Someone’s brothers, someone’s sons

Below is the text of an address delivered by former Sergeant-Major of the New Zealand Army, Bob Davies, at the Onward Bar in Taupo on ANZAC Day 2021.

“This morning I will to relate to you an action that upheld the finest traditions of one of the New Zealand Army’s premier fighting units, the 1st Battalion, the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, the only battalion that has added a Battle Honour to its colours since World War 2. Unlike most stories this Anzac Day though this is not one about combat in far-flung fields. It is a story that played out very close to here some thirty years ago. A story as epic as any that will be told this Anzac Day and unfortunately a story too few in New Zealand know much about. It is a story about two senior soldiers and another young man who demonstrated they are cut from the same cloth that the finest of this Regiment has seen. These soldiers were involved in an incident that claimed more lives than any other single action since WW2.

On the morning of Thursday 9 August 1990, 10 soldiers from B Company, 1 RNZIR, together with a Naval rating and two instructors from the Army Adventurous Training Centre, commenced a mountaineering course on Mount Ruapehu. 13 personnel departed Waiouru Camp that morning. Only seven returned.

The weather on the 9th of August was very good, with clear skies and light winds. The group spent the first day, a Thursday, climbing to the summit and conducted some practical training.On Friday, the group spent the day constructing two snow caves and a snow dome and then slept that night in those shelters. The next morning, Saturday, the weather deteriorated significantly, with very strong northerly winds and very low visibility. The group remained sheltering in their snow caves for a second night. On the following day (Sunday), the decision was made by the instructors to move back to the Dome Shelter. It was from then on that serious difficulties began to develop.

On leaving the shelter of their snow caves, the group was exposed to the full force of the storm that had now developed. Visibility was reduced to a few meters and the wind had significantly increased to an estimated strength of around 150kph; strong enough to lift members of the group off the ground. The decision was made to halt and attempts made to dig trenches and use the packs to provide some shelter from the wind. The group was now on the flat Col, approximately 200 meters from the Dome Shelter; probably the most exposed position on the mountain at that time.

After remaining in this location for two to three hours, a second, unsuccessful attempt was made to find the Dome Shelter. It was then that the first hypothermic cases became apparent. The group stopped whilst casualties were attended to and attempts were made to construct a snow shelter. This proved impossible due to the ferocity of the storm. The group then attempted to “dig in” in that location. At this point, two members of the group were hypothermic, one was suffering from frost bite and a number of others close to exhaustion. A decision was made to seek assistance and the senior instructor, Sgt Snowden, together with Pte Brendon Burchell, departed down the mountain. The time was now approximately 1630hrs.

Throughout that night, the storm continued with the same ferocious intensity. By this time, the soldiers were without any experienced leadership, as the lone instructor left on the mountain had become non-effective. Ptes David Stewart and Sonny Te Rure (now known as Sonny Tavake) constantly moved about the group, offering encouragement and attempting to alleviate the suffering by giving over some of their own clothing and equipment. They were assisted in their efforts by LCpl Culloty and Pte Berger.

In the words of LCpl Culloty “….word filtered back that an instructor had gone for help and for the remainder to break out their sleeping bags. By the time this reached Pte’s Stewart, Tavake, and myself, those that were able had done so, however 3 – 4 soldiers displaying signs of hypothermia, were incapable of this. We gathered them into a group and Ptes Stewart and Tavake went in search of packs to get the sleeping bags out. This was no easy task as visibility was near zero and many packs were buried in snow that became ice in a very short period or had blown away. Each time a sleeping bag was found, they came back to the group and took one away and put him in a sleeping bag as best they could.

They left finding sleeping bags for themselves until last. They came back to find the last person there (myself) had collapsed. Pte Stewart dragged me to a bag and managed to get my legs and lower torso into it. He then put a survival bag around my upper body. There was by then only one sleeping bag for Ptes Stewart and Tavake as no other packs could be found. They covered themselves as best they could.As the night progressed the direction of the wind changed constantly, resulting in large amounts of snow building up on my chest then freezing solid. As the weight increased, I began to have difficulties breathing and called for help. Pte Stewart leaned over and eventually was able to clear the snow and ice off my chest allowing me to breathe normally. He did this approximately six times during the night. Later, a soldier not far from me had his bag blown away and I got him to join me, and in doing so, my survival bag blew away, so we used the remainder of my sleeping bag to cover our heads and shoulders.

