Midway (2019)

Part of our growing up was the classic Kiwi crib (baches are for North Islanders). Ours was in Waikouaiiti, on the coast halfway between Oamaru and Dunedin.

Rajah, Shelley and Melanie with crib in background

This was home away from home on weekends and school holidays. One of the attractions was the local tip, just down the road. This was a primary source of income for us kids, in the good old days of cash deposits on glass bottles. We would harvest dozens of these from the tip and convert them into cold hard cash.

Something else that we rescued in large quantities was books, dozens and dozens of them and these formed the foundation of our holiday reading, mainly pulp fiction, Pan novels and Reader Digest monthly magazines. One of the Reader’s Digests, (December 1973??) had as its monthly condensed books, The Battle of Midway (I think it was the Richard Hough version). I read this story over and again over our baching years and become so familiar with this battle (of this version of it…

A real highlight was when Dad took me to see the 1976 epic Midway in Christchurch, must have been August school holidays that year. I was old enough to think it was really cool but also to pick up that a lot of the combat was rehashed combat footage or borrowed from Tora Tora Tora. Certainly, despite a cast that was epic in size and fame, Midway was not The Longest Day, Zulu or The Battle of Britain. A Bridge Too Far the following year also eclipsed Midway.

We’ve been pretty let down by serious historical war movies in the last two decades. Ridley Scott brought us Blackhawk Down, and at the end of last year, Australia decided it was finally time to tell the Long Tan story in Danger Close. Generally though, the pickings have been slim: Michael Bay inflicted Pearl Harbor on the world around the same time as Blackhawk Down was released; in all fairness the coverage of the actual attack is pretty good, it’s just the other two hours that are problematic. And what the hell was Dunkirk? That epic tale was covered far better in the light Their Finest Hours.

When I was teaching at the Air Power Development Centre, Midway was one of my popular case studies to demonstrate that air power can directly influence the outcome of the battle, a campaign or even a war without “boots on the ground”. It’s a battle that the US probably shouldn’t have won for a whole raft of reasons and so academic debate is still popular with fresh material still being regularly published.

So, yes, I was interested when word of the new movie first came out. Like many with an active interest in aviation and/or naval history, I was hoping for an epic like A Bridge Too Far or The Longest Day that would tell the story of THE pivotal battle of the Pacific War as it deserves to be told. The previews didn’t really give much away and I was keen enough to pre-order it from Mighty Ape so it’d arrive on its New Zealand release date.

Hmmmm….I should have done two things. Heeded the warnings on Neptunus Lex that it was badly flawed and waited until it appeared in the bargain bins or on special. I discounted the NepLex warnings as I took them as mainly targeting the unnatural viewing angles of the air combat enables by the digital imagery.

Yep. Midway 2019 is bad. Worse than the 1976 version and, assuming it’s possible, worse than Pearl Harbor. Michael bay’s notorious 2002 epic at delivers better than fair coverage of the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, it feels like a tragedy. Why Midway has to go all the way to Pearl Harbor to start its story is unclear: that attack is such a significant part of our history that we all get Bluto’s classic “Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??!!

And then it blunders through the Doolittle Raid in a manner no less clumsy than Michael Bay’s depiction in Pearl Harbor. And it’s not necessary. While the Doolittle Raid was the catalyst that provoked the Japanese to move on Midway, it could be covered, Star Wars-style, in the introductory minutes of Midway. Instead, over half the movie (if you ignore the credits) is dedicated to the precursor attacks and that’s just not necessary. If these scenes were well-produced then there may have been some value in them but they’re not: Pearl Harbor is better in every way – and it pains me to say that…

Instead the coverage of the actual Battle of Midway is compressed, contorted and barely comprehensible. Scenes cut from one to another with barely time to absorb one before the next cut. Where the digital imagery could have provide new perspectives on the air combat, it just fails miserably. Clearly a lot of research has been done into aircraft types etc but then there are horrendous clangers: you would think from this movie that the US Navy or US Marine Corps had no fighters; the B-17s that bombed the Japanese fleet in the early phases of the battle are replaced by the B-26s that conducted low-level torpedo attacks on the fleet; the full magnitude of VT-8’s sacrifice is lost in the jumble of battle scenes.

