My Life at war

My Life at war

Talking to war veterans is a win-win exercise; you get to enjoy first-hand stories from a time it is hard to imagine yourself experiencing, while most veterans savour having an interested ear to feed their well-practised yarns. But perform a few calculations and youíll realise that not only are there no men who fought at Gallipoli left to talk to, but the pool of WWII veterans is also diminishing. Thomas Redford interviewed four returned servicemen living in Dunedin.

 
Hugh Morrison. 87.
Royal Air Force
World War Two
 
I worked for the railway in Picton. They announced that they were letting no employees go; you had to stay in your job, which didn’t suit me. This was 1942, so I managed to get myself upset, they fired me out of the railways and I went back to Dunedin where I lived. So, couple of days after I got home, I got a letter from the Army department saying I had to report to the drill hall in Dunedin, and they sent me to Forbury Park where I spent most of the nights looking for Japanese intruders.
Then someone decided they were going to have a race meeting at Wingatui so instead of having to look for Japs we got sent to Wingatui and started dismantling all the huts all over the place so they could get on there and have their race meeting. It was while I was doing this that the Dunedin air officer arrived looking for me, gave me papers to go to Rotorua to join the Air Force, where I’d actually signed, so I went to Rotorua, did a pre-entry course there. I got sent to Canada for the air training scheme, and eventually finished up as a navigator/air gunner when I got to England.
I was sent to 605 squadron, a mosquito squadron – basically, it was ‘Night Intruders.’ You did your flying at night-time. When the Germans came in and bombed London, they knew which direction they had come from, and they used to scramble us to go to where these people had come from. When they were landing the Germans used to put on their lights, so they were easy to get because they were lit up, and, you know, dodgy flying.
I was sent up the northeast of London, I had only been there two or three days when a New Zealand fella that was working in the office arrived at the squadron and said that the officer that had just arrived last night was not the type that a New Zealander should be working/flying with. So the next day this bloke comes up to me and says “Oh, Hughy Morrison, you’re my navigator,” and I said “No …” and he said “No, I’ve looked at your record, and you’ll do me.” And I said, “Don’t know about that.” I refused to fly with him that night.  He killed himself that night, don’t know who the navigator was, hit trees while he was trying to land, so that got rid of him.
So next day a little fella came along and says “Are you a New Zealander?” I say, “Yeah.” “Have you done a tour? I’ve done 100 ops, I’ve got permission to do 50, will you do 50 ops?”  I say, “Yeah.” So we crewed up, back to night flying again, went really well, got a number of damaged and things like that. During that time, we did some raids into the northern waters of Germany. We did the first of the trips there, the CO’s navigator got lost, pulled away and told us to carry on, we found the university, dropped our bombs, and that marked it of course, and the varsity was more or less completely destroyed, and the pilot got another gong for that. 
I had the American pilot’s address, tracked him down, but was running out of time and came home, wrote to him, rang him a couple of times. I’d been going to America to their Airforce, must have been going for 15 years, they used to write to me, sent me the brochures, the names of who was going to do all the bookings. But I gave up a couple of years ago, don’t know whether the pilot’s dead or alive now.
 
Phil Smith. 87.
New Zealand Dental Corps
World War Two
 
In 1941 they called me up; when I turned 18 I was working for a glass company in Auckland, and I reckoned I wasn’t going to come out alive, so I said blow this. I had the Army medical and they turned me down, ended up with double pneumonia working at Reed rubber mills in Penrose when I was young. 
So I could have just gone on my way, or laid about somewhere else, but I thought I’ve got to try something to get into the Army. I tried the hospital ship for a start, had a bit of medical training, thought I might come in handy there, but when I applied for that they were full, so I thought well I’m not going to be beaten, I’m going to go into the army or whatever, so I volunteered then, went to the Army Hall in Auckland, they had a chap and Bob’s your uncle I was transferred into the dental unit.
So I was in the NZ Dental Corps as a dental assistant. Spent a bit of time in Papakura, learnt the trade of trades, never knew much about dentistry until then, but I made the fillings. I was in Linton, Palmerston North, and then turned 21 and got sent back to Papakura at the start of ’44. Then I was away with the dental caravan, travelled around the North Island.
So that’s how I ended up spending my time, 1941-1946, roaming the countryside. I enjoyed that. I guess I was lucky, or unlucky –  however you see it – spent five years doing that, and I was more healthy doing that than I was as a civilian. The glass company used to work 24 hours a day, eight-hour shifts, no breaks at all. Worked with over ten dentists in those five years, and camps – I just gave up counting, so there you are.
When I was due to go out, they sent a letter saying, ‘Where would you like to work,’ and I was keen to go work on a farm, but never heard another thing. Came down to Dunedin for a holiday to be honest, started making confectionery – from dental to confectionist. And then I joined the waterfront, spent 27 years there, and retired at 61.
 
