Bill McInnes
Pete, your Son, said that the family had lived around [Kaikura] for the last – since about 1840 or something, and I was just wondering if you could tell me something about when you were born and the size of your family and what your Dad did?
Oh, God, I was born here.
You were born in Kaikura?
Yep. Wife was born here too.
And big family?
Four. Two girls and two boys.
And where did you come in the pecking order?
In our family? Oh One, two – second. Two. Or three. Might be the third because my Brother, older than I, got killed in a car accident. I’d be the second one then I suppose, now he’s dropped out.
[Female voice] We’ve got four of our own.
We’ve got four of our own. Two girls and two boys. One’s Peter, yeah. He’s the oldest.
Yeah. And what did your Father do?
My Father was a contractor. He used to have horses and wagons. Cart the wool down to the wharf and all that sort of caper, you know? Cart anything to way out, to [Waidoru] and all over the place bringing the wool to the wharf. That’s what He did, He was a contractor.
Right. Kaikura in those days was basically just a little port?
[Laughs] Oh, yeah!
Bit different form now?
Pretty primitive then. It was very primitive. Yeah, it’s a bit different today.
Yeah. Big, booming tourist industry and
Oh, yes.
Peter with his horse tracking?
Oh, yeah.
Yeah, must have been a quiet little place?
Very quiet. I wouldn’t like to go back to it. If those whales go away we will! They’re the ones that’s holding it.
Yeah, that’s true. And a happy childhood? You pretty happy as a child?
Me? Oh, yeah. Happy as a king, yeah.
Plenty of stuff to keep you busy?
Oh, yes.
So what was the school round here? It was just like a..?
It was called [Abtownee] just down through the west end, the local High School, the town I went to.
Do you go to that, too?
No, no.
[Female voice] No, I went to [Hapooga].
[Female voice] The women’s school in Christchurch.Yes, but that school that’s the Primary now was the High School combined, one to seventeen, and then they established the High School just out country.
[Female voice] It’s grown in that way.
Right, right. But was it quite common for kids to be sent away to boarding school?
Well, yes it was, really. There was nothing else for ’em here. They just passed the six standard and they had to go.
So when did you leave school? When you were fourteen?
Oh, before that!
Did you?
Yeah, I got out of it! I left school early. I sat school cert and I missed it and I didn’t bother.
[Female voice] No, not school cert.
Yeah, school certificate then.
[Female voice] No, the proficiency.
Proficiency, the school cert, yeah.
[Female voice] That was standard six.
And I missed out on it so I said, “Right, I’m finished! So I didn’t go back to school so the Old Man said, “Well, alright, Boy, it’s behind the plough for you! So I went and ploughed with Him.
So you went into farming?
Yeah, farming for a few years, riding the horses.
So you didn’t start working with your father?
No, no. I was still working with my Father. Oh, yes. And then I went mustering, I was a musterer. Took two or three dogs and away I went.
Mustering sheep?
Was that the prime kind of farming round here at that time?
Oh, not here. I went to the biggest cattle station in New Zealand.
Oh, really?
Oh, right. So, it was cattle rather than sheep, was it?
It was cattle up there then. There was no cattle there when we were there.
Just sheep?
Oh, about twelve or thirteen thousand sheep.
Wow! Quite a lot.
Oh, yes. No, there was no cattle. And now it’s all cattle and no sheep. Yeah, Moltara. It’s a big cattle station now, the biggest in New Zealand. Run by the government, of course.
Yeah. So, did you know each other as children?
Yeah, Well, we did a wee bit.
[Female voice] No. Well, I lived away out in country and Bill lived in town. We actually met in hospital. I had an appendix operation and His Father was conveniently sick at the same time.
Oh, right. Was this before or after the war?
[Female voice] Oh, no. Before.
Before the war.
Oh, really?
[Female voice] We were engaged as He went to the war and then married a month after He came back.
Long engagement.
[Female voice] Five years.
Yeah, five years.
Gosh. So, when war was brewing, I mean did – were you called up or did you volunteer?
No. I volunteered.
You volunteered. And did it ever cross you mind, maybe, ‘what did New Zealand have to do with a war over in Europe?’ or did you just think, ‘Oh, Mother Country, answer the call to arms’.
Well, no, we didn’t really. I suppose I think you look at it like you know the country’s got to take some part in it, doesn’t matter what country it is.
Like, New Zealand had to get into it somehow, somewhere. I forget now how many thousand troops were over there from New Zealand.
Well over a hundred thousand. And a lot of pilots as well.
Hmm? Oh, yes. Well over a hundred thousand soldiers without the pilots, the Air Force.
It’s quite a lot, really.
Oh, no. New Zealand did their fair share. We lost a lot of men, of course.
Of course. Did you join up with some friends?
Yeah, there was four of us joined up.
All from Kaikura?
And did you talk about it beforehand, say, “Oh, I’m thinking about joining up?
Yeah, we talked about it one Saturday afternoon in the pub.
Really? It was as simple as that? So, had war already been declared at that time?
No. We were just on the verge and we were talking about it. It was 1939?
’39. So, you’re sitting in the pub saying if it happened..?
Saying, oh Cos’ us four blokes, we worked together, you see? And we got talking about it and one fella said, one of them used to call me ‘Gint’ for McInnes, you see? ‘Gint’. Used to call me ‘Gint’. “Why don’t we join up, Gint? I said, “Oh, I don’t know about that, I said, “I’ll think it over. So, anyway, we had a few more beers and He said, “Have you thought that over yet? I said, “Yes. Are you going to join up? , “Yes. I said, “Well, I’ll join up too. And the other two boys said, “That goes for us too. We’ll join up too. So, anyway, when war was declared we hopped in and signed the dotted line.
So, where did you go to sign up? Where did you have to go?
Oh, here.
In Kaikura?
And then we had to go to [Brennan] to be examined.
There was like an Army recruiting station?
They had a recruiting outfit here and we went to Brennan to be examined, you know?
Have the medical.
Medical, that’s just it. You go and I could tell you a little story about that too. When we went up to get examined at night because we’d been in the pub, the boozer before we went round to this place, and they kept us waiting for a long, long time, sitting there just waiting to be examined. Anyway, the old bladder was pushing a bit so, by God, we’re in this old building and there’s no toilets. So we looked for a toilet and couldn’t find one so, ‘What we going to do?’. “I dunno, Said my mate, “There’s only one thing for us to do. I said, “What’s that, Hec?. “We’ll have to do it in the sink there, that’s all. So, there was four of us and four of us took our turns at it in the sink and then pulled the plug out.
And you never got caught?
No! We didn’t care if we did! Anyway, we passed the test.
So, how old were you then?
Oh, I’d be, oh God, you’ve got me thinking now. I’m 88 in a couple of months time. I’d be about in my twenties, wouldn’t I? Oh, early.
So, you were saying that all four of you were working down here at that stage.
Working on the railway.
Working on the railway?
Putting the railway line through here, yeah. Down the coast here on the tunnels.
So you did a few things then before the war?
Oh, yeah.
So, what was the reaction here at home? I mean, were you okay about him…?
[Female voice] Oh, I didn’t really know He was out there until He was already signed up. I mean, in those day it was the thing your man did.
It was too late! I’d already gone and signed up and She couldn’t do anything about it!
Female voice] When they volunteered you were quite proud of them rather than thinking
Yep, yep. So while you were sorry to see Him go, presumably, you were proud that He was doing His bit?
[Female voice] It was difficult because He spent nearly twelve months in PT which gave Him two final leaves which wasn’t very fair because we thought it was final leave when they went. They came back and it was final leave again.
We were nine months in the islands, in Fiji.
Is that where you were training?