A good plot and good acting can carry a movie over poor effects and stand in weapons. Midway lacks both. That’s beyond disappointing. The story has a lot of moving parts but is not that complex; the characters are all well-known and well-researched. Midway dishonours them.The screenplay and acting are all at the level of “Win one for the Gipper“, with smug one-liners and staunch chins substituting for a decent screenplay and even average acting.

Midway’s sole redeeming feature is that it’s not three hours long.

I hated it.

Don’t buy it. Hunt down the 1976 Midway or rerun the last hour of Pearl Harbor.

Erebus

(c) nzhistory.govt.nz

On 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica. All 257 passengers and crew on board were killed. It was the day of the School Certificate English exam and I was ironing my school uniform when the news broke. Erebus remains New Zealand’s single most deadly disaster.

This was a tragedy. What followed was a travesty as Government and the airline shirked responsibility and played the blame game, trying to pin responsibility on the flight crew. Today it is accepted that the cause of the accident were changes made by Air New Zealand to the navigation system that led the pilots to believe that they were well clear of Mt Erebus as they descended.

For many reasons, Erebus has been an injury hidden from sight, visible mainly to the friends and families of those who died, those who responded from Scott Base, McMurdo Sound and New Zealand, and staff from Air New Zealand. But you never know when Erebus will reach out and touch you.

In 2009, I was doing a knowledge management project for the New Zealand Army. The seminar we were attending finished a bit early and our hosts took us out to a local vineyard. It was a beautiful sunny day and drivers were provided so we were supporting the local economy as best we could. Someone commented that one of our hosts was hitting the reds pretty strongly and someone who knew said “Yes, he’s done that since Erebus.” We got it.

Erebus. Our single most deadly disaster and forty years on there is still no public memorial for those who died.

The Government committed earlier this year to build that public memorial. It’s a tricky task. Not only did the disaster occur outside New Zealand but it occurred in one of the most inhospitable and inaccessible areas of the planet. Those who died came from every part of New Zealand. TE901 had taken off from Auckland and thus Auckland appears a logical location for a memorial. Auckland International Airport is largely surrounded by industrial areas and even the airport look-out is probably not the best location for a memorial.

…the families sought a secluded location of grass, trees and other plants all with a natural aspect or view, with space to sit and reflect, reference to the Antarctic, and the memorial having an educational dimension…. located at an accessible site, attractive and appealing, and not be in a cemetery…

Richard Waugh: Why Parnell is the right place for an Erebus memorial NZ Herald 2 Dec 2019

The location selected for the memorial is a park in the suburb of Parnell, in the Auckland Central Business District. An area close to the roots of many early New Zealand aviation pioneers. On a hill overlooking the harbour. Quiet, peaceful, accessible.

An artist’s impression of the memorial in the proposed Parnell location.

A few days ago, this was all just background noise for me. Then my friend Rob posted on his Facebook page that his grandfather had died on TE901 and that the memorial was a very real issue for him and his family. Rob’s a solid guy, a former artilleryman (you know, the ones who fire off shells and hope they’ll eventually find their way back to earth somewhere near where they’re meant to be) and then he became one of the small group of pioneers who became the first qualified drone operators in the New Zealand Defence Force. He also builds paper models so he’s all right.

KAHU, the New Zealand Army’s homegrown drone

Rob was asking his friends to contact the Waitemata Community Board to support the memorial in the proposed location in Parnell. I’m happy to support friends’ causes but only so long as I’m satisfied that it’s a good thing to do. So I did some digging. I looked at the plans. I liked the plans.

All this is being held up by a (very) small group of locals, the aptly named nimbys (Not In My Back Yard). I read through their cause’s Facebook page. I read their many interviews. I read their objections and posters. They all support the memorial but not in their backyard. They don’t seem to have any real objections apart from possibly altering their dog walking route…slightly. They seem to have gone to some lengths to portray the memorial as cutting off one end of the Park but looking at the plans, that doesn’t appear to be the case – at all…

The online petition opposing the memorial got a whopping 587 signatures. For perspective, thousands of people live, work in and visit the Auckland CBD every day – and only 587 of them felt strongly enough to oppose the memorial with a simple mouse click. A similar paper petition may have garnered a few more signatures but one hardly gets the impression that central Auckland is about to erupt over this issue.

