Ron Cross is a military man through and through. A proud soldier, he feels lucky to have had the experiences that shaped his life. Joining up as a regular Army Cadet, Ron served in both the Malayan conflict and the Vietnam War. From the comedy of preparing for jungle warfare in snow-covered hills around Tekapo, to the tension of being fired on at close range on the roads of Vietnam, Ron’s vivid recollections are captivating. His one regret: that the lesson of how not to have wars has yet to be learned.
This compilation episode culls stories from nine new Memories of Service interviews. From Crete to Monte Cassino, the war in the Pacific to the Korean War, former servicemen and women tell their tales in fascinating detail. Divided into broad sections ('Enlisting', 'Battles', 'Occupation of Japan'), there are stories of training, narrow escapes, attack from the air, and sad goodbyes. Director David Blyth and Silverdale RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud’s series of interviews are a valuable archive of a period rapidly fading from memory.
World War II veteran Everard Otto volunteered for the Territorials at 18, helping supply Americans troops based in New Zealand. But his real war story began when he turned 21 and was sent overseas. He eventually arrived in Italy as a staff car driver. Mostly behind the lines, Otto’s memory of service is based around the brutal battles for Monte Cassino, watching the cruel fighting and bombing that razed the famous hilltop monastery. Returning decades later he found the countryside largely unchanged. He even found the dugout where he spent four eventful months.
A beautiful Wellington day greets passengers from the Southern Cross at the start of this 1950s magazine film. Seen here on her maiden voyage around the world, the cruise ship Southern Cross was built to carry immigrants from Europe. Meanwhile, students at what was then New Zealand's only fully residential teachers' college (near Auckland) are seen studying, before taking time off for dancing and sport. A trip to New Caledonia rounds up the report with the unveiling the Cross of Sacrifice, a memorial to the 449 Kiwis who died without a grave in the South Pacific during WWII.
Between 1942 and 1944 thousands of American servicemen were 'in camp' in New Zealand, either before or after seeing action in the Pacific. This early National Film Unit documentary captures life in an Auckland military hospital, where wounded US soldiers went to recuperate. Servicemen take part in occupational therapies like 'Māori carving' and boat building, and frolick about in the harbour. There are shots of Auckland industries, a woollen mill and a weapon factory, and footage of a military parade in front of the Auckland War Memorial (now the Museum).
Jon Gadsby visits Myanmar (formerly Burma) and discovers an achingly beautiful country. But behind endless golden temples and scenes from Kipling, Gadsby finds "a place of contradiction" where many live in abject poverty, controlled absolutely by their military government (most famously the ongoing house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi). When Gadsby visits, it is not a country to be travelled to lightly. He finds the locals to be open and willing to play host; yet he is struck overall by their "sad beauty".
The Patea Māori Club whare was in desperate need of repair when the Marae DIY team stopped by to give it a revamp. The catch — there’s only four days to do it. The renovations are given a personal note as the show’s regular builder Hare Annef is a Patea local. Also lending a hand are soldiers from the nearby School of Military Engineering. The pressure builds as mid-construction changes are made to the plans, while elsewhere local kuia reflect on the storied history of the club. As the clock ticks down, the race is on to finish, lest the iconic club go without a whare.
Pictorial Parade was a newsreel series made by the National Film Unit. The trio of items in this 1956 entry starts with 'Salute to Sālote,' in which the Queen of Tonga admires the territorial army recruits at Papakura military camp. In 'What is Dutch for Easter?', Dutch settlers hide painted Easter Eggs for the children of Roseneath school in Wellington. Finally 'The Life of Opo' shows priceless footage of Opononi's world-famous dolphin Opo, and her Marlborough Sounds cousin Pelorus Jack. Shots of 'gay' Opo tossing bottles and frolicking with swimmers are set to a jaunty ditty.
This Army recruiting film was made while New Zealand was still involved in the Vietnam War. While its emphasis is on the various trades, such as carpentry, engineering and radio operation, which can be learned in the army, it doesn't shy away from the purely military aspects. Soldiers are trained in unarmed combat, parachuting and jungle warfare. Exercises at the Waiouru Army Camp involving armoured support are also featured. Women are included, but in 1966 they fulfil roles in signals and nursing to free up men for combat duties.
Colin Ramsey was rejected on medical grounds when he volunteered for World War ll, but not long after, he was called up and soon found himself training at Papakura Military Camp. An ambulance driver in the 3rd New Zealand Division, the first part of Colin’s war was in the Pacific. The realities of the conflict hit home while serving in the Solomons. He and his comrades were sent to collect the American casualties of a Japanese bombing raid, a grizzly experience. At 93, Colin’s memory is sharp as he vividly recalls his experiences.