Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Reflections on wars and all who served

Kiwis commemorate April 25 as one today, from the child learning about war history, to the World War II and Vietnam War veterans who saw fighting at close quarters, and the volunteer in charge of RSA refreshments

Former Wellington bomber gunner Pat Hickton with the French passport that aided his escape from occupied France. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Former Wellington bomber gunner Pat Hickton with the French passport that aided his escape from occupied France. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The World War II veteran

Pat Hickton's Anzac Day celebrations include a tradition that stretches back to 1948 when he first attended an April 25 parade in Palmerston North.

"I like to have a beer with a cold sherry in it," said the 93-year-old World War II veteran.

The widower, who is hard of hearing but recalls place names and facts from more than 70 years ago with ease, says he will enjoy a quiet drink and snooker with mates at his local RSA in Palmerston North where he will remember those who saved his life.

"For me Anzac Day has always been about freedom.

"There were people in the resistance who helped me get my freedom, some of them were children who couldn't have been older than 3 or 4 who were asked by the Nazis if they were hiding us."

The former Wellington bomber gunner with the RAF's 101 Squadron was on a mission on September 11, 1941, to shell an armoury in Turin, Italy, when shrapnel hit one of the motors and the plane's right propeller fell off.

The plane crashed in central France. Mr Hickton was the worst injured, receiving a large cut to his head.

After a two-day hike he was housed by the French Resistance for about three weeks in Morne before heading to Paris and then to Andorra, where the Germans caught him and threw him into a prisoner-of-war camp known as Fort de la Revere.

"It was hell but I was always going to get out," he said.

Mr Hickton was put in solitary confinement for spitting at a guard and lost more than 15kg in less than a year at the camp.

But he was determined to escape and did so "under the guards' noses" during scheduled entertainment with a group of others who traversed the camp's sewer. The small group encountered some "big rats" among the filth and had to break through iron bars to free themselves.

Again aided by the Resistance, he eventually made passage via a destroyer to Gibraltar, then Glasgow. He returned to NZ via England, to work as an engine driver.

The young boy learning about World War I in a trench


Michael Moloney. Photo / Christine Cornege

Michael Moloney, 10, is among the cubs who are learning how it was for soldiers who served in Turkey or in the battlefields of Europe at a time when New Zealand lost more young men per capita than any other force.

The children, aged 7 to 10, will today learn about the difficulties soldiers faced in the trenches at a cub camp after attending a memorial service.

Michael, a Rototuna Primary School student, said Anzac Day was important to him because it marked the day when Australian and New Zealand soldiers died fighting for his future. "It's important to me because we can say thank you to them," he said.

The Year 6 student first learned about Anzac Day a few years ago at school and said that is how he knew that it was the date soldiers landed in Gallipoli on a small beach now known as Anzac Cove where they were ambushed by the Turks and the Germans.

Paul Nimmo, who is a cub section leader at Chartwell, said he was trying to educate the young cubs about the soldiers who served in World War I and the hardships they went through.

Part of the camp he's running in Hamilton has his charges in a simulated trench environment.

"A lot of these kids don't learn much about World War I nor will many of them go to many of these places mentioned. So when they go to these parades they just don't know why they are there.

"What I'm trying to do is educate them about the people and what they went through, like living in a trench and that every action has consequences," he said.

"You put your head up in the wrong place and you could lose your life, you make too much noise and it could affect the rest of your platoon."

Mr Nimmo said the scout movement's founder, Lord Baden-Powell, was so affected by what he saw in the trenches he changed what once was a military preparation movement to one that was "purely for peace".

The Vietnam veteran


Evan Torrance. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Like his father before him, Evan Torrance says he felt a duty to serve his country.

A veteran of the Malayan emergency in 1959, Brigadier Evan Torrance was commanding officer of the Whiskey 3 company that was stationed at Nui Dat, Vietnam, in 1969 and 1970.

All the 130 troops under his command were engaged in active combat during the 12 months they were stationed in Phuoc Tuy province.

Mr Torrance said that when he attends the Anzac Day ceremony at Linton Army camp today, he would reflect on the sacrifices of not only the 37 young New Zealand men who died in the 1964-to-1972 Vietnam campaign but also those from many years before including his father Andrew, who lied about his age to his superiors and as a 17-year-old left Dunedin for Gallipoli.

"He made it out of Gallipoli and headed for the Western Front. He was gassed at Passchendaele but he recovered."

Mr Torrance, 77, says the increasing interest younger generations are showing in Anzac Day is heartening.

