Friday, April 22, 2011

The Blast ANZAC Collection: 2011. A Few Memories

It is ANZAC weekend really. This year ANZAC day falls on the Easter holiday weekend so they roll into one. As I sit here in Christchurch and wonder where the services are I should be attending (most venues have been damaged after the earthquake) I have scrolled through many pics and uploaded a real cross section of some life in the Army. I wish I carried my camera more during my service. Enjoy the memories and remember to celebrate those who did their bit and never made it home. We will remember them.

The way it was. Hong Kong (British) border post looking towards China. 1992

Bush bashing with the Air Force. One of hundreds of helicopter flights with all our kit.

Sydney, Australia. 5/7 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment,  (Mechanised Infantry)  on the move.

B Company, 2nd/1st Battalion, Infantry skill at arms team after kicking 2 Ghurka Regiments butt for the Smith Trophy. Hong Kong 1992

Spoiling for trouble. 2nd/1st Battalion, RNZIR on the move and looking for a fight.

A mate.  Captain Johnny McNutt seated in an Apache gunship just prior to being killed in 2001 serving overseas with the NZSAS. R.I.P.. Read more about Johnny here (link)

Infantry on the move. Dawn raid May 2003

Local legends. Roll of Honour for the Hunter district, South Canterbury. My Great Uncle Alan McConnell one of the lucky ones to make it back. He too was an Infantry Officer in WW2.

Roll of Honour at the Pearl Harbour War memorial to those killed in the Japanese surprise raid on the US Navy Pacific Fleet. Sobering number of men killed. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Skill at Arms section in action. Nothing like being in the mud!

Parachute drop, Crete, Greece

About to get airborne. The Wessex choppers of the Royal Air Force about to lift us off.
Mates heading on leave in Auckland. Troy Fisher (R.I.P) on the right.
A hot brew in the field and a good yarn after a hard day. Pure gold for the Infantry.
A moody Southern sky with light at the end of the tunnel!
The beautiful Southern Alps of the South Island, New Zealand. A  beacon of home.
Infantry 81mm mortars. Outgoing live.
A Nazi paratrooper I met in Crete at the German memorial service. He was bitter and angry and disliked the English (which he thought I was)  despite me being pleasant and respectful. He was so rude that I took his picture. Tosser!

Bosnia contingent pic (plus attachments) taken at the New Zealand Memorial marking the battle of Chunuk Bair,  Galipolli, Turkey.

Beach assault landing Hong Kong/China border. B Company comes ashore.

Parachute training, Whenuapai,  Auckland, 1988

Infantry fighting patrol. Palm Olive plantation, Malaysia, 1990.

Parachute rolls.......practising the technique. Tower training.
Digging up a mass grave, Angola, South West Africa, 1996. Not pleasant!

Resupply. Borneo Jungle, Brunei. 1994

Flying over Borneo Jungle, Brunei by helicopter.

Ground training.

130km forced march. 30 plus hours with full battle kit.
ANZAC Dawn Service 2010. Sunrise over the Cathedral......before the earthquake took out the Cathedral in Feb 11.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

ANZAC Day: The true gold of ANZAC

Local men from Hunter district who served. Lest we forget.
As ANZAC day looms I always think of my military past. For many years it was 100% of my life, nearly 18 years serving as a Regular Army Officer and now after a 6 year gap, again in the Reserves. When I first left the Army I immersed myself in business to make up the skill gap that I felt I had as a result of so much time in one organisation. Now more and more I fall back on the extra ordinary grounding I got in the Army and the skills it taught me.  Sure I got a University education as well (BCom at Canterbury University) but those basic skills are the valuable ones. Things like accepting responsibility, leading, communicating, systems for administration, logistics. How to plan and think through problems. People skills, overseas experience, overcoming fear, physical fitness and the list goes on.

Shared experience = ANZAC Spirit. Hong Kong/China border 1991
ANZAC day for me is a time of remembrance. It is a time to think back on experiences, people, sacrifice and those who put country first. Those who didn’t make it home or were killed serving their country come to mind. The big campaigns which cost many faceless New Zealanders their lives and then more recently those killed in combat, accidents or in training that have a much more personal angle given that we knew them and had served together.

