For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
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.
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.
John Barry Fenton was just 15 when he joined the New Zealand Navy in 1949. When the Korean War broke out the next year, Fenton was part of the crew aboard the frigate HMNZS Pukaki, as it headed north for patrol duties. He describes the monotony of shipboard life in a war mostly fought on land. Returning to New Zealand, Fenton undertook further training before returning to Korea for a second tour of duty, this time aboard HMNZS Hawea. The ship mainly patrolled the area around the mouth of the Han River, to stop enemy ships entering or leaving. Fenton died on 17 April 2019.
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.
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.
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.
When Frank Sanft’s older brother was killed early in World War ll, it only intensified Frank’s determination to serve. Joining the Royal Navy, he was eventually assigned to Operation PLUTO, which involved laying an undersea fuel pipeline between the UK and Cherbourg (vital in keeping Allied vehicles moving, directly after the invasion of France). Frank laughs now at a close call with a sniper ashore in France. Serving in the Pacific, he was there after Singapore’s notorious Changi PoW camp was liberated. In 2017 Sanft was awarded a prestigious French Legion of Honour.
With the phrase “we were lucky to get away with it” and a ready laugh, 97-year-old Douglas Smith describes some of the close calls he had as a trainee and later bomber pilot during World War ll. Luck yes, but skill too, as he survived a 30 mission tour of duty. Douglas first tasted action flying a small, twin engine Dakota Boston over France and the Netherlands. Graduating to four engine Lancasters, he took part in huge raids over some of Germany’s biggest cities. Never afraid himself, he laments the vast loss of life among friends and enemies.