Courage And Valour: An Introduction

 

From the Series Producer Dave Homewood

Hi everyone, and welcome to Courage and Valour: New Zealanders in the Italian Campaign.  I’m Dave Homewood, the series creator and producer. I’d like to give you an introduction to the Courage and Valour series, before you start listening.

As the title suggests, this a series of interviews with New Zealanders who are veterans of the Italian Campaign in World War Two. Their stories have been compiled into an audio podcast that will be released month by month, giving the listener a detailed picture of life at war in Italy, from those who were there and lived through it.

The first recordings for this series began back in April 2010, and it is thanks to my good friend Peter Lee that it all kicked off. Peter was the Deputy Mayor of Waipa District, here in the Waikato region of New Zealand –  an area that takes in Cambridge where I live, and Te Awamutu.

Peter had previously been instrumental in twinning Cambridge with the town of Le Quesnoy in France, where the last battle the New Zealand Division fought in the First World War had taken place. The walled town of Le Quesnoy was spared having a destructive barrage brought upon it, and instead the kiwi soldiers scaled the walls with ladders and took the town off the German occupiers with hand to hand fighting. That had formed a special bond between that town and New Zealand that continues to this day.

In 2010 Peter was now keen to try to twin Waipa’s other major town, Te Awamutu, with a site significant in New Zealand’s World War Two history. He hoped to set up that same sort of special relationship with Cassino, in Italy.

While he worked on that plan he attended a Probus meeting in Te Awamutu where he happened to see a veteran, Mr Colin Murray, speak about his time at Cassino. Peter was enthralled by the stories and he came to me to ask if I’d be interested in filming interviews with Colin and other veterans. I was already filming interviews with WWII veterans at that time and so I jumped at the chance.

Peter and I set about planning to film the Te Awamutu Cassino veterans’ memories and place clips from the interviews online in a proposed website that would raise interest in his town-twinning plans, both here in New Zealand and in Italy.

So we arranged a meeting with Colin Murray at the Te Awamutu RSA (Returned and Services Association clubrooms). Colin had kindly rallied his mates Norm Harris, Bob O’Brien and Peter Brown to also come along.

So I had the amazing pleasure to film interviews with them all that day. We did not just concentrate on Cassino, but covered each of their stories right through their Army careers as best we could, and as much as they dared to tell.

I have to admit that despite being someone who has always had an interest in New Zealand’s WWII history, I quickly realised listening to them talking that I really had very little knowledge at all about New Zealand’s campaign in Italy.

Looking back now this is not really a surprise, because for pretty much most of my lifetime  the popular media has really only concentrated upon and commemorated the kiwis who had fought at Cassino – a three month battle in a two year campaign! – and that even more so the media focuses largely on the efforts of one unit, 28 (Maori) Battalion.

These men I was filming were from 24 Battalion, apart from one who was in the Artillery. So their stories were all new to me.

I soon realised that day that there were many other battalions, brigades, batteries and units also involved from New Zealand and that 28 (Maori) Battalion were just one small part of what the huge 2nd NZ Division did. It’s sad to think that one unit has had far more publicity over the years than all the others combined who experienced and achieved the same thing.

I also learned just how many other major battles the kiwis were involved in throughout the Italian campaign – Cassino was significant indeed but was just part of the whole campaign.

I had a whole new appreciation for this campaign now, and the men who were in it.  Peter Lee felt the same way. I decided that it was worth seeking out more stories from the Italy veterans. I knew that my Great Uncle Ted had fought there, so I went to see him in Whangarei and recorded his recollections. Over time I have also visited veterans in other parts of New Zealand including, Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch, Blenheim, Taupo, Cambridge, Hamilton, another three sessions at Te Awamutu, Putaruru, and wherever I could find veterans willing to talk.

So I have been building up a great archive of stories of New Zealand Army and Royal New Zealand Air Force veterans who served.

The project took a huge knock however in 2011 when Peter became ill and sadly died after a battle with cancer. I continued the filming of interviews where I could but overall plans were put on hold, the twin towns idea seemed to evaporate and I have not heard of it since, and without Peter’s enthusiasm and support, the project to get the stories up online stalled.

