anzac Day.
Sheraton Gibbon, 93 Jane Mander Retirement Village
heraton Eban Gibbon, known as Ben in the village, was born in Sunderland, England in July 1926, and later attended a grammar school in Wolverhampton.
He also worked on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable as an engineer and has memories of landing aircraft on board ship.
The pair married and moved to New Zealand where Ben worked for a dairy company in Dargaville.
He joined the navy at 16, beginning his training in Portsmouth.
While the details are vague now, he remembers being in the Atlantic Ocean and travelling to Singapore and Hong Kong.
Ben and Ngaire had two children – a son and daughter, and Ben later worked as a taxi driver, a hospital orderly, and had a milk run.
In 1943 he was on HMS Tyne working as a stoker in the engine room.
He escaped any major incidents. “I was pretty lucky,” he says.
He makes a point of going along to Anzac Day commemorations every year.
“It was mighty warm down there; very sweaty work,” he recalls.
He de-mobbed from the navy in 1946, and met his wife, Ngaire, who was in the army.
Darrell Grace, 97 Jane Winstone Retirement Village
arrell grew up in Invercargill where he was born 8th June 1922 and attended Marist Brothers’ School. He enlisted in the First Southland Regiment territorial unit at 18 years old. He was working as a clerk for the Southland Electric Power Board at the time. “Invercargill seemed about as far away from the war as you could be.” Darrell went to Burnham for training and then returned to work, but as the war got serious and the Japanese threat became stronger, with enemy submarines reputed to be prowling offshore, he was called back to Burnham in December 1941. He had joined the army, but to go overseas you had to be 21 or have parental permission. Darrell didn’t want to put that pressure on his parents.
On 14th October 1942 however, he was accepted to join the navy. He was in the Officer’s Training Unit, Scheme B, which was later cancelled as there
were no ships available and no convoy to travel with. Darrell then decided to join the air force as air crew. However, this was not for him. Growing up in Invercargill he had hardly ever seen a plane, so he wrote to the navy to ask to return! The navy agreed to take him back as a signalman. ‘We were all mad keen to go overseas.” He trained in Dunedin and was selected to go overseas. He left from Lyttleton by ship and went around Foveaux Strait. Sailing past Invercargill, knowing his family would be sitting down to tea not knowing their son was going by, was a strange feeling. “The last thing you thought about was getting killed. We just wanted the experience of going overseas.” He did advanced training in South Africa and was told the top signalmen would go to England. They were posted on combined operations to do fighting. “We weren’t told
where we were going; we assumed we were going to England.” They went off with no protection in a very small merchant ship across the Indian Ocean where two large ocean-going enemy subs were known to be. They ended up in Trincomalee, Ceylon manning the main signal station of the Old East Indies Fleet and the British Pacific Fleet. They were to take part in the combined operation of the invasion of Burma under the command of Lord Mountbatten, but this operation did not go ahead. “We were stuck in Ceylon for the rest of the war. We didn’t get to go to England!” Shortly after the war, Darrell served four years as a commissioned officer in the Royal NZ Naval Reserve. Although not involved in fighting himself, Darrell lost a lot of friends in the war and Anzac Day is a day to remember them.
Walter Young, 88 Jane Winstone Retirement Village
alter who was born in October 1931, was working in a cheese factory in Drury when he volunteered for the NZ Army as a cadet in 1949. He remembers joining the cadets because a “chap nearby convinced me to go along.” Unbeknown to Walter this was to be the start of a long career in the army. He was sent to Trentham and was one of the first intake to achieve school certificate and become trade qualified as a mechanic while in the service. He was also posted to Papakura Military Camp in South Auckland for seven years where he became interested in athletics after watching the training for the British Empire Games, which were held in Auckland in 1950.
“In those days you were told where you were to go, and off you went. I was posted to Fiji for two years. It was very different to what it is now.” Walter moved around a lot! “I was promoted fairly quickly and went to Waiouru, Linton and Trentham then commissioned back to Waiouru.” His early memories of living in Waiouru are of the snow, the sport and sleeping in long barracks until finally getting the comfort of separate rooms.
golf course at the camp and was there while the museum was being built. Walter had applied to go to Singapore but was needed in New Zealand to continue training mechanics. By this time, he had been promoted to captain. In 1978 Walter decided to leave the army and he and his wife bought a dairy in Ngaruawahia, which they converted to a tearooms and Four Square to service the tourist buses passing through the town.
He met his late wife at Waiouru and when they married, they “We had to go to Anzac moved to a house on the camp. parades when I was in the There was a good social life army. Later, I was just a at the camp and of course lots youngster going into RSA, of sports. so it didn’t interest me.” Walter enjoyed sport and was a representative rugby player for combined services. He also helped to build the
Jack Pringle, 94 Jean Sandel Retirement Village
ack was born in the small Central Otago town of Naseby in 1925 and grew up in nearby Ranfurly.
He worked for the Post and Telegraph Department and at 18 he volunteered for the navy. Living in an inland part of the South Island and having never left Otago, Jack had hardly ever seen a ship before and certainly had never been in a boat of any sort! His training began at Devonport Naval Base, then on to nearby Motuihe Island, Lyttleton and Auckland. While finishing training in Auckland the HMS Gambia arrived. “It was only about 8500 tonne but it seemed enormous to me. I had joined
the navy and I wanted to go to sea,” said Jack. Fortunately for Jack, a telegraphist had taken ill and Jack joined the ship which headed to join the British Pacific Fleet forming in Sydney. It was his first time on a ship. “I thought this was marvellous,” he recalls. “Sailing into Sydney Harbour I couldn’t believe the sight.” They headed to the Admiralty Islands where there was a huge American naval base on Manus Island and then joined the American fleet, south of Japan just before they attacked Okinawa. The 82-day battle began on April 1st and continued until
June 22nd, 1945. During that time, they never left the ship. Supplies were delivered about every two weeks including oil, food, ammunition, and aircraft to replace those lost. They were the fleet guides escorting their aircraft carriers. Their role was to supress Japanese air activity. They were bombing the Japanese airfields that kamikaze pilots were using. “Eventually the Americans took over Okinawa and we all moved up. “On the 6th August we detached from the main fleet to bombard some airstrips on Formosa (Taiwan).
“We never learn, and you never forget it.”
« “That day they dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. We thought the war would be over, but it wasn’t.
The Japanese plane hit the water about 50 meters in front of us and blew up.
“A few days later they dropped the second bomb. We were just off the coast about 200km north of Tokyo.
“I have often wondered if this one guy even knew the war was over, or was he determined to give his life to the Emperor?
“On the 15th August the Japanese surrendered. We were still just off the coast. I was on the bridge when I heard all this gunfire – but the war was over! I went outside, and a kamikaze was coming straight at us from the stern, being chased by an American fighter who shot it.
“About a week later we sailed into Sagami Wan Bay near Tokyo Bay. We were given clear passage into Tokyo Bay where we anchored not far from the USS Missouri where the surrender was signed. We could see them (the Japanese) going up the gangway in their top hats.”
After the signing the Gambia was detached and sent to the inland sea south of Tokyo. There were Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camps there. “We went to help to get POWs onto hospital ships and send telegrams back, giving the names of the blokes who were rescued.” “We never learn, and you never forget it.”
Photo courtesy of Jack Pringle
Peter Brightwell, 95 Jean Sandel Retirement Village
eter grew up in a remote part of New Zealand called Cape Turnagain, Herbertville on the East Coast of the North Island. He was born on the 4th April 1925 and celebrated his 21st birthday on his way to Japan in 1946.
“I signed up just before the end of the war. I was excited after the army training,” he said, “and I was old enough to join up for the occupation force in Japan. He sailed to Japan on the troopship, SS Empire Pride and was there as part of J-Force for about 18 months. “I was a Jeep driver for our commanding officer, so I got to drive all over different parts of Japan.” There he witnessed
the remains of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombing and recalled it as, “just flat”. Part of their job was peacekeeping but also to check for hidden stashes of munitions. Many Japanese people did not want to surrender and there was always the chance some may retaliate. It was such a different culture for someone who had never left New Zealand, but Peter picked up some of the language and can still count to 10 in Japanese! “We made good friendships.” On return to New Zealand, Peter attended a carpentry course offered by the army
and an apprenticeship to become a builder. “I chose Masterton,” he said. He is a firm believer in the benefits and discipline of military training for young men and women today. A keen musician, Peter bought a tenor saxophone for £25 while he was in Japan and he still plays it to this day. He belongs to a band called ‘Top Hat’ and he sometimes entertains the village residents. Peter commemorates Anzac Day. He had two older brothers who went to World War II and he said it brings back a lot of memories.
Andy Scott, 100 Julia Wallace Retirement Village
ndy was born on 20th June 1919 and raised on a small, rented farm in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. After completing his schooling at Peterhead Academy, he studied medicine at Aberdeen University. On qualifying and after some hospital experience, Andy joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and did his initial training at Leeds, Yorkshire very early in 1943. He recalls one incident there on a day’s field exercise, following the evacuation of casualties from the front line to a base hospital.