Later a soldier from the end of the group crawled over and said that the person he had been sharing a bag with had died. We told him to go back, remove the body from the bag, and get in, and he left to do so. He then came back and said that he could not find his sleeping bag (I assume it had already been covered with snow). He asked if he could join me and the soldier with me, and I told him no, as there was no room and that he should find somebody with a bag to themselves. He returned a short time later having found no shelter, and again asked for help. At this point, Pte Stewart told him to join him and Pte Tavake in their single sleeping bag. In doing this, their sleeping bag was blown away and the three of them were without any shelter whatsoever.

After this, we began to grow weaker and weaker. The soldier who had been with Ptes Stewart and Tavake crawled over beside my head and began talking incoherently and died. Some hours later the soldier who was sheltering with me became delirious and died also.After many hours, when I occasionally called out and received no reply, I assumed that all but myself had perished. Later the weather, though still extreme, lessened in intensity for a while and I made contact with others and we were subsequently rescued. As we were brought into the Dome Shelter, I was surprised and pleased to see Pte Tavake, and we were both shocked that only five of us had survived. It seemed impossible that Pte Stewart, given his physical and moral strength, leadership and selflessness, should have died.

I have no doubt in my mind that if he had chosen to take care of himself he would be here today. He chose instead to put others before himself and to risk time and again, his own survival to help those unable to help themselves. All this in an extreme environment where we novices were left to our own devices. I would not be here today but for his actions. That is the man he was.

Around 0530hrs on Monday Sgt Snowden and Pte Burchell having walked some 13 hours through the night, made physical contact with an Alpine Lift staff member who contacted the Duty DOC Ranger. The search and recovery then commenced. The first recovery team reached the Dome Shelter at approximately 1300hrs, and on finding nobody there, descended to the Col where they located the group. They found only 5 survivors who were then moved to the Dome Shelter.

In due course a Court of Inquiry was established to investigate the loss of life. Among other findings, the Court noted the “outstanding courage and bravery” shown by a number of the group, namely Ptes Stewart, Tavake and Burchell. In the case of Pte Burchell, the Citation noted that “..Private Burchell not only had to cope with the most extreme conditions but, because of his lack of experience, he had no knowledge of how to overcome them. His courage and determination and perseverance to continue in the face of extraordinary adversity not only brought great credit on himself, but certainly assisted in the rescue of the survivors…” The Court recommended they be formally recognised with an appropriate bravery award. In the case of Stewart that was to be with the award of the George Cross. Under the imperial honours system then extant, the level one award, and now the New Zealand Cross. Some nine years later Ptes Stewart, Tavake and Burchell were finally awarded the New Zealand Bravery Medal, a level 4 award, the lowest that recognises bravery. Of significance, the Citation noted that, despite the dreadful conditions, “…Privates Stewart and Tavake maintained a continual vigil over their companions throughout most of the night, providing what assistance they could.” The Citation further noted that “.. Private Stewart would have been fully aware that his actions in continually moving out of shelter and the warmth of his sleeping bag to assist those with hypothermia, meant he had an increased chance of also becoming a casualty. He was also aware that he was becoming increasingly exhausted by continually battling the elements.” It added that “Privates Stewart and Tavake displayed selfless care of the casualties and their sense of responsibility to their companions testify to their bravery”.

It is also worthy of note that both Stewart and Tavake had spent most of their soldiering in the tropical conditions of SEA from which they had only relatively recently returned. Moreover, these soldiers battled the life-threatening conditions for almost two days without concern for their own safety. In doing so Stewart died and Tavake still suffers from the effects of severe frost bite.

The following are so far the only two recipients of the New Zealand Cross:

On 24 April 1992 Jacinda Margaret Amey was one of five members of a Meteorological Service team, stationed on the remote sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, who were snorkelling when one of them, Mr Mike Fraser, was attacked by a shark, believed to be a white pointer. The other swimmers, apart from Ms Amey, swam to shore. Ms Amey waited until the shark moved away from Mr Fraser and then went to his aid and towed him to shore. Mr Fraser had lost his right forearm and his left forearm was severely lacerated and appeared to be broken. He was having trouble breathing and required urgent medical treatment. Having got him to shore, Ms Amey then joined the rest of the team in doing what they could for Mr Fraser until he could be flown to New Zealand. Ms Amey displayed great courage and bravery with complete disregard for her own safety in going to Mr Fraser’s assistance.