I support the plan to place the national Erebus memorial in Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson Park in Parnell Auckland. Just get on with it.

I received an email tonight from the Democracy Advisor for the Waitemata Community Board (what is a democracy advisor and how do other community boards get one?):

Thank you for your recent email regarding the proposed Erebus Memorial.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) has, this afternoon, withdrawn their request for land owner approval to be considered.   Therefore, the decision on land owner approval cannot be made at the Waitematā Local Board meeting on 3 December 2019.

We acknowledge the effort and emotion that went into the message you sent to the local board and will ensure these are circulated to board members and retained for any future discussion so that you will not have to write them again.

I hope that this means that this weighty and contentious decision has been lifted from the Board to decide on.

I don’t support issues like this being foisted onto the local community board to decide on whether the public land in question can be used for this purpose. Yes, the community board should be consulted, no question there. But Erebus has been a source of national pain for forty years. It’s not fair to ask board members who have to live within their community to make a crucial decision like this. The final decision on the location of the Erebus memorial should be one shared between the Auckland City Council and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Please support the memorial by sharing your views with the Waitemata Community Board or posting on MP Louise Upston’s post seeking opinions on the topic.

For more in depth reading by better writers than I:

257 killed in Mt Erebus disaster

Prime Minster Delivers Erebus Apology

Richard Waugh: Why Parnell is the right place for an Erebus memorial

‘Nimbys’ oppose Erebus park memorial: ‘You don’t drink a glass of wine next to a grave’

Erebus disaster pilot’s widow says apology left her in ‘complete shock’

White Silence: ‘had to grit your teeth and go do it’ – Erebus recovery captain

Soldiers Without Guns – a review

Late in 1997, the New Zealand Defence Force led a peacekeeping mission to war-ravaged Bougainville. This wasn’t its first ride in the rodeo, following a couple of years after its three-rotation deployment of an armoured company to Bosnia in 1994/5 and building on its history of peace support operations in Rhodesia, the Sinai, Iraq, Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia to name a few…

This new operation had a unique point of difference: it would be unarmed, its weapons instead would be smiles and guitars…

To be blunt about it, the New Zealand Defence Force is pretty crap about telling its stories. That’s sad because it has so many great stories to tell. Thus is falls upon independent producers to seek out and tell these stories. Soldiers Without Guns is producer Will Watson’s take on the Operation BEL ISI story, building on an earlier documentary Hakas and Guitars.

Will Watson has assembled quite an ensemble to support this story. Lucy Lawless narrates and the soundtrack draws on such Kiwi talent as Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds, Anika Moa, Tiki Taane and Kora. The military leads are Major (rtd) Fiona Cassidy who was, from memory the PRO for the initial deployment, and WO1 (rtd) Des Ratima, who was, from the same memory, Brigadier Mortlock’s key cultural advisor. There are interviews with key leaders like Roger Mortlock, Jerry Mateparae and Don McKinnon, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time of the deployment.

Soldiers Without Guns is, though, very much the Fi and Des Show. That’s not a bad thing and more power to them for seizing this opportunity to tell their part of this unique mission. It does however skip over the scope and scale of the operation and doesn’t really impart the sense of nervousness that surrounded it until the initial lodgement was complete.

The coverage of the repairs to the airfield runway that were only completed just before the first C-130 landed is mildly dramatic in its own right but doesn’t really acknowledge the engineers that completed these repairs in an environment of some uncertainty. The operational coverage skimps over those soldiers who were deployed, unarmed, to remote team sites to engage the local population and defuse tensions. Nor does it do anything more than hint at the logistics (my minor part was procuring the bright yellow hats two weeks out form D Day) and sustainment challenges that had to be overcome for the mission to succeed. This especially applies to the roles of HMZNS Endeavour and 3 and 40 Squadrons RNZAF without which the whole hting probably would have fallen over.