Yeah, in Fiji we went to train. Trained a bit in [Burnham] Camp down here and then half of the Battalion, they split the Battalion, and half of it went to Fiji.
So, sorry, what was the name of the battalion you joined?
26th Infantry Battalion. Half went to Fiji and the other half went to Egypt and we were in the half –
Is that because they were expecting you to be fighting the Japanese?
No, no. The Japs weren’t in there then.
No, I suppose they weren’t, were they.
Oh, no, they weren’t in there. And, anyway, we had nine months over there. They were having trouble there in India with the Indians and, anyway, we went there, these troops.
And the four of you were kept together, were you? You and your three mates from Kaikura were all kept together?
Yeah, we were all together in Fiji. We were all in the one outfit, this one platoon. And then after nine months we came back home and they gave us a fortnights leave and then took us to Egypt.
Where did you sail from?
Wellington. No, no, no, hold on. You’ve got me thinking. We sailed from Auckland for Fiji because there I am there. That bloke up there in the bottom photo. That’s me looking out the porthole of the boat. That was in the paper they used to have, The Auckland Weekly. Freelance, wasn’t it? Freelance? And there was a band playing on the wharf and I heard this band and I thought, ‘I’ll have a look at this,’ and I walked into this room there with a porthole and I’m looking out this porthole watching this band play. I didn’t see it, I didn’t see the photographer. Never saw Him at all. Anyway, He took the photo and that’s how it turned out. That’s one of the original photos, that one there.
That’s good, isn’t it?
That’s a few years old now. Yes, I think we did go from [Littleton] the second time, I think you’re right, we did.
And you said your farewells in Kaikura, did you?
[Female voice] Yes, yes. In those days girls weren’t allowed to go tootling around with friends to the sailing points. I mean, you could be seen.
No, no. So it was off in a coach or in a train or something? How did you get to Littleton then?
Just on train. Presumably on the railway that you’d helped build?
Oh, the railway was going down there but not here. From here we go on buses. We went on a train to Littleton, I think.
And your parents okay about you going?
Uh, well, my father was dead. My mother was alive. No, she didn’t say anything. Well, she couldn’t do anything about it anyway. I’d signed up and that was the end of it!
So, when you headed off to Egypt did you know you were going to Egypt?
You did. You’d been told that’s where you were headed?
Yeah, we knew we were going to Egypt. We had a couple-or-three scares on the way. Just watched the boat and the boat would go that way and she’d go that way, she’d go that way and a bloke, living on the bay now, another pal of ours, and He said, “Am I going silly? I said, “What’s the matter, Jim? , “Look at the water, He said, “She’s going that way then She’s going that way then She’s going that way, I said, “Yeah, I wonder why that is? We found out what it was. It was a sub poking around and that’s why you would go that way and then that way. Keep ‘em off the track, see?
Yeah. So how did you go? Did you go through the Indian Ocean and then up the Suez Canal?
Went up the Suez.
Went up the Suez Canal and disembarked…?
Port Tewfik, yeah. Port Tewfik. We got off there. Oh, we called into Perth going over and we had a couple of days in Perth and then straight to Egypt. Port Tewfik. That’s the place we went.
Can you remember any kind of Were you a bit apprehensive or was it almost a bit of an adventure?
Well, I suppose you could call it an adventure at the time, you know? But once you get into battle it isn’t an adventure.
It’s not, no. I meant really more when you first got into Egypt, you know, all that way over from New Zealand, presumably you’d never been abroad before apart from Fiji
Oh, we met fellows that thought they were going on a picnic, you know?
And can you remember when you got out there? I’m trying to think. If you joined up in ’39
’41 it would have been, yeah. And then we joined a division at a place called [Dargoosh].
So the New Zealanders were already out there?
Oh, they’d been in battle. Oh, yeah. They’d been in battle and we joined them at Dargoosh and then they had a bit of a skirmish there and old Mr Rommel, He pushed us back a bit.
So Rommel was already out there, had already got there before you arrived?
Yeah, yeah. He pushed us back to Alamein and there we stopped. Never went back any further than Alamein, we stayed there.
So, when you first got out there, I mean, because I’m trying to think about the crusader campaign where Auchinlech took the British forward again and then Rommel – and then there was [Sili Rizzeg] and all those battles – were you there in time for that?
Yeah, Sili Rizzeg, yeah. And what’s the port? Turek?
I was there right through that, all that. Right up until we hopped over to Italy.
Yeah. And can you remember when the fall of Tobruk happened, when you started to retreat back to the Alamein line?
You were in Tobruk, were you?
Yes, in Tobruk.
And what was your sort of role at that point?
Well, I don’t think we knew.
You just did what you were told sort of thing?
Just got to wait for orders and see what’s cooking. I don’t think they knew much about it. We saw the, we was up in the harbour there, they’ve got a bit of a harbour, and the Germans had been there before and all the boats, the boats had been sunk. There’s just masts sticking out of the water.
So it as a bit of a mess?
Yeah, it was a bit of a mess. Anyway, they soon pushed Him out of that and from then on He just went back and back and back and we couldn’t keep up with Him.
So, how did you make good your escape? Was it just sort of pile into trucks at this point.
Oh, all transport.
And just get going.
Yeah. So many to a transporter. Oh, you go hundreds of miles in a truck looking out the damn tail door.
And nothing to look at much, presumably?
[Laughs] Sand!
Just the sand.
The desert. That’s all you could look at. Nothing else to see.
It must have been pretty boring, mustn’t it?
You’d see a few Wogs now and again. Wogs, that’s Egyptians, we called ‘em Wogs.
Was it boring? It must have been quite boring at times.
Oh, I don’t know. You got used to it. If there was a stop on the convoy, convoy stopped and there was something the matter, right ho, if we were there for very long, what will we do? So, we took five gallons of petrol off into the sand and put the old thermos thing on top of that and boil her up and have a cup of tea.
That was something you always did if you ever stopped.
Oh, get on the tea. We were having a cup of tea one day, this was in Alamein, and a jeep pulled up and we were just about to have this drink of tea and the day before we’d received parcels, cake parcels from New Zealand and there was a store-keeper, Alf Lee, He used to keep the cakes up to me. Anyway, this jeep pulled up and saw this fella get out, “By God! I said, “Montgomery! Saw the black cap, you know, He wears a black beret. I said, “Montgomery, God! So He walked across, “Good morning, boys. , “Good morning, Sir. And one of the boys said, “Would you like a cup of tea, Sir? , “I wouldn’t mind, He said. So He stood there for a while, while one of the boys made Him a cup of tea. “Would you like a piece of cake? , “Cake? He said, “Where would you get that from? We said, “As a matter of fact a big consignment came in yesterday from New Zealand. Our parcel’s have been sent over to us. And, oh, yes, He said He would so He had a piece of cake. And at that time, just prior to that, there was a heck of a lot of beer coming in. There was truckloads and truckloads and truckloads of beer and they was dumping it all in the desert. Oh! There’d be five hundred cases in one dump and go a way along the beach, there’d be another dump of beer. And He stopped the beer.
Montgomery did?
And this mate of mine there asked why, He said, “Can I ask you a question, Sir? He said, “Yes, what do you want to know? He said, “Why did you stop the beer? , “Ah! He said, “You’re the first man to ever ask me that, He said, “I’ll tell you why I stopped the beer, He said, “When I stopped the beer I said ‘guns before beer’! And He said, “When I get the guns I want here in Alamein, you’ll get your beer back. And, by God, He stuck to His word. He give us back the beer!
Did He?
Yeah. It used to be Canadian beer. Come from Canada. Black Horse was the name of the beer. It had a big Clydesdale horse on the thing and I whipped a cap but I never brought back one of the labels home with me. And, anyway, “You’ll get your beer when I get all the guns I want. He said, “The guns’ve got to come in before the beer. See, I suppose, when you look at it there was a lot of beer coming in. Course, we used to go back and threaten – they used to put the wogs on looking after it, guarding it twenty four hours a day and we used to go back and
Try and swipe it?