He says many realise that young men left New Zealand to fight in wars at an age when they would be completing NCEA level 3 or considering entering fulltime employment.

The volunteer


Deidre Rich. Photo / Dean Purcell

Deidre Rich, who is also the RNZRSA's national women's association president, has been busy for weeks ensuring meals are prepared for at least 400 people attending the commemorations at the Te Atatu RSA today.

It's a hard job but a labour of love for the Auckland Hospital general nurse, whose association with the RSA goes back to 1984 when she was in her early 20s.

After a march through Te Atatu and a service at a local park, returned servicemen and women will head back to the RSA for a meal and a chat with old friends.

"We do beef, lasagne, salads and tripe - we have five kilos of tripe and believe it or not people love it - it sells like hot cakes.

"There are 29 RSAs in the Auckland area and 13 out west and all of them will be doing something. If they're not doing hot breakfasts, the women's section will be serving hot refreshments or food. It's all about celebrating and remembering those fine men and women on this day."

The armed forces are in Ms Rich's blood with her dad serving in the Korea War, her brother in the navy and Ms Rich having a stint with the territorials.

She said there was a greater awareness of Anzac Day than when she was growing up.

"I personally think our children are more informed and have access to more information and more storytellers. You get RSA members going into schools and talking about it, certainly more than there were in my day."

She said RSAs had shifted with the times - probably out of necessity.

"Unless you were returned service, RSAs weren't open doors," she said.

"Today we don't have the numbers of returned veterans so they rely heavily on their associate members to be a part of their culture so more people are informed and have an understanding about it to ensure their feats can't be forgotten."

The former SAS soldier


Bruce Hill. Photo / Christine Cornege

Former Sergeant Major Bruce Hill oversaw deployments of top secret four-man SAS squads during the Borneo conflict in the mid-1960s.

The SAS second detachment, which was based at Labuan Island, was sent into thick jungle on highly dangerous reconnaissance missions that generally lasted 14 days as they scoped out what the enemy was doing.

Mr Hill, 82, said the soldiers were out of radio contact for much of their mission, they were also out of range from supporting artillery, had no air supplies and generally had to walk out by themselves.

"They were very much on their own but they were naturals because most New Zealand young men were comfortable in the bush and through activities like hunting at the time."

Mr Hill, who later served in Vietnam, will today join with other former SAS soldiers at an Anzac Day parade in Papakura.

He said the day was one in which respect was paid to thousands of New Zealanders whose lives were endangered in the conflicts the country has been involved in.

"We should respect that and I'm thrilled that in particular we are seeing more young people at the parades - it's just wonderful to see young families and children attending."

Mr Hill, who lives in Waikato, said wars were generally politically motivated and there was usually no moral reason for New Zealand's involvement.

"Very few soldiers sign up to join a war. Whether they believe it's a good war or a bad war they are not consulted and expected to participate," he said.

Asked why there was an increasing interest from the younger generations in Anzac Day Mr Hill was unsure.

"But it is wonderful because it wasn't so long ago that there were protests at Anzac Day, when the troops came back from Vietnam they were abused and those troops had no say in the war.

"They were told to go there by their Government and because they were professionals they did."

The student


Katie Budgen. Photo / Greg Bowker

For Katie Budgen, today is a link to family - and an opportunity for friendly transtasman rivalry.

"Essentially [Anzac Day] is the only connection I have to my great-grandfather," said the Mt Albert Grammar School head girl.

"The only memorabilia that I have is some war medals from him serving in the navy during World War I."

Ms Budgen, 17, will read a speech at a service at the Mt Albert War Memorial Hall today.

She said she would talk about why the day was still important, even though her generation had not known world war.

MAGS held a special Anzac assembly this year, and Ms Budgen said education was a way to ensure future generations understood the day's significance.

"I think we run the risk of it becoming just a holiday. But. especially if you take subjects like history, they are constantly reminding you about how our society is what it is [because of the wars].

"It is very acknowledged in education, so that we appreciate what people did for us."

Ms Budgen has spent the past couple of Anzac Days in Australia representing New Zealand at lacrosse.

"When we've done that we've worn the bands around our arms as a mark of respect."

After giving her speech tomorrow she will travel across town to Remuera's College Rifles to play in the New Zealand Women's Under 19 lacrosse team against Australia.

Both men's and women's teams have crossed the ditch to mark the centenary of World War I, with the first game starting at 11am.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 20 Sep 2014 15:25:32 Processing Time: 1029ms