To find out how the project was reignited please click to the next page:

13 comments to Courage And Valour: An Introduction

  • Bob Beecroft

    I was directed to your page by Paul London. Although I’ve only had the chance to read the introduction so far, I congratulate you on the concept. I am the convenor of the PG57 Club, a loose association of POWs and their descendants from Gruppignano POW camp in Friuli, NE Italy, WW11. I’m sure you will be aware of it. With your permission, I will pass on the URL to the members; we have many NZ members.
    Regards, Bob Beecroft

    • Dave Homewood

      Thanks Bob. By all means please do pass on the links. The more people who find and listen to the series, the better. It’s all about keeping the stories of our WWII veterans alive, and hopefully some of the younger generations will learn a bit of history from them.
      Cheers
      Dave

    • Julia Walton

      Hello Bob
      My father was a prisoner at PG57 and I have recently visited what remains of Campo 57. A very kind local, Munno Guiseppe, opened the chapel for me, showed me the back of a crucifix which has the names of some of the prisoners written by hand on it and gave me a lovely ceramic plaque of the chapel. I can send you the photos we took of the signatures and others of the newly installed (August 2014) marble panel with the names of all who died on the Nino Bixio listed if you want.
      Look forward to hearing from you. I live in Auckland.

  • Andrew

    Hi Dave, Think you’ve done a marvelous job here. I am downloading all the episodes at the moment, and will be uploading them for download from another location as your hosting doesn’t seem to be allowing very fast downloads at present.

    Your recordings have brought tears to the eyes of family who thought they would never hear their loved ones speak again. You’ve brought some amazing stories to light in a really pleasing way. Thank you SO much.

    If you have any problem at all with my rehosting of the files please let me know ASAP – but it has taken me over an hour to download them all, and I look forward to listening to them all and passing them on on USB / CDs to the rest of my family.

    http://1drv.ms/1IcECfi Will soon have copies of all the mp3 files.

    • Dave Homewood

      Hi Andrew, I do not mind you sharing the files, the more who get to hear them, the better. But it would be good if you can post a link back to the main site page at http://www.newzealandersatwar.com so anyone who finds the files on your server knows where they come from please.

      May I ask which of the veterans is your relation please? it is so very pleasing to hear the feedback that your family has enjoyed the experience of hearing these episodes.

      Cheers
      Dave

  • Andrew

    Oh yes, have included all relevant information!
    Susan Harris is my partner, one of Norms granddaughters. I’ll be taking them to the rest of the family this ANZAC weekend.

  • Myrtle Ratapu

    Kia ora I am Myrtle Ratapu and my Dad is Epineha Ratapu C Company he is coming up 94 and only just recently has he been able to talk about lots of thins he saw during the 2nd world war. He was in the desert and followed Rommell up into Czechoslavakia. After Germany finished fighting and Dad was on the way home he decided to join up again so he went to Japan in clean up of Horoshima. He finds it hard to read no so is there any other was Dad could catch up on all your information

    Thanks for your writing you have done a very good job for the memories of the men who went to fight for freedom under our beautiful flag

    • Dave Homewood

      Hi Myrtle,

      Sorry for the delay, I had not spotted your message till now. Which Battalion was your Dad with?

      The best thing I can suggest is your Dad can listen to the actual audio episodes on this sight, they would be perfect for someone with failing eyesight. If you need any technical advice, let me know.

      Whereabouts does your Dad live? perhaps he could be interviewed for the project?

      Cheers,
      Dave

  • Thomas Ricci

    Hi, and let me thank everyone that participated in the liberation of Italy and finally the end of the Nazi regime in Europe; thank you. I am in search of the military units that marched through a specific area in Italy: the town name is Lesina, just north of Foggia in the region of Puglia. This is located in the Gargano area which is now now as the “Spur” of Italy. There are many stories amongst the elderly in my town (of Lesina) of Canadians and New Zealanders and Polish and americans that marched through the town and near by to “flush out” the enemy and push north. My project is to identify the Units that went through the area, and recognize the survivors and families,….. besides my quest is fulfil my father last wish. for more details, contact me at the fixed email address. Grazie

  • Myrtle Ratapu

    Guess what Dave I have only recently got my old computer out and so I am reading your reply to me today two years later. Thankyou for your answer, my Dad lives in Masterton. His address is 22 Waltons Avenue, Masterton, he is 95 and still quite cheeky and talkative. He is Maori Batallion, C Company as he was born and joined up in Tokomaru Bay, East Coast.
    After the war ended my Dad joined the J force and went to Horoshima after the Americans atom bombed Japan. Some of his stories are so very sad and sometimes he says, “only humans could destroy the way they do”.
    Your work is very impressive and makes me feel so proud many many thanks

  • Hollie Inger

    I firstly just want to try and convey my immense gratitude for the work you have done to pull this (webpage, Facebook page and interviews) together and to everyone who has taken part in it.

