In 2007 Willie Apiata, of the NZ Army's elite SAS unit, was awarded the Victoria Cross for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under fire in Afghanistan. This documentary had exclusive access to Corporal Apiata, from the moment he was told about the VC to his decision a few weeks later to gift the medal to the nation. The shy soldier struggles to deal with his sudden celebrity, and military bosses have to cope with the dual demand of handling media interest in the VC win while still keeping the work of the SAS relatively secret.
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.
In this Memories of Service interview, World War II veteran Ernest Davenport talks about his time in the Royal Air Force. After joining the RAF in 1940 at the age of 18, he served as a warrant officer in the pathfinder force before being shot down over Germany in 1943. He shares stories of his time as a prisoner of war — attempting escape, being charged with sabotage and blackmailing German guards to aid in his eventual rescue. He also shares his various medals from service and artifacts of the war such as his pilot’s log book and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot down.
Daniel Herlihy’s naval career spanned 44 years, making him the longest continuous serving member of the New Zealand Navy. He joined in 1949, at the age of 14. Even before seeing active service in Korea he’d been involved in keeping New Zealand ports running, during the infamous 1951 waterfront dispute. Following significant action off Korea’s coasts, Daniel was later involved in the Suez Crisis and the Malayan Emergency. Later, while commanding a coastal patrol vessel, he took part in action against illegal Taiwanese fishing boats. At 82, Daniel recalls many details.
After a long flight in a C-130 Hercules, Dez Harrison arrived in Vietnam on the fifth of May 1967. As he puts it, when you’re young and green it’s all an adventure. Serving in 161 Field battery, Harrison says he was blessed with good leadership from non-commissioned officers who were mainly veterans of Korea and Malaya. As the memories rattle off, he has plenty of praise for the Americans in Vietnam, but less so for his Australian comrades. Stories of leave in Saigon and Singapore provide fond memories, but the reception back in New Zealand at the end of his service is less happy.
Called up at the start of World War II, George Shadbolt spent six years in the British Army. As a member of the Royal Corps of Signals he spent much of it behind the lines, installing and maintaining vital communications networks. Shadbolt — 99 at the time of this interview — covered 1000s of kilometres through North Africa and the Middle East. It wasn’t until late in the war that he saw action in Italy, bringing communications lines to tanks at the front. The task offered little protection; Shadbolt deemed it the army's most dangerous job. Shadbolt passed away on 9 August 2017.
The subject of this interview is Greg Rodgers, a Flight Sergeant in the RNZAF in Vietnam and Malaya. Rodgers joined the air force after college, and trained as a mechanic. He talks about the bond between ground crew and pilots, and the responsibility of having a pilot’s life in his hands at age 18. Rodgers also mentions off-duty good times (including jumping from choppers into the sea, before being wet-winched up again) and reflects on bad times after returning to civilian life: official neglect ("there was no support"), and the shock of leaving his Air Force "family".
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.
Reg Dunbar’s war was mostly fought in the skies above Europe and North Africa. His first bombing raids over Germany were as an RAF tail gunner in a Vickers Wellington plane - a cold and lonely job he says. For the rest of that tour he was in the wireless operator’s seat, the job he’d trained for. In North Africa the squadron supported the Eighth Army, the famous Desert Rats. Reg also took part in the first thousand bomber raid over Cologne. Later he worked on the secret 'Moonshine' radar, which fooled the Germans into thinking a bomber formation was on the way.
Shot down on just his second bombing raid over Germany, James McQueen describes life as a prisoner of war in this interview. Then 93 years old, Invercargill-born McQueen recalls bailing out from a burning Wellington bomber and eventually falling into German hands. After interrogation by the Gestapo he was sent to a p.o.w. camp, where he stayed for two and a half years. McQueen describes life there, his release and the psychological impact of his experiences, including the feeling of failure prompted by his brief time in combat. McQueen passed away on 15 December 2015.