Stories of Service | Wartime memories from Ryman residents

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Stories of Service Wartime memories of Ryman 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.

Cover: Dorothy Withell, Jean Sandel. This booklet is not intended as a historical document, but simply to share memories and experiences of some of our Ryman Village residents.

Allan Reynish, 97 Anthony Wilding Retirement Village


llan was born in Akaroa and went to St Andrews College. His family farmed at Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula.

He joined the 27th Machine Gun Battalion and he has vivid memories of the destruction of Japan in the aftermath of the bombing.

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.

He lost a lot of mates from school in the war and looks forward to Anzac Day.

“We were disappointed because we’d worked so hard, but then I heard about J-Force and I re-enlisted to go to Japan.’’


“It’s all about the mateship – there’s not too many of us left now.’’



Heather Haylock, 100

Anthony Wilding Retirement Village


eather Haylock, says her World War II nurse aid service years were simply about her trying to help her country and the injured or suffering soldiers in need.

brown linoleum floors of the wards. “I think the patterns had worn off and we had to polish them every day.”

She was initially with the New Zealand Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), helping or aiding hospital nurses, and that work folded into the New Zealand Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

But the key part of her work was helping those in need. An early VAD memory is of feeding an ex-prisoner of war who was in a bad way and transferred into Burnham Military Camp. “He’d been deprived of food, so I just had to spoon it in,” Heather says.

“I joined the army to help with the war,” she says of her work at Addington, Burnham and firstly in Nelson.

To make things easier for the injured she would turn down the bedspreads for the men.

Heather Blair was born in Carterton, but at a young age her family moved to Nelson. Her schooling was cut short at Standard 6, and as the eldest she had to attend to her mother Agnes’ health needs.

Her work in Nelson included the job of sewing a button back on a soldier’s shirt. That soldier just happened to be her future husband Roy. Son John says he thinks his dad had spotted his mum before the button sewing incident.

With her mum on the improve, Heather went on to work for a time with Hannahs shoes. From the outbreak of WWII, she was very keen to help out.

The couple got engaged but agreed not to marry at that point because of an uncertain future. Roy, who served for more than four years including in Egypt and at the battle of Monte Cassino, Italy was discharged in 1946.

Voluntary aids were trained from 1940 onwards with their help very useful to nurses, matrons and sisters of New Zealand hospitals. By February 1944 there were 268 voluntary aids on service overseas while there were 50 on duty at military camp hospitals and 119 on duty at air force station hospitals in New Zealand.

Heather and Roy married in May 1946 and moved back to Canterbury and the farm at Onuku, near Akaroa. Heather kept in touch with her friends from the army days but is now the only one remaining.

She served from August 31, 1942 through to April 18, 1946.

Heather was heavily involved in her Banks Peninsula community and only gave up driving, aged 94.

Heather remembers hospitals could be hard work. For example, she would each day wash down the faded

She lived on Banks Peninsula, for more than 70 years, eventually moving to Anthony Wilding village in 2017.


Jack Marshall DFC, 101 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.

Jack went on to complete 46 missions and could have ended his flying career after 45 flights but he volunteered to do one extra mission when another crew was short.

When war broke out he joined the RNZAF and headed back to Britain, and joined 115 Squadron flying Wellington bombers as a tail gunner.

The odds of survival were one in three, and he counts himself lucky to have made it through.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


“When you fly in a bomber it is all about your crew. My crew is always at the back of my mind, every day.’’



Neill Boak, 99 Bert Sutcliffe Retirement Village


utting fear on hold to get the job done sums up what it was like for Bert Sutcliffe resident Neill Boak flying Catalina boats over the Pacific during WWII.

“I was bloody scared! I was scared all the time, though there was not really time to be scared. You just did what you had to do.” Although he was in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, he was seconded to duty with the US Navy based in New Caledonia and was under their orders. “My job was to pick up the pilots who had been shot down by our friends the Japanese. “If they were lucky enough to get down into the water we had to go and pick them up and that was why I was flying the flying boats.”

It was rewarding work however, with Neill describing the rescuees as ‘very grateful!’ Joining the air force was not Neill’s original plan. Born in Asansol in the West Bengal region of India to an Irish mother and Kiwi engineer father, Neill came back to New Zealand aged seven where he went to school first in Tauranga then Kings College. He studied surveying at the University of Auckland but on his 18th birthday in November 1940 he joined the army, signing up with the Auckland East Coast Mounted Rifles (ECMR). However, he did not really like horses, so he transferred first of all to driving Bren gun carriers and then tanks.

It was skilful work. If the water was rough, it was tough to land, but if the water was calm, it was tough to take off.

Based at Ngāruawāhia, he rose to the rank of Regimental Transport Sergeant, enjoying quick promotion due to his ability to march properly thanks to military drill at Kings.

“You had to go backwards and forwards, rocking the plane, to make enough waves to get airborne.

There was a shortage of pilots, so Neill transferred to the air force and was sent to Canada for pilot training.

“Because of the peculiar function of flying boats you have got to break the suction caused by the surface tension that’s holding them down onto the water.”



“My job was to pick up the pilots who had been shot down by our friends the Japanese.

« However, as a result of flying with a cold, he suffered terrible sinus pain and spent six months in hospital in Calgary ‘without putting my feet on the floor’. He was invalided by ship back to New Zealand and it was from there that he was sent to the Pacific. Neill continued on with the RNZAF for a while after the war in a training role before resuming his studies for surveying. He also married the ‘love of his life’ Philippa, with whom he had enjoyed a six year relationship by correspondence during the war and the couple went on to have two daughters. Tragically, Neill was widowed after Philippa died in her 40s but he threw his energy into his surveying career, setting up his own private practice DN Boak & Partners and retired at the impressive age of 86.


There is even a street called Neill Boak Place in Beachlands in honour of his many years of surveying work. One of his most well-known assignments was mapping out the location for the Auckland motorway system, which is still a well-recognised feature of the city’s landscape today. As a long-serving member of the RSA, Neill has played an active part in the welfare of fellow veterans and always attends Anzac Day services. Despite tragedy striking again, with the death of his daughter at the age of 34, Neill maintains a positive outlook on life, and considers himself lucky. “I’ve just tried to have fun in life and I always say to people ‘have fun’ and if you’re not having fun, decide what you’re doing wrong and fix it!”

Photo courtesy of Ron Cackett




Desmond Barnard, 91 Bob Owens Retirement Village


hen the Korean War broke out on 25th June 1950, Barry Barnard was a 20-year-old farmer in the Waikato.

With family members who had served in both World Wars, it was only natural that Barry would want to ‘do his bit’ and serve his country too. “I joined because it was only five years after WWII had ended and I couldn’t support the oppression that the northern hemisphere was enduring,” says Barry. Born in Auckland and schooled at Newton Primary, Kowhai Intermediate and Mount Albert Grammar School, Barry did his training at Papakura then Trentham before his first posting overseas. For a large part of his service he retained the rank of a Gunner of the Royal New Zealand Artillery. With his experience on the land, working with tractors and machinery meant that Barry was put forward to train as a specialist in field engineering. After two weeks in Japan he was sent across to Korea with 12 other Kiwis attached to the 28th Field Engineer Regiment, as part of the 1st British Commonwealth Division, just south of the Imjin River.


Barry describes it as going ‘into the madness’. “It’s just living under the constant permanent stress. All the time, there is danger everywhere, on every corner and every turn. “You can cope with it fairly well until something violent happens, it’s nothing that you can escape from.” It was tough knowing that so many mates were killed, and it was often harder seeing them injured. “Those that were killed, their suffering was over immediately but so many were badly injured and suffered for the rest of their lives.” The field engineers developed a reputation for being problem solvers, says Barry, whose role as a Recovery Operator was primarily to rescue vehicles that were damaged or in dangerous positions and drag them out. “Being so mobile we encountered a vast area and a variety of problems, so the others seemed to have the view that we solved every problem!”


“I was very unsettled. I don’t think I ever quite settled after relying so much on other people.”

« On one occasion, Barry and his mate were driving a Jeep that was hit by a mortar. The force of the explosion threw them both out, landing on the ground behind the vehicle. Incredibly they only suffered from grazes. “The Jeep was unusable,” he says. Those 2.5 years in Korea would impact Barry greatly, and while the bonds with his army mates were unbreakable, adjusting back to civilian life was a surreal experience. “I was very unsettled. I don’t think I ever quite settled after relying so much on other people.” Barry went back to the farm near Matamata and after that came marriage and children before a change of career into drilling and then the power board in Hamilton.


A return trip to Korea years later left him incredulous at the change he saw. “When we left, all the buildings were pockmarked with devastation and so to see these huge, shiny buildings there it gave me a sense of satisfaction that the people had succeeded.” Barry wrote a memoir of his experiences titled ‘A Taste of the Sharp End’ and last year, the Tauranga RSA awarded Barry a uniquely created ‘Cloak of Honour’ at a Quilt Award ceremony for his service in Korea.

Photo courtesy of Barry Barnard


Bill Cooke, 92 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.

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.

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.

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.

“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’.

Out of the three of them only Bill was deemed medically fit enough and what seemed like a big adventure began.

“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 tree-lined 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.

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.




“My mates weren’t impressed when I came back with my ticket before them!”

« 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. 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 likes to take part in Anzac Day commemorations 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



John Bell, 99 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! His luck ran out the night he was captured by the Germans. He escaped in the confusion when the train they were on was attacked by Allied planes. John ran for eight to ten hours in the mountain ranges until exhausted and sick, he was discovered by some Italians who sheltered him. He was finally returned to his NZ division after ten days away. John still finds it difficult to talk about this time. “As a soldier fighting I had a job to do. I had a duty and somebody ordered me to do it but on this one I was alone.”


“The shelling, the mortar fire and sniper fire was unrelenting and constant. It was pretty miserable.”

« During one ferocious battle John was called upon to deliver a baby for a young Italian woman in labour. During the birth a mortar shell landed and the light extinguished. John safely delivered the baby boy in candlelight, wrapped him in a big shell dressing and handed him back to his mother. In a bizarre coincidence, 50 years later when John and his wife Noeline returned to Italy they met the bambino he delivered and was re-introduced to the boy's mama. “It was a tough war. It was bloody and it rained a lot. We lost a lot of men and the fighting was some of the fiercest of


the war. Especially at Monte Cassino. The Germans weren’t going to give up. Cassino was the worst battle area I’ve ever been in. The shelling, the 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, 97 Bob Scott Retirement Village


nnes was born in Auckland on 23rd January 1925.

given final leave before heading to the Pacific Theatre.

He was educated at Auckland Grammar and belonged to the cadet unit at the school.

Innes served in the Pacific for about sixteen months, servicing and repairing aircraft.

On leaving school in 1940, Innes worked at the St Helier’s Post Office and in 1941 joined the St Helier’s Home Guard.

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 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.

He stayed on in the rear party at the end of the war, cleaning up and attending to visiting aircraft.

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.

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.

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!

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!

After a posting to an operational training unit at Ardmore, and a six week commando course, Innes now 19, was




“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.

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



Melvin Norton, 91 Bruce McLaren Retirement Village


el was born in April 1931, and grew up in a small village in Hertfordshire, UK called London Colney.

“The job of the station was to keep a flight of three aircraft in the air all the hours of daylight, fully armed.”

He left school aged 14 in April 1945 and went to work at an engineering firm.

“Each plane had four 20mm cannons and they were ready to fire at any time.”

“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 began his basic training at Cardington in Bedfordshire before moving to Bridgnorth in Shropshire for military training. He was then posted to Weeton, near Blackpool to train as an engineer on jet engines before being sent to Jever in northern Germany. “There were three squadrons of de Havilland Vampire aircraft there and I was posted to No 4 Squadron.”


“This was a defence against any interference from the Russians. They were made aware of these precautions and it was hoped that this would deter any action on their part.” Mel was in the RAF for three years and wanted to re-enlist but was unable to due to medical reasons. “I was still kept on reserve for another seven years but was not called up again.” “I went to work at de Havillands making parts for Blue Streak guided missiles.” In 1964 Mel moved with his wife Sheila and two boys to New Zealand, where he ran power stations first in Napier, then in Otara in Auckland. He moved into Bruce McLaren Retirement Village when it opened in 2014. Mel always attends the remembrance service held on Anzac Day and had a hat made to wear with his medals.

Esmond Johnsen, 101 Charles Fleming Retirement Village


“I went through Cassino but I wasn’t there eing born in 1920 meant it was for the battle with the Germans.” Esmond’s destiny to be called up to serve in WWII which began when he was Esmond recalls crossing the River Po 19, so when that call finally happened at on a pontoon bridge. “The Germans 21, he was expecting to be sent overseas. were floating bodies down the river with explosives attached. This caused “I knew it was coming and my mother a lot of anxiety. would not be happy about it as my father had been in WWI.” “And I remember the Italians hiding their ponies, as the Germans were At the time Esmond was teaching gathering up horses for food. There at Karori Normal School, was a wall that came down, and out a vocation he continued after from the cavity trotted a hidden pony. the war until his retirement. He had already joined the Territorials at 20, and as he had been in charge of cadets at his Wellington college (St Patrick’s City) he was sent immediately to army school at Trentham to do basic training. He recalls going by ship to New Caledonia and spending a short time in Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. One experience that happened there still plays vividly in his memory. “I was sleeping at the end of the tent and there were seashells all round us. I heard crunch, crunch, on the shells and I thought crikey, it was Japs coming out of the jungle. He was very relieved to find it was only seabirds heading down to the shoreline.” Esmond spent a brief time at Maadi Camp in Egypt before heading to Italy. “I was caught in a dust storm at night there. I was an officer then – a lieutenant – my driver got dust in his eyes that blinded him.”