Oh, bluff the old wogs away from the beer and get a couple-or-three cases and away!
So, what did you think of Montgomery?
Oh, He was a good man.
You thought so?
Oh, yes. Yes He was.
You mentioned Him but did you have anything to do with, did you have any opinions about, I don’t know, [Wavell] and Auchinlech and the guys before Him?
I never had much to do with them fellas. Old Monty was there most of the time. He did go away for a little towards the end there.
Yeah. He was doing a lot of planning, wasn’t He, for Sicily.
Yeah. Who took over from Him, now?
Was it Freyburg and Horrocks?
No. I can’t think now who took over from Him just towards the finish. No, He was a good man. He knew what He was up to.
Can you remember when Tobruk actually fell and everyone saying, “We’ve got to get out of here, and, “We’ve go to leave. Was there any sense of urgency or panic or was it just another order that you had to obey.
Well, of course, He pushed ‘em out of Tobruk.
I mean, did you know how serious the situation was?
Oh, yeah. We knew.
Were you worried at all?
No. There was no good worrying about it. Just take each day as it comes.
Yeah. It was all you could do. Because when we’d go on the booze – I wasn’t a great drinker but me mates were. I’d have so many and that’d do me – “Have another one Gint, have another one! , “No, no. No more for me! , “Come on, Gint, have another one because tomorrow you might die! [Laughs] Oh, heck. They used to say that. “Tomorrow you might die, Gint! Well, He did. He died.
He did, did He? Out there?
He got blown up at casino, got blown up to bits. It was a slaughter, that was.
Yeah. Absolutely.
Well, you imagine troops scrambling up the hill like that with these Germans sitting on top of you. God almighty, we were sitting ducks. Sitting ducks.
That was a messy affair, wasn’t it? Can you remember your first bit of action?
Yes, I can. That was in Where was that? That was the skirmish in Alamein, yeah. I can remember that. Our Colonel got killed going through the wire that night.
What, at the opening of Alamein, was it?
At Alamein, yeah. We were with the Battalion before Alamein. We got pushed back from Dargoosh, pushed back to Alamein. And He We stayed there
Were you involved in Alam Halfa? The battle of Alam Halfa?
No. What was that one?
That was at Alam Halfa ridge, it was before That must have been at the end of July ’42.
No. We wouldn’t have been in that. Might have been some of our other divisions. We weren’t.
And there were two parts. Because there was a – once everyone was back on the Alamein line – first of all, Rommel did a first attack I think in early July or something and that’s what’s now known as the first battle of Alamein and then there was Alum Halfa which was a ridge He tried to attack with His tanks.
Ruweisat Ridge?
Alam Halfa, yeah. And then there was the main battle which obviously was in October.
That’s the main battle of Alamein.
Yeah. Can you remember the whole build up to that battle?
Well, we laid in Alamein there in the trenches for weeks.
Were you ever doing little raiding parties and things?
Oh, yeah. You had to go out on patrols at night.
Yeah? What was that like?
Oh, It was alright. You have to get, our officer used to have to go and get tuned up and then He’d come back and tell us what was going on, “We’ve go to go on patrol tonight, and He’d say, “We’ve got to go a thousand yards, He’d say that, a thousand yards and see what’s out there. Right ho. So we managed to go through this minefield, we went through there and one of our blokes had a wire, a little thin rope and we had that from where we started off and that’s all he did was just carry this rope.
And then you’d use it to find your way back again?
Yeah. Get our way back. And even so we had compasses, Sergeant had a compass. When you got out a thousand yards there was nothing there! We waited there for quite a while. Anyway, one of our Sergeants, a country boy, Chapman, Clive Chapman, He would say, say to the officer, “What say we go on? And the officer said, He was new, It was His first time out and He’d come over to join us, a bloke named Bruce [Hayne]. He said, “Whatever you say, that’s okay with me, He said, “Cos’ I’m new here. You fellas have been through the mill and I haven’t. He said, “I’ll back you up if anything goes wrong, don’t worry about that. I won’t let you down. So, anyway, we went out and by golly, we could hear piano, accordion – Mum’s never heard any of this – piano, accordion going. ‘Christ! What’s this?’ So we sneaked up, sneaked up, sneaked up, got right up to ‘em and they had this bloke sitting on the back of a truck and I can see him now. He’s playing away. These other [gooks] are digging trenches and Bruce Hayne said, “When you give the word, Clive, rush ‘em! , “Right ho.
So these were all Germans, were they?
No, these were I-tis. Anyway, we rushed ‘em and you’ve never heard squeals and the roars and we managed to get one. First of all, before we went out there, orders was, ‘If you get an I-ti we’ll give you a, you get a six of beer,’ and if we got a German we got a twelve of beer. So, anyway, we didn’t get a German, we got an I-ti.
So you just stormed them with rifles and bayonets?
Rifles and bayonets, yeah.
So you were just trying to catch them not kill them?
Oh, no damn fear kill ‘em! I had a Tommy Gun I didn’t have a bayonet. I didn’t have a rifle that night, they’d given me the Tommy Gun. Anyway, we got one.
Killed him or captured him?
Captured one. That’s what we were after. So we got one bloke. Going back. Clive said, “Get out of this quick! Because we didn’t know what was back behind them blokes.
Yeah, of course.
So we got out of there and we’ve got this bloke and he’s lagging back, he wouldn’t go so one of the boys, another guy called Roy Allson hanging on to him, He said, “This so-and-so won’t come! He said, “He’s dragging the chain! He said, “Give him a bit of a prod up with a bayonet, He said. “Alright. Prodded this I-ti up with a bayonet, make him come up. We got home, got back to camp all right, back to the trenches, found our way back. Anyway, Oh! He could speak English, this I-ti, he said, “What the What are you going to do with me? I said, “They probably will shoot you, I said, “What? , “They probably bloody will shoot you, I said, “When they get you out. So we had to take him over to headquarters and left him, never seen him again. I don’t know whether they got any information out of him.
They wouldn’t have shot him, would they?
No! They wouldn’t shoot him, no.
So you were just trying to put the wind up him a bit?
Just trying to put the bloody wind up him, yeah. And we got a German one night, we went through the wire at Alamein and the officer we had at that time was no good.
Why was he no good?
He didn’t know the left hand from the right hand.
Really? He was a new guy, was he?
A new joker, yeah. He didn’t know. So, anyway –
Was he a New Zealander?
A New Zealander, yeah, a Christchurch fella. He was a schoolmaster. And we went through the wire and our Colonel got killed at the wire, by Christ, he knew, the old Hun knew we were going out that night and, by God, he pasted hell out of that wire, that gap where they cut a gap through the minefield.
This was the opening night of Alamein?
No, this was before Alamein. This was before it started. And, anyway, we had to go through the wire –
Because weren’t the New Zealanders quite near the top of the line? Am I right in saying that the New Zealanders were quite close to the coast in the line?
Towards the coast? Where? At Alamein?
Yeah. We had the Aussies on one side of us. They were next to the sea, the Australians.
And then you were next.
And then we were next.
Yeah, so they were cutting the line and you were going out on a raid with the Colonel..?
