VIP treatment for Egypt veterans

By Michael Dickison

Government changes policy after outrage over Crete veterans' raw deal while officials got luxury trip.

Roye Hammond (left) and Bill Bristow fought at El Alamein 70 years ago. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Roye Hammond (left) and Bill Bristow fought at El Alamein 70 years ago. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Veterans returning to battlegrounds in Egypt for a 70th anniversary next week have been promised business-class quality flights, silver service and full care paid by the Government.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman says he will sit in economy behind them when he joins their flight.

The Government provisions are a change in policy following outrage last year over the difference in treatment between veterans of the Battle for Crete.

They received $2000 from the Government to cover the cost of their anniversary - not even enough for an economy flight - while officials flew business class and stayed in luxury hotels.

Twenty-four World War II veterans will travel this year to El Alamein on an 11-day tour - though eight days will be in transit.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 will stop at Darwin, Kuala Lumpur and Dubai both ways, spending nights at the cities in between relatively short flights.

Veterans Roye Hammond and Bill Bristow - both 94 - said the arrangement would be easier on them than longer flights all at once.

They said they were looking forward to reconnecting with other veterans, though their foremost memories of Egypt were flies.

They said they had been annoyed about different treatment standards.

"They go business class, and we go cattle class. They get five star, we get one-star hotels," Mr Bristow said.

"No matter where you go, you can't get away from that [in NZ]. The Australians are looked after properly.

"If the politicians have a whisky, the boys have a whisky.

"If they go to a big hotel, the boys go to the big hotel. Of course we should be doing the same."

Dr Coleman said the Government was now committed to flying New Zealand veterans to anniversaries with top treatment.

When the Herald asked whether he would have the same itinerary as the veterans, he said he would fly direct to Dubai on business class and join their flight there - and said the veterans would be the most well looked-after in the delegation.

"Am I getting an advantage flying there? You can't be serious. We're flying like this for their health reasons. If I was flying with them, you would be writing it's not a good use of a minister's time," he said.

"They're getting the best treatment we can give. Business class on a B-757 is as good as business class on any airliner. They will be given silver service, all top food - and they thoroughly deserve it."

During the anniversary of Crete, New Zealand veterans were forced to arrange their own itineraries.

Former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp and staff were flown business class and put up in top hotels at a cost of more than $26,000 to the taxpayer.

Australian veterans of the battle were flown by their Government which also provided doctors. They stayed at the same upmarket lodgings as Australia's defence and government officials.

A Defence Force spokeswoman said a medical and care support team, the Chief of Army and administrative and ceremonial personnel would also be part of a 70-strong delegation to El Alamein.

The anniversary day is October 20.

Desert campaigners

* The Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 was a significant Allied victory and the turning point in the North Africa campaign (1940-43), ending German hopes of occupying Egypt and gaining control of the oil fields of the Middle East.

* The North Africa campaign was the longest fought by New Zealand soldiers in World War II.

* Almost 10,000 New Zealanders were killed or wounded, and more than 4000 became prisoners of war during the campaign.

* More than 1100 New Zealanders are buried in the El Alamein Commonwealth War Graves cemetery - the largest number of New Zealanders buried in one cemetery outside New Zealand.

* Three NZ soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for their part in these battles - Charles Upham, Keith Elliott and Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu.

- NZ Herald

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