Veteran's memories still strong

By Zac Yates

Stan Wall has lived in Wanganui all his life except for between 1940 and 1945, when he served abroad as an engineer in the New Zealand Army.

The third eldest of nine children Stan and his four brothers wore the uniform - all five siblings returning safely after the war - and one of his sisters even served in the air force.

In 1940 he was due to be part of the 4th Reinforcements headed for overseas service but he had an accident at the furniture factory where he worked.

"Before I left I accidentally got stabbed in the arm by one of my co-workers and it got poisoned, so I missed out and went as part of the 5th Reinforcements instead.

"That was okay because otherwise I would've gone to Greece and Crete," he said.

Stan and his teammates in the Pirates junior rugby side all signed up together and headed to Trentham Military Camp for six weeks of training. After that he, along with 4000 other troops, boarded the Mauretania for Egypt.

It was his 22nd birthday.

During the next four-and-a-half years the young Kiwi soldier saw service around the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Palestine and Italy.

"We worked from daylight to dark. The food was lousy and the cook got sacked after we had a protest meeting. The next cook was much better, having worked in a Wellington hotel, however there wasn't much he could do with limited rations and goat's meat, which he told us afterwards he had to squeeze the abscesses out of before cooking it," he recalled.

As an engineer Stan performed all manner of tasks, from building a port near Cairo to minesweeping near Florence.

Another task at a quarry near Maadi Camp almost saw him get a "kill" on a friendly aircraft.

"One day I was detailed to destroy about 100kg of unstable gelignite. I took it out to a remote part of the desert, set a five-minute fuse and then hid in a hole about 100 yards away and waited for the explosion. Just then a Spitfire took off from a nearby airfield and flew directly over the pile at about 150ft altitude.

"Boom went the gelignite, and rocked the plane which promptly did a U-turn and came back to see what happened. If he had've been a bit lower he could have been knocked down and I could have claimed one Spitfire destroyed."

After he was discharged from the army as a Lance Corporal, Stan said he was offered an officer's commission but declined, and returned to work at the furniture factory. He continued to make and sail boats as a hobby with the Putiki Yacht Club and even continued to play golf until last year.

Having reached the age of 94 this month Stan doesn't go to the Anzac Day dawn parades any more. He no longer holds a driver's licence and his mobility scooter isn't practical to make the pre-dawn trip.

Instead of wearing his medals once a year, they are mounted in a frame in the living room of the house he designed and built, with official portraits and a summary of his service history, and he has found a way to share his story with his family after he's gone.

"My kids would always ask me to tell them about the war, and I decided to write it all down for them and their kids."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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