We were going out on a raid that night, anyway, we went out there and this officer, he put us wrong. And I said to Clive, the chap that was our Sergeant, I said, “That bugger’s going the wrong way. He said, “How do you know? I said, “I know because of the way our planes are flying over ahead of us, are going over, I said, “He’s going the wrong way. So we got to a hill and down through a bit of a gully, what we call gullies, they called ‘em escarpments over there. We went through that and we got to a hill and we were supposed to take this hill. So, ‘We’ll have to get it,’ and we got to the bottom of it, went through this wadi, got to the bottom of this wadi and my God! There’s a lot of slip trenches and there’s damn shells and things laying everywhere. The Huns had been in there before. So, “By God, He said, “We’d better dig in. So we dug in and two or three of us got into some of these holes that the Germans had already dug, we got in them. And all around us was shells, live mortar shells and all that laying around there. My God. And in the morning, we woke up in the morning – well, we went to sleep – by God, we looked out and here we could see the turrets of the German guns sticking up in the air!
Right above you sort of thing?
They were right out in front of us. I said, “I told you, I said, “I told you last night this bugger had made a mistake!
This is the teacher from Christchurch?
I said, “I told you he’d made a boob, I said, “Look at the Germans over there! At that time the Germans didn’t know we were there.
Because of this sort of escarpment in front of you?
Yeah. There was a bloke walking along the top of this hill just scouting and damn me if one of our blokes didn’t take a pot shot at him! That was the end of it.
Yeah. That’s not a sensible thing to do.
That buggered it. He never hit him, anyway. Never got him. Buggered it up and, oh! We just laid low and they pounded hell out of us all day.
Did they? Suddenly there were mortars, shells?
Mortars, shells and they were getting closer and closer.
So, these guns, you could see the turrets of them, how far away were they?
Oh, they wouldn’t be that far. About half way from here to town.
A few hundred yards.
You could see the guns sticking up in the air, you see? So we just lay there all day. Nothing to eat. No tucker. The cook’s truck never got through. He got dropped at the wire.
So how many were there of you in these German positions?
There was thirty four, thirty five of us blokes. Only the one platoon.
Just basically being pounded by these Germans.
Just one platoon of us.
But the whole platoon was sent out?
The whole platoon. We were there and there was supposed to be another platoon next to us but there was nobody next to us.
But presumably the point was that you were doing a raid, doing a patrol the night before?
Yeah. Anyhow, that sort of buggered that one up. That night, soon as it got dark, I said to Hec Tombs, He was there, Jimmy Lane, Jack Gould, all the local boys, we were all in the one platoon, you see? And I said to Gould, I hollered out to Gould from my hole, “As soon as it gets dark I’m going to make a bolt! And Gould said, “Oh, yeah. I said, “Yes! I’ll walk straight across that wadi there and I’m heading back. So, “Yeah, He said, “Good idea. I think I will too. So just before it got dark this bloody officer of ours, here he is, he had a white handkerchief tied on his bayonet and he’s waving and he’s waving and I says to Gould, “Christ! Can you see that? He said, “Yes! I said, “I’m not waiting any longer, I’m off! He said, “So am I!
So the guy was surrendering?
Yeah! He went to prison camp.
Oh, so he did surrender that night?
Yeah! He was waving a rifle like this with a white flag on top of it! And I said, “I’m not waiting until it gets dark, I’m off! So, right, away we went. And then, just prior to that, a motorbike – about three o’clock, half past four, three or something – a motorbike with a sidecar turned down this track. So, anyhow, the bike stopped just out in front of us, we’re all laying low and one fella took a bloody pot shot at him. Got him!
What, the guy on the bike?
No, he didn’t get the We got the bloke was riding the bike, the bike rider. He was a bloody German Colonel we’d just shot! We didn’t know that until after. We found out after. And our officer – other officers told us that it was a German officer we’d shot. We didn’t shoot him, one of our blokes shot him. We grabbed the bloke on the bike, see? And we got him and he was with us for a short time. He could speak English.
So he was sitting down in the slip trenches with you, was he?
Yeah, we had him. And I said, “How long have you been over here in the Middle East? “Two days! He said, “Only been here two days, He said, “Come from the other front.
What, the Eastern Front?
Yeah. “Our brigade came over. We’ve only been here two days, He said. And I said, “What the hell are you doing flying around here? Oh, this Colonel was wanting to have a look around, just have a look at the country, get his bearings a bit. I said, “He’ll get his bearings alright!
Last look he ever got!
Anyway, I said, “I’m off! As soon as I saw the white flag going.
So the guy on the motorcycle had been earlier in the day, had it?
When he surrendered?
No, when you took the pot shot and got the guy on the bike.
Oh, in the afternoon sometime.
In between the shelling.
It was just starting to get dark when we said, “We’re off! And we were out of the trenches and away running!
So, how many surrendered?
Oh, it was about five. Another Sergeant got caught. There was about five or six of ‘em.
Got caught?
That didn’t come away with us.
So the other twenty five, thirty got away?
Oh, yeah. All us Kaikura boys got away. One, Jack Gould, He got hit through the – Bang! With a bullet.
Through the hand?
When we were getting out, by Christ, the Germans could see us getting away but we got out of that.
Was that hairy? A bit hairy?
Oh, yeah. Christ, yeah!
So your stomachs going and your hearts pounding?
No, not at the time but later. It’s the next day you get it.
Yeah. So, anyhow –
So what happened to the German that you captured?
The German? We didn’t worry about him, we were thinking of ourselves! He followed us. He didn’t stop. No, he’s roaring out. He knew our names, we told him our names. I was Bill and Jimmy was Jimmy.
But what I mean is when your slightly useless Lieutenant or whatever he was surrendered –
Who, the Captain?
The Captain. Was the German prisoner with him or did he scarper with you?
No, we had him.
You had him? So he came back behind the lines with you?
We had him. Anyway, we didn’t want to be buggering around with a prisoner, we wanted to get out. Anyhow, we got out of it and we stopped to get out bearings, see where we were going and you could hear this one, “Jimmy! Jimmy! He’s roaring, this German. Jim said, “Bugger! He said, “What are we going to do with him? Shoot him or take him? , “Oh, no. You can’t shoot him, I said. “Oh! He said, “You fellas went away and left me! He said. I can hear him now, “You fellas went away and left me! He said. So we said –
This was the German guy?
“Do you want to come with us? So, anyway, we got away a bit and we just took our time then. We walked.
Still with this German guy?
He was with us. He stuck with us. He wasn’t going back to the Germans. “Oh, no, no, no, He said, “I’m going with you. What will they do? He said. I said, “Oh, they’ll put you in a prison camp or something. He had a bag strapped on his, a canvas bag strapped on his belt and I said, “By Christ, I’m going to have a look in there, Mate. What’ve you got in there? He said, “Oh, it’s just a couple of handkerchiefs. And I said, I whipped his hat off for a start. “What did you do that for? He said. I said, “The Germans have got a great habit of putting their watches in their hats, I said. They did too because that’s the first thing you do; grab your bloody wrist for a watch but they got wise to that and they put ‘em in their hats and I whipped it off to see if he had a watch but he didn’t have one. What he did have was a pen. A nice looking pen. And that was in his bag. And I said, “Oh! A pen. And, “Yes. He said. I was just about to unscrew it when, “I wouldn’t, He said, “If I were you! He was speaking perfect English, this German, only a young fella, too. “I wouldn’t do that, He said, “Unless you want to lose your fingers. I said, “What? , “Unless you want to lose your fingers, He said. “Alright, I said, “What’ll happen? He said, “It’ll blow your two fingers off. Your trigger fingers, see? Blow your trigger fingers off. And then after that another, further on, we used to see these pens lying in the bomb holes.
So they were booby-trapped?
Yes. Christ, you see a pen and you pick it up naturally.
So you never fell for that one.
You’d grab it. Oh, no. We knew! You see? We knew. One or two got caught with it.
So, that was before Alamein?
Yeah, that was before the big
So what happened to your Colonel, then? You were saying your Colonel got killed.
He got killed right as we were going through the wire.