“Blow me down, another time we were sheltering behind a concrete wall that turned out to have a toy factory inside. Some fellas had toys to take home. I saw nothing. “I just wanted to stay alive. “When I was in Bari I was responsible for the loading of five ships with vehicles, equipment and personnel. Mates from further north in Italy used to stay with me as I had an ensuite facing the Adriatic Sea.” One special moment in Bari was the day entertainer Gracie Fields was having lunch at the table next to Esmond in a hotel! After the surrender, Esmond was sent to occupied Japan. He travelled through the Hiroshima area by train. Looking out a lasting memory is seeing the glass bottles on the ground melted into strange shapes. “It made me cringe. “War is a terrible thing. It was a very difficult time.”

From Egypt he headed to Italy where they worked their way north to Trieste. 32



Nancy Osborne, 94 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. Her initial training was at Wigram. “I went to Hobsonville, which was the flying boat station, as a junior medical orderly. Then to the medical school at Ohakea.” After three years at the medical school Nan graduated and returned to Shelly Bay, Wellington. Following this, she was selected to go on a special course at Wellington Hospital for another year, and on completion she received state registration.


During this year of study in 1951, there was a watersiders’ 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 Samoa, in a specially fitted out Sunderland aircraft. We then had to quickly get changed, jump into work-suits and get on the high-speed rescue launch in case an emergency rescue was needed.”


“After ten years of very satisfying service, I would definitely repeat my time again.”

« They also did a lot of work for the Fijian Government. “We managed the arrival medical documents for Teal flying boats when they berthed at Laucala Bay. We had to spray the aircraft on arrival, and even provide blood at a moment’s notice! “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.”

Photo courtesy of Barry Barnard


Graham Fisher, 75 Deborah Cheetham Retirement Village


hen Graham Fisher was deployed to Vietnam in 1967 his mother had a terrible sense of history repeating itself.

Graham vividly recalls his mother’s reaction when the family learnt his uncle would serve in WWII. “She said ‘I bet you, when Graham’s old enough there will be another war’,” he said. Graham enlisted in the Australian Army in 1964 when he was 18, with the rank of Private (Craftsman). After basic military training at Kapooka, NSW, he was posted to the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Training Centre in Victoria to train as a Fitter and Turner and inspect and repair everything from small arms to tanks. He was deployed to Vietnam in June 1967. “Prior to being posted I had to pass a three-month training course at the Jungle Warfare Centre in Canungra, Queensland,” he said. “We were jumping out of moving trucks, firing blanks into the hills, shooting rifles, swimming with our packs on; all of the stuff you could come into contact with in war.” Graham was posted to Vũng Tàu, a relativity calm part of the country, but his role involved travel to more dangerous areas. “I went to the demilitarized zone located on the South and North Vietnam border, and to Saigon. “I fixed weapons on army ships in the Mekong Delta and you would have to 38

hide when you were on the deck and hope no one came out of the bush. “It was pretty daunting.” But, overall, Vietnam was a rich learning experience which shaped his military career. “It felt like more of an adventure when I got home. “But I loved the experience, I’d do it again tomorrow if I was able to.” Back home, Graham served as a section supervisor in Bandiana and Puckapunyal. There, he led military and civilian personnel inspecting and repairing everything from tanks to medical equipment. In 1975 Graham was posted to Papua New Guinea where he instructed local soldiers on the repair of vehicles, gauges, and medical and dental instruments. When he returned to Australia in 1976 he had postings at Bandiana, Broadmeadows and lastly at the Melbourne Mechanical Engineering Agency where he traveled to army units across Australia investigating small arm defects and evaluating weapons prior to entry into service. Upon discharge in 1984 Graham was a Warrant Officer Class 1. His time in the military continues to shape his life. “It doesn’t matter where I go in Australia, I always seem to bump into someone I was in the army with. “And those army mates, you class them more as family because of what you’ve been through together.”



Arthur Joplin, 98 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. Bomber Command had the highest losses of any allied force in World War II, with almost 50% killed. Including casualties and prisoners of war that number went up to 60–70%. But none of that was on Arthur’s mind at the time. “I think to me it was a big adventure,” he says. “You were going out of New Zealand and going through the Panama Canal which you’d read about and heard about. It was all an adventure.” Arthur describes the formation of his crew as quite an arbitrary affair. “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!


“That was how we got our bomb aimer, Lofty Hebberd from Mosgiel. I went up to one chap, he was a bomb aimer, and he said he was crewed up but try that chap over there, he’s pretty good. So that’s how we got hold of Lofty!” he laughs. Then the orders came through that he would be joining the most famous Royal Air Force bomber squadron of all – 617 – which flew the Dam Buster raids in 1943. 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 didn’t know what the Dam Busters were because all that time that the Dam Busters thing was going on we were training in New Zealand, so we didn’t hear much and we didn’t know much. “So when I learned afterwards where I was it was quite a shock really, to learn that we’d got there more or less on our own ability in a bombing range.”


“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



Joan Daniel, 103 Edmund Hillary Retirement Village


hen she signed up for Red Cross training in 1941, legal secretary Joan Daniel thought the furthest she would be going would be Rotorua. But just months later, the 22-year-old former Auckland Girls' Grammar student was setting sail for Suez on the hospital ship Maunganui as part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Joan was initially based in Cairo working at 1 NZ General Hospital at Helwan, near Maadi Camp. The bulk of her work was dealing with sick patients with complaints ranging from the standard to the more serious, such as dysentery. Joan worked hard on her shifts and enjoyed exploring the many exciting new sights with new friends during her downtime. “The invitations were pouring in from everywhere!” she says. When the Battle of Alamein got under way, with the Germans pushing down towards Alexandria, Joan was sent to the coast of what was then Palestine where 40 of them lived in a big shed right on the beach. “We were a happy hospital, they were a lovely crowd,” she says. When the flow was reversed and the Allies started pushing the Germans back again Joan was sent back to the canal zone, living five to a tent with a Nissan hut used as a mess. Duties included taking temperatures, doing washes, making the beds –


even with a very ill patient still in them – and preparing the sisters’ afternoon tea. One joyous occasion was during leave when Muriel, her best friend from Auckland who had trained and travelled with her, got married with Joan as bridesmaid. There was tragedy too however. Three fellow nurses were killed when a vehicle swiped the side of the truck they were travelling in. Joan was the wreath bearer at the funeral. On New Year’s Eve 1943, Joan was on her way to Caserta, Italy where she soon saw first-hand the true cost of war, with injured soldiers from the Battle of Cassino arriving daily. “That was really hard work, the wounded came in all the time. “The Māori Battalion were very good patients and were good fun even if they were really sick and wounded, always with a smile, but with some it was quite sad and used to upset me sometimes.” The men who’d been shell shocked were particularly upsetting to see. When Joan had reached her three years’ service, she applied to head back to New Zealand. She returned to her job to await the return of her fiancé Maurice, who had been a POW in Greece for most of the war. They married in 1945. Maurice wasted no time in buying a one-man law practice in Onehunga which still thrives today.

Bernie Lewis, 93 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village Even though Bernie Lewis was still at Nelson College and too young to join up, he took a great interest the air force during WWII. With two brothers as pilots, he was fascinated with flying and had taken his first flight in 1934. By the time he could apply to join the RNZAF he had his private pilot’s licence, but the only position offered to him was as a navigator. It was that or nothing, he was told.

“My first solo day on the Vampire, I was strapped in, I started up and away I went. They used short runway as there was a strong cross wind. The Vampire only had fuel for a 40-minute flight; they were very fuel hungry. When I came in I kept my speed up high, but I was going to be too far down the runway and I wouldn’t be able to stop. I had just enough fuel to go around again and I came in and landed at a slower speed.

“That was my first solo in a jet. It was quite an experience. Things improved “So I took next boat to England at my own after that!” expense and applied for the RAF where Posted to Germany, Bernie was there was a big demand for air crew.” allocated to a squadron at RAF Oldenburg, near Bremen, which had Bernie joined the Royal Air Force in updated Vampire 5s, and they were re1950 and served as a jet fighter pilot on equipped with the American F-86 Sabre Vampires and Sabres before becoming – “a wonderful machine and very reliable; an instructor. it performed magnificently. They were He started training at Cranwell in big, with air conditioning, and you January 1951. Later at RAF Feltwell, he could roll and loop without your flight moved on to the cumbersome Percival instruments toppling. We had an ejector Prentices and Harvards – the Tiger seat, and radar gunsight. We carried Moths were gone by then. Bernie was six .5 machine guns.” awarded “Wing” and a trophy for best “It was there I managed to exceed pilot in February 1952. the speed of sound a number of times. At RAF Merryfield, in Somerset he I’d go up to 42,000 feet, up into the moved straight on to jet conversion stratosphere and go belting along on the Vampire 1. and roll over on your back and dive Bernie remembers his first jet flight. “We down vertically at full power, and for a glorious four-six seconds you could didn’t have jet trainers on Vampires, so exceed the speed of sound before you we did flying on Meteor trainers which got into the denser air and you slowed were a little different.” down automatically.”




Photo courtesy of Bill Morgan


“That was my first solo in a jet. It was quite an experience. Things improved after that!”

« “It was an occupational force and there were still a few Nazis around. We were not allowed to fraternize while we were there.” From there Bernie went to Central Flying School learning to become a flying instructor and then to instructing at Cambridge University Air Squadron at Marshall Airfield outside Cambridge. He was there for 2.5 years and then applied and was accepted to go to the Empire Test Pilots’ School, Farnborough. Bernie was seconded to the Ministry of Supply on special duties. “We had about 14 different aircraft there. The Canberra was the biggest – a conversion course usually took three months. I did an hour with an instructor, then I flew for an hour solo with the flight engineer. That was my conversion.” On his next flight, Bernie was asked to assess and report on the aircraft handling at high Mach numbers. First at 40,000 plus feet and diving faster and faster at different speeds. On the last dive from 50-40,000 feet there was a lot of vibration and shuddering so he tried again at 51,000 feet, dived again and still the same shuddering. “I noticed the flight engineer was reading the pilot’s notes. I said, ‘just one more dive’ and climbed to 52,000 feet. ‘Ok sir,’ he said still reading.”


“I happened to look over and saw the book was open on the last page: Emergency and Abandoning Aircraft in Flight!” At end of first term, they asked for volunteers to move on to helicopters. Bernie was accepted. And at the end of that year he passed as test pilot on aeroplanes and helicopters. Bernie had a total of 34 hours and 40 minutes on helicopters. “I was put into the testing regime at Boscombe Down to test helicopters with new turbine engines. It was completely new innovations for helicopters They were mainly Westland Wessex for the navy.” Once a qualified fixed wing and helicopter test pilot, Bernie worked at RAF Boscombe Down, before leaving the RAF and continuing to test and develop aviation projects through the 1960’s with Bristol Siddeley and Rolls Royce where he flew the Concorde engines under a Vulcan bomber. Since leaving Rolls Royce he has flown aerial survey and helicopter agricultural work in New Zealand, worked with NZ Civil Aviation Authority, and been the personal helicopter pilot to the Fay Richwhite Corporation. In their helicopter he flew the Duke of Edinburgh to Stewart Island and Fiordland to see the Kakapo and White Heron.

Bill Morgan, 95 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village


n leaving Nelson College, young Bill Morgan joined the public works as a surveyor. The staff there were mostly returned servicemen and they told some great stories. “My mother was not keen on me joining the army, but I didn’t want to be in public works.” Bill joined the army in 1949, married his sweetheart, Ngaire in 1950 and over the years the army took him to lots of places, including Burnham, Linton, Dannevirke and Waiouru. Bill recalls shifting 14 times!

During the Malayan Emergency he was posted to B Company as quartermaster. Ngaire and the kids would go too. They were there for two years but Bill but spent two or three weeks at a time with the Company at Tanjung Rambutan rubber plantation on the outskirts of Ipoh – a friendly tin mining town. Bill’s recollection of jungle warfare was of the enemy who were silent, quick and cunning. “I enjoyed my time in Malaysia before moving back to the regimental depot at Burnham as quartermaster.”


During his stellar career, Bill held various appointments as an instructor in the Royal NZ Infantry Regiment and also that of the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Battalion Royal NZ Infantry Regiment while stationed in Malaya. In 1967 he was appointed to a quartermaster commission and was appointed as quartermaster to Burnham Camp. After a brief period as Investigating QM for the Southern Army Region, Bill assumed the appointment of Commander of the Nelson, Marlborough and West Coast Army area, the appointment he had until his retirement in 1979. Bill recalls one posting to Dannevirke and wondered what on earth he had done wrong. But the army had plans for Bill and wanted him to spend some time with civilians building good public relations and community respect for the army.



Photo courtesy of Bill Margan


"War is hopeless. But what's the answer? It seems so futile."

« Living now in his hometown of Nelson it’s easy to see he was the right person for the job with his hearty greetings and friendly quips to fellow residents as they pass by his seat in the café. “But looking back, my last posting to Nelson was special and a great thrill as I was very proud to represent the army in my hometown.” “Anzac Day is remembering,” he says. One loss that has never left him is of a young dog handler who was shot when his dog caught the scent of a band of terrorists and it dragged him ahead of his patrol. “My father went to WWI and WWII and received an MBE for his service.”


