Special force soldiers patrolling dense Asian rainforests is the stuff of novels for most people but for a small number of New Zealanders it was a life or death reality.

Michael 'Wings" Williams was one of an elite force to serve in Borneo and Vietnam and his new book Shooting from the Shadows recounts his experiences.

"The book contains the official records of those patrols and I have added my own recollections which will be different from the memories of others who were there."

Williams says there is a saying about soldiers' recollections that "everyone was looking at a different tree".


"It's an individual thing - everyone remembers different aspects but the records are meticulous and I hope my personal recollections will help to make them relevant for anyone who reads it."

New Zealand's most celebrated special force soldier Willie Apiata has praised the SAS Vietnam veterans for paving the way and Williams says he felt the same about the men who led his own generation.

"I had a commanding officer named Fred Barclay who was leading us when we were choppered into the South Vietnamese jungle," he says.

"The Vietcong were ready for us and opened fire.

"Barclay was firing with one hand and with the other, he was calling the helicopters back on his radio."

They were out of there within 24 minutes and Williams says he does not believe anyone would have got out alive without the commander's utmost efficiency and quick actions.

Michael Wings Williams
Michael Wings Williams

The small special force, who all came back alive, was referred to as the "faceless 26" during the years of secrecy that followed the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Now that the veil has been lifted, Williams says he is offering his recollections as a "small glimpse" into this little known era in New Zealand's military history.


Just 22 when he went to Borneo, Williams said he found the jungle strange at first but came to love it.

"I really liked the big animals and how they would often sound a warning if the enemy was nearby.

"They were curious and I remember some little monkeys swinging along in the trees beside us and when one turned to look at me it missed the next tree.

"I probably shouldn't have laughed but it looked so funny."

Sometimes the enemy was just as close and Williams recalls a moment when he and another soldier were within touching distance of an antagonist who stopped beside them to light a cigarette.

"We heard him flick his lighter and puff on his smoke and then he started urinating.

"The droplets were spraying up and almost hitting us."

Williams and his publisher Bob Anderson of John Douglas Publishing say the book which contains many photos and maps is designed to have wide appeal.

Dr Rhys Ball, who wrote the synopsis for the book, says the stories shared by Williams are "part of who we are, and many of us have been waiting a long time to hear them".

Shooting from the Shadows will be available in Whanganui bookstores next month.