And this, again, was before..?
Before we got started that night he got killed.
What was he doing out there, the Colonel?
Well, he was going with us. Colonel [Fiat] was his name. Colonel Fiat. A bloke from [Nelson’s]. No, he was going with us. The whole Battalion was going through, went through the wire that night.
Oh, really? How far before Alamein was that, do you think?
Oh, I don’t know. I suppose it’d be
A month or a week..?
Oh, It’d be three weeks, I suppose.
What were you doing, some kind of raid or something?
Yes. A bit of a slap-dab, see what was out there.
Right. But to send the whole Battalion through was quite a big deal, wasn’t it? That’s what? 700 men, or something?
Spread us out. Oh, hundreds. Three or four hundred men, yeah., spread out. And then the English blokes were along side of us. Oh! Another episode, another part of it –
So, sorry, what happened to the Colonel then?
He died. He got killed.
But how? Because the Germans started opening up, did they?
Which Colonel are you talking about?
You were saying that Colonel Fiat died.
Colonel Fiat? A bomb got him. A shell got him. A piece of shell got him in the throat and killed him. But I must tell you one about the Maoris in Alamein. We were dug in along side the Maori Battalion.
Was there a Maori Battalion then?
Oh, yes. New Zealand Maori Battalion, yes. And, anyway, not far away – I suppose about from here to the other side of the road – we were on the end of our outfit and they had a kerosene lantern because they had lights on the ropes. And there’s two of them, two ropes and two slip trenches, like that. Well, they’re laying on their backs and this fella here would pull the rope at night as soon as it got dark. The bullets they used to use, you could see ‘em coming. They never hit it. They used to sit there, backwards and forwards. Then they’d get tired of it and then they’d have a spell.
So, what was the point of doing that?
Just to annoy the old Hun, I suppose, I don’t know. But they had nothing else to do, just laying there, just, ‘You pull the rope, you pull it back’.
How funny.
Yeah. Of course, they had plenty of fuel. They could get plenty of that. That was a good one, that one, I thought. [Laughs] You had nothing to do, you see? Just laying there day after day, night after night.
But did you get the feeling that, you know, you were building up for the big battle? Did you know it was going to come?
Well, we didn’t know We had sort of a rough idea of when –
I mean, you must have seen supplies coming up and..?
Oh, yeah. There was cars coming up all the time
And tanks..?
Oh! Tanks coming over the top of you! I f your slip trench was going the same way as the tank you ran the risk of getting squashed. Fortunately our tanks weren’t so bad but those damn
Was it difficult building slip trenches in the desert?
Well, it was sandy, shingley – or sand, no shingle – but it was rocky. You couldn’t dig a deep hole. You couldn’t dig a hole.
So how deep would they be, typically?
A hole? Oh, Christ, you’d be damn lucky if you got underneath the surface of the ground. In some places you couldn’t. You had a pick and a shovel because we all had those.
So you must have felt a bit exposed sometimes?
You were exposed all the time. [Laughs] You were exposed all the time. It was a great experience but I suppose I wouldn’t want to go through it again.
No, I’m sure not. You were saying that you didn’t feel nervous at the time some of this was happening.
I’ll give you one that’s personal. I shouldn’t tell you this one but I will. I downed a couple of I-tis one night and I didn’t think anything of it. I just shot them. And it’s the next day it gets you. I was sick the next day.
Were you?
I was.
What, you felt bad?
Yeah, yeah. You’re just laying there thinking, ‘My God, I shot a bloke’, you know?
Was that the first time you had killed someone?
That was the first bugger I ever shot. I shot two of ‘em. I couldn’t miss them, actually.
I can understand that.
Oh, yes. At the time I didn’t think anything of it but it’s the next day. I got to me the next day and it got to most of them, too. You felt it, you know? After that you could go into a bayonet charge and think nothing of it.
Oh, well, you’ve done your deed for the day, sort of style, you’ve killed a couple and you’re right now, you can go and kill a few more, you know?
I suppose so. I suppose it’s like all these things, you get used to it. Because I always think of myself, I mean I’m not particularly squeamish but I wouldn’t particularly want to see bits of people but, I mean, after you’ve seen a few dead bodies you must kind of, I don’t know, get used to it somehow?
Oh, you get used to it after a while, yeah. Oh, yeah. You just take it for granted. That’s your job. That’s what you’re there to do. And you’ve always got to keep it in your mind, or I did anyway, if you don’t get him, he’s going to get you.
Yeah. That’s the way to think about it, isn’t it?
You see? You’ve got to keep that in the back of the old head.
Did you ever worry about getting injured or getting killed yourself?
I got hit. I got hit, yeah.
Oh! Look at that!
Look at that. See that joint?
What happened there?
[Female voice] The grandchildren love it.
I’ll bet they do!
Oh, yeah. They like it, yeah. Uh, I-ti shell. The bloody I-tis had shells that land, they’d go off about ten feet off the ground and that was going round, oh, that Alamein line – not Alamein line, [Ziegfield] line, was it? One line, anyway. You had to go right round the outside of it.
Would that have been the Mareth Line?
Mareth line, you got it. You couldn’t go through it. You had to go round it.
Yeah. On the edge of Tunisia.
You had to go right round it and he had it pretty well guarded, too. Anyway, that’s where We’d stopped and, God, these I-tis. Pelted hell out of this place. Anyway, these shells – I said to somebody, “These are getting a bit close. I’m going to move out of here, get the hell out of here, I said. So, old Clive Chapman, He was there, “Yeah, we will.
He was your Sergeant?
We were going to – yeah, He was a Sergeant – we were just about to pack up and move out of it, shift around the corner somewhere over the road. Anyhow, this bloody thing went off about ten feet above us, just out in front of us, it was. I could see the bloody thing coming.
Could you? You could actually see them coming through the air, could you?
Oh, yeah. You can’t hear ‘em. You can hear the ones coming. They’re alright. They’re going over here. Don’t worry about the ones that you can hear. It’s the buggers you can’t hear! They’re the ones’ll get you! Anyhow, ‘Jesus!’ The bloke next to me went down. ‘Christ almighty!’
He died, yeah. He got it in the throat. He got a big lump of shrapnel. He didn’t die there at the time but he died later on. Anyway, another fella, he got smacked along a bit from me and I was looking at him and he said, “Oh, Christ! You’re hit, Gint! So, I said, “No, I’m not hit. So, “Yes, you are, He said, “Where’s all that blood coming from? I put my hands out like that to look at my battle dress and, Jesus, blood all down my battle dress. “Oh, look! He said, “You’ve got no bloody finger! They’ve cut your finger off! And I looked, “By, Christ! They have, too! First thing I knew about it!
Never felt pain?
No. Never felt pain. Not a thing.
How amazing.
Not a thing. Bloody thing was that hot!
Just seared it.
It burned, yeah.
And probably quarterised it?
It did, yeah.
So you went off for a dressing?
I went back to hospital with it. Oh, Christ I was out for a good I was away for six weeks or more, back in the hospital. No, they never done anything to it. I thought they might have taken another bit off it but the old Doctor said, “No, leave it alone, He said. “It’ll come right, He said. I get a bit of a pension for that.
Do you! Very good.
I get a few bob. I forget what it is. Ten dollars a week, or something.
How amazing.
Oh, you had some good times. God! Going into Cairo one day –
I was going to say, you get a bit of leave off.