An Iroquois from 3 Sqn RNZAF in its distinctive orange mission colour scheme

Operation BEL ISI’s success was undoubtedly due to its unique and innovative approach to peacekeeping, which was based itself on Roger Mortlock’s insights and analysis of the core issues underlying the conflict – it wasn’t just about copper – and his grasp of the matriarchal societal environment into which he would be deploying. In the mid-90s, the dual themes of female leads and unarmed forces were radical and unheard of – this was a time when the RNZN still thought that Larissa Turner just needed to get over herself, and the shooters were riding the wave of the post-DESERT STORM ‘revolution in military affairs’ – and there were many internal sceptics (but try to find one now).

I don’t remember much media comment at all at the time and certainly nothing along the lines of “… this radical idea of sending soldiers without guns was condemned by the  media because they felt the soldiers would be massacred given the first 14 peace attempts had failed …” If anything, I’m not sure that the media really cared that much about an area of the the South-West Pacific that no one knew or cared much about. Similarly, I think it is misleading to say that “… the first 14 peace attempts had failed …” BEL ISI was built on the foundation of peace initiatives stretching back to the late 80s. Like many things in irregular warfare, there are few quick fixes.

The soundtrack was one of the selling points for me (pre-purchase) and I was looking forward to some pumping Kiwi sounds. The much-touted soundtrack is very subdued to the point of ineffectiveness and it would have been nice to have just the tracks as an option.

It has screened and been well received overseas.

Soldiers Without Guns is definitely worth watching. It tells the story of the group of Kiwis who went off into the jungle and did something that had never been done before. It would be a mistake to think this approach can be cookie-cuttered into any environment but it worked in Bougainville – that’s what Soldiers Without Guns is about…

A Kiwi story told by Kiwis largely for Kiwis…but others will get it too…

You can pick up a copy at Mighty Ape…

Doing the business

This is part of my crew.

Doing the business.

At 3-23AM.

It wasn’t a fluke of the roster that saw these four ladies turn out for an early morning fire alarm.

They weren’t hanging around the watch room waiting for the ‘tones’.

When the siren and pagers went off at 3-23 on this Monday morning, these firefighters, like most firefighters in New Zealand, were at home with their partners, children and pets…most safely asleep in their beds…

They have to wake up and get dressed (not always in that order), navigate a darkened house, and (for three of these four) drive 6km to the station – and get changed again – and then navigate to the scene.

It could be just across the road or around the corner…or a gruelling 20 minute drive along dark narrow twisting country roads…sometimes the location is vague at best and critical information has to be filtered from calls from other responding brigades and the Police just to find the scene…

Once on scene, they have to deal with what they find. Another brigade or agency may already have the matter in hand and so it’s back to the station, home, and bed. If work needs to get done, it’s gets done – until the scene is safe or reinforcements arrive to takeover.

Back at the station after a job, there’s still work to be done…the truck needs to be good to go for the next call – that could be in two days…or two hours…hoses might need washing, consumed consumables replaced, batteries swapped, air cylinders replaced, contaminated gear packed for exchange…possibly another hour of work…

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…the mum of four, the outdoor instructor, the mechanical engineer…the full-time FENZ support officer, the guy in the gas station, the chap who checked you into your accommodation…the cafe owner, the pint puller, the commercial pilot…the high school student, the council staff officer, the Army firefighter…these are Firefighting New Zealand…on call 24/7…

Broccoli fritters

This is a recipe that local MP, Louise Upston, posted a few months back, from the Love Food Hate Waste site. My first attempt was a little gooey and didn’t really fritter up: I was in a hurry and should have taken the time to add some more flour to balance out texture.

I was better prepared this time and, in addition to flour to suit, I also added a couple of tablespoons each of chia seed and almond/coconut meal (left-over from our own almond/coconut milk). I found that our cheese grater seems to have gone AWOL during one of our moves this year – or it is sitting in one of the many unpacked boxes dominating the smaller spare room. Instead I just diced up my guesstimate of how much cheese would equated to a 1/4 cup grated and dropped it in the blender with the broccoli.

Our frying pans also seem to have gone AWOL hence cooking in a wok, another deficiency to be soon rectified.

