Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

Old Kiwi battlers back World War II game

A New Zealand tank in action at El Alamein. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
A New Zealand tank in action at El Alamein. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

A video game that recreates the Battle of El Alamein has been backed by old Kiwi soldiers who want children to learn more about World War II.

Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein, a historical strategy game that lets iPhone and iPad players become either German general Erwin Rommel or Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, has been released on iTunes this week.

It recounts the World War II battle in the North African desert that began on October 23, 1942, and where the New Zealand Division played a key role in victory, helping push the balance of the war in favour of the Allies for the first time.

Players can either hold the line as the Commonwealth or push for Cairo as the Axis on detailed battlefield maps.

The game's release has been supported by New Zealand veterans.

World War II veteran John Wills lost many mates in the North African desert during the fighting.

More than 1300 New Zealanders died during the Battle for Egypt between June and November 1942.

More than 70 years on, Mr Wills has welcomed the surge in interest from youngsters wanting to learn about the war. As long as computer games aren't too "bloody", he thinks they can play an important educational role.

"Young people are pretty interested in the war these days. And if they learn from our past mistakes, then that's fine by me," said the 96-year-old from Orewa, who returned to the El Alamein battlefield site two years ago for the 70th anniversary commemorations.

"I'm not up with electronics or computers ... they came up too late for me, but I'm not against it, in fact I'm all for that. But they'll never get it like the real thing."

And that's probably for the best.

During Mr Wills' first combat action, a soldier in his unit had his hand shot off.

"He picked it up with his other hand, threw it away, and fainted. He died, of course," Mr Wills said.

Korean War veteran David Keys takes the same attitude as Mr Wills.

He said games like this are just the modern-day equivalent of toy soldiers. "It's amazing how kids can pick up pieces of history by playing such games. I'm a great believer of that," said 82-year-old Mr Keys, president of the South Canterbury RSA.

"The children of today are starting to turn back to the history of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They want to know the history and this is a great way of getting it across."

Returned Services Association national president Don McIver questioned the game's historical or educational value and added: "We would be concerned if the game showed disrespect for the part New Zealanders played in the battle."

Desert Fox: The Battle of El Alamein is produced by Shenandoah Studio and available as a Universal app for US$9.99.


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