New Zealanders lie in many parts of the world, and for some that grave is forever unknown. Today we remember them in memorials around the world, and more importantly, in our hearts.
They must never be forgotten.
Lest We Forget
As in the Great War, New Zealanders in WW2 were formally honoured for their Valour. The Victoria Cross was awarded on 9 occasions to 8 New Zealanders in the Second World War. Captain Charles H Upham was awarded a VC for his gallantry on Crete, and was uniquely honoured with the award of a Bar for sustained valour in the Western Desert in mid-1942. Upham remains the only combatant soldier to ever win a Bar to the VC.
Sergeant J D Hinton 20 Battalion, 2NZEF, April 1941
Second Lieut. C H Upham 20 Battalion, 2NZEF, May 1941
Sergeant A C Hulme 23 Battalion, 2NZEF, May 1941
Sergeant-Pilot J A Ward Bomber Command, RAF, September 1941
Captain C H Upham VC 20 Battalion, 2NZEF, Bar awarded for action July 1942
Sergeant K Elliott 22 Battalion, 2NZEF, July 1942
Second Leut. M-a-K Ngarimu 28 (Maori) Battalion, 2NZEF, March 1943
Squadron Leader L H Trent DFC, RAF, May 1943
Flying Officer L A Trigg DFC, RAF, August 1943
Of these, 2/Lt Ngarimu, and F/O Trigg were killed in the action that earned their VC. In addition, P/O Ward was subsequently killed in action. Trigg's VC is believed to be unique in that it was awarded on the evidence of the Officers of a German U-Boat, captured after Trigg had deliberately crashed his aircraft into the enemy craft.
As with the Great War, many other acts of extraordinary gallantry and self-sacrifice went either unnoticed or unrewarded.
Early 1941 saw the Germans threatening and eventually invading Greece. The Allies sent as many troops as could be spared from Egypt, among them the New Zealand Division. This was to be our true baptism of fire. The German attack was relentless and over a few short weeks the Allied forces were driven back the length of Greece, with the division eventually evacuated in May. The stubborn rear-guard defence put up by the division was to see the award of the first VC to the army in the war - Sgt Jack Hinton of the 20th Battalion. Hinton was captured and spent the rest of the war in POW camps.From Greece, much of the force along with British and Australian troops was evacuated to Crete - considered a vital island if the supply lines to and from Egypt were to be protected. The battle for Crete was a brief but vicious struggle commanded by the GOC of the 2nd NZEF - Bernard Freyberg VC. The German invasion - initially by glider and paratrooper cost the enemy dearly, but the lack of air power available for the Allied defenders along with the scarcity of artillery after the losses in Greece severely restricted the ability of the Allies to defend the island. Crete fell, and New Zealand lost over 600 dead, and many more as POWs.
The beaten defenders of Greece and Crete were evacuated to Egypt. The toll had been great, and the Division needed urgent rebuilding.By November the Division was back in action, this time tackling the Italians and the Afrika Corps in the Western Desert. Tough fighting saw the initiative change hands on more than one occasion and the front move often over many hundreds of miles.
1942 saw a series of reversals through to the end of July. However, the fortunes of the Eight Army were about to change. The arrival of General B L Montgomery saw a line literally drawn in the sand at el Alamein, a small railway siding some 60 miles west of the vital port of Alexandria. From here in late October 1942 the Eight Army reversed and ultimately destroyed the Axis forces of North Africa. By mid 1943, Africa was in Allied hands, the war was beginning to turn.
The New Zealand Division saw much tough fighting; most remembered is the battle of Cassino beginning in late 1943. Fighting in the ruined monastery was at times hand to hand. The Division lived in appalling conditions, made far worse by the winter weather.
After Cassino was finally taken by the Poles, the New Zealanders were tasked with assaulting the river crossings of Italy, all the time faced by stiff German resistance. The New Zealand Division was to end the war at Trieste in the far north of the country where the Yugoslav partisans were to prove somewhat of a challenge in their own right.
Whilst much of the attention of New Zealand focused on the land and air wars of Europe and North Africa, the 3rd Division of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force was raised and sent to the Pacific Theatre to face the murderous Japanese.
The Division saw action in the island war of the Southern Pacific, alongside our Australian and American allies. Whilst casualties were not high, the conditions and the enemy meant the war in the Pacific was tough in all respects. In addition to the 3rd Division, many New Zealanders saw much active service and combat in their roles with the RNZAF.
The passing of the years has diminished the Pacific in our remembrance of those who served, but the contribution of the New Zealanders in the war against Japan must never be forgotten. Without their sacrifices and those of our Allies, our lives would have been one of subjugation to Japan - a nation for whom no depravity was too low in the Second World War.