Following his second term in Malaya, Bill was also awarded the MBE for military service. “Anzac Day to me is for remembrance. It’s the little things I remember. War is hopeless. But what’s the answer? It seems so futile.” Bill has spoken on Anzac Day commemorations all around the region but the one that is close to his heart is run by the children at Mapua school. “It is absolutely fantastic. They, the children, are the ones to be looked after.”

Claude Teece, 103 Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village


laude admits laughingly that he’s “seen a few summers!” WWII 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.


Bob Kirk, 98 Essie Summers Retirement Village


ob Kirk was only 17-and-a-half when he got involved in the war effort, stationed at military pillboxes around Lyttelton Harbour as a protective measure.

When he was older, he became a Royal Navy able seaman, spending WWII aboard a number of boats, visiting a good number of ports. There were R&R antics, fast turnarounds when dropping off army personnel in Burma and danger, including one ship being holed by a sea mine. He was honoured with a Burma Star and other medals. Bob was brought up in Waltham, Christchurch attending West Christchurch and Addington schools. Part of a large family, he started his working life as a railway porter but the war soon intervened. Bob says he trained both at Burnham then, when he signed up with the navy, he did rifle range and artillery training on the Motuihe Island headland, known as HMNZS Tamaki. He remembers taking a fortnight of ‘final leave’ to visit his parents in Christchurch, before departing from Devonport on the SS Akaroa for the United Kingdom. Because he and seven Kiwi mates missed a gunnery course, in Scotland, they were all put on board to crew the ‘Racehorse-class’ HMS Silvio. Much of their service took place offshore from Burma, with India as a base. “We were on loan to the Royal Navy. Kiwis got better wages… equivalent to what a Petty Officer in England used to get,” Bob says.


They were in charge of getting Royal Marines, Indian and Gurkha soldiers landed in Burma to fight the Japanese. They could winch down a double row of boats, loaded with troops and into the water within three minutes. Each assault boat would hold 30 armed troops, to be ferried to the beach. Bob was on hand to witness the return of wounded men and help transport them back to safety. Later on VE Day, the Admiralty, wanting the men to celebrate, passed on the order to ‘splice the mainbrace,’ that is issue the crew with an “extra rum”. But trouble soon hit. “We were off Rangoon, Burma at the time in a Landing Craft Assault carrier… I was in the wheelhouse at the time, and there was a big bang, a big explosion and we hit a Japanese mine.” One of the ship’s crew was killed. The boat, repaired in Ceylon, was only able to travel at three knots and limped back over a three week journey to Messina, Sicily. By now the war was almost over and many of the men had bought toys and carpets for their families. The men were annoyed that another ship, had been brought out from England and they had to return out east. “They were that wild, they threw all the mess gear over the side.” Eventually the ship returned to the UK, and Bob headed home on a ‘Woolworths’ aircraft carrier, HMS Atheling to Lyttelton, where his parents were waiting to greet him.



Murray Drury, 87 Essie Summers 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. His initial six-week “boot camp” training involving marching, exercise, and camping out, took place at Burnham, south of Christchurch. Later he and other young men took trains and a ferry to the central North Island ‘military 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 from townships like Taihape. Over his eight years with the Territorials he rose to the rank of sergeant and very much enjoyed the comradeship. Each February Territorials from Auckland, Wellington, 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.

Norman Scoles, 92 Essie Summers Retirement Village


orm Scoles personally received a Distinguished Service Medal from Queen Elizabeth II for his heroic efforts to rescue a fallen comrade from a skirmish on the Korean mainland.

Queen Elizabeth presented him with the medal at a special ceremony in the Civic Theatre in Christchurch. The Queen and Prince Phillip were on a royal tour and arrived at the Civic for the ceremony on January 20, 1954. Norm’s award related to his actions and bravery on the west coast of Korea in September 1951, when he was still aged 21 and one of those serving with the frigate HMNZS Rotoiti. He says the objective of the landing was to cause the enemy a bit of trouble. But that aim soon rebounded on them, when his mate Robert Marchioni was shot. Norman carried the body of Able Seaman Marchioni over a cliff top and along a beach, before being forced to find a hiding place for the body. Norman, a Leading Seaman, and the landing party came under heavy enemy machine-gun fire and were forced to move quickly during the incursion on Go-Rin-Chi-Ki Point. Marchioni was shot and killed as part of the Korean War, and since then there have been negotiations to repatriate the body. Whether or not his body remains where it was hidden is not known.


One press clipping from the time reported: “Scoles according to a Press Association message from Tokyo, knelt beside a mortally wounded comrade and applied a field dressing during heavy fire.” Scoles adds that he threw back a standard-issue grenade, followed by a spray of bullets before instructing the troops to return to the boats. Norm carried Robert on his shoulders around a rocky point to where the boats were waiting, but left the body when he was exhausted. Marchioni was just 19 when he died. A planned retrieval mission was not allowed on the communist controlled land, given the orders handed down by the NZ Navy Office and Admiralty. In the recommendation for decoration, it says the grenade silenced guns and facilitated the withdrawal of the assaulting party, he was part of. In a separate incident Norm was also a member of a landing party that captured two (north) Koreans, and remembers then being kept in the wheelhouse under close guard. “They appeared to be quite happy with their new way of life, a camp stretcher, a daily shower and cigarettes seemed to agree with them,” Norm says in a written account.



Photo courtesy of Jack Pringle


“They appeared to be quite happy with their new way of life, a camp stretcher, a daily shower and cigarettes seemed to agree with them,”

« His mother in Dunedin was interviewed about Norm's heroic actions and said she was both proud and worried at the same time. The newspaper reported her as saying, "Norman joined the navy when he was 16, and even when he was very small, he said he wanted to be a sailor. He finally got his father to sign permission papers in a weak moment against my wishes." Norm was born in Cromwell and grew up with four brothers and a sister in Arrowtown saying the Depression years were very tough. Food was so scarce they basically had to eat what they could catch, including rabbits, or grow. His father had helped him get to as far as Dunedin before getting him on a rail car/then ferry in order to sign up for the navy in Auckland.

He trained in 1946 on the HMNZS Tamaki, then travelled throughout the South Pacific including Fiji, Tonga and on to Darwin and further above Australia. His first ship was the cruiser HMNZS Bellona. He remembers games of rugby against the Fijians. Later in the 1950s Norm married Wilma Marr. Norm’s grandson Simon Bird wrote an account of his grandfather’s life, noting that after leaving the navy he worked as a watersider, then for 30 years as a foreman stevedore. Simon’s account says Norm continued his adventures into his later years. This included throwing himself off the Kawarau Bridge with a bungy cord wrapped around his legs, and that he kept up playing ‘golden oldies’ rugby until the age of 67. He returned on a visit to South Korea in 2010.


Alice Arrowsmith, 97 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 home-coming 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 committee 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 demobilised. She had the choice of either going to England or New Zealand. She chose New Zealand and arrived there on the HMT 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.


Ron Cackett, 96 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, 105 Grace Joel Retirement Village


ames ‘Curly’ Easton was born on the 12th December 1916 in Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow, Scotland.

His family left Scotland for Winnipeg in Canada before settling in Australia’s Hunter Valley in New South Wales when James was 12. These big moves possibly ignited the wanderlust in James, because it became a bit of a theme throughout his life. During the Depression years he spent ‘a few years hobo-ing’, jumping trains and living under bridges and later became a street photographer, once again travelling around NSW. When war broke out he would take photos of the men wearing their new uniforms. He then got called up to do his compulsory three months with the Militia – the then name of the Australian Army Reserve – and after that he put himself forward to fight overseas, becoming a Signalman in 8th Division Signals of the Australian Army at the age of 23. He was soon sent on a boat to Singapore. The conditions on the island were basic with open drains running through the streets. James was posted onto front gate duty and after a relatively uneventful start to the war, he found himself being bombed by the Japanese. They had no tanks and no planes so fighting off the Japanese became a


challenge. They held them off for two to three months until they were captured and marched off to the troops’ base in Changi, where they were set some gruesome tasks. “Parties of us were put back into Singapore to clean up. Cleaning up we found quite a number of bodies,” says James. “They’d grabbed all the Chinese they could and decapitated them, putting their heads on posts. We found six Chinese with their hands tied together with barbed wire, all shot.” In 1942 James joined 3,500 Aussies and 3,500 Brits designated as F party who were sent in cattle trucks to Ban Pong, Thailand, a journey which took four days. There were around 40 men in each truck so lying down was impossible. “If you wanted to relieve yourself you had to get a guy to grab each hand to hold you out over the back while the train was going. You can imagine what that was like with 40 guys especially when dysentery struck.” The men learned that they had to build a railway going up to Kanchanaburi in Burma. They would march by night, set up camp and work 16 hour days, fuelled only by a cup of rice with three beans in it. “The slightest thing you’d get bashed,” says James. “There would be bodies floating down the river all the time.


« “We were hit by so many diseases, malaria, dysentery, and you’d have them altogether. All while cutting through the jungle. You worked no matter if you were sick or not, you worked.” 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.

On a British ship called SS Largs Bay from Singapore October 1945, 3 weeks after release from Changi Photo courtesy of James Easton



Bruce Hill, 90 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.

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: The Malayan Emergency – a communist uprising which he decribes as the “British Vietnam” 1947 to 1958. 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 their weapons hidden in the jungle, formed a guerilla army and shot some British rubber plantation managers, which created a rebellion. 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.


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. 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! Posted to 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



Peter Sparrow, 83 Hilda Ross Retirement Village


he course was set for Peter’s 11-year career in the Royal New Zealand Navy after his cousin went on the Coronation Cruise in 1953.

“I decided ‘that’s me, I’m out of here!’” says Peter, who being born in October 1938, was only 15 years and four months when he signed up. The eldest of five growing up in the tiny settlement of Sanson in the Manawatu and schooling at Palmerston North High School, Peter relished the chance to explore the world. His first major posting was to Malaysia and Singapore on HMNZS Black Prince in 1955 during the Malaya Emergency, but greater tension was to follow. After being sent to the UK on HMNZS Bellona to bring back the HMNZS Royalist from Plymouth, Peter left England on 8 July 1956 travelling Malta to join up with the Mediterranean fleet. “That’s when we got caught up with Operation Musketeer, known as the Suez crisis.” Peter was in Naples, Italy when the captain received word they had to depart immediately, and the sirens were sounded to call the crew on shore back in.


“We were oblivious to what was happening because you had no access to the news back then.” They soon realised they were in the middle of a serious situation however as the world’s superpowers tussled over rights of access to the important link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, and a very tense 10 days ensued. “Even in the downtime we were on edge and it would be action stations at 4am because when the light’s starting to get up it’s a good time for anyone to attack.” The ship was finally released to return home in November 1956, travelling along the western side of Africa as the canal was still blocked, arriving back on 20 December, 14 months after they’d left. His subsequent years included a return trip to Singapore in 1961 where he had a taste of jungle warfare on an exchange with 2 Battalion.


“That’s when we got caught up with Operation Musketeer, known as the Suez crisis.”

« “We were training in the jungle then out in the bush, which was exhausting but luckily I did physical training every day and I’d run on the decks when we were alongside.”

He finished up as sergeant regularly carrying out senior sergeant duties in a relieving capacity before retiring from the force at 55 to set up his own property maintenance company.

Much of his remaining time in the navy involved being part of the admin team at the Tamaki training depot and the naval communications station HMNZS Irirangi at Waiouru until his term expired in October 1964.

Peter gives back to the community as a life member of the Katikati RSA and is proud to play an active part in the Hilda Ross Anzac Day commemorations where he reflects on former colleagues.

Then, love came calling, and Peter left in order to marry Pamela. “I always said I’d marry a farmer’s girl – and we’re still together!” Peter set his sights on another uniform instead, joining the NZ Police. His 27-year police career included 10 years in the Armed Offenders Squad, a stint as officer in charge of prosecutions and even undercover work.


“With the navy and the Police it has made me appreciate the big advantage of having highly trained officers in charge of you, and when you are the officer, the responsibility of keeping everyone informed of what you’re doing.”

Photo courtesy of Peter Sparrow



George Roberts, 90

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 Whangarei’s Blue Buses with George managing the business and Hazel still driving. In 1996 George was awarded a Queen’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.

Jim Nielsen, 91 Jane Winstone Retirement Village


t was a spur of the moment decision to volunteer for Korea in February 1951. Jim Nielsen was having a few beers with some mates in an Auckland hotel and they all agreed to volunteer.

“I led the way and when I got to the Rutland St Drill Hall, the others had scarpered.” Jim was only 20 and put his correct age on the form. He left New Zealand by Teal Constellation flight to Sydney but on arrival in Brisbane he was told to pack his bags for home. The captain said he was under-age and they did not have parental consent. Jim produced his mother’s written consent from his pocket. Asked why he didn’t hand it in, Jim swiftly responded; “no one asked for it!” “It was so backward there (in Korea). It was no picnic. “There were only two climates – freezing winter and hot summer.” In one of the many areas he was posted there was a big Battle at the Imjin River. Jim was discharged from K-Force in June 1954 and awarded the NZOSM, Korea Medal, and UN Korea Medal and the KWSM. “The New Zealand Government didn’t treat us very well, he says.”


After their return, Jim recalls some older veterans were harsh to the Korean vets claiming it was only a policeman’s war. This was probably due to US President Harry Truman in the very early days of the war calling the American response to the invasion of South Korea “a police action.” It was hurtful nonetheless, as the Korean War was one of the most destructive conflicts of the modern era with approximately three million war fatalities and a larger proportion of civilian deaths than WWII or the Vietnam War. Settling in Whanganui Jim became the Branch President of the NZKVA in 2004 and the North Island Vice-president of NZKVA in 2006. Jim has been back to Korea seven times and returned to Korea in 2013 to commemorate 60 years since the Armistice. “I have a couple of mates buried in Korea,” he says quietly. The fighting ended on the 27th July 1953 when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed, which created the demilitarized zone. However, no peace treaty was ever signed, and the two Koreas are technically still at war.