They were told to construct a makeshift raft to cross a river, using two stretchers lashed together and empty petrol cans for buoyancy. A rope was tied to each bank so it could be pulled backwards and forwards.
They called for three volunteers to cross on the raft and Andy put his hand up, but the contraption sank midstream and he found himself standing mid-thigh in ice cold water. He spent the rest of that winter’s day in Yorkshire trudging along in wet boots and soaking trousers! After completing training at Aldershot, he was ordered to report to the Cunard Building, Liverpool where he joined the pool of RAMC staff which provided medical services on troopships. His first trip took him to the French naval base of Mers-ElKébir in North Africa where he was shocked to see a row of large plaques listing the names of the 1500 men of the French Navy killed by the Royal Navy when it destroyed
the French fleet at anchor in 1940 to prevent it being used by the enemy. After 18 months at sea, Andy was posted to the Middle East and joined the 5th Division as doctor to the battalion of the Essex Regiment in 13 Brigade. He was issued with an ancient .45 revolver to protect his patients. Andy was quite proud of the firearm until the Essex CO told him he would do more good throwing it than firing it at the enemy! However, it did come in useful much later in the war, when his driver ‘liberated’ a pig! Andy said the fresh pork made a welcome change from their usual army rations.
“Unfortunately, he shot a comrade who was doing his bit for good relations with the Germans!”
« The division moved back to Italy but after a short period they sailed to Marseilles, then travelled in cattle trucks for four days in the middle of winter to Ghent in Belgium, where all the officers were assembled in a cinema to be addressed by ‘Monty’ (Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery); an experience Andy will never forget. They joined the British forces in the push across Germany and ended the war on the Baltic facing the Russians. Andy chuckles as he recalls one amusing memory. “‘Fraternisation’ was the ‘in
word’ just after the war ended, and thereby hangs a little tale. An Essex soldier had acquired a .22 rifle and went hunting for rabbits. He saw movements in some bushes and fired. Unfortunately, he shot a comrade who was doing his bit for good relations with the Germans!” Filling in the accident report form on the incident called for some creative writing! Several postings followed including a spell in the Orkney Islands, just off the north coast of the Scottish mainland, then back to Germany where Andy ran a small hospital in the
Harz mountains and took sick parades for local units. Demob time came and he was transferred to the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who were going home as demonstration battalion at the School of Infantry in Wiltshire. There the Army forgot about Andy, so he had to remind them of his existence, and he was demobbed in time to begin a year’s full-time post-graduate study at his old university. Andy said he left the army with great respect for the infantry and was proud to have served them.
Bob and Andy at Julia Wallace Village
Bob Guthrie, 100 Julia Wallace Retirement Village
he number 60488 is one that Bob Guthrie will never forget. His regimental number is deeply imprinted in his memory and even at 100 years old, that memory it still sharp.
Bob was 20 and living in Wellington on the 3rd September 1939, when he heard New Zealand was at war with Germany. “I thought it was a good thing. Time we got stuck into them. Some mates and I had a few drinks, then signed up to volunteer. I think we were the last of the volunteers.” Bob joined the army and trained in Papakura before leaving for the Middle East in April 1941. On arrival in Egypt’s Helwen camp during a sandstorm, they filled their palliasses with straw and slept in tents.
They moved further north to train at Maadi camp, but Bob recalls them being desperately short of equipment. Bob was a gun layer and fought in the Western Desert. His memories of that are, “sand, sand and sand. During the sandstorms you had to be very careful because if you left your vehicle you wouldn’t find your way back again.” His first battle was at Baggush where they were going to relieve the Desert Rats in Tobruk. They retreated into Ruweisat Ridge where they were constantly bombed by the Germans. In February 1942 at the NZ Government’s insistence the NZ Division was sent to Syria to recover after heavy losses.
In June of the same year, Freyburg was ordered to recall his division back to Egypt. He assembled his forces from Syria within a week, racing across 1000 miles to the front line. Bob remembers this record trip vividly! Later in June the New Zealand Division, surrounded by German forces launched a ferocious night attack against the 21st Panzer Division to the east. They made an epic escape – known as the Breakout. “I thought I’d never get out of that,” said Bob. “It was every man for himself.” “We were captured for five days – then retreated to El Alamein. The following day we found the regiment again.”
“War is a stupid thing. We are all human and we are killing each other. That is stupid.”
« “The German propaganda broadcasts from Lord Haw-Haw said Rommel had planned to parade us through the streets of Berlin – but they made a mistake, because we broke out,” says Bob proudly. Bob also fought at El Alamein for a short time before he was put out of action after a sergeant fired the gun when he was close by. He suffered concussion and his hearing has been affected to this day. He went back to base camp at Maadi where he helped care for “the slightly wounded chaps who were convalescing and retraining.”
Bob was treated to afternoon tea in Cairo, with the then New Zealand Prime Minister, Peter Fraser. He was promoted to Lance Bombardier then Acting Bombardier. On his return in July 1945 the biggest shock was the climate! “We had a terrific hailstorm and after spending four years in the heat of the desert, I shivered in front of the fire with my overcoat on.” On return Bob trained to become a plasterer and went into business on his own. “I finished up being an assistant
auctioneer in Christchurch in 1953.” Bob moved to Palmerston North after the Christchurch earthquakes. Reflecting on war, Bob concludes, “War is a stupid thing. We are all human and we are killing each other. That is stupid. It was a great experience though. But I wouldn’t go again.”
Photo courtesy of Stanley Daubney
Richard Lambert, 95 Logan Campbell Retirement Village
ecoming a pilot was Richard Lambert’s sole ambition for as far back as he can remember – but age and circumstance seemed to make achieving that goal near impossible at times.
He was educated at Godalming Central School in Surrey, England but had to leave school at 14 to help his mother after his father walked out. Despite this setback he joined the Air Training Corps as soon as he could and then counted down the days until he turned 17 and one quarter – the required age for joining the Air Force – in 1942. “Eventually I was called up when I was 18 and I went to report at Lords Cricket Ground.” He was sent up to St Andrews in Scotland to begin six weeks of training, which was followed by a gradings call flying Tiger Moths at Chester. “I made the grade. But then I was made redundant. After D-Day they didn’t have the casualties they expected and we weren’t needed,” he says.
“However, I decided to stay in the RAF and I was sent to St Athans in South Wales to work as a flight engineer.” Richard worked on Lancasters and Halifaxes as both a flight engineer and ground engineer before being posted to Lossiemouth in Scotland. By then the war was over but Richard’s flying ambition was far from dulled and a key decision he made became a crossroads moment in his life which took him much closer to realising that goal. “One week I was overpaid by ten pounds, which was enough to get me a return ticket to visit my mother or a new bike. I decided it was better to return it to the accounts department. “That led to a chance meeting with the Group Captain and despite my being a scruffy sergeant in a thick pullover and Wellington boots we got chatting and discovered we had a few common interests. “He asked me if there was anything he could do for me and I said ‘yes, I want to go back to flying’ and within a short space of time I was on
my way back to St Athans doing air crew training on the Lancasters!” Richard joined the 97 Squadron at RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire where the work was typically characterised by flying over the east coast of England ‘dropping bombs in The Wash with monotonous regularity’! However, on returning from leave in 1954 he found that four Lancasters had been delivered to Hemswell. “I was given the job of flying one of the Lancasters taking part in the film Dam Busters,” he says, referring to the daring raid dubbed Operation Chastise where 617 Squadron dropped bouncing bombs to blow up the dams in Germany’s Ruhr Valley. “We used the same routes around Lincolnshire, the same airfields and they talked and spoke and did everything like it was in 1943. It was an extremely accurate film which could have been used as a documentary.”
“It was only after the war finished that I realised how dangerous everything was.”
« Richard was assigned the plane which depicted Lancaster bomber AJ-P, affectionately known as ‘Popsie’, which was flown in the raid by Australian Flight Lieutenant Harold Brownlow Morgan ‘Mickey’ Martin on the starboard side of wing commander Guy Gibson, in the raid’s first formation. In the real raid Mickey was hit by anti-aircraft fire during the attack whereas for the film, the ‘damage’ to the plane was riveted onto the bomber for the scene. A major highlight was the chance to do some low flying – much lower than would normally be allowed, and a testament to the great skill involved. While the bombing run on the German dams occurred at 18 metres above water, during filming that distance appeared much higher from the camera’s perspective so the pilots were asked to fly lower, says Richard.
“On one occasion we were flying up Lake Windermere and there was spray coming off the propellers!” Another highlight for all the men involved in the filming was the food. “Rationing was still on in England but they had a caravan on site for the film crew and they cooked us tons of t-bone steaks!” he laughs.
gold for Gaddafi to keep the economy going.” In 1975, aged 50, Richard moved to New Zealand with his family where he worked for Air New Zealand as a flight instructor and remained there until retirement. While Richard now reflects on the effects of war at Anzac and Remembrance services, he says the risk and danger of going to war couldn’t have been further from his thoughts as an eager trainee, desperate to get up in the air.
