A local veteran shares his reflections about his and his fellow battalion mates time in Malaya after he volunteered to fight in the Malayan emergency from 1959 to 1961. Sandra Conchie has talked to Dick Frew on the eve of his battalion's final reunion in Tauranga.
It is 60 years since local veteran Dick Frew and his battalion mates sailed from New Zealand as part of the Commonwealth forces fighting in Malaya.
But for Frew and his Second Battalion mates, the bonds they formed all those decades ago are just as strong today as they gather in Tauranga this week for their final reunion.
Today marks 60 years since he and his fellow NZ Army Second Battalion members sailed from Wellington to Malaya on board T.S.S. Captain Cook - the day before his 24th birthday.
Frew, 83, a former Tauranga RSA president, was among the more than 1300 New Zealanders who served in Malaya between 1948 and 1964, where 15 were killed.
British, Australian, Fijian and Rhodesian armed forces also served in the conflict fought between the Commonwealth forces and the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party both before and after the country's independence from the UK.
There were 600 soldiers in Frew's battalion, and more than two-thirds have since died, including at least four of his battalion section of 10 guys.
Frew said about 80 people were expected to attend the final reunion at the Tauranga RSA from November 6 to 8, including veterans, wives, partners and some widows.
Battalion members and family from several parts of New Zealand, including former Private Aiden Donner from Rotorua, along with at least one veteran from Australia will attend.
The reunion includes a special service at the Tauranga RSA cenotaph at 11am tomorrow and hundreds of poppies will be placed there for fallen comrades, followed by a luncheon and formal dinner.
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Frew said this last reunion was not only a "special" occasion but also tinged with great sadness.
"I once told my mother that the other nine guys in my [battalion] section were closer to me than my brothers. But it's true because we lived in each other's pockets and put our lives in each others' hands many times over," he said.
"When we see each other we always share the biggest hugs you could ever imagine. It will be quite an emotional reunion. Given our ages and frailties, we may never see each other again," he said.
A truck driver when he signed up, Private Richard Frew served in Malaya from 1959 to 1961 as a rifleman.
Frew said he volunteered to fight in Malaya because he was "young and felt absolutely bullet-proof" and wanted to "do his bit".
His mother was "very disappointed" and tried to put her foot down because seven of their relatives served in World War I alone including one who was killed during the Gallipoli landing and the another at Passchendaele.
Frew said the reality of what he had signed up for soon hit home.
He remembers being scared as they "hunted communist terrorists" day after day.
"We did deep jungle penetrations and could only see about 6 feet in front of us as we climbed steep hills in the stifling heat with our 120 to 140lb packs full of kit and food on our backs. My shortest tramp was 15 days and my longest was 17 weeks.
"We were wet through day and night and there were not only terrorists in the jungle but spiders, snakes, scorpions, charging buffalo and tigers," he said.
Frew said when he and other veterans returned to Malaysia in August 2007 for the 50th jubilee of the country's independence they were "treated like royalty".
"It was fantastic to see how the country has developed and flourish and to be recognised for the small part we played in helping turn it into what it is today," he said.
Frew said an inspiration on a Gallipoli memorial is indicative of how he feels about his battalion mates both alive and those who have died
"Greater love hath no man that he should offer up his life for others."