Dorothy Withell, 99 Jean Sandel Retirement Village


orothy Withell, risked her life saving soldiers in one of the greatest military evacuations in history: the evacuation of Dunkirk, codenamed Operation Dynamo. Dorothy was neither a New Zealander, nor in the military. She lived in England and at 17 was too young to join up, but the plucky young trainee nurse didn’t give a second thought to ‘doing her bit’ when she was called upon to help. It was May 1940 and large numbers of Allied troops were in dire peril, cut off and surrounded by German troops. Winston Churchill called it a “colossal military disaster” as the trapped French, Belgium and British Allies faced possible defeat in the northern coast of France. Evacuation across the English Channel to Dover, seemed the best course of action and Dunkirk was the closest suitable port. It was chaotic and because of wartime censorship and a desire to keep up the British morale, the full extent of what was happening was not initially publicised.


The Luftwaffe heavily bombed Dunkirk and the RAF were providing protection for the Royal Navy. The call went out for help as small craft were called upon to ferry the trapped soldiers from the beaches to the larger ships in the harbour. They became known as the ‘little ships’ who came to the rescue in their hundreds. Meanwhile Dorothy, was on holiday visiting Weymouth beach in Dorset, enjoying a paddle in the sea. But the day at the seaside ended abruptly when she was commandeered by the British Army and sent off in a small boat with three sailors and a case of bandages to help bring the boys home. “I wasn’t scared,” she said, “I was full of confidence! Being 17 of course, I knew everything.”



Photo courtesy of Dorothy Withell


“I wasn’t scared,” she said, “I was full of confidence! Being 17 of course, I knew everything.”

« Dorothy spent three days crossing the “Leaving troops in France to be captured Channel with injured men being piled was heart-breaking. Most of them were onto her boat and cared for their injuries. not much older than me. We hugged and cried but we just had to leave. We “I’m not sure how many times I did it and couldn’t get any more on board. We I don’t remember spending a penny, knew they would be taken prisoner. eating, or sleeping. It was terrible, terrible.” “I was right out of my depth, but I did what Over 338,000 British and French troops I could. I think just seeing a young British were safely evacuated from Dunkirk girl - and I wasn’t too bad looking in between May 26th and June 4th, 1940. those days - must’ve helped, given them a boost.” The memories of evacuation will never leave Dorothy. She has written them After the third day there were heavy down for her family. air attacks and it was deemed too dangerous for her to continue so she “I do think for young people it’s worth was sent by train with the injured knowing what went on, but I wouldn’t in charge of taking them to various want them to go through that. I hope hospitals in the south of England. there is never a war like it again.”



Jack Pringle, 96 Jean Sandel Retirement Village


“Sailing into Sydney Harbour I couldn’t believe the sight.”

He worked for the Post and Telegraph Department and at 18 he volunteered for the navy.

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.

ack was born in the small Central Otago town of Naseby in 1925 and grew up in nearby Ranfurly.

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.

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.

Fortunately for Jack, a telegraphist had “On the 6th August we detached from taken ill and Jack joined the ship which the main fleet to bombard some headed to join the British Pacific Fleet airstrips on Formosa (Taiwan). forming in Sydney. It was his first time on a ship. “I thought this was marvellous,” he recalls.



“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. “A few days later they dropped the second bomb. We were just off the coast about 200km north of Tokyo. “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. The Japanese plane hit the water about 50 meters in front of us and blew up. “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?

“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



Ted Grace, 84 Jean Sandel Retirement Village


ed Grace joined the army as a cadet in 1955. His chosen Corps was Armour. In 1957 he volunteered for a tour with 1 New Zealand regiment, an infantry battalion established to join 28 Commonwealth Brigade in operations against the Malaya Communist Party. In Malaya Ted was posted to an infantry platoon, the main task of which was jungle patrolling.

“Patrols were difficult. The enemy at that time were at home in the jungle and we had to be very disciplined in our operations,” says Ted. Patrols lasted from about 10 days to several weeks. Long patrols were resupplied by airdrop. During a deep jungle patrol of six weeks Ted’s platoon came across a tiny village of Orang Asli, the indigenous people of the area. These folk have a history going back thousands of years. At times the platoon was able to provide security for them when they went hunting – with blowpipes and poisoned darts! After 13 months in Malaya Ted returned to New Zealand, re-joined his Corps and was posted to various units around the country. He met and married Avon in 1965 and their son was born in 1969. In late 1970 Ted was posted to 1 New Zealand Army Training Team in Vietnam. He and eleven other senior non-commissioned officers formed the training element of the Team.


In Vietnam the team underwent orientation training with the US Army. This covered US and enemy weapons, organisations and tactics and a “crash course” in the Vietnamese language. After this the 12 New Zealanders were, in pairs, attached to 4-man US Army units who lived in Vietnamese hamlets and trained and operated with local troops. “This attachment was particularly stressful. One simply did not know who the enemy was until the shooting started. Adding to the stress was witnessing the dreadful effect enemy attacks had on women and children,” said Ted. Soon after arriving in Vietnam Ted had received a telegram to say Avon was expecting a “blessed event” which was Post Office telegram code for “I am pregnant.” Their daughter was born while Ted was on tour, which was tough for Avon particularly as Ted able to make only two phone calls in the entire 13 months he was away in Vietnam. No cell phones, PC’s or Zoom. Snail mail only! When Ted returned to New Zealand, anti-war sentiment was prevalent in the country, and Vietnam men and women veterans were not welcomed home as previous war veterans had been. “That left a bitter, long-lasting effect on those who made the sacrifice.” And Ted says, “There are no doubt many stories of valour amongst those wives, husbands and children left behind who also made the sacrifice, and survived.”


Peter Brightwell, 97 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.

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 “I signed up just before the end of the war. attended a carpentry course offered I was excited after the army training,” by the army and completed an he said, “and I was old enough to join apprenticeship to become a builder. up for the occupation force in Japan.” “I chose Masterton,” he said. He is a firm believer in the benefits and He sailed to Japan on the troopship, discipline of military training for SS Empire Pride and was there as part young men and women today. of J-Force for about 18 months. “I was a Jeep driver for our commanding A keen musician, Peter bought a tenor officer, so I got to drive all over different saxophone for £25 while he was in parts of Japan.” There he witnessed Japan and he still plays it to this day. the remains of the cities of Hiroshima He belongs to a band called ‘Top Hat’ and Nagasaki after the atomic bombing and he sometimes entertains the and recalled it as, “just flat”. village residents. 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.


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.


Howard Robinson, 84 John Flynn Retirement Village


nzac Day has always been an easy day for Howard (Clem) Robinson to remember, not least because it is his birthday. Clem was born on 25th April 1938.

Barracks are now a holiday resort]. We spent a good few weeks there training jungle warfare in what were not jungle conditions.”

Clem’s father, also named Clem Robinson, fought in the trenches of France during the First World War, and while the Robinson family avoided fighting in the Second World War, Clem was called for national service when he was 18. “I passed the medical, so there was no getting out of it,” Clem said. “I can’t say that military life appealed to me all that much as an 18-year-old, it was not really my cup of tea, but I must admit, it prepared me for a lot of things later in life.” Clem completed his national service training at Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne, in Perth, Western Australia, during the summer break between his undergraduate and postgraduate Biochemistry studies at the University of Western Australia.

But there were also challenging aspects of the training, including using equipment already well-used in two world wars. “In one exercise we had to run and stab our bayonets into a big bag full of straw and I thought ‘can I really imagine doing this to another human being?’ “That was not a happy moment. “I thought this was pretty horrifying.” In 1960 Clem was awarded a Hackett scholarship from the University of Western Australia which enabled him to undertake further study at the University of Oxford. “I went off to England and that cut my military training short by a couple of months,” he said. “But I was very lucky and privileged to also meet my wife Ida there (Oxford). “Being there was certainly a world changing experience for me.”

“After that basic training I joined the Western Australia University Regiment of the Citizen’s Military Forces,” Clem said.

His time in the national service and Citizen’s Military Forces was formative.

“I was in it for the next three years, which was good fun, we went on annual camps and I’ve got lots of happy memories of those.

“Whether it be military, or some other form of national service, I think the training is probably beneficial for many young people, Clem said.

“We were fortunate that we did several weeks of basic training at Kingston Barracks on Rottnest Island [those

“It was certainly good for me.


“I look back on it now with some fondness.”



Don Bennington, 74 Keith Park Retirement Village


hile many associate the military with war and fighting, for Don Bennington, a 25-year career in the Royal New Zealand Air Force was an overwhelmingly life-affirming experience. “I felt that we New Zealanders were not the aggressors and in fact most of my time in the service our time was spent preserving life, in search and rescue missions, assisting with hurricane relief in the Islands, and, during my time on the HMNZS Canterbury, to be available to rescue citizens off the beach in Fiji during Colonel Rabuka’s coup.” Born in Nelson in May 1947, Don went to seven different primary schools in Nelson, Waikato and Auckland before attending Henderson High School and settling on the air force in 1965 as the ideal way to learn a trade. Don started out at Wigram followed by Hobsonville for basic engineering training with an eye on becoming an aircraft technician.


He worked on Vampire Jets, DC3s, Harvards, Devons, Bristol Freighters, Orions, Iroquois and Wasps all around the South Pacific and Asia. While a lot of his work involved search and rescue and emergency relief missions, his most hair-raising experience was in New Zealand, with a mayday landing after the Iroquois helicopter he was in suddenly stalled while flying over the Auckland Harbour Bridge! “As we were coming down, we thought it would be best to land at Hobsonville, and we made it to the end of the airfield. As we hit the ground the ambulance and fire engine were on the scene, it was pretty dramatic!” One highlight during his 2.5 year posting in Singapore was being part of the crew flying over the South China Sea on a newly updated aircraft and being asked to search for the very latest Russian submarine passing underneath, never before seen in the western world.


"During war times there are never any winners, and it is generally the innocent who suffer the most."

« “Standing there in the flight deck and seeing the submarine passing under the nose just 200 feet below was a tremendous feeling, realising that had this not been peace time, this was what we were all about, searching and destroying submarines.” He finished his air force days with two years serving on HMNZS Canterbury from 1985-87 and then as Warrant Officer at #1 Technical Training School before retiring in 1989. Don’s practical skills were still at the fore however, as he set up his own sheet metal business, even building his own two-storey house in West Harbour. Since retirement he has been an active member in the Warrant Officer and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers’ Mess, Hobsonville Old Boys’ Committee and a member of the 3 Squadron and 5 Squadron Associations.


Don is proud to have attended Anzac Day services every year since retiring from the RNZAF. “For me it is very important. I remember my great uncles, Alex Bennington who was killed in Gallipoli and his brother Spencer Bennington who flew Sopwith Camels in Europe but luckily returned after the war, and also my father and his brother who served in the Islands in WWII and who both returned. “It is also a time to remember my fellow airmen and women who have since passed, including one just recently who is now buried here in Hobsonville.”

Photo courtesy of Barry Barnard 101

Frank Roach, 82 Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village


rank was born in 1939 in Waipawa, Central Hawkes Bay and grew up in small town Ōtāne where his father had the general store, before moving to Napier when he was 12 years old.

It had always been Frank’s dream to be a pilot, but his father wasn’t keen, so Frank followed his wishes and joined the bank for 18 months. But the dream didn’t fade and finally Frank got to join the RNZAF aged 18, training at Wigram for his pilot wings, then Ohakea for the engine conversion course and finally at Whenuapai on Bristol Freighters, graduating in 1959. “I was involved in the IndonesiaMalaysian Confrontation outbreak on Borneo.” This was the same year New Zealand became involved in the Vietnam war. “The Indonesians were inserting people in behind the borders and they, [the British] were worried they were trying to take over Borneo.” This was what Frank had been trained for and he was happy to go overseas. It was 1965 and he got engaged on a Friday. “On the Monday the boss said to me, ‘I have a posting to Singapore in two weeks.’ I told him I had just got engaged and he ask me if I could get married in a fortnight! I got married and then left for Singapore for two years. “I was based in Kuching. I would do two weeks there, then four weeks back in Singapore. “It was peaceful doing sorties first thing in the morning flying Bristol Freighters with


supplies to support the army on the ground. The Bristol Freighter can carry five tons. “We used to be finished by 11am. It wasn’t a hardship.” One aircraft was hit by machine gun fire after it accidentally crossed the border, but no crew were wounded. “The confrontation was diplomatically resolved, and Indonesia backed down.” Frank also flew to Korat in Thailand and was involved in the Vietnam war flying in supplies. “We were not posted there. We were there to support the Americans. “In 1967 I returned to Wigram as an instructor for four years, then went to Ohakea Air Base flying DC3s on the VIP squadron.” He travelled to many places including Nepal and Antarctica and in 1979 helped in the recovery after the Erebus disaster. After 22 years Frank left the air force and joined Air NZ as a simulator instructor for 19 years, but the desire to fly was still strong. Germany offered that opportunity and Frank trained on the Dornier 228. He spent 12 months in Papua New Guinea training pilots, then returned to Germany for three years doing simulator training on the newer Dornier 328. Frank’s extensive flying career has left him with many memories. His eyes light up as he says, “I always wanted to fly. It was my boyhood dream that came true.”