And the second recipient:

On 9 June 1995, Reginal John Dixon, aged 47, and his wife were passengers on Ansett New Zealand Flight 703 when the aircraft crashed in the Tararua Ranges near Palmerston North. Mr Dixon escaped from the wreckage with fractures. However, despite his injuries, he returned to the aircraft to help other passengers trapped in the wreckage. As a result of this selfless action, he was critically burned when a flash fire broke out on the left wing of the aircraft near a hole in the fuselage from which he was helping passengers escape. He was hospitalised and underwent surgery and skin grafts. Mr Dixon remained in a coma, and although he made some initial improvement, his condition worsened and he died two weeks later, the fourth victim of the crash. The situation in which Mr Dixon found himself was extremely dangerous and he displayed great bravery in returning to the aircraft, although injured, to help other passengers which subsequently resulted in the loss of his own life. His bravery undoubtedly ensured that the loss of life was not greater.I ask you were David Stewart’s actions over almost two days not equally as heroic as these two New Zealand Cross recipients? If so why then was he not appropriately recognised with a level one award.

There was another climber on the mountain that day, a Japanese George Iwama, who remained there for 5 days during the same blizzard. He related: ‘There was a white-out and terrible freezing conditions 20 or 35 minutes after I left the snow cave… ‘I couldn’t locate where I was walking and I decided to dig another snow cave.’ He of course survived.

I ask you: was it that the award of the New Zealand Cross would have brought undue attention to the very real shortcomings of the New Zealand Army and its Army Adventurous Training Centre?

I’ll let you decide.

The latest Listener has an excellent 5 page article on this tragedy by Karl Du Fresne.

More to follow…

Object | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt: object.

Source: Object | The Daily Post

Draw a picture of a chair by looking at a real chair not a photograph. ~Pre-instruction drawings; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Betty Edwards

I had thought the original task was to draw a picture of any object by looking at it but it was 1999 that I started this so I may be excused for a minor memory lapse. This was the period that I was working closely with Wingnut Films and the Lord of the Rings crew and my uber-latent arty side was being nudged daily. Drawing and screen-writing were the two main areas in which I took an interest up to the day that people started flying planes into buildings…

Being much more comfortable with writing and story-telling, these became my comfort zone and while my interest in drawing remained, my discipline for the exercises waned. I unearthed my drawing pad recently during a clean-out and then, only a week or so, stumbled across the subject of one of those early exercises.

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Wow…seventeen years ago…so much water under the bridge since then…I’m quite keen on restarting this programme…it’s all based on the book so no enrolments or administration necessary just some willpower and motivation…

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Today…

This is the original on which the drawing is based. It has some history.

Until July 1989, this chair was occupied by the Officer Commanding, Charlie Company, the First Battalion, the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, or, in military shorthand, OC C Coy, 1 RNZIR. From this seat, that individual dispensed justice, ‘offered’ guidance to young officers, and oversaw with ruthless scrutiny, the development and training of a hundred or so lean and keen infantry soldiers.

Near the end of 1987, the New Zealand Government decided it was time for its own version of ‘nothing east of Suez’, announcing that the New Zealand force based in Singapore, aka NZFORSEA, would be withdrawn to New Zealand by the end of 1989. This was called OP(eration) KUPE.

The force in Singapore was a legacy of the Commonwealth intervention into Malaya in the 1950s, Borneo in the 1960s and, for Australia and New Zealand, Vietnam. For over three decades, in various incarnations, it had contributed to the secure and stable development of the states of Malaysia and Singapore: rightly or wrongly, the Government felt it was now time to for New Zealand to focus more closely on its immediate South Pacific neighbourhood. Perhaps lost in the political mix, were the second and third order effects of our presence in Singapore, particularly in providing access to prime jungle training areas in Malaysia, and opportunities for young New Zealanders to experience and mature in a foreign culture.

