Anzac Heirs: A selfless lifetime of service

John Masters, 75, (right) laughs with Hariprasad Gurung, 76, during a reunion at Christchurch's Papanui RSA. Photo / Simon Baker
John Masters, 75, (right) laughs with Hariprasad Gurung, 76, during a reunion at Christchurch's Papanui RSA. Photo / Simon Baker

The first recipient of the Anzac of the Year, John Masters, has shown all the extraordinary traits the honour stands for.

The award recognises the efforts and achievements of a New Zealander, or New Zealanders, who best emulate the Anzac spirit "of courage, comradeship, commitment and compassion" – presented for a single act or a lifetime of effort.

Lieutenant Colonel John Milbanke Masters achieved both – serving his country in war and in volunteer work at home.

Now 75 and ill with cancer, his most-recognised single act of bravery took place in September 1965, on the battlefields of Borneo.

Gurhka warrant officer Hariprasad Gurung had fallen wounded with the
Indonesian forces fast advancing; all that stood between him and certain
death was a Christchurch army officer attached to the Gurkha battalion – John Masters.

Rather than fleeing for his own safety under heavy enemy fire, he helped Gurung – supporting and then carrying him – to the safety of thick jungle. The pair survived a harrowing night trying to find their unit, before Masters could search for a rescue party.

That feat of courage, compassion and endurance earned him the Military Cross and life membership of the Gurkhas regiment. But it would be another four decades before the two men met again – in an emotional reunion at the Papanui RSA last February.

A translator for Gurung said: "He still remembers the time when the colonel saved him. If it had not been for him, he would have died there and then."

Masters' humanitarian efforts would continue over the rest of his life. Over 27 years, he saw service in Malaya, Borneo, and Vietnam, where he was the seventh battery commander of the New Zealand Artillery Battery until they returned to New Zealand in 1971.

Even after his military career ended, Masters continued the fight
– for the rights of Vietnam veterans, for compensation for those affected by Agent Orange, for the Rannerdale War Veterans home in Christchurch to stay open, and a personal battle against cancer.

In 2002 he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Nominations for the Anzac Award were received from throughout the country, and RNZRSA national vice-president Barry Clark said Masters was
"certainly deserving" of the inaugural award. "It is difficult, nearly impossible, to paint a complete picture of John Masters that can do
justice to the service this man has given to his country and to the veteran community. His selfless lifetime of service epitomises
the Anzac traditions of comradeship, compassion, courage and commitment."

A PICTURE OF COURAGE
Feted Gallipoli soldier Dick Henderson and his donkey, Murphy, were the inspiration for the bronze sculpture presented to the recipient of the Anzac of the Year.

New Zealand Army artist Matt Gauldie dug deep into the story of Private Richard Alexander Henderson, a stretcher-bearer with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, who used donkeys to help ferry wounded soldiers down the cliff-faces at Gallipoli.

He had taken over the valiant role from Australian soldier Jack Simpson,
who was killed in May 1915, and used one of Simpson's animals, named Murphy.

The RNZRSA decided the Anzac of the Year award would recognise "the efforts and achievements of a New Zealander, or New Zealanders, who best emulate the Anzac spirit as represented by the story of New Zealand
Gallipoli hero Richard Henderson and the donkey".

Henderson, a schoolteacher, was later awarded the Military Medal for repeatedly bringing in wounded men under heavy shell fire at the Battle of the Somme.

The now-legendary image of Henderson and his donkey at Gallipoli was painted by Sapper Horace Moore-Jones, based on a photograph taken by a fellow NewZealand soldier. But Gauldie, the Army's current artist,
decided to create his sculpture from a different angle.

"I wanted to give it a touch more realism, to have them walking down a steep track with Henderson looking around – it would have been frightening taking the wounded through some very exposed places. The injured soldier has his rifle – he would never leave his weapon behind," Gauldie says.

The 70cm tall sculpture was cast in bronze at a foundry in Marton, near Palmerston North, and sits on a wooden base, carved with the Maori sign of the hammerhead shark, signifying Tumatauenga, the god of war.

The award will be presented each year before Anzac Day, with recipients receiving a bronze medallion with Gauldie's design.

* John Masters' moving story will be retold at 8.30pm on Mãori Television.

* The Donkey Man, the story of Richard Henderson and a donkey in Gallipoli, will be read by George Henare, in Ngã Purapura, at 8am on Mãori Television's Anzac Day coverage.

Send us your messages and memories of loved ones who have served in past wars or to people currently serving in the armed forces.

You can also post a message directly in the Auckland War Memorial Museum's official Book of Remembrance.

- NZ Herald

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