Kathleen Burke, 98 Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village


“I always sent my shirt collars to get starched at the local laundry, so they didn’t curl.

t was a snowy winter’s day in the city of dreaming spires, Oxford, England, when Kathleen (nee Reilly) Burke was born in 1924.

“The first night my feet were frozen, so I tied knots in a jumper to keep my feet warm. You couldn’t get a hot water bottle as the rubber was needed.

Years later when the war began, Kathleen was living with her parents in Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

“In the afternoons we studied. Teleprinting She chose to volunteer. “There’re not many options unless you are qualified, so was the only secret method of sending messages. It could not be tapped as it was better to volunteer. I didn’t want to work as a land girl or be sent to a factory. the cables were underground. “I joined up in the WAAF as an aircraftwoman, second class. I trained for two months at Morecambe learning to march and salute, and then I was sent to RAF St Athan, in South Wales. I hated it there, so I put my hand up when they asked for volunteers to re-muster as teleprinter operators.” Following that she trained at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. “We worked six-hour shifts learning to touch-type on a teleprinter with our hands covered.

“But, once you typed it you couldn’t erase it, you could only write at the bottom ‘correct word after,’ and repeat it. “I was in the WAAF for six years – five of them as a teleprinter operator at Abingdon in Berkshire. I made lots of friends there. We walked or hitch-hiked a lot as we only got 10 shillings a week. “Going to a café for a cup of coffee and piece of toast and honey was a real treat. We thought that was marvellous! “I came out of the WAAF as a LACW (Leading Aircraftwoman) with two month’s pay and I was trained, so I got a job at Cable and Wireless in London.”

“We had to type 25 words per minute. You got up in the morning had a big mug of tea and a piece bread with margarine. Then off to work, sitting there from 6am – 12:30pm. “We lived in barracks – 12 of us to a room and slept on bunks. Each bunk had three ‘biscuits’ we called them, [like a divan cushion]. We had inspections. Biscuits were stacked, folded sheet next, then blanket with the pillow on top. It all had to be regimental. “You are totally immersed in uniform. We had flat black shoes, grey stockings and service underwear we called blackouts!


But Kathleen found the 12-hour night duty too much. “Heathrow Airport was under construction in 1946 and I got a job with Civil Aviation. I stayed there till I came to New Zealand. A friend wrote and said, ‘why don’t you come out here? – You get free passage as an ex-servicewoman.’ It sounded exciting. My friend and I thought let’s give it a go – we can always come back!”


Pamela Lewis, 97 Kiri Te Kanawa Retirement Village


am Lewis was born and bred in Gisborne and is very proud of it. “I loved growing up in Gisborne.” Pam chose not to continue with her secondary education as she was keen to earn money so she could buy her own clothes. She started working at the Gisborne Herald. She stayed there for five years, until the war started and then she moved to Wellington for war work. “We volunteered because we knew we were going to be called up anyway.” Pam went to work for the Canadian owned Ford Munitions Factory in Lower Hutt, where there was a severe shortage of female labour to help fuel the war effort. It was one of many workplaces now employing women in jobs traditionally held by men, to free them up to serve in the armed forces. Buses collected them to take them to work from the purpose-built women’s hostel. “They were very good to us there. It was a huge factory and we worked much longer hours than I was used to.” “One of my jobs was to put the fuses on to 25-pound shells,” explains Pam. “Our work was regularly checked and if we did 10,000 and one was wrong, we had to do them all over again.


“We just got stuck into it, we were moved around testing different components. It was very noisy. I worked on a great big machine feeding bits of steel into it. “If you worked in the powder room packing explosives into grenades you got paid a lot more money, but they had to shower and change their clothes after their shifts and their skin went yellow. “I loved it and met new friends. It seemed such a lot of money we were earning. But I had been really frightened of the Japanese threat living on the East Coast. “VJ Day was absolutely marvellous – everyone was on the streets. “When the war ended, they begged us to stay on in Wellington as they were so short of office workers. We had our choice of jobs! I was enjoying it down there and I had relatives I could board with. I chose to work for Government Life, (now Tower Insurance). “Later I transferred to Auckland but I knew I would always come back to Gisborne.” The Ford factory assembled and filled nearly six million hand grenades and 1.2 million mortar bombs. Women were encouraged to do their bit for the war effort and Pam agrees. “Women really came into their own after the war.”

Carl Rofe, 82 Linda Jones Retirement Village


he early death of his father in 1955 prompted Carl’s mother to enrol him in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Boy Entrant.

“I was underage at just 15 and the youngest of that 115-entrant draft, but she probably thought I needed the supervision,” says Carl, who was born in Gisborne and schooled in Rotorua and then at Wellington College. After several years of training at Woodbourne, Carl served with Ohakea’s 75 Squadron as a light-alloy specialist. “Aircraft are mostly built from Duralumin alloy which is quite difficult to work into the complex curves needed for all sorts of parts, so it’s a specialist trade.” In the early 1960s Carl was detached with 75 Squadron in Singapore, which was operating out of Tengah Airport during the Malaya Emergency. He spent the time there servicing Canberra bombers supporting English RAF Venom aircraft bombing terrorist targets in Malaya.


Fortunately, his focus remained on the work in hand, and he never felt in danger or scared. “Only the aircrew saw the dangerous stuff,” he says. In fact, the biggest physical harm Carl came to was back in New Zealand when his car was hit head on by a drunk driver, leaving him in traction for two months at Palmerston North Hospital. That also signalled the end of his work on aircraft, so he retrained and finished out his nine-year service enlistment within the Ohakea Photographic Section. “You name it, we did it! “My most satisfying task was photographing a Canberra bomber from nose-on, then doing a very large print on metre-width roll paper that was six metres long. “It was used as part of the hangar display for an Ohakea open day and at the time was believed to be the largest photo print ever done in New Zealand!”



“Only the aircrew saw the dangerous stuff,”

« Carl remains extremely proud of his air force career: “That’s what helped me grow from a boy to a man and also become a skilled engineer.” After discharge he worked for Airland, a company that operated several DC3 and Lodestar heavy topdressing aircraft and he recalls some ‘very interesting’ low level flying in large aircraft amongst the hills on post-servicing test flights! He retired from Airland aged 47 and furthered his sports interest by establishing an archery manufacturing business as well as taking up competitive shooting. This was an interest he formed during his air force sojourn where he once won medals as the top Bren-gun and rifle shooter at the Trentham Inter-Service competitions.


Carl has also racked up nearly 500 parachute jumps plus bungee jumps off the Shotover River and Sky Tower. Since moving into the village with his wife of more than 50 years, Lyn, Carl has played an active part in Anzac Day commemorations. “I am happy that more and more young people are recognising the efforts of this country’s past service people. “Sadly, there will always be wars and the world will always need ‘policemen’. “On the day my reflections are often towards the majority of my 115-draft who are no longer with us.”

Photo courtesy of Carl Rofe



David Nicoll, 80 Linda Jones Retirement Village


fter signing up at the Hamilton army office aged 21, Nic was sent to the Papakura army camp before heading to Burnham in Christchurch. Assigned to the 2nd Battalion he completed his basic training and corps training.

“They wanted people to go to Malaya in 1963 to replace the 1st Battalion and by November I was there.” As a rifleman in 3 Platoon, Nic was sent straight to the Terendak camp in Malacca for his introduction to jungle warfare. “It was hot, very hot, and totally different to New Zealand.

you’ve got to be alert at all times so you could see them before they see you.” In 1965 Nic was sent to Sarawak on Borneo, now as a mortar man. “I was in A Company and we had a contact – we caught a prisoner who was wounded so another platoon relieved us straightaway.” These occasions were rewarding for the men. “That was what we were there for. The morale of the whole battalion just goes up.” After five months in Borneo, Nic began his journey home to New Zealand and left the army on 1 May 1966.

“The jungle is a real noisy place at night so you had to get used to the noises so you could pick up the noise that shouldn’t be there.” After six months’ training in the jungle, the men were finally on active service, heading to Pontian where wading through swamp land became the norm. “I’m not a very big person so it was quite an experience to start with.”

“I’d done my three years; I’d been on active service and knew what it was all about. “I went back to my job at the Horotiu freezing works.” Nic says his army mates became his family too. He regularly catches up with them at the RSA or on Anzac Day.

The intensity, focus and threat were constant.

“There’s not many of us left, we’re all nearly 80 or over.

“I made up my mind that if anything happens it happens and just to concentrate on the job you’re there for, worrying about what might happen is a waste of time.

“It’s a special thing to have that shared experience, you rely on these guys. You can’t just pack a sad with them – they could save your life!”

“A lot of places in the jungle you can hardly see 20m in front of you so


Jim Newman, 88 Linda Jones Retirement Village


desire to see the world led 16-yearold Jim Newman to join the navy as a Seaman Boy in 1949. Hamilton-born Jim grew up on a farm near Morrinsville and had gone to school at Mangateparu Primary and Morrinsville College but at 15 decided there was more to life than school. His first ship was HMNZS Black Prince on which he did the Coronation Cruise to mark the Queen’s coronation in 1953, going to the UK, through the Suez Canal, and around the Pacific, his dream of seeing the world quickly being realised.

“I went through a number of different countries, some of them I’d never heard of. “It transformed my life from a benign existence to one that made me think about the wider world around us,” he says. He was then posted to Korea for a year on the frigate HMNZS Hawea but it was during his second trip on HMNZS Kaniere in 1956 that he had a very close call.


Now an Able Seaman with the role of Radar Operator, he was one of a group who asked the ship’s captain if they could make their way to Seoul on land. Says Jim: “Fighting had stopped at that stage so there wasn’t much chance of getting shot at.” Or so they thought. “We went up to the top of Hill 355 in a Jeep and as soon as we got up the top the North Koreans started to mortar us. Luckily there was a foxhole under a big tree and as I hopped in there a mortar fragment whizzed past my ear. A little Korean kid was inside and waved me in. He was braver than I was, I think!” Jim picked up the fragment and has kept it to this day, a stark reminder of the cold reality of war. “I don’t like war, I think it’s ridiculous and should be avoided at nearly all costs. If you can’t avoid it, you’ve got to think very seriously about what the outcome’s going to be.”



Photo courtesy of Jim Newman


“It transformed my life from a benign existence to one that made me think about the wider world around us,”

« He says his eight years in the navy shaped the direction his life would take, not just his love of travel – he has visited 64 different countries – but also the ‘discipline and knowledge I had learnt while serving which was to hold me in great stead later in life’. One such time was when he worked as Officer in Charge of the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme at Scott Base from 1974-75. The role involved acting as Coroner, being Officer of the Government of the Ross Dependency, NZ Representative on the Land Usage Committee and Air Movements Committee, and Justice of the Peace.

His service also led to his life membership of the Auckland RSA, where he served in various roles and worked on the committee to upgrade the Cenotaph area at the Auckland War Memorial Museum in 2010. He was also President of the New Zealand Korean Veterans' Association from 2009-2013 and his work lobbying for war veterans was recognised with the award of a Queen’s Service Medal in 2013. He has been back to Korea many times since his near miss with the mortar, marking special occasions with New Zealand dignitaries such as then Prime Minister Helen Clark. “I love the people and I love the place,” he says.


Ross McLay, 85 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 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!”



Photo courtesy of Ross McLay


“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.”

« 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-year-old 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.”


Richard Lambert, 97 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.”

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, he says, ‘peace time flying was too tame for me.’

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.

Richard continued to fly after leaving the RAF including one job for Air Links which involved flying an Argonaut carrying eight tons of gold bullion from Gatwick Airport to Tripoli in Libya.

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!”

“We were met with soldiers with guns and tanks for security. It was government 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. “I was a kid and was too young to be frightened. The enthusiasm for the job overtook the worry of flying with a war on.

“It was only after the war finished Another highlight for all the men involved that I realised how dangerous in the filming was the food. everything was.”

“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.


Photo courtesy of Richard Lambert



Noeline Ritson, 104 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. She was 23 when she showed the application forms to her parents. “My mother started to cry, and my father was grumpy, so I thought, this is no good – I’ll tear it up and not go. “Six weeks later, the New Zealand Air Force wanted recruits, and I thought, I’ll do my bit. Being in New Zealand – that was ok.” Noeline was placed at Whenuapai to work as a medic. “The matron said, ‘I don’t think you’ll stand up to it my girl.’ I said, ‘I think I will’.” And Noeline proved her wrong. She stayed in the air force until the end of the war in 1945. At Whenuapai they worked in the small hospital located in a nearby house. For living 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. It was a small station on an old farm. The accommodation was in the lower part, and the hospital up the top of the hill.


“We had to walk about a mile to the hospital. On early morning duty starting at 6.00am we got a lift up the hill from the transport men. When matron heard about this she was not happy. She said, ‘You’ll not waste petrol. You will walk!’.” So, walk they did. She was also sent to Hobsonville, No.1 hospital. There they were treating “the boys coming home with skin complaints.” Noeline says, “It was like an ordinary job, but we had shift work till 10.00pm. You were 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.

Norman Forsey, 84 Margaret Stoddart Retirement Village


orman Forsey says he was one of the ‘lucky ones’, called up just as the UK’s National Service was winding down.

But his service stint, meant he not only got to train in Wales near where his father had more than 40 years before, but also travel with his regiment to the desert area of Libya. Norman was part of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He remembers life in the desert, where Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and the ‘Desert Rat’ Erwin Rommel had previously fought, remained perilous. There had been landmines laid during World War II, but many had not been cleaned up. The trouble was that the used petrol drums, laid after the war to outline the mine areas, had since been acquired by the locals for other purposes. Luckily no-one was hurt, though a desert dog was shot after being caught rifling through the supplies of those in Libya as part of their post-war ‘Territorial Army’ service. Forsey was in the intelligence service and part of the regiment’s job was to work through the battlefields where the 8th Army had been. The regiment for part of their three-month Libyan service stayed in Derna, where they took leave. “We’d wander about. We used to go into the market there. So that was okay.”


