Ken Bliss’s brief description of his father’s service in the Boer War is just one of the stories that make this interview essential viewing. Ken’s own military career began when he was called up at 18, in 1941. Too tall to be a pilot in the RNZAF, he became a radio mechanic and served in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. Forming a surf lifesaving team on Bougainville to rescue American servicemen who couldn’t swim was an unexpected wartime duty. And having survived the war, a missed train in 1953 meant Ken also survived the Tangiwai disaster.
Like many of his generation in the United Kingdom, Ray Green was called up for National Service. But it wasn’t until he and his mates were almost on the troopship heading to Korea in 1951, that they realised they were going to fight. Green’s Welsh regiment spent a full year in the combat zone. Danger was ever-present as they patrolled on pitch black nights with the enemy just two thousand metres away, or over the next hill. As he recounts in this interview, Green escaped death or injury on several occasions. He relives it every night, but says it was an adventure he wouldn’t have missed.
Ron Childs’ father had fought at Passchendaele in World War l. With another conflict looming, Ron signed up for the Territorials at age 18. A few months later war broke out, and he was in the army, guarding the entrance to Wellington Harbour with heavy artillery and searchlights. Poor health meant he never made it overseas; he spent the rest of the war on the home front. Serving in both the army and the air force, Childs was variously a gunner and dispatch rider.
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.
Using plenty of his own photographs to illustrate his story, Errol Schroder takes us back to the 50s, 60s and 70s to provide his memories of being a photographer with the New Zealand Air Force (Schroder also spent three years in the navy). His Air Force career saw him posted through the Pacific and South East Asia. In Vietnam, there are tales of nervous times on American bases, and a hair-raising patrol in an OV-10 Bronco aircraft. Even in retirement, action came Errol’s way — his home was wrecked in the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
in this interview, Les Hughes recalls serving in the Korean War. Hughes was an artillery gunner in 161 Battery of the Royal New Zealand Artillery. He was involved in the Battle of Kapyong, where UN troops withstood a massive Chinese attack, helping to prevent the capture of Seoul, the South Korean capital. Then aged 86, Hughes reminisces about that battle and his training back in New Zealand, the Kiwi troop’s lack of equipment, and the journey home at war's end. Some 31 Kiwi soldiers were killed in action in Korea. Hughes himself passed away on 19 February 2016.
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.
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".
It’s sometimes called the forgotten war, but Korea lives bright in the mind of Maurice Gasson. Volunteering at 21, Gasson found himself on the freezing battlefields of Korea as part of an artillery battery. Poorly equipped, the Kiwi soldiers swapped bottles of whisky with their American counterparts for sleeping bags and blankets. Conditions improved, but the fighting intensified. Gasson took part in the three-day Battle of Kapyong, a key episode of the conflict. His stories are chilling and some of his experiences are reflected through his poetry.
Vietnam veteran Thomas Brosnahan shares his time spent in the military in this Memories of Service Interview. He moved from the Territorial Forces to the army at 23 to join his two brothers, before heading off to the war in Southeast Asia. He would spend 20 years in military service across Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, including active duty in the capital, Saigon. As well as the Vietnam War itself, Brosnahan reflects on life after the war, particularly on the hostility vets faced from the public upon returning home, and the effects of agent orange on his former colleagues.