    My grandfather fought for NZ in the North Africa and Italian Campaigns and served from 1941 through to the end of the war.

    My mum just finished compiling his records, tracing where he was by obtaining his war records and compiling these with the photos he took during the war. So we know on such a small scale the many hours of research it takes to understand movements, terminology and locations and that will be nothing compared to the job you have had.

    I am sad that there seems to be such little compiled info available online, and that we were not taught about New Zealanders efforts in the war properly in school.

    We have lost the opportunity to respectfully find out more from my Grandfather experienced during his service as he died in 2003 at the age of 90.

    I came across your site Courage and Valour, there is nothing like it around and I cannot convey enough how special, incredible and amazing it is to be able to listen to these vets talk about their time. There is nowhere else we will ever be able to get this opportunity and if you hadn’t embarked on this journey, this information would be lost forever as the history books, documentaries and articles do not go into this level of experience, memory or detail.

    I feel in listening to these stories that I am in some way sitting across the kitchen table with a cup of tea listening to ‘grandfathers’ tell us of their times. At times I have laughed and more recently (in the last episode I listened to last night) sat with tears streaming down my face.

    We who have not fought in war, will never ‘know’ what they experienced, what sacrifices they gave, but what you are giving us is an opportunity to hear ‘our men’ talk about it, to hear some of their memories and to be grateful for what they have done for us all.

    I am listening to episodes hoping for the series not to end and wishing they would go on forever to keep hearing these guys talk, to keep getting a picture of it all.

    In this work you are leaving a legacy that would not exist if you didn’t start this and carry on with it, once we lose our soldiers and their stories and voices, the information will be lost.

    I feel you are stamping an invaluable part of our History into existence that will be so powerful for right now but also for the future in acknowledging our past. I hope one day your pod casts are incorporated into the NZ school curriculum, I am only just learning more in depth information of what our fathers and in my case grandfathers did for our country.

    I want to convey my heartfelt thanks to you and every single person who has contributed through interviews, sharing time and memories to make this available to listen too.

    Thank you for the hours and hours of hard work you have put into researching, interviewing, editing, pulling everything together and bringing this project to us.

    I wish I could thank the diggers and express my gratitude to them, not only for their service, but for sharing their stories with us. I wish they knew how grateful we who were not there are.

    I am often saddened by the fact there was little support offered to returned soldiers as a result of the times and ‘men don’t cry’ attitude of the time.

    My Grandfather Laurence Ralph Donkin signed up in December 1940, entered the Papakura Camp in April 1941 and was shipped out with the rank of Lance Bombadier to Egypt in Oct 1941. He was in North Africa and Syria until Victory in North Africa and then on to Italy embarking from Alexandria on October 17 1943. He returned home on the 13th September 1945. He too fought in Casino along with my Dad’s father who fought with the Indian Army.

    My Mum, Dad and Sister and I went to in 2011 where we visited Casino. And on another trip in we stayed in Bari, later finding out the role Bari played and that my Grandfather was in the NZ hospital near Bari.

    Your work is amazing and it is so appreciated. I am thankful that your series is cemented out there now for future generations to be able to access and hear.

    I have some of my grandfather’s photo’s, some have the names of other soldiers which we will post on the Facebook page.

    Thanks again,
    Hollie

    • Dave Homewood

      Hi Hollie, for some inexplicable reason I had not seen the notification before today that your comment had been made and was awaiting approval. I just read it, over a year after you wrote it, and I am totally blown away. Thank you so much for your awesome post, your kind words, your encouragement and for just “getting it” about what this project is about. Sadly this series has not been as popular with listeners as I think it should be, in terms of is has not reached many people and I think many more out there would enjoy t, learn from it and benefit from it. So please, keep spreading the word about it. Feedback like yours is exactly what I need to keep me going in my quest to record the stories and share them with others. Thanks so much again!! And so sorry this is so late. Cheers, Dave

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