Oh, yeah. You got into base camp at [Mardi], oh, you can get leave, anything, every day if you wanted it. You go, it was about ten miles into Cairo to camp. It was a mile-a-minute, the train. By jeez, that used to go. Anyway, we went in one day and we get off this train you could catch the old Wogs with the [Garys], you know, the Gary carts. So, we got on – there were three of us that day – we got on this Gary. “Where to? He says. “Kiwi club, We said. A New Zealand club in Cairo. “And hurry up! We wanted to get there for the beer sessions and the beer sessions were only on for about an hour or something, you see? So that’s alright. He’s jogging along quietly. Just before we got round the corner I could see these two buggers of mine, they jumped out the side. The old Gary was jogging along quietly. Hec jumped out one side, Bob Miles jumped out the other side and I’m sitting there. ‘By Jesus, you buggers! You’ve left me to pay!’ That’s alright! Next thing I see the whip go. By George, this is a long whip! Got this bloke right round the neck with this little lip he had at the end of the whip. Got him round the neck then he pulled old Bob off his feet!
Was this the Gary driver?
The Gary driver, yes! By jeez, this thing just whipped this thing round old Miles’s neck and stopped him because this guy wasn’t going to be beaten for his pay. I’ll never forget that one. Oh, neat as you like! Oh, gosh, they were good at it! I suppose soldiers jumping out when they got to their destination. Just jump out and go! But they got the knack of this whip, curl it round the neck.
So, it was always quite fun going to Cairo, was it? It was quite a laugh?
Oh, you only went in there for one thing and that was to get the booze. We got in there one night, one afternoon, and we got in for the two-to-three for the beer. Got the beer. We got a dozen beers. I mean, we were drinking there, it was, oh, Bob Miles, Jack Gould, Hec and Tom Tombs were all there. Anyway, the beer ran out! So the old Wog came along, “More beer! So, “No, no. Sorry, Kiwi. No beer. Finish beer, He said, “Finito! Finito! Finished beer. Right ho. So Miles said, “Got any whisky? He said, “Yeah. Yeah, “So go and get us a bottle of whisky. So away went the old Wog and came back with a bottle of whisky. So, I said to one of the others, [Dowzel], Sonny Dowzel, “I’m off. I said. “Yeah, He said, “I’m going too. And, “Where you going? Miles said. “Oh, we’re going shopping. I said, “By God! I’m not stopping here with him when he gets on the booze, gets on the whisky. We left him! And Hec, they tootled off and left Miles on his own. So, anyhow, we went home that night, back to Mardi.
So, you’d go back to Mardi every night, would you? You wouldn’t ever stay in town?
Oh, no. Christ, you had to go back. You’ve got a pass. A beer pass. You had to be back.
Anyhow, we were back there before midnight and no Miles. Got up in the morning and, hello, no Miles. So I said Harold, Dowzel, I used to call him ‘Snow’, I said, “I bet the bugger’s in jail! , “What makes you think that? Said Harold. I said, “I bet you the bugger’s in jail. We went down for breakfast and the Sergeant-Major came along to say, “Would you go into the Pommie jail? Get a truck, He said, “And go into the Pommie jail and pick up -“ , “- Miles! I said. “How do you know? He said. I said, “Oh, we guessed. I said, “We left him with a bottle of whisky. , “Aah! Is that what’s happened, He said. So, yeah, that’s alright. I went in and when I went into this English Jail, I shouldn’t call it Pommie.
No, that’s alright.
Anyway, “Where’s your guards? He said. I said, “What? , “Where’s your guards? I said, “What do I want guards for? He said, “Haven’t you come in to get a prisoner? I said, Yes, I have. A bloke by the name of Miles in here. , “Oh, Chum, he’s dangerous! He’s a dangerous bugger, that! He said, the Colonel said to me. I said, “What? , “He’s a dangerous bugger, that! He said, “You can’t have him. You should have got a guard, He said. “Go on! Look, I said, “I know the bugger backwards, I said, “We lived together in Kaikura back in New Zealand, I said, “No, you hand him over, I said. “I’ll take responsibility of him getting away. He won’t get away. He won’t go. So, anyway, they brought him out, here he is, pulling up his short pants. No laces in his boots and hanging onto his pants. I said, “Where’s your belt, Miles? , “Oh, the buggers took me belt, they took me bloody laces for having a drink! I said, “They think you’re going to hang your bloody self! He said, “I don’t know what they thought, He said, “But they took my belt, took my laces!
The guards there? The people at the prison, the jail people?
Yeah. Anyway, they let me have him and he said, “A bit early for the boozer, He said. I said, “Yeah, it is. , “Will you wait? He said, “By Jesus, He said, “I’m dry! So, I said, “I suppose you are after last night, drinking all that bloody whisky. So, I said, “What happened? Why did you get into [jug]? , “Well, He said, “What would you do if you’re walking down the street, He said, “And you’re interfering with no bugger, He said. And he said, “And a Redcap come up to grab you, what would you do? , “Oh, I don’t know, I said, “Take a swing at him, I suppose. He said, “That’s just what I did. Well, He says, “What I did, I can remember it now, He said, “By Christ, there was Redcaps there for miles! He said, “The buggers come from everywhere! , “Did they? He said, “They were all over the place! He said. So, anyway, took him in, handed him over to the Sergeant-Major and said, “He’s over to you now, Robbie. , “Right ho. He said. So, “Oh, He said, “You’d better get a couple of blokes. You’d better come down, He said, “Get your web gear on, He said, “And march him in to try him. Go before the Colonel. So that’s alright. I got my gear on. Another bloke got his gear on and we marched old Miles in. The Colonel was there, reads out the charge, “How do you plead, Miles? He said. “Not guilty, Sir. , “Well, He said, “It’s a serious charge. , “Not guilty, Sir. Sir, He said, “You put it this way: He said, “You’re walking down the street, And he said, “And a Redcap took a swing at you, what would you do? The Colonel said, “Oh, I don’t know. I think I would retaliate. He said. Well, Miles said, “That’s just what I did! Then, He said, “They swamped me! There was too many of them, He said, “They come from everywhere when the whistle blew! He said. “Case dismissed! He said.
And that was that?
How funny.
“Case dismissed!
So, was Miles his first name or his second name?
His second name. Bob Miles.
Bob Miles.
He only used to live round the corner from me. Just down the road here.
How funny.
[Female voice] He died through drinking.
Drink! Oh, he was a big one for it. He got on the whisky and that was the end of him.
Oh, we knew that, see?
[Female voice] He was driving over the bridge and he veered off.
Took his head off.
[Female voice] an Australian hardwood um
Running rail. The running rail on the bridge.
That was after the war, then?
Oh, yeah. That was after he come home.
That’s a shame.
Oh, we had some good times but, yeah
So, what can you remember of the main battle of Alamein? Can you remember the battle starting and the barrage?
Oh, you just go in and hop into it and then that’s all there is about it. You just keep that in mind, ‘If I don’t get this bugger, he’s going to get me,’ sat out in front of you.
But it was pretty I mean, the New Zealanders were right in the thick of it, weren’t they?
Oh, I don’t know. I suppose you just take it as a job, really. You’re there to do a job.
But can you remember the barrage starting and all that? The barrage?
The guns? Oh, Christ, yeah. We were underneath them. Oh, hell, yeah. They give it hell.
It all started at night didn’t it?
Yep, they gave it hell that night. The planes were going all night as well. But they pounded hell out of us before we even made a start.
Did you think there’d be anything left by the time you got going?
I knew that they were still there, one of them.
Did that surprise you?
Yeah it did. The guns, by Christ, they went all night. Never stopped. Monty was right. He got his guns, and he’d said we’d get out beer, and we did.
You got used to the rations in the desert and the flies and everything?
Yeah, you got used to ‘em. The rations weren’t bad. We used to get New Zealand meat.
You’d get parcels?
Yeah – the meat was black, wrapped in cheese cloth and you could see it was black.
Did you ever send anything over (Speaking to wife)?
Yes, my mother used to send parcels from ?
That was a department store was it?
