Diary of Writing Italy’s Sorrow

Kaikoura, February 12, 2003
Today I met Bill McInnes at his home in Kaikoura. He was a small, wiry man, who wore nothing over his chest but an old vest. I got the impression he’d never talked much about the war apart from the odd anecdote to his family and he seemed quite surprised that I was interested.

It’s funny how you meet people. I’m in New Zealand on a family holiday, but to be honest, it’s not really the place to go with an eighteen-month old son. It’s such an outdoor place but frustratingly there’s a limit to what we’ve been able to do. Ned is too young to go whale watching so Rachel and I have had to take turns and go separately. Two nights ago I went on a ‘sunset horse ride’, which was very beautiful, but again, I had to do it on my own. But the leader of the expedition and the man who runs the horse-riding business was Pete McInnes, Bill’s son. We got chatting and he started telling me about his father and how he had served in North Africa and Italy. Do you think he’d talk to me, I asked? ‘Probably,’ Pete told me. ‘I’ll call him if you like. Ring me tomorrow.’

So that’s how I got to meet Bill. Like so many who answered the call, he’d never left his home town before he headed off to the Middle East. His memory was pretty good and there were lots of good anecdotes. One comment surprised me, though. I asked him what he thought of General Freyburg, commander of the New Zealanders in North Africa and Italy. ‘He was a bloody butcher!’ Bill growled. Freyburg has always been known for the care he took of his men, but I suppose as an infantryman you don’t see that side of your commander very often.

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