While we didn’t quite get to the stage of pushing helicopters off aircraft carriers – all our helicopters were safely repatriated to serve faithfully for another quarter century…

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Still going strong in 2005…finally retired in 2015…

…many items deemed non-essential were fated to remain in Singapore, many destined for the ignominious end of the rubbish fires…

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Burning off pre-RTNZ rubbish

When a whisper on the rumour advised that the company office furniture was due to be hauled away to the tip, there was competition to secure anything worth securing for repatriation as personal effects. the only time I have moved faster was when Trevor Sexton chased me down the final leg of the Burnham fitness circuit threatening to do me an impropriety with his pacestick if I didn’t pick up the pace – that was the first and only time I ever broke nine minutes on the required fitness test 2.4km run.

I seized possession of the chair seconds before company clerk, Steve Carrick, burst into the office, much miffed at missing out. I should point out, in all fairness, that, as company clerk, he already had a pretty nice chair in his own office; as a private rifleman, my issued seating was a camouflaged foot-square piece of rubber thermal mat used in the field.

The OC’s chair served me well through various roles and homes in Palmerston North, Linton, Trentham and Wellington…

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The chair of power in front of the mighty Amiga 500

…but got misplaced in a house move over a decade ago. It has clearly seen better days but I was rapt to find it clearing out a storage unit last week…an object of days gone by history…

 

A Warrior Passes

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Last weekend, Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina passed away at his home in Waiouru. Known to many as Graham Wi or just Wiina, Graham was a friend, colleague and mentor to many of us. He was laid to rest yesterday.

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One of the many tributes to Wiina, said that this video montage was one of his favourites – as it will be for many who passed through the gates of Dieppe Barracks in the 1980s although it might be entitled The Usual Suspects

I’ve taken the liberty of including some of the tributes to Wiina to illustrate the man and the effect that he had on so many…

Hey brothers. We carried our bro into the Wharenui at the Waiouru Marae and he looked so at peace after his years of silent suffering. For those of yous that haven’t seen him for some time, he progressively got worse over the years. Spoke to his brother and mum, as sad as it is, it was a blessing in disguise and he is now at peace back with his whanau in the sunny far north. He will have a catch-up with his long lost bro Andy Warren in heavenly peace. ONWARDS brothers.

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Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina, I have been thinking all week about how you have influenced my life, and finally I know what to say. Long before I became a father, you explained and showed me what fatherhood actually meant. Little did I know at the time, that conversation would shape my understanding of parenting. There were many other snippets of gold in my memories of you Cpl Wi (Cpl at the time), but to me, this was undoubtedly your greatest impact on my life. I will be forever indebted to the interest you took in helping mold who I am today.

I am sorry I cannot be there to say farewell, but I will certainly be charging a very full glass of Rum to you….many times. Take it easy Wi, thanks again and RIP.

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Chur whanau just arrived back from Wi’s tangi and I can report that things went really well. Soldiers, whanau and friends came together…we sang, we laughed, we remembered, we haka’d, we had orders, we had confirmitory orders, we rehearsed, we got cheeky, we got angry, we took a spiritual journey to Te Reinga, we had the meanest weather, and we comforted one another.

Although it was a collective effort lead by capable men and women, a big mihi goes out to the bro Soli! Nei ra te mihi atu ki a koe te kaihautu o te waka nei. The spirit of Ngati Tumatauenga is well and truly alive…mai nga piki me nga heke we will always stand tall in the face of adversity. If I can sum it up in one word “SPEECHLESS”!!

E Winar, okioki i te atawhai o te Atua bro…till we meet again dear friend.

Te taimana whero
Taimana ki runga
Taimana ki raro
Taimana i te kura takahi puni

Whakamua! ONWARD…

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Wiina’s generation shaped the New Zealand Army for the better part of three decades, and through that interface, they were also a formative influence on large parts of New Zealand society at all levels. If one word could sum up this generation it would be ‘standards’ – a closer runner-up for those who know them, might also be ‘mischiefs’…

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Many of ‘the usual suspects’…

I don’t remember when I first met Graham Wi, as I knew him, it would have been as a very junior soldier in 2/1 RNZIR in Burnham or 1 RNZIR in Singapore some time in the mid-80s. But my most memorable recollection of him is from 1 RNZIR after it relocated from Singapore to the Manawatu in 1989. I think it was 1993 or ’94, and responsibility for conducting infantry corps training (infantry specialist training after recruit training) had passed to Alpha Company, 1 RNZIR. To regenerate the battalion’s numbers a lot of infantry soldiers had been recruited but the recruit depot in Waiouru was unable to handle the numbers and issued an ultimatum to the effect of ‘…you want them trained, you come and train them…’ As a result, 1 RNZIR sent a platoon commander, platoon sergeant, and some corporals to Waiouru to train a platoon’s worth of infantry recruits. Graham Wi was the that platoon sergeant.

