My father came to New Zealand, from his home country, Scotland, in the late 1930s. He worked for relatives on a station in the Hakatarmea Valley.
While there he joined the Otago Mounted Rifles as a territorial. When war broke out Dad enlisted with the 20th Battalion and went overseas to fight in Egypt and Italy.
He was badly burnt when a tank exploded and spent a fortnight in a saline bath. He was later taken prisoner but managed to escape and find his way back to allied troops. Dad was one of the soldiers described by Battalion commander Jim Burrows as those magnificent men after the break out from Minqar Qaim.
He didn’t talk much about what the war was like – but we do have a photo of Dad and four others which illustrates it: They were part of the company of 120 who started the battle of Ruweisat Ridge, and those five in the photo were the only ones left on survivors’ parade at the battle’s end.
When his active service finished after the Battle of Casino, Dad stayed with the New Zealand army and was posted to London as a driver. One night he was called to take Lord and Lady Freyberg to the Dorchester Hotel. The only vehicle available was a three tonne truck so he put a chair in the back for the General and Lady Freyburg sat in the cab. When he pulled up outside the Dorchester, beside Eisenhower’s car, the doorman rushed up to direct him to the tradesman’s entrance. However, Dad ignored his agitated “round the back Chum”, helped his passengers out and drove off leaving the doorman speechless.
After the war Dad sailed back to New Zealand. He was manpowered to the freezing works at Pukeuri where he worked 18 hour days, six days a week. Then he got an adult apprenticeship as a carpenter in Oamaru.
Dad died in 1999 and as I wrote on the earlier post about my mother’s memories, I have lots of questions I regret not asking him.