The remainder of his 18 years in the RAF included being sent out to do bombing exercises in the Suez Canal area of Egypt and later Malaya but inevitably, “I was a kid and was too he says, ‘peace time flying was young to be frightened. The too tame for me.’ enthusiasm for the job overtook the worry of flying Richard continued to fly after with a war on. leaving the RAF including one job for Air Links which “It was only after the war involved flying an Argonaut finished that I realised how carrying eight tons of gold dangerous everything was.” bullion from Gatwick Airport to Tripoli in Libya. “We were met with soldiers with guns and tanks for security. It was government
Photo courtesy of Richard Lambert
Ross McLay, 83 Linda Jones Retirement Village
t was an ad in the paper looking for volunteers to go to Malaya that prompted Ross McLay to join the army at the age of 22.
As the second to youngest of 12 children originally from Taumarunui in the King Country, Ross had been working at the Post Office in Wellington having left school aged 15. He had done his Compulsory Military Training in 1959 and then returned to the Post Office. “It appealed to me I suppose,” he says. “I was a young fellow and the jungle warfare was a challenge.” Ross was part of the 2NZ Regiment, the last battalion to leave New Zealand on the ship TSS Captain Cook before it was decommissioned.
During basic training Ross had been given the job of barman in the officers’ mess and was rather dismayed when this role continued, on landing in Malaya. “When you join the army you don’t tell them what you’re going to do, they tell you. You don’t get a choice!” Seven months later, Ross was given a new role in transport platoon. It wasn’t in the rifle company as he’d hoped for but it was certainly a position of great responsibility. Ross was appointed driver for the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt Col Aitken. “It was very interesting. It was a position of trust because you were privy to a lot of confidential information. The Colonel said to me ‘you hear nothing!’
“I did that for about 14 months.” Despite their difference in rank, the two men got on very well. “He was a real good man to drive. He was like a father in a lot of ways. We’d have some very good conversations about what was going on,” says Ross, who even drove the Army Secretary to a concert on one occasion. The Malayan Emergency had been going on since 1948 and saw Commonwealth troops from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji helping the British to keep communist terrorists from disrupting communities there. Ross says they arrived in the late stages but they still had to train up and go out on jungle patrols.
“We don’t know how to stop wars. There will always be those who want to do it, be it for religious reasons or power or whatever.”
« “We trained with live ammunition and hand grenades. You’ve still got to learn how to use them. Once bullets start flying you don’t say ‘when do I shoot?’ you just fire!” Jungle patrols could be gruelling, especially in the muggy, humid heat. “You’d have these big packs on your back with weapons and rations. I did three escort patrols during that period. “We went in with extra stuff they needed and were met on the river by longboats. Then we’d walk through the jungle to the campsites.” One event stayed with Ross for many years. The three-yearold son of one of the married soldiers ran out in front of his vehicle and was knocked down unconscious. “He got sent to hospital and I was quite shaken up about it and years went by and I would
often say to my wife I wonder what happened to that boy. “Well about two years ago I got a call out of the blue and it was his step-father. They had tracked me down and he asked if I’d like to talk to him. “That little boy is now 65 years old, and is called Ross as well. He told me he’d passed out four times on the operating table but he recovered well, joined the army and did time overseas before becoming a truck driver! “It was a relief to finally know the outcome of that!” Ross left the army in 1962 after completing his three years and went on to marry Gretta with whom he raised four children. He enjoyed a variety of jobs ranging from owning a restaurant, rugby refereeing and driving a vege truck before working for Woolworths as produce department manager for the next 30 years.
He attended army reunions every two years and even caught up with the Colonel years later at his home in Australia where he shared some of his history with them. Ross is philosophical on the topic of war but unequivocal when it comes to marking Anzac Day properly. “We don’t know how to stop wars. There will always be those who want to do it, be it for religious reasons or power or whatever. We tried to make Malaya a safe place to live so people could get on with their lives. “It’s important to remember those people who have done a service for their country be it conscription or otherwise. “By joining up you want to do your best for your country and be proud to be able to do it and come home safe.”
Photo courtesy of Ross McLay
Jock Miller, 86 Malvina Major Retirement Village
orn 2nd March 1934 and educated at boarding school in Gisborne, Jock’s home was on a farm in an isolated area near Ruatoria, on the East Coast.
“My father was a sharemilker, and in those days an average farm had about 30 cows. Very small compared to today.” At 18 Jock was drafted into the army under compulsory military training (CMT). “I had to go, I had no choice,” he said. Jock belonged to the Royal New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RNZEME) a corps which was formed in 1946 and comprised of army trained craftsmen who repaired and maintained army equipment and vehicles. Jock said he had an interest in mechanical things, but his
employment was in a bank! “It was good. We had to make sure everything was in working order.
Jock was in the corps over a three-year period. “Three or four times a year we went to camp.”
“I was lucky as I worked in the Commercial Bank of Australia, and they had a generous scheme where I was paid the difference between my CMT pay and my normal pay.
“CMT was a good thing – I had skills I didn’t have before.”
“I was doubly lucky, as I ended up in Papakura rather than Waiouru for training. It was quite civilised as I was living in Auckland. I went to camp on Sunday night, and most weekends we were allowed to go home.” There were annual training camps when they were sent away on back of trucks amongst stores of blankets and provisions.
They learnt survival skills at the camps. “I enjoyed my time on camp. We all enjoyed it.” Jock’s thoughts on the military today are, “We need forces to protect us. Our training meant we could fit in quickly and do what they needed us to do.” He was a member of the RSA in Paraparaumu and on Anzac Day he marched on parade. Jock stayed with the bank for his working life.
Michael Button, 84 Malvina Major Retirement Village
ike was born in the United Kingdom in May 1935, and left London at 18 to come to New Zealand to avoid conscription for two years. He did his national service in New Zealand where he was a military policeman training in Waiouru and Auckland. Mike then decided as a single man he would volunteer to go to Malaya during the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960).
He left Wellington, sailing on the SS Captain Cook to Kota Tinggi, Malaya. “We were waited on hand and foot by the crew. It was luxury.” On arrival in Kota Tinggi he was transferred to the rifle company. His captain said, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do with you Button, you’re a policeman.’ “So, I was assigned to the armscote. Every night I put all the weapons in the cote and locked them in. “We finished up at Ipoh. We had a good life there – we guarded the guys when they were relaxing and swimming; always with a Bren gun.”
Mike recalls a night patrol outside Ipoh. “There were six of us on patrol. Two with machine guns, two with shot guns and two with Bren. Suddenly, six guys walked into the village. I thought, ‘this is it.’ We got five of them and the sixth guy jumped into the swimming pool.” The guy in the pool pulled a grenade from a bag threw it at them. It landed close by, smoked and stopped. Later, the others asked Mike what was in the bag. It was full of hand grenades and they were all live. They were so lucky. “It would have been a mess,” said Mike. Mike has a vivid memory of when he was going to relieve another soldier. “I walked up the track settled behind the Bren. I could see about 50 metres of the track, then all of a sudden, I heard a rustle. I thought, ‘Oh god,’ when a ruddy bear stepped onto the track! The smell was terrific. He stared at me, and I stared at him then he rushed back into the bush!”
Another time one of their guys got separated from the company. It took him two weeks to get out of the bush, helped by the local people. “I was two years in Malaya – many times when I was in the dark with the geckos and mosquitos I thought, ‘what a bloody fool am I. I could have stayed home’. “But it was good, and it taught me a lot about life. I can’t recall complaining about things again, I just rolled with everything when I got back. It didn’t worry me. “I was 25 when I came home. I went back to Whitcombe and Tombs where I had been working before. “I realise now, how lucky I am. “During the war, when I was in Malaya, there were times I thought if anyone twitches I will pull the trigger. I have given up on the idea of shooting people. Enough is enough. I don’t feel killing people is justified.”
Noeline Ritson, 102 Malvina Major Retirement Village
oeline was born in Auckland on Boxing Day, 1917 and finished her school days in Papatoetoe.
Noeline had been a member of St John Ambulance service since she was 12, first-aiding at local events, so, on hearing the army were looking for women to recruit to work in the Middle East, she decided she would like to go.
arrangements, they were billeted in local homes. There were a lot of accidents from the Tiger Moth training, and that meant some serious injuries to treat, as well as diseases and sickness like influenza. She worked at Whenuapai for about 18 months before she was transferred to Seagrove Station, just out of Papakura.