Many of my good friends still serve in the Army and some are in harms way right now. They hold senior roles of course nowadays but none  in the back of your mind you get that knot in your guts whenever there is a bad news headline in Afghanistan or some other strange place they may be serving. Many of my mates are now out of the Army and flung far around the country and indeed the world in roles ranging from Private security to private and big business. Most have been very successful in what they have pursued and of course fall back on many of those skills taught in the military.

Remembering those who didn't get home= ANZAC spirit
I wanted to define what ANZAC day meant to me and whilst the dawn parade is certainly a focal point, I find myself looking at those around me who have not served. I look at their reaction and I wonder why they attend and what it must mean to them given they have not experienced the tight camaraderie the Army offers or the feeling of being in a tight combat team. I don’t understand how they view the day and the words said at services across the country.

No, ANZAC day is not really that big for me. Personally it happens many times a year when I share time with good mates who I have served with. The ANZAC experience for me is just as much about playing a good army mate at squash as it is about a dawn parade. To be able to tell yarns, swear  (one of the pleasures in life) and spend time is just as important. Having a coffee, phone calls, laughing, staying in touch are all pleasures. I love the way you can go months and years and then just touch base and not much has changed.

Last weekend a mate called on me who I had not seen for perhaps 10 years and we spent a couple of hours talking. Those are friendships that endure, like old school mates they are part of my community. They know me, my strengths, my weaknesses and we have common experience.
That is a gift the Army has given me for the rest of my life. Enduring friendships……now that is just absolute gold!

If you liked this ANZAC story you will love these others that I have written;

A visit to Crete: Some ANZAC photos (Link here)

Johnny McNutt: A Good Southern Bloke R.I.P. (Link here)

Bush bashing and finding the Canterbury lads: Gallipoli (Link here)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Life Well Lived: Southern Legend Dan Gregan (The big "D")

Dan Gregan pictured with his Grandson Hugh!
I now think it is possible to enjoy a funeral. It is after all a final send off for someone you know and care about. Whilst that is sad, when that individual has lived a true, full and happy life it truly becomes a celebration.

Last week Dan Gregan passed away suddenly in his sleep aged 84. He was man who has always been a part of my life. He lived over the boundary fence and any farmer out there knows that is quite a big thing down south! Not only that his family and mine have lived over the boundary fence from each other since the early 1900's when our family's drew land from the ballet. His father and my Great Grand parents kicked around together as they broke in the land. My Grand father farmed next to Dan and then my mother did. Dan's son John now has the boundary and John's son Sean is my Godson.

Over the last century our families have known each other well, never living in each others pockets by any stretch of the imagination (how can you when you live 4 km apart) but supporting each other through good times and the bad. Storms and disaster, injury and illness, celebration and success have all been present at some stage during those decades.

Dan was an impressive man. Tall, lean and fit with a sharp wit and quiet way about him. He was a gentleman. He was always happy to see you, always got up and shook your hand with his big mit, was always interested in what you were doing and what was happening in your world. He was a savvy businessman and investor, farmer and stockman. He enjoyed the odd whiskey, an occasional cuban cigar, fine chocolate and loved reading his newspaper cover to cover. It is fair to say a blog or Facebook were not his preferred methods of communicating with his many friends and large family, rather he was old school.....a conversationist.

Dan and Jo (effectively a second Mum to me) raised a large and successful family with whom I have been lucky enough to have grown up amongst. All successful in their own fields and now with careers, partners and children of their own at various ages, the older I get the more I value their friendship. So when my mother rang to tell me of Dan's death it took me by surprise. I sat down for a few minutes, let it sink in, it upset me. I had been lucky enough to spend time with him several weeks before the big earthquake in February when the Gregan clan had gathered to celebrate the christening of his latest wee Granddaughter. We chatted and laughed and I really enjoyed seeing him for the first time in 6 months or more.

His funeral was huge and it really struck me just how many people across all age groups respected and loved Dan. How his sons delivered his eulogy so well I will never know but the mix of humour, story telling and pride was a delight and classic Gregan style. Dan had a strong catholic faith and a love of people, family and friends. He was a man of the land, a farmer, a businessman and a person you listened to, respected and enjoyed fellowship with.

He was a Southern Legend and I'm sure the hundreds who shared his farewell celebration would agree.

I miss him already.