At dawn tomorrow in front of hundreds of Aucklanders, Theo Thomas will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph - and as he has done for 30 years, the World War II veteran will think of his dad who fought at Passchendaele.

It will be the 31st time the ex-airforce, ex-army and ex-St John corporal completes the simple act of remembrance on behalf of the ambulance service.

The 87-year-old will check for Myrtle, his wife, in the crowd just before his name is called, a little reminder that it was war that brought them together when he started writing to her via one of her cousins who was an airforce "cobber" of his.

He heard she was a looker and wrote to her to say that he was coming to visit once the war was over.


When he's called forward on Anzac morning the Papakura great-grandfather's thoughts will go to his dad Charles Weston Thomas, soldier 38624, a farmer from Okaihau in the Far North who fought in the muddy nightmare that was Passchendaele in 1917.

Five thousand New Zealanders lost their lives during the campaign.

Mr Thomas said his father and one other soldier, Ben Wood, another Northlander, were the only two to survive from their 12-man unit. But Mr Wood's survival was one of war's lucky vagaries. He was shot in the throat by a sniper and Thomas senior used his field dressings to stem the flow of blood from either side of his mate's neck.

Mr Thomas, who joined St John in 1948 in Kaikohe and worked his way up through the ranks from driver to retire as Auckland district superintendent, believes Mr Wood would have died but for his dad's quick thinking.

"My father always said it was the hardest thing he had to do, leaving Ben behind. That was at 5.30 in the morning - the stretcher bearers came to get him out in the evening. He [lay] there all day in the mud but he lived.

"I loved my dad. If you're not proud of your family you need to take a good look at yourself."

Mr Thomas served in the Pacific at Guadalcanal and Tulagi as an 18-year-old at the war's end. He unloaded and loaded planes and loves Americans - they were good soldiers and good men, he reckons.

He volunteered so he wouldn't have to wait to be conscripted.

Later after the war and after a break in civilian life he joined the army for 21 years.

Tomorrow, as for every other Anzac, is a special day for him.

"I'm proud to be a returned serviceman, you'll never hear me moaning about it. We were at war and it was about doing my bit."