She was 23 when she showed It was a small station on an old the application forms to her farm. The accommodation parents. “My mother started to was in the lower part, and the cry, and my father was grumpy, hospital up the top of the hill. so I thought, this is no good – “We had to walk about a mile to I’ll tear it up and not go.” the hospital. On early morning “Six weeks later, the duty starting at 6.00am we New Zealand Air Force wanted got a lift up the hill from the recruits, and I thought, I’ll do transport men. When matron my bit. Being in New Zealand – heard about this she was not that was ok.” happy. She said, ‘You’ll not waste petrol. You will walk!’.” Noeline was placed at So, walk they did. Whenuapai to work as a medic. “The matron said, ‘I don’t think She was also sent to you’ll stand up to it my girl.’ Hobsonville, No1 hospital. I said, ‘I think I will’.” And There they were treating Noeline proved her wrong. “the boys coming home with She stayed in the air force until skin complaints.” the end of the war in 1945. Noeline says, “It was like an At Whenuapai they worked ordinary job, but we had shift in the small hospital located work till 10.00pm. You were in a nearby house. For living restricted, and you couldn’t
leave the station without a pass and had to be in by 10.00pm. “You had a life on the station. I wanted to go to Suva, Fiji and gave my application to the matron. My mother had been in hospital and I had earlier applied for leave to look after her. The matron would not allow me to go – ‘you won’t get leave from Suva to care for your mother,’ she told me.” After the war Noeline married. Trying to arrange a marriage with her in Auckland, and a fiancé studying in Dunedin was difficult. Noeline remembers the day he sent a telegram to say he had managed to get enough navy suiting fabric to make a wedding suit. “Navy was a bit out of fashion – dark grey was the thing in those days,” she said. “I sent back a telegram saying, ‘Hold suiting; letter following.’ He looked at it and thought – God! She’s going to jilt me!” she laughed. They finally got married with the groom wearing the colour of the day – a dark grey suit.
Murray Drury, 85 Margaret Stoddart Retirement Village
urray Drury was born at his family home in Christchurch in 1935 and trained and worked as a butcher while also enjoying a role in the Army Territorial Force. He joined the military after being conscripted in 1953. Compulsory military training, known as CMT, was reintroduced to New Zealand following World War II. He became a territorial within the 1st New Zealand Scottish Regiment, which was later converted into an armoured unit of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps. Murray is a Cantabrian and a details man. He even remembers his intake number, 821135, and has fond memories of the territorial force, also known as the army reserve.
town’ of Waiouru. Murray says there was a real party atmosphere on the train to Picton, and then getting kitted out with the required gear on arrival at base at midnight. He has fond memories of driving Scorpion tanks. This was around the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in June 1953, and her later visit to New Zealand. The training on the central plateau included tank manoeuvres, small arms training and sessions on the firing range. He and fellow territorial soldiers did some preparatory work for involvement with ‘Kayforce’ in the Korean War, but in the end did not join other Kiwis stationed overseas.
A “pretty good” Waiouru army rugby team was formed, doing well in a North Island competition including teams His initial six-week “boot camp” from townships like Taihape. training involving marching, exercise, and camping out, Over his eight years with the took place at Burnham, south territorials he rose to the rank of Christchurch. of sergeant and very much enjoyed the comradeship. Later he and other young men Each February territorials took trains and a ferry to the from Auckland, Wellington, central North Island ‘military
Christchurch and Dunedin would gather for two weeks at bases like Linton Military Camp. Back in Christchurch, the old Addington prison was used as the headquarters for the Canterbury territorials, he says. The prison and grounds were big enough to be able to store three armoured cars, and some smaller Ferret scout vehicles taken on weekend camps. Often on a Friday night he and mates would gather for a drink. He now remembers them on Anzac Day. Later, Murray represented Canterbury province as a front row rugby player, binding down with the likes of Dennis Young and Jules Le Lievre (both All Blacks). He also loved salmon fishing at the Rakaia river mouth. Now at Margaret Stoddart he is living just down the road from his old neighbourhood and family home in Wharenui Road, Upper Riccarton.
Norman Henderson, 87 Margaret Stoddart Retirement Village
orman Henderson was born in Dunedin, and used his civilian tailoring skills to make a smooth transfer into the military.
Norman served for 26 years in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, becoming a warrant officer. He also enjoyed running and boxing, becoming a ‘gloves’ champion in the armed forces. His bespoke tailoring skills, learned at Dunedin’s J&J Arthur, put him in good stead for his air force career.
finishing his career as a clothing inspector at Te Rapa base. He married his wife Ann in 1954, in time to take her to Ohakea. They lived in nearby Bulls and had two children, Sharon and Brent, now aged in their 60s. He points to his hearing aids when remembering the “screaming” noise of the British-made de Havilland Vampire jet fighters at Ohakea.
He did his compulsory military training from 1951 to 1953. He learned how to pack parachutes for the Territorial Air Force at Taieri Aerodrome near Mosgiel in Otago.
He has other memories. One of the squadron commanders took him aloft from Ohakea, then handed him control. “He said: ‘here you are, you take the stick for a bit … I said this is a bit expensive for me to be playing around with’.”
Norman stepped up, eventually becoming a warrant officer. He transferred through a good number of the New Zealand bases including Wigram, Shelly Bay, Woodbourne and Whenuapai. He spent the longest amount of time at Ohakea, before
On another occasion, one of the squadron leaders at Woodbourne asked him at the last minute for a new mess dress uniform. He was up until 4am one morning doing the required tailoring to make the white mess uniform to be worn with a formal bow tie.
Twice he was part of escorts and guards of honour for Queen Elizabeth II on her December 1953–January 1954 New Zealand coronation visit, firstly at Whenuapai and then when she departed from Bluff. He has kept his own air force garb including a formal mess kit jacket and is proud to show them off, as he is the certificates and photos mounted on his wall. In 1955 he took out the air force featherweight boxing event, then the crowning glory was a combined services certificate for a bantamweight championship title in 1957, coached by an ex-British commando. The commando told him, given that his opponent knew he’d not fought for two years, not to throw punches in the first round. In the second round the coach told him the navy opponent was wide open for a ‘right cross’. That advice won him the fight!
Ron Eades, 87 Nellie Melba Retirement Village
on Eades “hated it like hell” that if Australia was called to war, he would be too. Born in Williamstown, Victoria, on November 24th, 1932, Ron was 22 years old when the call he had been dreading came. It was the third time the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, mechanical engineering student had been called for National Service, but this time there was nothing he could do.
“I was virtually conscripted. “When I was first called up, I deferred because I was studying and then I deferred again, so after that they said, ‘we’ve now caught up with you, and you have to go into camp at Wagga (Wagga Wagga in New South Wales)’.”
The order was not only hard for Ron to take, but also for his parents. “I was an only child, so I was a bit of a protected species,” he laughs.
Following initial endurance training, which included regular 12-mile time trials wearing rucksacks full of bricks, Ron’s background as a mechanical engineering student meant he was put in the Air Force armament muster.
Ron was ‘way out’ of his comfort zone when he and about 200 other men, most younger than him, arrived at the No 4 Training Squadron at Wagga Wagga in the early hours of a morning in July 1954.
While the young Air Force muster had their sights set on the sky, their feet never left the ground.
Three years earlier it was made compulsory for men aged 18 and over to complete 176 days of military training as part of the National Service Scheme.
Instead the men spent their days attending lectures, completing gruelling physical tests and participating in small morning parades around the base.
“There weren’t many guys there who were gung-ho about any of it,” Ron recalls.
Nights in corrugated iron huts that were “punishingly cold” in winter, and “like a furnace” in summer were equally challenging.
“I just think war is an utterly terrible waste of life and living.”
« Ron recalls servicing the turrets of Lincoln Bombers which had been made in a government aircraft factory his father had worked at in Port Melbourne. With the tragic memories of World War II still fresh in their minds, Ron says he and many of the other men felt the National Service was a “fruitless exercise”. “On rare occasions people questioned it, but we learnt very fast who was there to make decisions and who was there to follow instructions.” During his training Ron maintained letter contact with “about half a dozen girlfriends”, something which
he says made his time away a bit more enjoyable. Another highlight was larger weekly Air Force parades in which about 2000 men would salute arms and the Air Force band would play as the men marched around the parade ground. The parade, which was always done early in the morning, would leave Ron with a lump in his throat. When Ron completed his National Service training in the summer of 1955 he returned to life as a mechanical engineering student feeling like the Air Force had trained him to “the bare minimum.”
“We knew how to hold the gun and pull the trigger.” In 1959 Ron met his wife Lorraine. He completed his study and the family built a home at Donvale in Melbourne’s east. But the experience of living with the possibility he could be called for action at any time during those 10 years after National Service never left Ron. “I just think war is an utterly terrible waste of life and living,” he says.
Jim (right) after the war with his mate Les in Sydney 1946 Photo courtesy of James Easton
Jim Calder, 97 Ngaio Marsh Retirement Village
im’s a Cantabrian through and through. He was born on 16th July, 1922 in Christchurch and attended West Christchurch District High School, but in the depths of the depression years his parents could not afford a uniform, so he enrolled at Christchurch Technical College. His first job was with the New Zealand Farmers’ Cooperative, as, in his own words, “a dogsbody mucking about the office.” In 1939, Jim followed his older brother into the navy by joining the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. One memorable moment was seeing the departure of the First Echelon for the Middle East. “I was in Cook Strait on a minesweeper in January 1940 and saw them leave.” Jim witnessed the Second Echelon leave when he was working on the Wairangi and recalls the remarkable sight of the brand new 30,000 – 40,000 ton Andes and the HMAS Canberra which lay at heads.