Forsey was originally drafted for two years into National Service in 1959, as the second last intake before the service was cancelled much to the relief of many young men in Britain. “Some (youngsters) didn’t like the service at all, and for others it was all they had. They suddenly had three square meals a day and a comfortable bed to lie in. Lots of the guys were taking it pretty rough and we also had a lot of unemployed steel workers and miners and so forth, particularly in the Welsh regiments,” Norman says. Norman remembers as part of his service, he started training near Andover, on the Salisbury Plain. The wooden Carter Barracks he lived in 24/7 were located near Bulford Garrison, and were also in an area his father had served, before being called up in 1914 for World War I. “The odd thing was, in 1914 my father was stationed in the same place, later serving with the Somerset light infantry regiment. Norman ended up as a Lance Corporal in charge of the sniper section, and he and fellow territorials went out on the Plain to conduct training runs. Norman says he became very proficient both with a rifle and a Bren gun. On one occasion a training officer had made an off-the-cuff disparaging comment about ‘paper pushers’ not being too flash on the front line.



Photo courtesy of Bill Morgan


“You lived the life, it was full on army,”

« “There was a regular service corporal behind me, saying ‘oh these bloody desk-wallers they drive me mad’, so I thought I’ll show you, and I fired a perfect round. He was very surprised, and very contrite.” The sniper training also allowed him and his crew to pot a couple of brace of pheasants, with a few passed on to the officers of the Barracks and bartered for whiskey, cigarettes and the like. “As my old man said you can’t beat the system, but you can bend it.” He performed several National Service roles in including basic communication skills within the confines of a barracks hut. He warned the youngsters, some who’d come from the Welsh coal mines that they’d be back outside with the sergeant major doing yard exercises if they did not behave well under his tutelage.


If he’d stayed any longer, he could have become a commissioned officer, but chose not to. “You lived the life, it was full on army,” he says of the experience. Norman says he has fond memories of his time in the service, but even before he completed the two required years, the next part of his life was beginning. He got married to his sweetheart Chrissie while on leave, and when his period of service finished, he moved up in his chosen profession to eventually become the Wardrobe Master to BBC Wales, a job he loved. He met fellow Welshman Windsor Davies, while Windsor was doing stage work. The two were good friends, with Windsor later famous for his work in World War II sitcom, It ‘Aint Half Hot Mum (1974–1981).

Norman Henderson, 89 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. 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. 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 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. He points to his hearing aids when remembering the “screaming” noise of the British-made de Havilland Vampire jet fighters at Ohakea. 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’.” 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!




George Madeley, 83 Miriam Corban Retirement Village


ith nearly 36 years of service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, George ‘Shorty’ Madeley has earned his long service medal several times over.

“I did all my courses, pulling equipment, aircraft, fuelling, lifting with cranes, driving tractors and bulldozers, I qualified with them all.”

And thanks to his sons Mike, Bruce and Alan, who also joined the Force, the family have racked up 136 years RNZAF service between them!

He certainly got his wish to travel too, with two stints in Singapore totalling three years, a few months in Fiji and at RNZAF bases around New Zealand including Hobsonville, Te Rapa, Woodbourne, Shelly Bay in Wellington and Whenuapai.

The air force wasn’t Shorty’s original plan however, which was more about wheels than wings. After leaving Whakatane High School, Shorty started a motor mechanic apprenticeship, but it was interrupted when he turned 18 with the requirement to carry out Compulsory Military Training (CMT). “I wanted to travel and I managed to get onto the last CMT draft to enter the RNZAF at RNZAF Hobsonville,” says Shorty, who signed an eight year contract as a result. The mechanical training stood him in good stead as Shorty became a mechanical transport driver and operator. He would drive all manner of vehicles, including trucks, vans, cars, landrovers, plus cranes, tractors, and heavy machinery, and was involved in the maintenance of them all plus training others to do the same.


The first time in Singapore was at Tengah with 75 Squadron from 1961-62. They went on an exercise to the Philippines for three weeks, where driving on the other side of the roads was a disconcerting experience. “The communists were still fighting in Malaya which was a bit scary at times. “But you just did it, it was part of the job.” The prospect of war never fazed him though. “I had uncles who had served so I had good advice.” Shorty married Christine, who he met in high school, at the RNZAF Hobsonville Chapel on base in 1963. Looking back on his career he says: “It was varied and a lot of fun too. “I only got really scared twice and that was as a driving instructor at 1 Technical Training School, Hobsonville.


“But you just did it, it was part of the job.”

« “The first time was driving down the hill to Piha and the rims got so hot with braking that when we got to the bottom and stopped, I took a match out, held it to one of the rims and it ignited! “The other one was when the driver doing a right hand turn drove up on the footpath between two poles!” He became actively involved in racing stock cars around the country, playing rugby and raising four boys, including an adopted son. It was a proud moment seeing three of his sons follow in his footsteps to join the RNZAF. “It was their decision to join and I was very proud and supported them,” he says.


In 1980, having reached Warrant Officer, he switched divisions to become a New Zealand Cadet Force Advisor, looking after cadets aged 13-21 from the army, navy and Air Training Corps. “You’re training them to what military life is like, learning bush craft, even learning how to iron and cook their own meals! And being there to offer advice of course. “It was really rewarding.” Whilst in Singapore, Shorty caught the 10-pin bowling bug and after retiring from the force in 1993 he travelled around Australia and Asia representing New Zealand in competitions and still works as a bowling lane inspector for the National Body today.

Photo courtesy of Ron Cackett



Owen Cunliffe, 83 Miriam Corban Retirement Village


pending more than 37 years working in the RNZAF was more than a career for Auckland-born Owen Cunliffe. It also led him to his wife-to-be, many lifelong friendships, an MBE and plenty of interesting and sometimes downright frightening challenges along the way!

Thanks to his technical skills on the T56 engine, Owen had developed a programme for monitoring engine condition which required him to present at conferences overseas twice a year. Later he regularly toured the States giving presentations. He was awarded an MBE in 1984 for his welfare and liaison work with 3 Squadron who were on detachment in Sinai as a peacekeeping force plus his maintenance planning work.

With a love of all things aeroplane sparked from an early age, Owen joined the force as soon as he left Putaruru District High School. He completed two years of military and basic trade training at Woodbourne with a set of guys he is still friends with 65 years later! “We got to know each other pretty well and formed a bond which has lasted until now.” In 1964 he was picked to go to the States to train on C130s at Travis Air Force Base for six months.

Owen says he loved the variety his work offered him: “You’re always tackling different sorts of things, from working on engines, to man management, to writing signals out to the boss, and then those skills broaden and you’re making decisions on things you never thought you would when you first started out. “And of course, the comradeship has been wonderful.”

“It was at the Battle of Britain Ball in San Francisco that I met my wife, Bridget who had just emigrated there from Ireland!” he laughs.

His final role before leaving the force in 1993 was as Flight Commander at the Technical Control and Planning Centre (TCPC).

The following year Bridget joined Owen in New Zealand and the pair were married two months later.

He and Bridget, who was made an affiliate member at the Base Auckland W/O’s & Sergeants’ Mess where they meet military friends every Friday, look forward to Anzac Day at Miriam Corban.

Owen worked up the ranks to Warrant Officer and in 1979 was posted to Singapore for two years operating Iroquois helicopters.


“It’s good seeing the young people come in wearing their father’s medals,” he says.

Leonard Rees, 95 Nellie Melba Retirement Village


he newly rebuilt streets of Kure, Hiroshima were a world away from Leonard (Len) Rees’s childhood in Murgon, Queensland.

During his time serving in Japan, Len returned to Australia once for a break, however he was eager to get back to work.

But, one year after the end of the Second “When I first went to Japan, I went on a ship which took about two World War, and “virtually immediately weeks, the other times I flew, which after” he joined the Australian Defence was good,” he said. Force, Len found himself travelling to Kure, 30km from Hiroshima to join the “But I enjoyed it over there, and occupation forces as a supply driver. I enjoyed the army. “It’s hard to imagine, but in Japan “I learned more in the army than the workmen were so fast they could I did anywhere else I think.” have a catastrophe and the next day Len was married and had his first it’s cleaned up,” Len said. child within 12 months of returning “So, there wasn’t lots of wreckage to Australia. around, people had got on with it While the army offered “very good help” and were fixing it.” for people returning to civilian life, Len Over the next two years Len came to chose to “go it alone”. build a life in Kure, learning “enough “I just went and got a job as a metal Japanese to get by”, helping to unload polisher and had a family and left it ships, as well as driving dignitaries. behind,” he said. “A lot of the time I was driving dignitaries “There wasn’t any real reason I decided here there and everywhere, so I knew to go it alone and I didn’t get into any the whole surrounds well,” he said. of the programmes.” Later, while doing the same job in Osaka, For Len, Anzac Day and Remembrance Len drove Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop. Day are also no more significant “He had people with him, so I didn’t than other days. talk much, but he was very nice, But, the strength of character instilled a very decent man,” Len said. in him during his time in the army has When not working he enjoyed getting stayed with him forever. to know Japanese culture. “I learnt real discipline, which was very “I made some good friends over important, and I learned to be very there,” he said. respectful of people and that you can learn a lot from different cultures.” “The food was different, but I enjoyed it. “I left home when I was very young, and I think I was probably looking for an experience and that’s what I got.” 140



Forbes Taylor, 90 Ngaio Marsh Retirement Village


orbes Taylor says when he was near the front line as part of the Korean War it really was a matter of luck as to whether he and other fellow servicemen survived. It was June 1953 and the Ngaio Marsh resident had not long been flown into Gimpo airport, near Seoul. He had joined the Signals C or ‘Charlie Troop’ to help service the telephone lines that were used by 1st Commonwealth division troops including in the ‘Battle of the Hook’.

He remembers desperate night-time attacks by the Chinese, trying to capture Hook valley territory before the July ceasefire was called. During this time repairs were needed on the telephone lines. “The Chinese were repelled by United Nations forces,” he says. On one frontline occasion, a shell exploded about 40 yards away. But it could have easily been much, much closer. “I thought, good heavens, I could have been there (under the shell). I came to the conclusion: surviving war is a matter of luck,” he says. At the age of 21 he volunteered for service, entering Burnham Military Camp for basic and signals and radio operator training from December 1952 onwards. He was eventually made a 2nd Lieutenant in the New Zealand signals division, having been to Waiouru for officer training. Because he’d arrived towards the end of physical warfare, Forbes spent much of his 18 months of service during the period of ceasefire. There were moments of tension, but also the chance for R&R. While the Americans would fly the Kiwi contingent to Tokyo, Forbes 143

would sometimes push on to other destinations including the post-atomic bomb Hiroshima. It was quite a trip home from his period of service. He’d sailed from Busan, to Brisbane where he and other troops marched and were cheered by the crowds, on to Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney and New Zealand. On his arrival back in Christchurch his Mum was there. He was also greeted by Government representatives at the King Edward Barracks in the city. In one way his volunteering for the Korean War service was a way out of a family situation. His father had passed away and his mother was struggling to keep their farm at Wakanui, near Ashburton, as a going concern. Eventually the farm was sold, and his mother moved to Christchurch. “The amazing thing was that she never complained about me joining the army... she never questioned me.” Forbes is very proud of his siblings. One older brother Lloyd served in “Sunderland flying boats” safeguarding convoys in WWII. His other brother Ross, was involved Nasa’s space programme. He was the first geochemist to get his hands on the samples of moon rock, picked up by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and brought back to Earth by Apollo 11. Forbes has kept up with the Korean political standoff and has been part of Christchurch-based recognition of progress between the two sides. In April 2018, North Korea and South Korea agreed to talks to end the ongoing 65-year conflict.


Daphne Shaw, 78 Possum Bourne Retirement Village


hen Daphne Shaw thinks back to what led to her 26 year career in the army, she could sum it up quite simply.

“It sounded an exciting thing to do,” she says. As a young girl growing up in Papakura and Clevedon, Daphne had grown up in the vicinity of the nearby army barracks and had good impressions of the military as a result.

Sister Daphne Shaw was assigned to work in the First Australian Field Hospital at Vung Tau by China Beach in Vietnam. She was part of a medical team treating wounded troops from Australia, New Zealand, South Vietnam, POWs and the occasional American. “The battle injuries we were dealing with were similar to trauma suffered in road accidents,” she says.

She did her nursing training at Middlemore Hospital then headed “But the survival rate from injuries to London in the mid-60s to complete was extremely high during the Vietnam a post-graduate course working at War because it was the first war Hammersmith Hospital, honing her where helicopters were used to get specialist accident and emergency skills. the soldiers to medical facilities within 20 minutes to half an hour.” Being the swinging sixties and the height of Beatlemania, there was While this was an incredible advance, plenty of excitement to be had and Daphne says 75% of their patients it was no wonder Daphne wanted to were suffering from tropical diseases keep that feeling going on arriving such as dengue fever or malaria. back in New Zealand. “A lot of times we were really like their Plus, her old job at Middlemore mum, offering reassurance and had been filled while she was away. contact with them and their parent. “So I said ‘stuff you, I’m going to join “We would read letters from home to the army!’ them or help them write letters back.” “When I signed up they asked if I had Daphne served there from 1970 until any objections with being deployed the end of 1971 as a member of the to Vietnam. I said no, that didn’t New Zealand Army Nursing Corps worry me necessarily. But I didn’t and says the popular television expect it to happen so quick!” show MASH was pretty accurate Within the year, she was in the heart in its depiction of what life was like. of the controversial war.



