From North Atlantic convoy protection to the invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland, Joseph Pedersen was there. His entire naval career was spent as a sonar operator on two destroyers, HMS Walker and HMS Lookout. The latter was the only destroyer of eight in its class to survive WWll. Harrowing stories of sinkings, dive bombings and helping in the recovery of bodies from a bombed London school, are balanced by the strange coincidences and humour of war. Aged 90 when interviewed, Pedersen's recall of long ago events is outstanding. Pedersen passed away on 29 March 2017.
Joan Daniel was excited to learn she was going overseas as a volunteer nurse in World War II — her mother less so. But it was the beginning of a three year adventure for Joan, as she recounts in this interview. First it took her to Egypt. The cases there were mainly related to ordinary illnesses, and there was time for sightseeing and fun too. Tragedy struck though, when three nurses were killed in a traffic accident. From the Middle East she was sent to Italy and a hospital close to Cassino. The patients now were casualties of war: the wounded, the shell-shocked and the dying.
Stoney Burke reckons aviation fuel just about runs in his veins; fascinated by aircraft since childhood, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force felt like a logical choice. Burke's long career as an engineer both on the ground and in the air included helping get supplies to Nepal for Sir Edmund Hillary’s school building projects, plus service in the Vietnam War. Flying into Saigon and some of the forward air bases in Vietnam could prove tricky, with planes taking small arms fire on their approach. Post Air Force, Stoney continued his career at Air New Zealand.
“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.
In his matter-of-fact way, James Murray reflects on some of the horrors of the War in the Pacific. Joining the New Zealand Navy at 17, Murray found himself aboard an American destroyer, watching the first atomic bomb explode above Hiroshima. “We thought they’d blown up Japan,” he says. Earlier, aboard HMNZS Gambia, he’d watched Japanese kamikaze planes attempting to sink the aircraft carriers his ship was trying to protect. Later he was among the first to land on the Japanese mainland, helping take control of the Yokosuka Naval Base.
From those who joined up in World War ll to the relative youngsters who saw action in Vietnam, this selection of clips is collected from the fourth series of interviews with ex-servicemen sharing their memories of service. The stories of these men and women range from the comical to the horrific. Age has taken its toll on their bodies but the memories remain sharp. Made by director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and Hibiscus Coast Community RSA Museum curator Patricia Stroud, the interviews are a valuable record of WWll and conflict in South East Asia.
When Vince Pierson’s old comrades tried to track him down, years after the Korean War, they couldn’t find him. Pierson had taken another surname when he joined up, to disguise the fact that at 19, he was underage. As a gunner attached to HQ, he was with the New Zealand artillery supporting Australian and Canadian infantry at the Battle of Kapyong. Pierson belies his 85 years with sharp recall and vivid stories of people and places. He shows as much empathy for the Koreans as for his comrades, while describing battling intense cold and stifling heat — and the other side.
In this Memories of Service interview, veteran Kenneth Johnstone shares his stories of being in the Navy during the Korean War. He talks briefly about his time spent chasing Russian submarines around the Mediterranean before heading to the war. There he was shot at by North Korean forces and knew numerous casualties. In total he spent eight years in the Navy, working as a stoker in the engine room. He shares his medals from the war and talks about life after it ended, particularly about being hailed as a hero by South Korean visitors.
Wally Wyatt’s first encounter with the army was as a paper boy. During World War ll he sold newspapers to soldiers at Auckland's North Head military camp. Later, after training at Papakura, he headed off to Korea as part of the 163 Battery. A photo of Wally taken at that time ended up on a 40 cent stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. Korea is sometimes called the “forgotten war.” As this interview makes clear, that’s how Wally and his comrades felt after arriving back home. There was no welcome or thanks — they just got on with their lives.
After her brother joined the army early in World War ll, Doris Coppell decided she’d also sign up when she could. And as she says, “the thought of all those lovely sailors was tempting, so I thought I’d opt for the navy.” And indeed she met her future husband while serving at the HMS Philomel training base in Devonport. Just six weeks later she married the British sailor in a borrowed wedding dress. A spritely 92 when interviewed, Coppell recalls the ups and downs of service life, and the course of her post-war years in the UK with affection. Coppell passed away on 16 July 2016.