The recipe is quite simple:

  • 1/2 head of broccoli, stalk and florets
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 (ish) cup of flour use enough to make the mix quite firm
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seed
  • 2 tablespoons of almond/coconut meal
  • Salt + pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (to cook)
  • 1/4 cup of plain yoghurt
  • 1 tab|espoon of lemon juice

Blend the broccoli and then mix it in with the flour, seasoning, eggs and, in my case, chia seed and almond/coconut meal.

Fry until nicely brown on each side. This recipe made

Mix the yoghurt and lemon zest of the a sauce although this is pretty optional as there can be eaten on their own, as part of a meal or with any number of sauces or dips.

Next time I( think that I will dedairy this recipe and add something like dates or other dried fruit instead of the cheese. The cheese taste barely came through the dominant flavour of the broccoli and so, even a good sauce would probably do away with any need for the cheese at all…or maybe try some non-dairy cheese just because I can…

Just thinking further on next time, another way of keeping it healthy(er), would be to use a more absorbent flour like coconut flour, which would also tick off the gluten-free box (not so much because I care but because I can).

I could probably also eliminate the cooking in oil but using the oven or the air-fryer, and possibly also reconfiguring from fritters to maybe balls or fingers…?

Go! Go! Go! – a review

Just over a year ago, I reviewed the movie Six Days. I was excited to find Go! Go! Go! – The Definitive Inside Story of the Iranian Embassy Siege at our annual St John Ambulance book sale in Taumarunui. This was about six months ago when I was still living in at the old Roy Turners in National Park Village.

I didn’t start it until we had moved into our latest forever home in Owhango. To be honest, having seen how Rusty Firmin’s input was translated into the quite excellent Six Days, I was savouring Go! Go! Go! for a time when I could sit back and really enjoy it…you know THE definitive inside story…

I need to learn to brace myself for disappointment.

Go! Go! Go! really disappointed me. It reads more like the type of account published before the smoke clears to make the most of a current news story. The only names on the cover are Rusty Firmin who led one of the assault teams on the day and Will Pearson who is cited on the back cover as the author of Tornado Down. I enjoyed Tornado Down but on checking, the authors are listed, as per my recollection, as Flight Lieutenants John Nicol and John Peters (the crew of the ill-fated Tornado ZD791): no mention of any Will Pearson.

Similarly, the name Gillian Stern does not appear on either cover but is listed with Rusty Firmin and Will Pearson under the acknowledgements. A quick Google finds an English ghost writer named Gillian Stern with this extract from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019:

So no problem per se with ghost writers. I think they are a great way for someone to tell their story when perhaps they lack the skills to impart a great story to a general audience. I just have a feeling that, in this case, the ghost writers outnumber the subject matter expert. I was eagerly awaiting the inside story from an SAS team leaders perspective but instead it felt like a Sunday News serial story.

Go! Go! Go! does cover the siege and its background but it always feels quite false and superficial. It feels like it has been written by people who don’t really have a good handle on the subject matter and just just regurgitating what they have been told, without any real value add. I could go on but I’d rather just say that anyone interested in this story should watch Six Days and read the relevant section from a recent version of Tony Geraghty’s excellent Who Dares Wins: The Story of the SAS.

Victor Two – a review

Recently I had to drive over to Stratford for a four day course. I knew there would be nights off and dropped into Books and Toys in Whanganui to see if I could find some new reading material (most of my library is still all packed up after our moves this year). Victor 2 Looked like a good read, a different take on DESERT STORM from Bravo Two Zero and The One That Got Away

You really have to wonder how the British SAS achieved anything in Iraq during DESERT STORM. We’ve had at least four books on the disastrous Bravo Two Zero mission – the better of the four being the ones by Mike Coburn and Michael Asher, the ones by Chris Ryan and Andy McNab seem better consigned to works of fiction.

Victor Two is the story of a more successful SAS patrol deep into Iraq. The story follows a cycle of got lost in the desert, more internal scrapping, shot up some Iraqis. I found it really underwhelming and more of an opportunity for the author to do some regimental score-settling than any credible recounting of DESERT STORM special operations.

