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22nd Battalion 2NZEF
"Vrai et Fort"
VJ Day 50th Commemoration - August 1995
The 50th anniversary of VJ Day was to be celebrated in London in August 1995. The Government decided to send a contingent of 10 veterans and 54 serving Defence Force personnel to London to participate in the event. A notice from the RSA went out, inviting veterans to apply for the ballot. There were to be no restrictions on entry, veterans who had been balloted for previous commemorations were eligible to apply.
My chances were slim, but I filled in the form and sent it off. I was surprised and very proud to be one of the ten veterans selected. The ten were:
There was considerable media interest in the event, and I was interviewed by the local paper
On 10 August 1995 I flew from Tauranga to Auckland and was met on arrival by one of the Wellington RSA staff who escorted me to Hobsonville Motor Inn. Later, at the Hobsonville RSA there was a function hosted by the Dominion President of RSA. Next morning at 7am the 10 veterans were taken by Air Force bus to nearby Whenuapai where we boarded the waiting RNZAF Boeing 727 and took off for our around-the-world travel. The 10 veterans and two "minders" - one a captain, the other a medic major - had the front section of the plane to themselves. We had VIP treatment all the way, with business class meals provided.
We headed west from Auckland, taking a leisurely trip towards Britain, making regular stops to refuel. The old Boeing 727 did not have the range of more modern aircraft. Originally it had been intended to fly from Bahrain across to France, then directly to England but we were in a military aircraft and the French were objecting to the New Zealand opposition to their Mururoa nuclear bomb testing. They would not allow our plane to enter French airspace, so we stopped in Crete. The dog-leg around France is clear in the map of our route.
Our first stop was at Amberley, the Air Force base at Brisbane to refuel and then flew on to Darwin. It took longer to fly Brisbane - Darwin than Auckland - Brisbane and all the time over dry arid desert. A pleasant night in Darwin. Next day we flew to Singapore for two nights. At Singapore we visited the Kranji War Cemetery for a short service watched by 200 school children. The ten veterans were presented with a copy of the Japanese surrender document.
On then across the Indian Ocean to the Maldives Islands and refuelled at Male. The temperature here was around 42℃.
Maldives to Bahrain
On to Bahrain where we suffered the usual long wait to get through Customs (about 1½ hours). Nice hotel and I appreciated the air-conditioning as the temperature was 45℃. Took a taxi up to the town shopping area and spent some time looking through the many gold-selling shops (but not buying!). Terribly hot, but no problems with the locals, many of whom wore native dress and headgear.
Next day we flew across Saudi Arabia desert to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Akabar to Egypt. Flew the length of cultivated Egypt along the Nile and from 39,000 feet clearly saw the Pyramids. Over Alexandria and large salt ponds then across the Mediterranean Sea passing near Cyprus and landed at Chania Airport on Crete.
We landed at Chania Airport on Crete. The Mayor of Chania awaited us and quickly came on board. He greeted each of the 10 veterans and kissed us on both cheeks. A lovely drive of 15 or so miles through the harsh but picturesque countryside of olives and stunted grapevines, to our hotel. Shortly, on the bus again to Souda Bay and the War Cemetery there with its 460 New Zealand graves. A service and laying of wreaths then a walk amongst the graves. Many headstones here have the simple inscription - A New Zealand Soldier - more of these than at any other war cemetery I have visited. Also saw several graves with 2 or 3 headstones touching each other. These had up to 6 names inscribed and were the graves of airplane crews all buried in a common plot. A lovely cemetery site, close by the blue sea. Then we went on to the village of Galatos - the scene of desperate fighting. It is a very small village and in its small square there is a monument to the 150 NZ soldiers who lost their lives here. Again, a short service. That night the Mayor hosted the whole contingent - 10 veterans and 54 serving personnel - at dinner. Told it was a traditional Crete meal. First course boiled mutton neck chops - nothing else. Second course the roasted body of the sheep with a heap of rice boiled in the water that the neck chops had been boiled in and flavoured with limes. All this washed down with generous amounts of the mayor's "cooking" red wine. But a jolly evening outside, under pergolas of grapes on a balmy, pleasant Mediterranean night. The evening finished with the drinking of "Raki" - a local brandy fire-water. We were also presented with a "Diploma" as an indiaction of their resepct and gratitude, by Mr Tony Kosmadakis.
London and the VJ Day Commemorations
From Crete we floew to Madrid to refuel and then across the orange groves and mountains to Portugal and out over the Bay of Biscay to Lands End and England. Dry but manicured countryside below. Passed near Bristol to the RAF Base at Brize Norton in the vicinity of Oxford. Then a 2 hour bus ride to our London hotel in West Brompton, close to Earl's Court. The hotel, "The Lily" although the poorest of all in which we stayed was still not too bad and much better than the hotel I stayed in Italy 14 months prior at the Cassino Commemoration. Our London programme was a full one although time was available to do one's own thing. I visited Kew Gardens, Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral. At St Paul's is a brass plaque to General Freyberg.