Jim served on the HMS Monowai – a merchant cruiser strengthened and refitted in Auckland with outdated guns made in 1901! “Pea shooters. 44 gallon drums in the hold were welded together to keep it afloat!” It was used to patrol and escort between New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands, and escorted the Rangatira to Fiji as part of the Third Echelon. In 1942 Jim volunteered to be trained as an ASDIC (Sonar) operator at the antisubmarine division in St Mary’s Bay, Auckland. Following this he was drafted to the HMNZS Rata, a inesweeper protecting Wellington harbour and port. Later that year Jim trained in Petone where he qualified as a higher ASDIC operator. It was 1944 when Jim was recommended for a Fleet Commission Warrant. He had to go to England for training and left from Port Chalmers on the Port Wyndham fully loaded to the gunnels and no escort. After training Jim appeared before the daunting Admiral’s Board and was told he was being sent to HMS King Alfred 120
shore establishment for officer training at Hove. “I enjoyed it; you meet a lot of people.” As the war in Europe came to an end, Jim was sent to navigation school, promoted to a temporary sub-lieutenant and in Blythe appointed as a pilot to a newly built landing ship, tank. “I was all set to go to the Far East when the war collapsed there too.” A registered letter awaited him in London saying a passage home was booked on the HMS Victorious. Jim was discharged from the navy at Easter 1946. Back in Christchurch he became an electrician and qualified as a professional engineer for the Post Office. He was elected as the Post Office Association President in 1973 and held that position for many years. Jim was appointed to the establishment board of Telecom where he served for three years. “A lot of water gone has under my bridge – I only wanted to be a sailor.”
Everard Otto, 98 Possum Bourne Retirement Village
v was born in Waiuku early 1922, and later his family moved to a farm in Pokeno, North Waikato.
At 18 he joined the territorials. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, Ev, then in the Army Service Corps (ASC) – helped supply food for American soldiers heading to the Pacific. At 21, following six weeks training at Trentham, he boarded the QSMV Dominion Monarch and left Wellington for Egypt. Ev laughs as he remembers the stop in Perth. “I remember some soldiers lifted a little car up to the top of some steps! I saw it, but I didn't do it!” he stresses.
him out, but he still suffered from hypothermia and spent a week in hospital recovering. In early 1944 they travelled to the west coast of Italy trying to get to Cassino. He found a hole in the side of a hill where he lived for four months. He recalls over 200 planes bombing the Monte Cassino monastery. “The air vibrated, it was unbelievable – cold and wet.” He remembers with sadness the losses of the 28th Māori Battalion. “They had to take the railway station. 128 were killed and many wounded. It was gruesome.”
Ev had a close call nearer Rome. They were camping, Arriving at Maadi Camp, hidden from the Germans. Ev was appointed a staff A convoy of ASC trucks pulled car driver and took officers into the field behind them and to Cairo and back. caught the attention of the German artillery in the hills. Six months later he left for Italy. Ev had just gone to get his beer In Italy, Ev recalls falling into and chocolate rations from the the icy Sangro River when truck, when an officer yelled trying to cross after a heavy ‘get out’, which they did smartly. snowfall. He slipped and fell But the officer was wounded. into a water hole up to his chin. Ev went to get his wagon and Blocks of ice were floating take him to the medics, but past his eyes. His mates pulled
as he got nearer his wagon he heard guns going off again. He threw himself on the ground as the three shells came over. One dropped short and blew up his truck. They did a record trip from Rome to Naples, then Florence and towards the River Po. The approach to the crossing took ages as the division travelled slowly over a makeshift folding boat bridge. With the war over in Europe they still had to assist in preventing Trieste being taken by Yugoslavia. A representative rugby player, Ev played a game in Bari, before heading home. He scored four tries! He was demobbed in March 1946, but he still feels for all the families of the boys who did not return home. He returned to Monte Cassino for the 60th and 70th commemorations where he laid the wreath on the Cenotaph for the 28th Māori Battalion.
Ian Sexton, 99 Possum Bourne Retirement Village
s he looks at old photos of radar equipment used during World War II, Ian Sexton is the first to admit how basic it looks compared to the hi-tech computers we are familiar with now.
The Possum Bourne resident, who will turn 100 in July, was in the RNZAF working as a radar mechanic at coastal radar stations and says the technology was cutting edge at the time. “We had to try and get an understanding of what was fairly complicated equipment. Radar work was all secret at the time, but I seemed to be fairly good at it,” he says. A former Manurewa Primary and Auckland Grammar boy, Ian had shown an aptitude for communications technology from a young age and decided to become a ‘ham’, but two days after hearing he’d passed his amateur operator exam, war broke out and ham radio was immediately banned. In early 1941 the Post Office did a recruiting campaign for people with radio qualifications who were
required for RNZAF technical work. Ian applied and was accepted as a wireless mechanic but after training he switched to radar work, with the new technology able to detect planes at 6000 metres (20,000 feet) and from 70km (45 miles) away.
searched where it had been three hours earlier so nothing was found.” Ian says they were up against a contingent who were anti-technology. “There was a lot of suspicion of radar, they’d say ‘you fellows with your fancy gadgets’ and regarded us as a lot of idiots, whereas in England they were quite positive about it.”
The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and with the threat now much Ian’s expertise came to good closer to home, the RNZAF set use in early 1943 when he was up a network of radar stations sent as part of a unit of around the North Island and 50 to Guadalcanal in the upper South Island. Ian worked Solomon Islands. out of Piha and Maunganui Bluff, north of Dargaville. “I was the chief technical man as I knew more about it than When he was at Maunganui anyone else. Bluff, a Japanese plane was picked up on the radar but the “The Japs were coming in at people at Auckland HQ didn’t night between 8pm and 4am believe it, says Ian. on nuisance raids, disturbing everybody’s sleep. “There was another occasion where we plotted a submarine, “Once we got the equipment I’m sure to this day. going we put a complete stop to that night bombing.” “It just suddenly appeared and travelled at 9 knots. But again, Ian says as soon as the Auckland didn’t believe it. bombers were picked up a fighter would be scrambled “It was about three hours and would be instructed before they sent out a Hudson by radio where to go to tail to search the area, but they the bomber.
“What a colossal lunacy! We were faced with one gang of lunatics in Berlin, and another gang of lunatics in Tokyo.”
« When the bomber crew picked up the radio channel and heard a transmission on it, they knew that an instruction had been given to the fighter and they would alter course to dodge it. “The range of their planes was such that they could only stay in the area for 25 minutes so we would keep them dodging until they had to head home.” As far as preventing them from bombing Henderson Field, the large American base on Guadalcanal, Ian says: “It was outstandingly effective!” Ian was sent back to New Zealand to form a nucleus for the next unit to go to the Solomon Islands but unfortunately he was
struck down with malaria and had to spend some time recovering. By then the Japanese were being pushed back and the radar units were being closed down and Ian transferred to pilot training. By the time he was trained up the war was virtually over and Ian was posted to an Air Force reserve and returned to farming. He ran a dairy farm at Pukekawa for 30 years with his wife Daphne and the pair raised a daughter. He built a state-of-the-art transmitter from scratch on his farm which could transmit around the world and is a radio enthusiast to this day.
In 1993 Ian also produced a book, Radar Stories from the RNZAF 1939-45, which includes accounts from more than 50 contributors and can be found in most libraries. Ian is a firm believer in remembering those who sacrificed their lives on Anzac Day but has strong opinions on the topic of war. “What a colossal lunacy! We were faced with one gang of lunatics in Berlin, and another gang of lunatics in Tokyo. But would you let them walk all over you?”
Photo courtesy of Ian Sexton
Roy Taylor, 88 Possum Bourne Retirement Village
oy was born in Taumarunui in 1932 and was educated at New Plymouth Boys' High School.
Originally, Roy trained as a secondary school teacher, however, when he did his compulsory military training in 1952 he was offered an officer cadetship and promptly jumped at the chance. So began what would be an illustrious 32-year career in the New Zealand Army. Roy still has vivid memories of his first venture overseas, a year in Malaya, which was the first emergency requiring New Zealand involvement since the end of World War II. “There was no school of jungle warfare in New Zealand, so we had to learn it there,” he says.
He still clearly recalls the eight-hour trek through the thick undergrowth to reach his platoon. “It was pretty tough going with 10 days rations on your back, having to forge a pathway through.” During the 1960s Roy worked stints back in New Zealand, UK and at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, USA to train for further leadership roles. He put this into practice at Terendak camp in Malaysia as company commander of D Company, Roy became a training officer in Terendak to prepare Victor Company to go to Vietnam. This coincided with his citation for an MBE, which he received in the New Year’s Honours List in 1968.