“I just felt that the whole war was a waste of young people’s lives, with no benefit at the end of it.”

« “There were fun times too. There were “We were given the option of movies and socialising, a swimming pool. evacuation, but I chose to remain throughout Desert Storm. “I’m still in touch with some of the group of Kiwi nurses I went there with.” “At one point there was a bombing near the hospital and everyone went to rush It was upsetting for Daphne to see the outside to have a look but I shut the treatment that Kiwi soldiers received doors and stopped them because of the on their return home, and being threat of chemical warfare,” she says. excluded from the RSA. Daphne went on to become the Director “It was not nice. They were only doing of Nursing for the NZ Defence Force what they were told to do. which she did for four years before “I just felt that the whole war was a retiring from the force and working as waste of young people’s lives, with a charge nurse at Papakura Accident no benefit at the end of it.” and Medical. Daphne went on to work spells in the navy and eight years with the air force at Whenuapai, flying on many overseas mercy missions in Hercules and Orion to bring back injured military personnel and civilians. And Vietnam wasn’t Daphne’s only war experience. She took up a year-long position at the National Guard Hospital in Saudi Arabia and found herself caught up in the Gulf War.


She received two prestigious Royal Red Cross awards in her career which were proud highlights for Daphne, her parents and her two siblings. She always marks Anzac Day every year. “It’s very important to me. I think about friends I have lost over the years.”

Photo courtesy of Joan Daniel



Desmond Mitchell, 99 Possum Bourne Retirement Village


esmond Mitchell’s first experience on joining the New Zealand Army as an 18-year-old was as an orderly clerk in the company office.

“They assumed I’d wanted to do that because I worked in the Audit Office, but I requested a posting as a soldier instead,” he recalls. He had been steered into this career direction by his mother who was determined for her only child to have job security by securing a good government job. Desmond was born in Mt Eden on 20th March 1923 and grew up in Pukekohe. He went to Pukekohe High School before landing his role in the Audit Office in Hamilton and making both his mother and his bricklayer father very proud. With the war breaking out in Europe, however, Desmond followed in the footsteps of his father, who had served in WWI. The young private had his request to become a soldier within the Waikato Battalion granted, and when Japan entered the war he was transferred to Claudelands Racecourse before proceeding to Papakura Military Camp, after a four day march.


The American forces arrived and Des and his battalion were redirected to Bombay to build mess huts. He was transferred to Ruatangata, then moved from 1st Battalion Waikato Regiment to 2nd Battalion and later to Great Barrier Island on 11th September 1942. This was mainly on guard duty to prepare for a possible Japanese invasion, following which his next move was to Ngāruawāhia Military Camp. He took on a job doing an audit of the quartermaster’s store while he was there, being one of just a few of the men who had completed a secondary education. After two years in the army, and with the loss of two friends during training exercises and with his father’s WWI stories of bayonet charges now resonating, Des saw that the RNZAF was recruiting air crew and he volunteered. “I thought if I were to meet my demise, at least in the air force it would be quicker that way!” he laughs.


“They stopped the train and while we couldn’t see anything we could hear the explosions.

« He was transferred to Blenheim Training Centre and was assigned the dual roles of Bomb Aimer/Navigator Trainee. After giving his mother strict instructions not to cry, Desmond’s parents waved him off from Auckland where he sailed to San Francisco, Vancouver, then Bellevue for a Bomb Aimer course and then on to do a navigator course on Prince Edward Island where he received his navigator wings. From New Amsterdam, Halifax he was finally shipped to London where the proximity to war made things feel suddenly very real. “We were travelling from Liverpool to Brighton and there was an air raid in London with the Germans dropping flying V2 bombs. “They stopped the train and while we couldn’t see anything we could hear the explosions. “It was very frightening but that was the nearest I got to it, fortunately.”


After his final transfer to Pembray in South Wales the European war was declared over and a relieved Desmond began his trip home. He arrived back on 10 January 1946, terminating his air force deployment a month later after serving four years, 192 days and returning to the security of the Audit Office once more, much to his mum’s delight! “All that and I was not yet 23 years of age!” His connection with the war was far from over though. After retiring from his job aged 63, the RSA asked him to become secretary/treasurer, a role he did for the next 28 years! Now Patron of Pukekohe RSA and the RSA Pipe Band, Desmond takes his Anzac Day commitments very seriously. “I go to the RSA in the morning and then attend the village ceremony in the afternoon where I have done the Ode in the past.”

Photo courtesy of Frank Roach



Ian Sexton, 101 Possum Bourne Retirement Village


s he looks at old photos of radar equipment used during WWII 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 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.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 and with the threat now much closer to home, the RNZAF set up a network of radar stations around the North Island and upper South Island. Ian worked out of Piha and Maunganui Bluff, north of Dargaville. When he was at Maunganui Bluff, a Japanese plane was picked up on the radar but the people at Auckland HQ didn’t believe it, says Ian. “There was another occasion where we plotted a submarine, I’m sure to this day. “It just suddenly appeared and travelled at 9 knots. But again, Auckland didn’t believe it.

A former Manurewa Primary and Auckland Grammar boy, Ian had shown an aptitude for communications “It was about three hours before they technology from a young age and sent out a Hudson to search the area, decided to become a ‘ham’, but two days but they searched where it had been after hearing he’d passed his amateur three hours earlier so nothing was found.” operator exam, war broke out and ham radio was immediately banned. Ian says they were up against a contingent who were anti-technology. In early 1941 the Post Office did a recruiting campaign for people with “There was a lot of suspicion of radar, radio qualifications who were required they’d say ‘you fellows with your fancy for RNZAF technical work. gadgets’ and regarded us as a lot of idiots, whereas in England they were Ian applied and was accepted as a quite positive about it.” wireless mechanic but after training he switched to radar work, with the Ian’s expertise came to good use in new technology able to detect planes early 1943 when he was sent as part at 6000 metres (20,000 feet) and of a unit of 50 to Guadalcanal in the from 70km (45 miles) away. Solomon Islands.



“What a colossal lunacy! We were faced with one gang of lunatics in Berlin, and another gang of lunatics in Tokyo.”

« “I was the chief technical man as I knew more about it than anyone else. “The Japs were coming in at night between 8pm and 4am on nuisance raids, disturbing everybody’s sleep. “Once we got the equipment going we put a complete stop to that night bombing.” Ian says as soon as the bombers were picked up a fighter would be scrambled and would be instructed by radio where to go to tail the bomber. 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



Ron Howard, 90 Possum Bourne Retirement Village


eing part of the first ever intake of Compulsory Military Training (CMT) in May 1950 shaped the course of his whole life, says Ron Howard.

While they were initially looked down upon by the regular force soldiers as mere ‘toy soldiers’, Ron said they eventually proved them wrong.

Born in Plimmerton on Waitangi Day 1932, Ron then moved to Whanganui where he went to Aramoho Primary School and Whanganui Technical College after which he embarked on a five year engineering apprenticeship.

“At one stage we were advised that we would be on permanent stand by for covering duties that our combat soldiers carried out overseas.”

It was during that time that 18-year-old Ron set off for six weeks of basic training at Linton Military Camp then another six weeks at Palmerston North before being allocated to the Royal Armoured Corp in Waiouru for regimental training. “I was excited at the prospect and I enjoyed every day and moment, as did the majority of the recruits,” he says. “The routine of advanced training on mechanics was very informative and we learnt quickly the value of military discipline. “This, coupled with good sporting opportunities, good food and the value of camaraderie was paramount.”


At the very least it was a notable transition into adulthood for most of the men, he says. The group was required to return for annual camps for the next three years and Ron says they enjoyed the privilege of being trained by WWII veterans who in turn enjoyed the routine of training youth but without the constraints of warfare. “Our commanding officer was Major Wilson Handley, of Maxwell and a brilliant officer in all aspects, so there was absolute contentment.” Ron was promoted annually and was appointed Transport Officer for all vehicles and tanks.


“I was excited at the prospect and I enjoyed every day and moment, as did the majority of the recruits,”

« “It was a dream situation to be learning, achieving and enjoying the military aspects of handling discipline, learning about life and enjoying the total package which enhanced my career prospects greatly during my apprenticeship.” Ron went on to attend Marine Engineering College in Wellington in 1955 before joining the NZ Shipping Company Vessel as 12th Engineer on RMS Rangitiki. He also served four years in the British Merchant Navy before leaving to become a naval architect. On returning to New Zealand with wife Isobel he was appointed as site manager on the Manapouri Power Construction in 1962 before later establishing his own engineering company in Otahuhu and Pukekohe and what would become a lifelong association with Counties Manukau Rugby.


He is still innovating to this day, with research ranging from water preservation and concussion in rugby. While Ron says he is fundamentally opposed to war, he believes more strong and capable politicians are needed to keep war at bay. “I am now in my 90s but I would have participated in earlier years to defend my country.” As a long-serving member of the Franklin RSA, including three years as welfare officer, Ron fully supports the commemoration of Anzac and Armistice Day services, and spends the days reflecting on the sacrifices made by members of his family.

Photo courtesy of Ron Howard


Gordon Masters, 85 Raelene Boyle Retirement Village


orn in London in 1937 Gordon Masters enjoyed just two years of life before the sound of bombing started to punctuate his days.

“I can remember going home from primary school one afternoon and hearing the sound of a doodlebug (V1 flying bomb) stop, which was a sign to find shelter quick,” he said. “The V2’s were even worse because they just went off and that was it.” Gordon’s life had already been changed by WWII with his father protecting the home fleet in the Orkney Islands as an Ack Ack gunner for the entirety of the war. While the war had long ended by the time Gordon was 18, two years National Service was still compulsory in 1955. “After I finished high school, I found myself with university entrance two years away, which was pretty convenient because I spent two years in the RAF,” he said. “To do your National Service in the marines was unheard of, to do your National Service in the navy you probably had to have a relative in the navy, but to do your service in the air force they had a predisposition for picking people out of grammar schools, rather than comprehensive schools, so that’s how I got in.” Gordon went for kitting out at Cardington, a former Royal Air Ship Station, in Bedfordshire.


“It was quite convenient because we were able to learn the elements of marching and military drill undercover in the hangers,” he said. Later, he completed training at a former Women’s Auxiliary Air Force base in Hednesford. “My abiding memory of that was at the passing out parade the corporal in charge of our flight had laryngitis and when he gave the order to about-turn we did not hear him and we marched into a dip of the parade ground.” While serving at Locking in North Somerset, Gordon was trained to use ‘Chain Home’ equipment. ‘Chain Home’ was the first early warning radar network in the world and is credited for helping to win The Battle of Britain. On the day Gordon’s flight graduated the last ‘Chain Home’ station was decommissioned. “So, we graduated and the skills we had were useless,” he said. “Eventually they hauled us back into Locking and they trained us with ground-controlled approach equipment.” He also completed part of his service at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. While Gordon finished his time with military in 1957, he maintains ties with others who served. “I go to the Coburg RSL where I’ve got a group of friends and we chew the fat,” he said.



Brenda Hicks, 103 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.

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. Brenda became a dental assistant at Trentham Military Camp, and remembers a great camaraderie was felt amongst the fellow WAACs. She loved the Trentham lifestyle. The WAACs had the privilege of sleeping just four to an army hut, while the men tended to be housed in larger groupings. In her work uniform, she helped provide dental care to hundreds of men. Sending the troops off overseas, knowing their teeth were in good shape, gave her satisfaction. She loved the lifestyle. “Everyone was so good to me. 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.” Men’s teeth were also checked and repaired, before the soldiers were discharged. By VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 7th, 1945 she was back in Invercargill. It had been an exciting time for her, and the day itself was very memorable.


“We all danced on the streets (including Dee Street and Tay Street). It didn’t matter who you danced with, you just grabbed somebody, and everybody was so happy because it was the end of the war.” She had been invited by a couple of dentists to stay on working in Wellington but said the pull home was too strong. She married George Hicks in 1946, after he returned from the frontlines. The wartime experiences and marriage provided some of the most 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. She and George later enjoyed running a Bernina sewing machine business for a good number of years. “George, my husband, he was a man who could turn his hand to anything.” Husband George died in mid-2017, two days before his 98th birthday. His service included being an antiaircraft gunner in Egypt, Syria and Italy. He also cooked for his gun crew.

Mervyn Gillick, 97 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 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.

administration, and that’s where I served the rest of the war until Japan surrendered.” 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’. “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.