Not really recommended as anything but light reading on a slow day, a slow wet day…

Solo – A Star Wars Story

Image result for solo star wars

Getting back online after my stay away, it seems that my last year of posts was pretty much dominated by our successful battle for our rescue helicopters and my not so successful battle with ANZ. Well past time to restore some balance so I’m working to complete some draft posts and mix in new material to get back on tracj and get the writing gene kicked in again…

I was on a weekend course in Palmerston North with a night to spare…Solo has just released and beckoned…

Post-Star Wars, I soaked up the early development of the Star Wars ‘verse through books like Alan Dean Fosters Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (how Kaiburr crystals really fit in, sorry Rogue One!) and Brian Daley’s Han Solo prequels:

Daley’s novels, albeit short and aimed at the younger end of the market were consistent with the slightly worn Han Solo we first meet in a cantina in Mos Eisley.

A flaw in all the Star Wars movies after the Original Trilogy is an annoying trend towards cuteness (which probably started in Return of the Jedi with the cursed Ewoks) and convenient coincidences ladled on thick for an audience apparently too thick to draw its own conclusions or recognise linkages between the movies within having them bludgeoned into them.

Solo starts with young Han in Correllia, skips his flight training and ends with him heading to Tatooine for a ‘deal of a lifetime’. He’s already met Chewie and Lando, and acquired the Falcon – what’s left for any sequels…? It’s all a little convenient and cramped, enjoyable but no classic…

Solo has fallen victim to the malaise as DC’s Justice League movies: sometimes less (story lines) is more (classic). The Justice League movies managed to squeeze the whole Death of Superman plot into about 30 minutes: they are three inch-thick novels, each a movie in its own right…check out the animated versions Death of Superman, and Reign of the Supermen: not quite the production values of the live action movies by better stories…

Overall, I’m pretty underwhelmed by the latest crop of Star Wars movies. Yes, I know I said nice things about The Force Awakens but the more I watch it, the more contrived it seems to be…I’m much happy in the Star Wars ‘verse of Alan Dean Foster, Brian Daley and Timothy Zahn…the written word that works my imagination…

Feet on the ground

Serendipitously I have found some fully fenced accommodation in National Park Village, it even has mountain views!

I’ve been here about a month now and am finally getting settled in, resuming my duties as the commandant of Colditz Castle as Louie tries to find ways out.

Louie and Kala seem to be adjusting to the sights and sounds of urban life, although Louie clearly misses being able to slope off into the bush for a couple of hours at a time.

The neighbours two down have Corgis and a visiting puppy and Louie spends a lot of time checking the neighbours out from the second story lounge.

This isn’t our permanent home but it gives us some breathing space to hunt around and stay together – if this opportunity hadn’t come up, I would have been making some tough decisions in March after getting back from the EMA course.

It’s getting colder now and we have the fire on most days. Without tbe elevated ceiling of the Lodge, heating the lounge when I get home from work each night only takes about the same amount of time as it takes to feed the dogs so we now have a fixed routine in the evenings.

It’s not worth trying to build here over winter, so hopefully this place will keep us going til spring when we hope to acquire some land to build on…

Watch this space…

Moving on…

Well, it’s been a month or so since the big move…am settled for now in National Park Village and the dogs are happy in their respective foster homes…

I’m sure she misses me…

…and him too @K9 Heaven in Auckland…

Just about everything is in storage and I’m slowly starting the big downsize…in the end I left a lot of stuff behind as I realised I didn’t really want or need it, nor the hassle of trying to unload it through Trademe or the buy and sell boards…

Looking pretty empty

Didn’t finish the final move until 4AM on the settlement day but by then I just wanted to be well shot of the place. No final pix as I accidentally packed my phone in one of the last loads…

National Park at night, walking home from work…

I’m liking living in the Village for now, being able to walk to and from work each day, meeting people, having occasional chats on the roadside, getting a feel for the Village vibe, not being last on the truck when the siren sounds…but…I miss the dogs and that’s my main motivation to find a new home.

Renting in the Village is not really an option as no one has heard of fences and dogs just run free, so it’s really a choice between buying an existing home or a block of land to put something on. The pickings are pretty slim in the Village, or even in Raurimu where we moved from but there are possibly some options in and around Owhango, although that would be the end of the walk to work thing…

Worse case scenario is opting to rehome Louie and Kala which opens up my own rehoming timeline but a a big cost…I’m away on course the next two weeks and will have to start sizing that option up on my return…