Roy worked on the defence planning staff at Defence Headquarters before being posted to Townsville as 2nd Command of the Australian 2RAR. When posted to Vietnam for a year in 1970, he ended up taking command of the battalion, which was reported in the New Zealand press. He only discovered the negative effects this had on his family afterwards. “That night my wife was rung by some bloody woman asking how many babies had I killed today? “Then she said she hoped the next item in the paper was that I’d be dead.
“There was no school of jungle warfare in New Zealand, so we had to learn it there,”
« “You don’t realise the way the family are hurt the way she was,” he says. More controversy was to follow on his return. “When we were coming back from Vietnam they told us to get into civilian clothes and not be in uniform,” he says, adding that the official ‘welcome home’ parade didn’t take place until 2008. Still, Roy remains philosophical in his attitude, pointing out the difference between peace time service compared to during World War II.
“During the war, service in the army was no problem as it was there for everybody. “After the war, there were certain obligations that the country had that not everyone agreed with.” Roy’s health also suffered from exposure to Agent Orange. There were more army highlights to come, including being promoted to colonel general staff at army headquarters, responsible for all the training of the NZ
Army; a visit to Antarctic Base assisting the Americans at McMurdo Sound; a further promotion to brigadier in June 1980 and finally retiring in 1984. Following retirement, Roy and his wife Jennifer bought a 10-acre block in Whenuapai where they grew kiwifruit.
Photo courtesy of Ross McLay
John Garland, 97 Princess Alexandra Retirement Village
ohn was born on 22nd of November 1922 in Christchurch and went to Christ’s College where his father had attended before him.
John wanted to be a pilot and applied for the air force. He was assigned to the Air Defence Unit to protect the airports if the Japanese invaded New Zealand.
He also followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a wartime pilot. His father flew in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and John flew Corsairs for the Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) in the Pacific between 1944 and 1945.
He was finally selected to be a pilot and, after a time in Harewood training in Tiger Moths, John was sent to Calgary in Canada under the Empire Air Training Scheme.
After finishing school with University Entrance at 16, John joined the Bank of Australasia (now the ANZ bank). Before he turned 19 John was called up to do three months compulsary military training (CMT) at Wingatui Racecourse near Dunedin. Later that same year the Japanese entered the war and all those who had done CMT were mobilised.
At this time Britain and the USA dominated the air in Europe and didn’t need many replacements. But the threat of the Japanese meant he was needed by the RNZAF in the Pacific. John returned to New Zealand and trained in the Waitakere Ranges to prepare for the jungle environment, before being posted to Ardmore. Flying the Corsair was a massive change, but John
said they were beautiful to fly. “They were strong and powerful. They were the world’s fastest single engine, propellor driven aircraft capable of speeds more that 700km/hr and they could carry two 1,000 pound bombs.” The squadron was supporting the fighting on the ground and took part in the campaign against Rabaul. The Australian advance was pushing the Japanese back into the jungle and there was a danger of snipers in trees. The Australians would send smoke bombs along the trails and they would bomb the smoke bombs. The bombs had a stick on the end so they would explode the moment they hit the ground and sweep through the undergrowth.
“They were strong and powerful. They were the world’s fastest single engine, propellor driven aircraft…”
« John explained, that after the bombs were dropped the pilot needed to swing away towards the sea. If the plane had gone down on enemy-held land, you would not survive. He vividly and sadly, recalls seeing his best friend flying ahead of him ploughing into the ground after dropping the bombs. To this day he cannot understand what happened. John had been about to follow but instead he turned out to sea, dropped his bombs and headed home.
John served three tours with 20 Squadron in Guadalcanal, Green Island (between Rabaul and Bougainville) and at Jacquinot Bay on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea, where they patrolled the coastline searching for Japanese movements. His last tour at Jacquinot Bay ended as the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. As he was flying home, overnighting in Honiara, the captain sent a message to say the war had ended.
After arriving home John chose to be discharged from the air force. He was engaged to be married and started night classes studying accountancy. He worked as a manager for the bank in many cities including a five year stint in Fiji. He retired from the bank as the Regional Manager for East Coast Branches.
Photo courtesy of Ian Sexton
Marjorie Watson (nee Moore), 101 Princess Alexandra Retirement Village
rivate Marjorie Watson was a nurse in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service, and during her five years abroad she served in Italy and New Caledonia.
She decided to volunteer when she met up with her two best friends in Christchurch, and the discussion turned to the call which had just gone out for young women to volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). They decided it would be fun to enlist together, partly out of a desire to contribute to the war effort, but also to have some adventure.
They trained at Trentham, but their vision of having fun together did not materialise when they were sent in different directions. She recalled that they were not allowed to use army trucks so walking was the order of the day. However on leave she was able to hitch a ride – once to Rome and another time to trek in the Dolomites – her family have a picture she painted while she was there. She emphasised how polite and chivalrous the “army chaps” were to her and how much fun they had.
In the early days of the war, she met her husband Ernest Watson. Separated during their years of service Marjorie and Ernest corresponded throughout wartime, even though their letters were censored. Born on 7th February 1919, Marjorie must be one of the few remaining New Zealand Red Cross nurses who served during World War II.
Bruce Cunningham, 100 Rita Angus Retirement Village
ruce Cunningham was a Flying Officer in 514 Squadron RAF and a Lancaster pilot. Bruce was captured and became a prisoner of war in Sagan, Eastern Germany from 1944 to 1945.
yards and were flying low. The Lancaster was shot and the starboard inner engine caught fire, which within five minutes spread to the entire wing. Bruce ensured all his crew exited the aircraft and then he bailed out.
He was born in Masterton in the Wairarapa, on 11th April 1920 and lived there up until the time of the war.
Bruce will never forget what went through his mind as he watched the rest of his squadron fly back and he parachuted to the ground: After receiving his wings “I distinctly remember thinking, Bruce went straight to England they’re a mile above me. to join Bomber Command. I’m sitting down here and He was based at Waterbeach, they’re going home for eggs near Cambridge. and bacon.” In May 1944, not long before The plane landed in a nearby D-Day, Bruce and his crew field but Bruce with his were on their 10th and last parachute landed on the roof operation, heading to Belgium of a two storied village café. in the early hours of the morning. They were on a He was captured immediately mission to bomb marshalling and taken to Frankfurt for
interrogation. “They knew more about me than I did.” As a prisoner of war he was sent to Stalag Luft III in Sagan. He escaped once; was caught and sent back, but a second time he was successful. As the Russians got closer a decision was made at midnight in one of the worst winters in 80 years to march the prisoners north through the snow. About 30km south-west of Berlin the Russians finally caught up with them, however they wouldn’t hand them over to the Americans. Bruce was finally helped by an American correspondent to find a bridge manned by the Americans to get him across the Elbe River. They were good to him and gave some basic necessities.
“It’s a shocking business war; we take our freedom for granted”
« flowers. After the war there In 1996 Bruce returned to Anzac Day is a day of were two street days a year Belgium. He was given a civic remembrance says Bruce. – Poppy Day and Rose Day. reception. He also had the “A serious day – all those young Bruce collected for 34 Rose parachute returned. He has people killed. They never Days and 66 Poppy Days. it to this day. A daughter of seem to learn. There’s too the café owner had made the much greed. I’m a bit old now, In June 2012 he flew to prized silk into a wedding gown. I don’t want to be caught up London with other veterans in that again. It’s a shocking for the unveiling of the Bomber Bruce is a former treasurer business war; we take our Command Memorial, by and the longest serving life freedom for granted. Killing Queen Elizabeth II to mark member of the Wellington people is not right.” her Diamond Jubilee. RSA. He has assisted them with 100 collections selling
A group of prisoners photographed in Japan at the end of the war. Thin but happy. Photo courtesy of James Easton
Len Frontin-Rollet, 100 Rita Angus Retirement Village
orn on the 27th September “Sigs used to move around – 1919, Len has happy they went wherever they were memories of his childhood needed,” Len remembers. growing up in Berhampore, In Trieste they were tasked Wellington, not far from with keeping the Yugoslavs out. Athletic Park. He was fortunate With the war correspondents his father was employed close on their tails, they during the Depression commandeered the best years, but he recalls others hotel in Trieste for the general having great hardship. and his staff. He studied engineering at Len remembers meeting an Wellington Technical Italian man in the tiny village of College and at 16 he joined Mattellica. His name was Carlo the Territorials. and they became good friends After attending officers’ and corresponded for many training, at 21 he was sent years after the war. overseas as a 2nd Lieutenant. Len used to swap his canned He travelled to Egypt’s Maadi provisions from home with Camp initially, and after the Carlo, who would cook North African Campaign he pigeons for him. Len would crossed the Mediterranean enjoy freshly cooked pigeon with the NZ Division to Italy. with chips while Carlo dined Len was away for four years on New Zealand canned and during this time served whitebait and toheroa soup! as a captain signals officer, He remembers crossing the with the 9th Infantry Brigade River Po “I think we peed in under General William Gentry that! - it wasn’t too good. during the final offensive of We had some rough spots.” the war in Italy.
