The Veterans – Part One

I am going to make a series of posts here on the Production Log about the mazing veterans I have met and interviewed in the course of making this series. The veterans are the heart and soul of the series and each and every one of them that I have had the privilege to interview so far has left a lasting memory and impression with me. It is absolutely true what they say about the veterans of World War Two being “The Greatest Generation”.

The first group of veterans I met in the making of this series were Colin Murray, Norm Harris, Bob O’Brien and Peter Brown, all of Te Awamutu. We met up at the Te Awamutu RSA and I interviewed each of them while the others listened on, in one of the most amazing days I have had.

The first to talk was Norm Harris. He’d been a member of 24 Battalion. He was one of those likeable types that you instantly warm to, a twinkle in his eye and a friendly manner. He had a great way of putting things as he spoke, and it was easy to see he’d seen some terrible things in the war, and he was a little shy and retiring in talking about himself, but I was very pleased to get his story recorded. Sadly Norm is no longer with us.

Next came Colin Murray. Now here is a man who’s become a valued friend since this first meeting in April 2009. Another 24 Battalion man,┬áColin is┬ávery interested in history and his enthusiasm for what I was doing has always been a huge inspiration. Once he got talking on the subject of his time in Italy I was almost overwhelmed with all the great stories and information. He has a sharp and detailed memory and he’s a great character. He has just returned last week from a trip to Italy to revisit Cassino, and he had a very good time there. You’ll hear a great deal from Colin in the Courage and Valour series, his stories have provided a backbone to the series almost.

Bob O’Brien was a true hero. He joined the Army shortly after the outbreak of war and in 1941 he was selected to join New Zealand’s first special forces unit of WWII, the New Zealand Special Company. This small elite unit trained in Australia in guerilla tactics, and had invasion come to New Zealand they would have been in the forefront of New Zealand’s defence. However in 1943 he was sent to Egypt to join the 2nd Division, and he also ended up in 24 Battalion. He served with Colin Murray and Norm Harris, they were all friends then in wartime and right up to when I met them in 2010. Amazing. In fact Bob and Colin had gone to school together, and actually Bob and Colin had also gone to school with Pat Green, another veteran who served in 24 Battalion with them, and who also features in the series! It’s a small world isn’t it?

Bob O’Brien was an officer and he led the Anti-Tank Platoon in 24 Battalion. He performed to the highest order at Cassino and was awarded the Military Medal for his work. Later at San Michele he was badly wounded when his jeep ran over a mine. What a thrill it was to meet Bob and record his memories of the war.

The last interviewee was Peter Brown. Unlike the other three men, he’d served in the Royal New Zealand Artillery. He’d done a stint defending Fiji earlier in the war before he was posted to the 2nd Division. Peter served in every major NZ battle in the North African campaign, and was wounded in each. He was actually talking to Major General Bernard Freyberg when the general was wounded in the neck, and famously insisted he stayed with his troops and continued to give orders from a stretcher in a foxhole.

Peter continued on to Italy and again was heavily engaged in the campaign. When many others who’d been fighting as long as he were being sent home, he was retained to lead men as a Senior NCO. His stories of Italy will be in the series too.

Sadly now only Colin remains with us from those four very interesting gentlemen. It’s sad that Norm, Bob and Peter are not around to see the series come to fruition. But I know one thing, I’ll never forget that day I had with them all, which was what set me on the long quest for more stories and the eventual results, Courage And Valour.

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