Robin Keene. 77.
New Zealand Navy
Korean War
 
I was born in Timaru, did schooling there, and then went straight into the Navy in 1950. This was just the beginning of the government we talked about where when you turned 18 you got conscripted into the Army. I didn’t think there was much in it to only go from Timaru to Burnham, so we were lucky that the Navy recruiting board arrived in town about a week after we’d signed on with the Army. And about half a dozen of us were before the recruiting board, and we all got in, so we had to cancel going into the Army, got sent to Auckland. 
We arrived in Korea just as it finished, so sailed back home; got an island cruise out of it. Next big trip we did was in 1956. We escorted Sir Ed Hillary down to the South Pole. Got back from that in January of ’57. Our next one, they wouldn’t tell us where we were going, just got sailing orders to go. Got to Fiji when we were told we were going to Christmas Island for the hydrogen bomb test, so we spent the next two years doing weather picket for the British, and watching hydrogen bombs go off.
It was a hell of a big learning curve for me, because my mother used to run after me hand and foot, because I was the baby of the family, and it wasn’t ‘til after I was on the train going to Auckland that I thought “Well hell, who’s going to do all me washing?!” But you soon get knocked into it, and actually I enjoyed the discipline.
One thing, being in the services, you find it much easier to get into a routine when you get out. Before I went in I’d stand back and argue with somebody, whereas you couldn’t do that in the Navy or you’d end up in the cells or something. But you see, you get on with people a lot easier; you’re always in a big group of people you know, you’d always just be one of 100 people on a ship.
 
Iain Gallaway. 87.
New Zealand Army, Royal Navy
World War Two
 
I was born in Dunedin on Boxing Day, 1922; went to High Street Primary School and then boarded at Christ’s College for five years. I was in the school cadets for five years, and then I was called up for compulsory service at 18 years, applied to go into the artillery, so I spent the compulsory three months in Burnham, and the arrangement was that you came out after three months. We were due to come out on the 12th of December 1941 but Pearl Harbour happened a few days before, so everybody stayed where they were. So I was 18, they decided I was officer material, apparently, don’t know why, went to Trentham, did three months of officer training, came out as a second lieutenant in artillery, with nice shiny pips, collar and tie, and all the lower ranks had to salute you as you walked past them, which was pretty good at 19.
And then I had a couple of years – there was a threat of invasion by the Japanese, and until you were 21 you stayed in New Zealand – in the anti-aircraft station of the artillery. So I became in charge of an anti-aircraft unit in Christchurch just outside of Mt. Pleasant. I got fed up with week after week, month after month, and I thought I want to try and get overseas, but you had to wait until you were 21 in the Army. So when I was 20 I applied to join the Navy, goodness knows why, I had no love for the sea at all. But I knew I had a chance at getting a commission in the Navy, as I was commissioned in the Army, and the other thing was, and this is a terrible thing to say, but I thought if you’re going to be killed it would be nice to see a bit of the world, so I thought it would be better to see a bit of England and Europe than the desert.
We went away on the old passenger ship Ruahine, about 20 of us in our little group. Yes, I was very conscious [of the possibility of death], sailed out of Auckland on a beautiful, beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky, had to stand to attention, salute the flag, I remember being very moved; this was the beginning of the end. Yes, you were very conscious, as you sailed away, watched Auckland Harbour, the outline of New Zealand, disappearing, and you thought that’s it, I wonder if I’ll see it again.
We were in the seas near Edinburgh, on a D-Class cruiser. We patrolled the seas, in the Atlantic, just the usual duties. I then applied with another friend to become a flighted direction officer. Directing pilots off ships and theoretically, when you struck enemy up there, you sent them off, tried to bring them in behind and just above the enemy; they can’t see you, great in theory, hard in operation. We were out patrolling [the] North Sea at one time, I was asleep in my cabin, heard a huge commotion, thought we were being torpedoed or attacked, went up on deck, and peace had been declared.  Mucked about on semi-leave for awhile, and was then sent home. So I was called up August/September 1941, and demobbed end of 1945. It was quite a long time, and I always said I was in more danger on leave than at sea, because we were in control of the sea, but you never knew if you were in London or elsewhere, you might be liable to be bombed now and then, so I felt more vulnerable on leave than at sea.
The worst effects from the war point of view for me, was that I lost so many of my friends. Of all the Christ’s College old boys at war, about 200 were killed. I had a count up, 80 that I was at school with were killed, five of the 1st XI of 1939 were killed, five out of 11, including three of my greatest friends, really shattering, all killed before they were 22. Three of my very closest friends – we had five years of school together – were killed, that was the major effect it had on my life.
 
Iain Gallaway, QSO MBE, still works as a consultant at Dunedin law firm Gallaway Cook Allan. From 1953 to 1993, Gallaway worked as New Zealand’s pre-eminent cricket and rugby commentator, earning a Halberg Award for Service to Sport in 1999.
 
 
Posted 3:13am Monday 10th May 2010 by Thomas redford.