But there were some good times too at the end of the war. On one occasion Len and his mate who was a major with a staff car, loaded it up with “Gerry loot” and spare tyres and went on a road trip from Trieste through Italy, to France where they were told they shouldn’t be. So off they headed to Austria, Germany then over the Alps back to Milan and finally Lake Trasemino where they got ready to go home. Len was asked whether he would go to Japan, but decided it was time to come home and get further qualifications. Len stayed with the Post Office for 46 years and progressed up the ranks, finishing up as Superintending Technician in charge of the Wellington telephone exchanges.
Penwill Moore, 99 Rita Angus Retirement Village
enwill Moore was born in 1920, grew up in the eastern suburbs of Wellington and was educated at Miramar South School, Rongotai College and Victoria University.
He joined the Royal New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy in 1941 and spent the war based in the United Kingdom. He trained as a navigation officer and was involved in missions in the Atlantic, Iceland, Russia and Africa. On D-Day, June 6th 1944, he was the officer responsible for all the navigation instruments of the landing crafts destined for Juno beach at Normandy and for naval firefighter ships based at Littlehampton in Sussex, in the United Kingdom.
In 2014 he was one of nine New Zealand veterans to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France. In 2015 Pen was awarded the Medal of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion d’honneur. It is France’s highest military honour awarded to the brave men and women who fought to free France from German occupation. He was praised for the commitment and professional qualities he demonstrated when entrusted with great responsibilities in the preparation for the Battle of Normandy.
When the beaches at Normandy were stormed, he thought it could spark the liberation of the country. “I had no doubt that we would get ashore in France, but I must admit, I didn't know if we would manage to stay or if we would be pushed back.” “I don't deserve the medal. I was just doing my job.” He says Anzac Day is special because “it’s a day of memories...of my cobbers” and important also as a day to commemorate, because “we never want another war.”
Brenda Hicks, 101 Rowena Jackson Retirement Village
renda Hicks was born in Invercargill on 7th March, 1919. Twenty or so years later World War II figured large in her life.
I couldn’t have enjoyed that part of my life better really, it was a great time for me because I was meeting so many people.”
She was keen to be involved, joining the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942. At its peak in 1944 the corps had 4600 women serving in New Zealand and overseas.
Men’s teeth were also checked and repaired, before the soldiers were discharged.
exciting times of her life, but there were sad moments of course amongst the happiness. Many men never returned from the war fronts. Some of her friends had to face up to the brutal truths of war.
By VE (Victory in Europe) Day She and George later enjoyed on May 7th, 1945 she was back running a Bernina sewing in Invercargill. It had been an machine business for a exciting time for her, and the good number of years. Brenda became a dental day itself was very memorable. “George, my husband, he assistant at Trentham Military was a man who could turn “We all danced on the streets Camp, and remembers a great his hand to anything.” (including Dee Street and camaraderie was felt amongst Tay Street). It didn’t matter In early March, Brenda the fellow WAACs. She loved who you danced with, you celebrated her 100th birthday, the Trentham lifestyle. just grabbed somebody, receiving congratulatory The WAACs had the privilege and everybody was so happy messages from the Queen, of sleeping just four to an army because it was the end of Prime Minister and Governor hut, while the men tended to the war.” General. She is “as fit as a be housed in larger groupings. fiddle” and enjoys the fact She had been invited by a In her work uniform, she she has grandchildren and couple of dentists to stay on helped provide dental care to great-grandchildren. working in Wellington but said hundreds of men. Sending the the pull home was too strong. Husband George died in midtroops off overseas, knowing 2017, two days before his 98th their teeth were in good shape, She married George Hicks in birthday. His service included gave her satisfaction. 1946, after he returned from being an anti-aircraft gunner in the frontlines. The wartime She loved the lifestyle. Egypt, Syria and Italy. He also experiences and marriage “Everyone was so good to me. cooked for his gun crew. provided some of the most
Mervyn Gillick, 95 Rowena Jackson Retirement Village
nvercargill’s Mervyn Gillick spent most of his working life as an accountant, even during World War II after his aspirations to see active service were denied.
That 11 months of war work was related to his superior skills in dealing with numbers and balancing the books which enabled him to help those in the armed forces. Mervyn, now aged 95, got an early start to his accounting career. While still in the 7th form at Christian Brothers High School he started taking and passing stage one accounting and law university papers.
judged too poor. He wanted to be a radar mechanic like his brother Ken Gillick (who was later attached to an American unit landing on Pacific islands) but his accounting skills were rated too highly and he was transferred to the Air Force head office in Wellington. “I wanted to be a radar mechanic but the selection committee just laughed because they had the file, they said ‘you’ve got every accounting exam here – it’s pay accounts for you.’ So they put me on (New Zealand Air Force) administration, and that’s where I served the rest of the war until Japan surrendered.”
Still only 16 in January 1941 Mervyn started with accountants Barr Burgess & Stewart, while continuing his university studies, sometimes fitting those in with classes in the mornings and evenings of the same day.
He remembers on the 15th of August 1945 VJ day the Woodbourne canteen ran out of beer in an hour. The servicemen and women rushed into Blenheim ‘and ran them out of beer’.
With World War II looming he signed up, starting as a trainee crewman in de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moths in Royal New Zealand Air Force camps including Taieri, Harewood and Woodbourne.
“I thought I’d get out, but my boss sent a telegram to air department to say I was the only qualified accountant on staff left in New Zealand. They woke up again and shifted me to air department, so it was 11 months later before I got out.
His wartime flying aspirations ended when his eyesight was 148
“What I was doing was working the deceased personnel’s deferred pay. All these airmen got shot down in Europe. Most of them were attached to the RAF. Now the RAF pay was slightly less than RNZAF pay, so what we had to do to pay their estate was to make up the difference.” Instead of ending his service on VE or VJ day he stayed on for another 11 months helping decide how much servicemen and their families (particularly if the serviceman had died) deserved in their payout. He finished the last accounting subjects he needed for qualifying in 1943, however it was not until the age of 21 he was eligible to apply to join the NZ Society of Accountants which he then did. He calls his transfer to work at head office in Wellington ‘the battle of Stout St’. With the end of the war he was able to finish his tertiary training – completing a subject which would normally take a year of study, Economics Stage II, in six weeks.
Warren Warburton, 98 Rowena Jackson Retirement Village
arren was born in Invercargill on 9th June, 1921 one of eleven children. He was an apprentice in the family’s jewellery shop in Gore in 1938, and to get to know the locals, he joined the local cricket and football clubs as well as the territorials.
Warren remembers when war was declared: The whole Southland Regiment was required to go to Burnham Military Camp for full unit training. The troop train to take them there did not arrive. Eventually a phone call came through to say the war had started and the camp was off. They had to go back to work. Due to a shortage in training facilities the Southland Unit was sent to Forbury Park in Dunedin until further facilities were added. They lived in Bell tents at the racecourse. Later he went to Burnham for a few years, worked on farms, helped during a strike at Lyttleton wharf, and camped at Sumner. As a machine
gunner, he remembers digging gun pits in the rose beds of front gardens. “There were bigger things at stake than rose beds.” They left Wellington late afternoon on the Nieuw Amsterdam. They stopped at Fremantle, (‘got into a bit of trouble there’) and sailed through the Suez Canal to Cairo. As reinforcements they were sent to Helwan Camp near the pyramids. As the Germans and Italians had surrendered in North Africa, Warren, who was a machine gunner in the 27th Infantry Battalion and his Division were moved to Italy. They landed in Taranto and over the next two and a half years they worked their way up to Trieste. They were in Monte Cassino for 32 days. About ten of those were needed to settle in and prepare for the fight. Warren was left bewildered and shocked that on the first
day an Allied bomb landed in their camp, leaving a massive crater. The bomb wounded five, and killed two men. On the second day American planes appeared lost. They turned and headed back their way dropping bombs through their camp. “I will never know why they turned and bombed us.” The day the abbey was attacked, the bombing went on all morning. It was terrible and intense. Warren was chosen as one of 50 men to visit England at the end of the war in Europe. He watched the New Zealand Army rugby match at Twickenham and travelled to Edinburgh. He left for home on the Dominion Monarch from Taranto. He recalls being exhausted on his return, and continued his career as a watchmaker and jeweller.
Kenneth Lambourne, 97 Weary Dunlop Retirement Village
en was born in London, England on 27th May, 1922. Times were hard for the young lad, so when war was declared in September 1939, he joined the British Army. At least he knew he would be fed in the army. Ken isn’t one to talk about his war experiences; he lost his best mate in an explosion when he was standing right next to him, but his daughter Karen, said he fought in Italy where he learnt to write and speak Italian – something he can still do to this day.
Karen said her father drove a tank and was a Rat of Tobruk. For the last part of the war he was a military policeman. Ken suffered recurring bouts of the debilitating sandfly fever throughout his life.