When these young soldiers passed out of their recruit training and arrived in Linton, we were all struck by their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards – read between the lines, and you might gather that not all the products of the recruit depot at this time were as impressive. Then we started to to hear whispers from Waiouru that the 1 RNZIR training team that we had sent there might not have played by the PC rules and perhaps some of the recruits had been mistreated i.e. that their professionalism, enthusiasm and standards might be more due to fear than the infantry ethos and culture.

I asked Graham about it directly. His response was a disdainful glance north (towards Waiouru) “…Nah. All we did was introduce these young men to the concept of standards and the principle that those standards weren’t coming down to meet them…we set the bar and they all came up to it…it IS that simple…” In the months we worked with those young soldiers, that message came through again and again…they were there because they wanted to be there…they sought challenges for the satisfaction of overcoming them…

Kereama Graham Hare Wirangitakina’s generation taught an army to do the job right (regardless of your personal opinion on whether it needed to be be done or not), to be an example to yourself and those around, to fault-check and get the detail right, to push on that little bit further, over just one more false crest…

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Onward, old friend…

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background | The Daily Post

Weekly Photo Challenge: In the Background | The Daily Post.

I spent a number of hours (yes, really, but more as a part of concurrent activity as I waited for other things to occur e.g. keyboard buffer to clear so I could eke out a few more letters before it clogged up again; waiting for DVD Shrink to process a file so I could upload the next one etc) trawling through Picasa looking so an image that did the background thing for me.

It was a struggle because I don’t seem to have many pix where the background is even that clear let alone, has some potential meaning, message or other attraction. Finally, I managed to go firm on four examples, known from this point on as the ‘also rans’, that can be seen at the bottom of this post.

What happened was this. I export images from Picasa to a holding folder – this also adds a watermark and reduces the longest edge to 600 pixels, and also makes the image a nice web-friendly size – and from here, I drag and drop the images into my WordPress media library. As I opened up the holding folder just now, I was struck by the composition of this image of the Tupperware Terminator (my name for it, not theirs so don’t try ordering a Terminator from Tupperware – who knows what you might get!) where to me the background with our driveway and inferred different pathways left and right at top and bottom, just adds so much more (still working on more what) to the image…so here we go for ‘Background’…

DSCF6486The also rans

Thailand-Singapore Bike Ride 1988 250

1 RNZIR Thailand to Singapore Bike Ride august or September 1988 – the only thing that I rode, as tour photographer, was inside the van. I only just noticed today, almost a quarter of a century later, that I snapped myself in the foreground of the background of the foreground in this shot of the mighty Hi-Ace fording a flooded road during the monsoon…1-23-2011_032

Redcastle nestled in the background of St Kevin’s College, Oamaru where I went to school. It’s all changed now from this fairly idyllic shot (mid-90s)…anyway, if you have any problems with me, blame these guys… (just kidding!)DSCF2176

USS New Jersey in the background of this shot taken from the USS Olympia on the other side of the river. My original shot was of the gun in the foreground but after noticing the New Jersey in the background, I recomposed it and shot it again for this specific effect…DSCF5906

Vancouver, around this time last year…the floatplane in the background is the icon of that trip. I arrived late one Saturday, to find that my hotel was overbooked and that they had rebooked me for just that night in another hotel – all the way back by the airport, a 30 min odd drive at midnight – in recompense, they put me in a flasher room with a balcony on the penthouse floor, As it turned out, this was the room original reserved by our hosts for my boss whop they rebooked before he arrived into a standard room a few floors down on the other side of the hotel. When he arrived a couple of days later, I said I’d swap rooms with him but these float-plane used to glide right by his window a dozen or so times a day and he said he much preferred that to yet another view over an urban landscape…top bloke!! So I got to keep my balcony and he got to keep his fly-bys – everyone happy…