“What I was doing was working the Still only 16 in January 1941 Mervyn deceased personnel’s deferred pay. started with accountants Barr Burgess & Stewart, while continuing his university All these airmen got shot down in Europe. Most of them were attached studies, sometimes fitting those in with to the RAF. Now the RAF pay was slightly classes in the mornings and evenings less than RNZAF pay, so what we had of the same day. to do to pay their estate was to make With World War II looming he signed up the difference.” up, starting as a trainee crewman in de Instead of ending his service on VE Havilland DH82 Tiger Moths in Royal or VJ day he stayed on for that 11 months New Zealand Air Force camps including helping decide how much servicemen Taieri, Harewood and Woodbourne. and their families (particularly if the His wartime flying aspirations ended serviceman had died) deserved in when his eyesight was judged too poor. their payout. He wanted to be a radar mechanic like He finished the last accounting subjects his brother Ken Gillick (who was later he needed for qualifying in 1943, however attached to an American unit landing it was not until the age of 21 he was on Pacific islands) but his accounting eligible to apply to join the NZ Society skills were rated too highly and he of Accountants which he then did. was transferred to the air force head office in Wellington. He calls his transfer to work at head office in Wellington ‘the battle of Stout St’. “I wanted to be a radar mechanic but the selection committee just laughed With the end of the war he was able to because they had the file, they said finish his tertiary training – completing a ‘you’ve got every accounting exam here – subject which would normally take a year it’s pay accounts for you.’ So they of study, Economics Stage II, in six weeks. put me on (New Zealand Air Force) 164



Elizabeth Hunt, 100 Shona McFarlane Retirement Village


n December 1941 the UK government passed the National Service Act which allowed for the conscription of women. Women could choose to go into war work or join the WAAF or its army or air force equivalents, the ATS and the WRNS. Women joined the WAAF from both the UK and overseas. Bet Hunt was living with her parents in Kirkcaldy, on the north shore of the Firth of Forth. Scotland. She was called up and sent to “the Highlands” airfield Balado, near Kinross which opened in 1942.

Although her parents were both from Scotland, Bet was born in Auckland, New Zealand but the family returned to Scotland when she was eight years old as her mother was homesick. They were about to return to New Zealand when WWII started, so decided to stay in Scotland for the duration.

doing and said that it was not right to be spray painting in the confined area without protection. Some girls got very ill from the toxic fumes. “I kept doing that till the end of the war. It wasn’t till near the end of the war they gave us masks. “We were young! I was given this job because I was small enough to fit inside. “All the girls were about the same age, and the men were away so we had to do what they would normally do. We were all in the same boat. – that was life – you just did it.” Sometimes it was frightening. Bet remembers the Luftwaffe air raids over Scotland. After the German invasion of Norway in 1940, the east coast of Scotland was an easy target for the Luftwaffe. There were more than 500 German air raids on Scotland, including small towns causing terror amongst the civilian population.

At Balado, Bet and other WAAFs worked to repair planes that had been damaged during battles.

“We were fighting for our lives.”

“Because I was slim and could fit my upper body inside the plane between the body and the wing, they used to put me up inside there to spray paint the areas repaired.

Bet’s mother had a vegetable garden to help supplement the family’s rations. “I had a little brother and Dad was doing war work, so Mum and I went without to let Dad and Bill have the rations.

“The bullet holes had to be repaired, riveted and painted so the planes could quickly get back into action.

“My Mother thought a growing young boy needed the nourishment and Dad was working hard. But I don’t remember being hungry. What little meat there was, my Mother gave to the men. It was different days.

“There was no protection – no masks; in those days they never thought about the fumes. Girls were getting sick. I was vomiting a lot. Dad asked me what I was


“War is a such waste of lives,” she says.

Jean Reid, 101 Shona McFarlane Retirement Village


alented and creative Jean Reid, born 100 years ago in Nelson has an outstanding memory and easily recalls the beginning of WWII. “I was 18 years old and working for my father in the family nursery and florist shop. We grew most of the flowers ourselves in those days.

“I wasn’t happy about it – my brother and Jack [the young man who worked in the nursery and later became her husband] along with several cousins were of an age to be sent overseas. My father had been badly wounded at Gallipoli in WWI. “We were told by the authorities we had to stop growing flowers and only grow vegetables as they were needed to feed the country.” The nursery became an essential service. Jean’s father was allowed to keep on only one man to work in the nursery, and he had to make the difficult choice between his son, and Jack. However, his son made the decision simple as he declared he was not staying there – “I’m going to war,” he said Jean’s life changed as she joined the WAAC and continued to work hard in the nursery. “I’d had my driver’s licence since I was 15 so I had to drive the truck and do the vegetable deliveries. Jack didn’t have a licence.” The truck broke down often and each time Jean had to start the engine again with the crank handle!


She was sent to garages to learn how to fix cars although she doesn’t recall having to fix any! In 1944 Jean and Jack married in Nelson. “My husband was a warden going around the streets at night checking for any stray lights during the blackout. You had to be very careful. I was alone a lot at night during that worrying time. The Japanese were a real threat and came close to New Zealand. “We made cakes and biscuits to send to our boys overseas. Fruit cakes, Anzac biscuits and chocolate chippies were popular. We would pack them in tins then use old sugar bags to sew around the tin for posting.” They were tough times to be sending extra food away. “The rationing was terrible! We had coupons for sugar, butter, flour and the petrol rationing meant we couldn’t travel very far. “When the end of the war arrived, we were so delighted. We all went down to the Post Office at midnight and danced and sang and waited for the clock to chime midnight – it was wonderful! It had been such a long time. It was a big relief.”



Roy Beeby, 96 Shona McFarlane Retirement Village


s a child, life for Roy Beeby, meant hard work on a farm in Central Otago and moving around a lot.

bases, except of course those from areas occupied by the Japanese.

He finally ended up spending his last years of school back in Dunedin, the city where he had been born.

“Our aircraft were out looking for submarines coming down towards New Zealand and Australia, as most of our forces were still overseas.

After leaving school at 16 he became an apprentice typewriter mechanic.

“The New Zealand forces were treated well by the local people, he says.”

Then in 1944 at 18, Roy got called up to join the services. He said he had one option: “Which service do you want to join? – I chose the air force because I’d been told the food was better!”

After being demobbed Roy was given the option of staying in Fiji or returning to New Zealand.

In Blenheim he was taught, “how to be a soldier.” “It was three months of ‘square bashing,’ marching up and down a square, learning how to shoot a rifle and all that sort of stuff. Then I was told to go and learn to fly an aeroplane. “I went to Taieri near Dunedin where I learned to fly a Tiger Moth.” He wasn’t chosen to be a pilot as the war was coming to an end and fewer pilots were required, but he continued his training and was posted to Wigram where he was trained to be a radio operator and was then sent to Ohakea Air Base in the central North Island. In 1945 Ray was posted to Laucala Bay, near Suva, Fiji. “Our Morse operators monitored New Zealand allocated air-space. All aircraft flying in the Pacific were in communication with our Allied


It wasn’t a hard choice! “If I had returned home, I would have had to go back my old job – that was the rule. I thought there were better things in life than fixing typewriters.” Roy joined NZ Civil Aviation and stayed on at Laucala Bay later transferring to Nadi. Eventually he returned to New Zealand and was based at Tauranga Airport. Years later with his family he returned to Nadi for a further five years with Civil Aviation. He also worked in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) at Espiritu Santo. Then a huge change, moving back to New Zealand, Head Office in Stout St, Wellington. Roy is a staunch member of the RSA and always commemorates Anzac Day. And his thoughts regarding war? – “It’s good to be on the winning side,” he says quietly.


Sylvia Heaven, 94

Shona McFarlane Retirement Village


ndia was still part of the British Empire in 1935 when a young Sylvia Coles set sail from the London dock of Tilbury, on a great adventure with her family and her father’s regiment to Bombay. For the next five years India was to be the home of the 13th Regiment of the Somerset Light Infantry and consequently eight-year-old Sylvia’s new home too.

When WWII was declared in 1939 Sylvia’s family was living in Poona and decided it would be safer to remain in India. But the regiment was transferred to Multan near the centre of India, which gave rise to a stifling hot, four-day train trip. Apart from what they read in the papers, they had no first-hand knowledge of the war, but they heard that the Japanese had bombed Calcutta which meant the war had reached India. After two years in Multan the regiment was ordered to Kohat in the North West Frontier and so another uncomfortable train journey ensued. “For the first time in India I felt we were in real danger.” Peshawar was 40km away and is the gateway to the Khyber Pass. Sylvia pestered her father to take her through. Finally, he agreed and got permission to take her in an armoured vehicle.


A move to Bhopal offered 16-year-old Sylvia a new sense of freedom. She left school and wanted to join the Women’s Volunteer Service but had to be 18. In an out of character move, her father finally agreed to change her age on the form and her first job was typist/clerk in the orderly room of the Air Gunnery School, Bhopal. “My hours were 6am till 1pm. In the afternoons I spent my time in the motor pool where I learnt to drive trucks and an ambulance.” The regiment was providing guards and administration of an Italian POW camp. This huge camp held some 10,000 Italians captured in the battles of the Western Desert. Many seemed pleased to be out of the war and danger. “I got to know some of the prisoners quite well and often drove them to the base hospital when the camp doctors could not treat them.” An American Liberator landed once a week with supplies and Sylvia scored her first aeroplane ride sightseeing over Bhopal in the huge USAF bomber! In 1943 a young New Zealand pilot, Ted, was posted to the gunnery school to train Indians how to fly. There were frequent crashes at the airport.


“For the first time in India I felt we were in real danger.”

« Sylvia and the New Zealander struck up a friendship, but her father kept a close eye on her. “Sometimes I felt the Italian POWs enjoyed more freedom than I did!” she said. They finally became engaged but in September 1944 Ted had to join his new squadron in Calcutta. Fierce fighting was going on in Burma and Ted joined the fighting there flying his P-47 Thunderbolt. Sylvia was following the news closely and was shocked to receive a telegram saying Ted was missing, and later another adding, her fiancé was missing, believe killed. One evening in September 1945 the family was having dinner on the verandah, when her mother’s face turned white and she muttered, “I don’t believe it.” Hobbling up the driveway on crutches was a very thin and unsteady Ted! Everyone hugged and cried. “I was told you were killed in a plane crash,” Sylvia finally said.


“No”, he said, “I was thrown clear and picked up by the Japs.” Ted had been imprisoned in Rangoon then when the city was liberated he was evacuated on a hospital ship to Calcutta. He had a badly broken ankle that still required setting, so an ambulance had brought him to Bhopal. The surgeons told him it would be best for him to return to New Zealand for the surgery. Meanwhile Sylvia and Ted decided to get married in Ranikhet, on her 18th birthday. The couple left behind Sylvia’s family and sailed to New Zealand on the Glengole in November 1945. It was a dangerous time, with the ship sailing for five days and nights through one minefield. Sylvia and Ted settled in New Zealand and had three children together. Tragically in 1951 Sylvia’s pilot husband was killed in air crash in mid-Canterbury. She was left with three children under six years old when he was killed. “He was such a good dad,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Pamela Lewis



Steve Costelow, 75

Weary Dunlop Retirement Village


teve Costelow was born in Melbourne on September 25th, 1946.

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. “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.” The magnitude of what was about to happen hadn’t yet dawned on Steve. “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.” 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 fast-moving 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. 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.


“We didn’t have a choice – we were over there for our country, doing what we could.”

« “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 Ross McLay



Quin Rodda, 85

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 a 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’.


“I think like any soldier who’s been involved in war, you don’t want it.”

« “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 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 life-changing 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, 90

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.

Glossary AOS .............................................. Armed Offenders Squad A PH E ................................... Armour Piercing High Explosive

KWS M ................................ Korean War Service Medal LACW ................................... Leading Aircraft Woman

ATC .............................................. Air Training Corps

MBE .......................................... Member of the Order of the British Empire

ATS ............................................... Auxiliary Territorial Service CB D ............................................ Central Business District CM F ........................................... Citizen’s Military Forces CM T ........................................... Compulsory Military Training CO ...................................................... Commanding Officer D F C ............................................. Distinguished Flying Cross

NAN S .................................... New Zealand Army Nursing Service NZ ...................................................... New Zealand NZE F ..................................... New Zealand Expeditionary Force NZKVA ............................ New Zealand Korean Veterans Association NZOSM ......................... New Zealand Operational Service Medal

H M NZS ........................ His/Her Majesty’s New Zealand Ship

NZSAS .............................. New Zealand Special Air Service

H M S .......................................... His/Her Majesty’s Ship H M T ......................................... His/Her Majesty’s Transport/Troop Ship

P OW ........................................... Prisoner of War QSM ........................................... Queen’s Service Medal R&R .......................................... Rest and recreation

H Q .................................................... Headquarters J-Forc e .................... NZ contingent of the British Commonwealth Force that occupied Japan after the Second World War. K-Forc e .................. NZ contingent of the United Nations Force that served in the Korean War.


RAAF ..................................... Royal Australian Air Force RAF ............................................. Royal Air Force RAMC ................................. Royal Army Medical Corps RAN ........................................... Royal Australian Navy RCA F ..................................... Royal Canadian Air Force

RFA .............................................. Royal Freight Auxiliary

US ....................................................... United States

RM .................................................. Royal Marines

USAF ...................................... United States Air Force

RM S ........................................... Royal Mail Ship

USS ............................................... United States Ship

RN .................................................... Royal Navy

VA D ............................................. Voluntary Aid Detachment

RNVR .................................. Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

V E ...................................................... Victory in Europe

RNZA F ............................ Royal New Zealand Air Force RNZI R ............................. Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment RNZN .................................. Royal New Zealand Navy RSA .............................................. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association SS ........................................................ Steam Ship TA ....................................................... Territorial Army TSS ................................................ Twin-screw steamship UK ..................................................... United Kingdom

VJ ......................................................... Victory over Japan W/O ............................................. Warrant Officer WA AC ................................... Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps WAAF ................................... Women’s Auxiliary Air Force W RE N ................................ A member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service W RN S ................................. Women’s Royal Naval Service W W I ........................................... World War One W W II ..................................... World War Two

UN .................................................... United Nations UNRRA ........................ United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration

Stories of Service is a book filled with memories from our Ryman village residents who served their country during wartime. If you are a resident, or you have a relative who is a resident who would like to be included in the next edition, please contact your village manager.