Ken is a member of the Caulfield RSL in Victoria, Australia and was President of Carry On – an organisation which offers returned servicemen and their families assistance in times of need.
In England, after the war Ken became a baker along with his father and brothers.
Ken and his wife Greta both knew Sir Weary Dunlop and Greta who was an accomplished ballroom dancer would often be asked to dance by Weary. She remembers him saying “C’mon Greta, let’s show them how it’s done.”
He was asked to come to Australia by a baker in Melbourne to teach traditional bread baking methods and moved to Melbourne with his young family in late 1954.
Steve Costelow, 73 Weary Dunlop Retirement Village
teve Costelow was born in Melbourne on September 25th, 1946.
The magnitude of what was about to happen hadn’t yet dawned on Steve.
That date is significant because 21 years later it would be drawn from a ballot determining which young Australian men would be called up for two years’ compulsory military service during the Vietnam War.
“It probably upset me to see mum crying, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. It probably took me a while for it to sink in.”
“I found out living at home with mum and dad and I can remember mum sitting on the end of my bed crying. “[The Vietnam War] wasn’t really on my radar because I was working, I’d just started in the rag trade and I didn’t take a lot of notice of what was going on.”
Steve was assigned to ordnance – “that was just luck of the draw, you couldn’t ask where you wanted to go” – which, after 12 months’ training in Australia, saw him deployed to the Second Advanced Ordnance Depot (2AOD) in Vung Tau, near Saigon. 2AOD, where Steve would serve for a year before returning home, was a fastmoving logistical hub of Australia’s war effort.
“Once a month a ship would come in that we would unload. We had huge warehouses and it was our daily job to issue something as small as a screw or as big as a tank. Arms, ammunition, whatever. “It was always full on, and when the ship was in and unloading we’d work all night.” Steve was good at his job and was quickly recommended for promotion from private to lance corporal. While Vung Tau was a relatively peaceful part of the county, the grim realities of the war were ever-present.
“We didn’t have a choice – we were over there for our country, doing what we could.”
« In some respects, though, the hardest thing for Steve and many Australian soldiers who served in Vietnam was returning home. Public sentiment towards the controversial conflict had soured, and the returning servicemen bore the brunt of it. “When I finally came home, you wouldn’t want to be wearing your uniform. People were spitting on you. They didn’t agree with the Vietnam War, but it’s not our fault – we got told to go. “We didn’t have a choice – we were over there for our country, doing what we could.”
And the full extent of what those young men had gone through wasn’t yet apparent. Several of Steve’s friends who served in Vietnam suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, some of whom ultimately took their own lives. Others were diagnosed with cancer attributed to their exposure to the defoliant chemical Agent Orange. Vietnam soldiers weren’t officially welcomed back to Australia until 1987. Steve travelled to Canberra for the ceremony, and “that probably closed a lot of issues that most of us had.”
More than 50 years after that fateful letter arrived in the mail, Steve can see his service with the kind of clarity only time affords. He’s made peace with any bitterness about how Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned, and in its place now there is a strong sense of pride. “I’m proud that I’ve represented the country. I like wearing my medals when I get the opportunity to wear them, and people’s attitudes these days have changed. They now say, ‘well done’.”
Photo courtesy of Stanley Daubney
Quin Rodda, 83 William Sanders Retirement Village
t was the wise words of his father that encouraged Quin Rodda to apply for officer training in the Army. He had started out as a regular force cadet aged 17 and had become a Lance Corporal when this opportunity presented itself.
“My brother was already an officer but I didn’t like his style of leadership, he was too pompous,” says Quin, who was born in Christchurch in 1936 and went to Christchurch Boys’ High School. “My Dad said ‘surely there’s other officers that you admire, so model yourself on them instead.’” So Quin applied, and Brigadier Leonard Thornton, the officer leading the selection board, clearly saw the same potential, despite the rest of the board’s view to the opposite. Quin was determined to prove himself to both the Brigadier and his father. The date of 8 May 1969 marked the beginning of a chapter that would shape Quin’s life irrevocably – the date of his posting to Vietnam.
As Captain, Quin was appointed second in command of Victor 4 Company, one of two NZ Infantry Companies to become part of the 6th Royal Australian Regiment operating as an Anzac Rifle Battalion under the formal title 6 RAR/ NZ (ANZAC) Battalion. At this point, Army HQ had opened up the recruitment to anyone in the other corps who wanted active service and Quin says the result was V4 Coy being a somewhat ‘rag tag bunch’. “There were all kinds of people, from dental assistants, education assistants, drivers, gunners, chaps who drove tanks. I think that was something that helped bond and keep us together,” he says. Their new reality was brought into sharp focus on landing in Nui Dat. The sight of so much American military equipment was ‘mind-blowing’ and the adrenaline started pumping when they were issued with live ammunition on arrival. Quin’s role was to be the eyes and ears and to keep everything ticking along both
up the line to his superiors and down the line to the lower ranks. “I had to work with the Company Commander, Major Larry Lynch, so if something happened to him I would be aware of what was happening and take over. Luckily that didn’t happen. “I also had to make sure the soldiers had everything they needed.” Quin says this could vary widely. It could mean ensuring they had enough beers in stock for wind down time in the camp bar, the ‘Never Inn’. “There was a popular song at that time called ‘The Mighty Quinn’ (by Manfred Mann) and usually every time I walked in they would start up the song, probably to butter me up so I’d let them have another half an hour of drinking!” he laughs. There were also times after the dozen or so operations carried out when he would need to act as a father figure to the men especially in the aftermath of seeing a mate injured or killed.
“I think like any soldier who’s been involved in war, you don’t want it.”
« “I had to identify our first casualty, who had only come in as a replacement about a week before. “That was the first time I realised that was part of my duties as 2IC. It also shook the lads, so we had to be careful around them in case they took retribution in the next operation. Of the 37 New Zealanders killed in Vietnam, seven of them were from V4 and several others suffered lifechanging injuries. More shocking perhaps was the reaction from the New Zealand population on arriving home exactly a year later.
There were no senior army officials or politicians to greet them, just sergeants handing out their pay and travel vouchers and telling them to change out of their uniforms. That treatment really stung, says Quin, who credits his friend and fellow V4 Coy member Geoff Dixon for his hard work lobbying the government for an official welcome home and apology – something that was finally delivered by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2008. “A lot of them just needed to hear those words,” he says. V4 Coy still holds reunions every two years with last year being the 50th anniversary.
Quin also took part in a documentary shown on Māori TV on Anzac Day and they have even published a book which includes moving first-hand accounts of the men’s experiences. “I think like any soldier who’s been involved in war, you don’t want it. But I personally still feel that our contribution helped form south Vietnam as it is now,” he says. Quin later went on to work as an accountant after leaving the army and moved into William Sanders Retirement Village with his wife Robin in November 2019.
Photo courtesy of Quin Rodda
Betty Rawlings, 88 Yvette Williams Retirement Village
etty was born in the small town of Harvey, Western Australia, on 5th December 1931. Three years later her parents brought the family back to her father’s homeland, New Zealand. They settled in Invercargill where Betty attended Southland Girls’ High School.
Betty joined the New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Airforce (WAAF) in 1949 after seeing an advertisement in the newspaper for recruits. She joined at the youngest age possible, which was 17 ½ . “I was 17 ½ and three weeks,” she said. “It sounded great, but it took my parents quite a while to agree to let me join.” The contract was for two years. At the completion of the two year contract Betty now 19, was stationed at Woodbourne and her parents wanted their only daughter closer to home.
They agreed to her extending the contract if she could be posted to Taieri, near Dunedin. She had qualifications in shorthand typing and went right through the ranks from aircraftwoman recruit, to aircraftwoman auxiliary 1st class, then leading aircraftwoman. She was promoted to corporal, then at 20 years of age, sergeant, and was later commissioned to became a flight officer. Betty recalls, as a WAAF officer, one had to wear a hat and gloves, even in civilian dress. “It was very proper.” Betty had several postings throughout the country, but after she was commissioned, she became the personal assistant to the chief of air staff and lived at the work officers’ mess, at Worser Bay in Wellington.
A highlight of her career was being chosen to represent the Taieri Station at Whenuapai when Queen Elizabeth II personally presented her Colours to the RNZAF during the 1953 – 1954 Royal tour of New Zealand. The presentation was made during a ceremonial parade on 28th December 1953. After 13 years service, Betty resigned in February 1961. She was married and expecting her first daughter. “Not many girls stayed that length of time,” she said. Betty met her husband at a tea-dance with the Victoria League. Betty has continued with that connection and is a former President of the Otago Branch of the Victoria League.
Photo courtesy of Richard Lambert
“It’s important to remember those people who have done a service for their country be it conscription or otherwise.” —Ross McLay
To commemorate Anzac Day we thought it was appropriate to share the amazing stories of some of our Ryman residents who have served their cou...
Published on Apr 15, 2020
To commemorate Anzac Day we thought it was appropriate to share the amazing stories of some of our Ryman residents who have served their cou...