VJ Day 1995 - The Commemoration and Official March down The Mall
Saturday was the day of the major function including the march along The Mall, and in the evening for the invited guests the HM Tower of London reception. This turned into a very long day - 14 hours - and in blistering heat but still a day of wonderful memories.
We were taken by bus to Waterloo Barracks and eventually marched from there to the forecourt of Buckingham Palace for the Commemoration Ceremony. The next two or so hours were rather trying in a crowded area and under very hot conditions. Many veterans round about fainted. The Queen and Royal Party were present and in addition to veterans from all parts of the Commonwealth there was a huge crowd of onlookers. A lone Lancaster bomber plane of World War II flew up The Mall towards Buckingham Palace and released a million red poppies over the crowds below. Then the great parade down the Mall began, with the New Zealand veterans in the van. And what a reception the crowds gave us all down the Mall and into Horse Guards Parade. Shouts and cheers on all sides "Well done New Zealand"; "Good Luck New Zealand"; "Thank you New Zealand". That day it was a proud time to be a New Zealander.
Hot and tired but quite exhilarated we eventually arrived back at Waterloo Barracks and waited for 1-2 hours for buses to take us to the Tower of London.
The Service of Remembrance
After assembing in front of Buckingham Palace the Service of Remembrance and Commitment began at 3pm. It was followed by the Veteran's Parade in front of the Queen.
On to the Tower of London
The buses took us to the Tower of London and a really wonderful reception there. It was "by invitation only" and all overseas veterans were invited as well as a large number of selected members of the British public. A lovely English evening and a great throng of guests inside the Tower with a mass of people outside pressing against the railings for a view of those inside. Here I met Prince Charles, the British Prime Minister John Major and his charming wife. Ex-PM Ted Heath who talked long about the America's Cup and many other dignitaries and historic title-holders such as the Chief Yeoman Warder and also the Keeper of the Ravens of the Tower. There was plenty to eat and to drink. A great fly-past of the Air Force swept up the Thames and over the Tower and the Royal Yacht anchored nearby. Later a magnificent fireworks display all along the Thames and in which 22 tons of explosives were used. Finally it came time to leave the Tower for our hotel and as we came from the Tower Gates towards the mass of people outside we were given a rousing send off.
I came from that day with the certain feeling that New Zealand stands tall amongst Commonwealth countries and our contingent of 10 veterans and 54 Defence personnel was much appreciated. Incidentally, Australia sent only 3 veterans to the Commemoration. It was late back to our hotel - a day of 14 hours of interest and enjoyment - and in a hot dry England. It's hottest summer since 1727 and the driest since 1649.
The following day was also long - a reception at the Veteran's Centre where I met Prince Philip and in the evening a spectacular Tattoo and Retreat. So ended the VJ Commemorations in England and I was most fortunate to have been selected as one of the 10 NZ veterans to attend.
The Trip home again
Our last night in England was spent in the barracks at Brize Norton RAF Base. A far cry from my day in the Forces. Single rooms and quite up to hotel standard and the meals as good as one could wish for. Also a large NAFFI - a supermarket almost - with really competitive prices. It was an early start next day to Ireland where we landed for refuelling at Shannon. Then the long haul across the Atlantic to Newfoundland and St Johns. A magnificent new hotel and my room in the 14th floor had a million dollar view over and down the St Johns harbour and the Atlantic beyond. St Johns is a rather poor area with mostly old buildings from better days.
Next day we flew over Halifax Nova Scotia to Boston then to Washington for 2 nights. Took in the Arlington National Cemetery - 640 acres and 0.5 million graves and the Tomb of the Unknown Warriors. Also the Pentagon and the White House. Weather continued very warm as it had been throughout the entire journey. The NZ Embassy was a 2 or 3 minute walk from our hotel but failed to invite the 10 veterans or anyone else along and came in for some criticism because of this.
From Washington across America, over St Louis Missouri and prairies and large grain silos. Also large green circles as seen from the air were irrigated areas. (Saw exactly the same in Saudi Arabia.) and landed at Denver to refuel. Then across Utah and Nevada, the Rockies and Sacramento passing over many, many salt lakes on the way. Finally landed at Oakland San Francisco for an enjoyable night of shop gazing, beer drinking etc. The following day off again over the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, out across the Pacific to Hawaii. Two nights in Hawaii at the Holiday Inn, Waikiki. Made the trip to Pearl Harbour and the memorial there over the sunken battleships, also took in the Punchbowl War Cemetery and Waikiki Beach.
Samoa and Home
Then came the final day of our trip around the world. A flight from Honolulu to Western Samoa for refuelling and then on to Whenuapai and back to reality by being greeted with NZ rain - the first we had experienced since leaving NZ on 11 August. Our arrival time was 5.20pm on 29 August.
A while later...
In mid 1997 five of the veterans met again at the RSA Club in Napier.
Looking back on the trip
On reading over these brief notes of a grand once-in-a-lifetime journey there is I find, so much that is not included.
For example in London at west Brompton and only a few minutes walk from the hotel is a large cemetery.
Took a quick look in there one day and one of the first graves was that of Emily Pankhurst the woman Suffragette.
I am left with 3 very clear impressions:
Last updated: 07/06/15