Yes, you could send packages, you gave them so many dollars, we tried to send them all the time.can’t hear her very well.
Did you get letters back?
Yes (her).
Occasionally, but there’s nothing to write about (him). All your letters were censored. You’ve got to go to the officer and he’s got to read all your letters. You couldn’t say anything. It was damned hard to write a letter home.
Did the 4 of you who joined up in Kaikoura all survive the Africa campaign?
Yep, but Hec got killed in Italy, well no, he actually died in New Zealand. It was the first full military funeral in Kaikoura. It was enormous.
What was his name?
Hector Toombs. “Drink up Gint was his phrase “because tomorrow we might die.
Wife talking – Hector’s mother had 3 boys in the war. She lost the first one, killed in action, then Hec came home and died of his wounds in Wellington hospital and the other son was due to go to the front. So Bill and some others went to the Colonel and said “Sir, it’s too much for any mother to bear, and he agreed and they got him out.
Bill talking – We knew hec very well. His mother was a widow. They pulled him out.
Things must be very confusing in the heat of battle.
Yes it is, but you get used to it after a while. You have a job to do and you’ve got to do it and that’s all there is to it.
Did you get a sense that you were winning the battle?
You just didn’t know. As long as we were going forward, we felt we were alright. We weren’t going backwards anyway. We took a ridge – the last campaign in the western desert. We had to take a hill, and they didn’t think there was much there, so this officer, Bruce Haye, he led us and we got on top of the hill and there was no-one there. “This is alright Gint he said “No-one here so we dug in and in the morning we took a look around and Bruce came over and said “I’ve got a job for you Bill (Toombs), the one who got killed just after. “See that little knoll just there? There’s 2 dead Ities. I want you to go and bury them. “Bugger that said Bill. “We don’t know how long we’re going to be here and we don’t want those buggers stinking the place up. Go and dig a hole and bury them. Bill and I got shovels and we’re digging away and then thump, thump, thump and I looked across at Bill and he’s putting the boot into these Ities. I said “What the hell are you doing? He said “Well, the bugger hasn’t got the burial fee.
Can you remember the advance across the desert and chasing Rommel out of North Africa?
Once he was on the move, he kept moving back and you couldn’t keep up with him.
Can you remember all the towns falling and Tripoli?
Was there a good atmosphere?
We got into Tripoli and there was a big warehouse there. The Hun was there and we went in one door and the Hun went out the other, the back door and we got a lot of stuff, serviettes and table cloths.
And this was just a big warehouse?
Yeah, I sent it home and we’ve still got it somewhere. 2 of the serviettes had blood on them, German blood, one of them must have been hit but he wasn’t dead when we got in there. Yeah, we ransacked that place. Then we went into a saddlers shop.
Were there any civilians around?
Oh yeah, there was wogs around, and we were in this saddlery shop and there was this bridle, it turned out to be the sort the mounted police had, and I sent it home. Peter’s got it.
Did you just take it or did you have to pay for it?
Oh Christ no, just took it.
The spoils of war?
There was a bloke who died about three weeks ago in Blenheim, named Wacko Anderson. He was transporting from one side of Italy to the other over the Appenine mountains, carting sugar, tea, and he was selling it on. Christ he made a lot of money and put it in a bank over there and come home and he was home a few months then he went back to Italy to see if he could get that money, and he did. Then he goes to England and bought a taxi and brought that out to NZ. He had a farm up the valley here. Real rough diamond he was, a good fellow but by God he was a hard case and he’d say “The fowls go and lay their eggs on the seats – why don’t you come up sometime? I said “I might do that one of these days Wacko. “Bring the wife with you, but tell her it’s no palace. I was walking down the street in Blenheim one time and heard a roar “Gint you bastard he roared. He stopped his truck – he had a load of coal on and stopped in the middle of the street, came over and took my hand. I said “You’d better shift the truck He said “Oh Christ, their alright! By God he must have made a lot of money, but he never got caught. It’s a wonder the army didn’t catch him, but they didn’t.
Was there much of that sort of thing going on?
Oh yeah.
Everyone wanted to get a Luger to sell to the Americans didn’t they?
Did you do that?
No. I had 2 of them and I was going to bring them home. I had a pair of German navy binoculars, got them in Tobruk.
Was that coming back again?
Yeah. Got the 2 lugers..
Did you buy them or pick them up off..
We got into a sort of warehouse and there were German guns, cases of them,  they just left them there. Meersa Matruh, that’s where I got the 2 lugers, all greased up in cases. Just helped ourselves. We were coming home and Jim Riley, our officer, he went down to get all the dope (?) on us and came back and said “If any of you’ve got loot, and I know you’ve got it, I’ve got some myself, if you get caught with it on the boat, if you’re gear is opened up and they find it, you won’t go home. You’ll stay in Cairo. I thought bugger that, what do we do? Go to Cairo and sell them off.
This was after Italy?
Yeah, back in Cairo. So I thought I’d sell the guns and binoculars. We got enough money.and when we got home we were coming up to the wharf in Littleton and a bloke alongside me was giving me the elbow and “what the hell’s wrong with you? I said. “Look to your right, look to your left and look behind you. Every bugger had a pair of binoculars except us! Christ..!
Did you come across the Americans in Tunisia?
Yanks? Oh yeah.
Did you form an opinion on who made better soldiers?
Well, that’s a dicey one. The Yanks, they had the equipment, right from the word go, but they didn’t know how to use it.
What were they doing wrong do you think?
They didn’t give a damn. As long as they were shooting, they didn’t care. We were going up to Casino and got held up and just over the bank from us was a Yank gun. So we boiled a billy and had a cup of tea and there was no sign of movement so we thought we’ll go and
have a shufty at these Yanks. We went down over the bank and watched these fellows shooting. “What are you shooting at? we asked, “Oh, I don’t know Kiwi, they’ve landed on that hill there that was the back of Casino, and the monastery on top of the hill, “they’re landing on the back of the hill there somewhere, we don’t know. and they were firing, just blazing away. They had good gear and good clothes. You wouldn’t call them first class soldiers.
Do you remember coming across them in Africa?
Yeah, we met them in Africa.
When you met them in Africa, you were an 8th Army boy, come into Tunisia, were you pleased to see the Americans?
There was one time, we were taking over from them
In Africa?
No, actually this was in Italy. These Yanks knew we were taking over from them but they left their post. They never waited for us to arrive. They stopped and had a yarn and we said “What’s it like up there Yank? and the answer was “Well Kiwi, it’s no damn good. We’ve been up there and for the last 10 days we aint had Coca Cola or gum!
The New Zealanders were involved in quite a tough fight right at the end of the Africa campaign.
There were one or 2 tough fights. They were all tough I suppose.
But you still had all your mates, still together.
Oh yes.
Just to go back, can you remember when you heard about the Axis surrender in North Africa.
Where were we? We were on our way back to Egypt, Trieste we were at.
Before Sicily I meant, can you remember that, the end?
Well, there wasn’t really an end to it as far as I could see. We just kept on moving and he was going backwards. He’d left the western desert. He’d gone. Chased him right up the coast. The Po River, that’s a mile wide and we had a bailey bridge over there. The old trucks were down in the water and when you get out in the middle..I’ll never forget that river.
After Casino, Spring 44, can you remember going up towards the gothic line? Any stories?
Not a hell of a lot no. He was on the move back all the way, even in Italy. He never stood and had a fight, he was on the way out.
By that stage, you’d been in front line action for pretty much 3 years by that stage. Weren’t you getting fed up with it?
