“Ask your mother!” That’s what John Fallow’s father told him, when he said he’d like to join the navy at the outbreak of World War II. She relented and John embarked on his wartime career aboard minesweepers. A six month course in Australia followed and, after exemplary work, an accelerated promotion; just one of three granted by the Royal NZ Navy during the war. Clearing mines from major ports following the sinking of the RMS Niagara outside the Hauraki Gulf led to working alongside US allies in the Pacific. John had a lucky war. His ship never fired a shot in anger.
Starting his World War II military service in the army, Jack Harold was soon transferred to the navy. He saw active service at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and was aboard minesweeper HMNZS Moa when it and sister ship HMNZS Kiwi engaged a Japanese sub, eventually sinking it after the Kiwi dropped depth charges. The Moa’s luck didn’t hold; it was sunk in a Japanese raid, taking five of its crew with it. Jack survived, and returned to action in the Pacific aboard submarine-hunting ships. Jack Harold was discharged from the Navy in 1945; he passed away on 15 April 2017.
Howard Monk was just 15 when he joined the army, turning 16 during basic training. When the Air Force came looking for recruits he was reluctant to join, despite the extra one shilling and sixpence per day. But he was recruited anyway, and discovered he was a natural pilot. Clearly a natural storyteller as well, Monk enjoyed his service, flying fighters in the Pacific theatre late in the war. But by then the Japanese had few serviceable aircraft to fly, and to his regret he never engaged in aerial combat.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
There were times when the career of longtime National Film Unit director David Sims could have been cut short. Having survived close encounters with steam locomotives in mountainous terrain, he narrowly escaped being blown up, drowned and burnt alive at sea. Even filming a planned set-up on location had its hazards, as he found when his call of “action!” sent exploding rocks whistling by perilously close overhead.
English born and raised, Rod Vaughan began writing for Kiwi newspapers after graduating in journalism from Wellington Polytechnic. Then he began 35 years at state broadcaster BCNZ, reporting for current affairs and primetime news, and famously facing off against one-time NZ Party leader Bob Jones. Afer 11 years with TV3's 60 Minutes, Vaughan published autobiography Bloodied But Not Beaten in 2012.