I suppose we were. There were 2 boats at Port Tewfik, one going to England, one to New Zealand and a bloke said to me “I’d get on the one going to England. I said “I wouldn’t. I’d get on the home boat. He said “I want to go to England. No right from the start, the way I saw it, once they got him on the move from Alamein, there were a couple or 3 stops on the way but he was still on the run, and he knew it, knew he was buggered. We couldn’t keep up with him, he was going back that fast. We were the first troops to land in Italy, the New Zealanders.
It got pretty bleak in the winters up there didn’t it?
Oh yeah, very cold.
Did you ever get ill?
No..going back to those Yanks, they had good gear by Christ.
Did you ever get your hands on any?
I’ve got a Yank blanket in there. Brand spanking new it was. They had a mobile shower unit set up a few miles from where we were in Italy and they said that the New Zealand unit could use it and it was like a flock of sheep going through. You put all your gar in one bag and tie the top and leave it. You go out, like sheep, underneath the shower, which was good then you go out the other end and there’s all the clothes laid out, shirts, singlets, jerseys, all laid out brand spanking new, and blankets, that’s where I got the Yank blanket from. Never been used. I put that in the bottom of my kit bag and there it stopped and I got that home. No, they did have good gear and they had this meat called Spam. Compared to our bully, it was great. We used to swap, the Yanks liked our bully and we liked their spam!
Can you remember passing through Italian towns – it must have been strange having fought against them, suddenly they are your allies.
We passed through several towns as we went up the east coast. Most of them, they were knocked about a bit.
Did you have much to do with any Italian civilians?
They were alright I suppose.
Didn’t have much to do with them?
No, not a hell of a lot.
As I understand it, one of the problems you faced was that one minute you’d be up against some crack SS Panzer division and the next up against some Rumanian conscripts, so you never knew how tough he opposition was going to be.
Oh Christ, there were some good Panzer divisions, they were tough men some of them.
By the end in Italy, the Germans were committing some pretty appalling atrocities in Italy, murdering innocent civilians, did you ever witness any of that?
Well, I’ll you this although perhaps I shouldn’t. In the desert we came across 3 Greek girls, prostitutes for the German army. One girl showed us they’d cut the nipples off their breasts. We said “Who did that? “The Germans.
So they couldn’t feed any kiddies. We said “How did you get away? They left when the 8th army came in and started to push them back, they didn’t want, weren’t going to be bothered with these girls.
So this was after Alamein?
Yeah. These 3 girls were just wandering around in the desert, lost.
You rescued them?
Well, some of the fellows were talking to one who could speak a little bit of English..the Germans had brought them over from Greece.
But did you see any atrocities to civilians in Italy?
The Ities didn’t want a scrap. They weren’t good fighters.
On the gothic line, the SS massacred something like 1600 people, women and children
One night, the Maories at Meersa Matruh, the whole New Zealand division was surrounded
After Alamein?
Yeah. The army got caught napping and they whipped round behind us. Friberg set the Maori battalion to cut a line through so we can get through. They were ruthless buggers those Maories. Suddenly you could hear the Germans screaming Kamerade, Kamerade! That’s surrender. And ? said “Sorry mate, no Kamerade tonight! In with the bayonets. They weren’t going to take prisoners. These were the Maories. Bang, in go the bayonets.
So, you escaped?
Yeah but Friberg went out in an ambulance. The Germans inspected it apparently. Opened the door, Friberg was laying back in there, they shut the door and let him go.
I haven’t heard that one before. Lucky escape. Can you remember Churchill coming out?
Oh yeah, the bugger cost me ten days pay!
How come?
They were to march us 10 miles, that was in the desert.
Before Alamein, about August 42.
Round about Tripoli somewhere I think. They were going to march us 10 miles to do a march past for Churchill and I said “Bugger Churchill. There was a sergeant there and he said “Same here and this chap Bob Stacey he said “Nor me and they all went away and we didn’t go. We were on the mat the next day. They couldn’t take any stripes off me because I didn’t have any at that time, so I got fined 10 days pay. Bob Stacey was taken out in front of the battalion and stripped him of his 3 sergeant’s stripes. It didn’t worry old Bob.
By the end of the war what were you?
Temporary sergeant. You get in the sergeants’ mess and the tucker’s a bit better and you could get a bit of booze, a bit of whiskey when you wanted it.
Did you get to Rome and Florence and places when you were in Italy and have a look around?
Oh yeah both those.
When you had leave, where would you go?
Did you tend to stick with your Kiwi mates?
You don’t all go together.
And there’d be films on, boozers to go to.
Oh yeah and we went to an opera one timenot my cup of tea. Florence is a nice place, got some great buildings.
Would you say the fighting was harder in Italy or North Africa?
They were all the same really, if you’re a foot slogger, it’s hard work and that’s all there is to it.
Still doing patrols at night in Italy?
Oh yes. We never went out much in Italy. We didn’t seem to worry much about it but they were pretty strict on the desert patrols. They wanted to find out what old Rommel had there.
Was it easier to dig slit trenches in Italy?
We never dug them in Italy. Just laid on top of the ground, or houses mainly. Itie houses. No, I never dug a hole in Italy.
So you’d come to a town and take it over, have people on guard..
The Ities in most towns were fairly good. They realisedthey treated us alright.
You’d take a town, post sentries and just wait for orders to move on again?
And presumably, sometime you were in the front and sometimes in reserve?
Oh we were in the front all the time. We were in the second echelon but old Friberg would have had us in the front all the time.
Did you think he was good?
No he was a bloody witcher(?) that fellow. Well, you’re not taking my name so, no he was a witcher. He didn’t care. Montgommery said “Your division has had enough and he said “They’re going out. “My division will do that Sir, my division will do this. You were only a number as far as Friberg was concerned; you weren’t human. He didn’t care how many he lost. Well he did in a way, but “Don’t worry about that he’d say “I can get plenty more from New Zealand.
You were on your way to Egypt when the war ended?
No, I was home, April 45.
They just felt you’d done your bit?
It must have been a relief?
Yes, it was.
You’d made it through.
Yeah, it was good to think you’d made it through alive.
Had Kaikura changed much when you got back?
No, just the same, although having been away 5 years you’d see kids and that and say “Who the hell’s that?
Then you got married?
Yeah, married May 28 1945.
What did you do then?
Had a farm for 7 or 8 years then the wife’s mother died and her father had a farm and he was a semi-cripple, an alcoholic really, he wanted Mum to go back home to look after him. I wasn’t very keen on that but he said “Sell your place and you can come and take over half of my farm. So I handed my place back to the State Advances, that’s what they called them. They took it back and sold it and I went and took over half of his place, I took over his wife’s half, and then 10 or 11 months later the old boy snuffed it. He put me in a pickle a bit because he left me the option on his place, his half. His half had all the buildings on it and my half didn’t so I had to have this other half to keep going, so I had a bit of a battle to get it.
What were you farming?
Sheep, cattle. There were only 2 of us at that time who’d been re-habbed (?) twice. My co trustee was another son in law and he was a pig of a man and he tried his best to keep me out of it, but I won. I had 22 years up there then I had a heart attack. Had about 3 weeks or a month in Christchurch Hospital. This Pakistani doctor put me on pills. That’s about 6 or 7 years ago now and I’m still going. Anyway after I came out of hospital, went back to the farm and it’s a hilly place and a neighbour over the river was pretty good while I was away looking after the stock and he asked me if I’d sell. I kept it for a while but then I sold it to him and we came down here on the flat..English officer said “Sit here til I come back and bloody stayed there, he wouldn’t move, they used to say to us “If we spoke to our officers like you do, we’d get into trouble. How do you get away with it? I said “I don’t know, we just do. They were frightened of their officers the English boys.
Do you think that you had a more relaxed attitude, do you think that made you better soldiers?
Oh I don’t know. They were alright as soldiershave you got that thing running?
Yeah, but that’s ok.
I won’t say it then.
I’ll switch it off then..