Veterans' Stories

Canterbury History Foundation: 2014 Canterbury Community Historian Award

I was inspired to apply for this award in 2014 after seeing the photographic record created by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers for their nationwide WWII Veterans Portrait Project. These portraits were gifted to the RSA and form a precious archive of images for veterans, families, communities and New Zealand’s generations to come.

My goal in applying for this award was to add biographies to some of the portraits, to uncover stories behind the faces.

Christchurch members of NZIPP helped put me in touch with some of the veterans they photographed and I started work in October 2014.

The funding has been very helpful but is limited. Unfortunately I do not have the resources to record every veteran’s life story. My hope is other writers may also get on board and contribute biographies in time.

I wish to thank the Canterbury History Foundation for extending me this opportunity and NZIPP for giving permission for use of the portraits reproduced below. The work has been immensely rewarding and it has been an honour and a pleasure to meet six Canterbury veterans.

Here are their stories …

  • James (Jim) Roland Calder

    Service No: C5464 RNVR NZD (Portrait by Maria Buhrkuhl, NZIPP)

    Jim Calder was just 17 when he saw the ships of the First Echelon, led by the battleship HMS Ramilles, leave Wellington bound for Egypt. It was an extraordinary sight for the young man, who had been called up for sea training just a few weeks before. Jim was aboard the HMS Wakakura when he witnessed this memorable event. His subsequent naval service saw him put to work as a range taker on HMS Monowai before he volunteered for what was highly secret work in the field of submarine detection. By March 1944 he was commissioned and finished the war as a Temp Sub Lieut.

    Click here to read his story.

  • Jack Marshall, DFC

    Service No: NZ391865 (Portrait by Janine Ross-Johnstone, NZIPP)

    A keenness and desire to engage the enemy were qualities displayed at all times by Flying Officer Jack Marshall, according to his citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross on 12 April 1943. A successful operational career as an air gunner also came at a price, draining reserves of courage and endurance through many long hours of fear, numbing cold and fatigue on life-threatening sorties.

    Click here to read his story.

  • Francis Noel Smith

    Service No: C5472, (Portrait by Heather Richardson, NZIPP)

    When Noel Smith joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in 1939 at age 17, he had no boating or sailing experience. After completing a relief tour aboard an armed merchant cruiser in the Pacific, the young man set sail with the Second Echelon on the grand troopship Aquitania. As well as serving on patrol boats and coastal convoys, Noel went on to endure hazardous Arctic convoy work and a daring landing at the Port of Algiers that almost cost him his life.

    Click here to read his story.

  • Evan "Snow" Williams

    Service No: 639543, (Portrait by Rebecca Watson, NZIPP)

    Too young to enlist for overseas service when war was declared, Evan Williams instead chose to join the Home Guard in 1941. Guided by seasoned World War One veterans, the 16-year-old learned fast and was soon to discover an innate talent for command. By 1945 he was training other men to fight and the following year left for Japan to serve with ‘J Force’, the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF) as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

    Click here to read his story.

  • Owen William Wilson

    2NZEF Service No: 442436, (Portrait by Tony Stewart, NZIPP)

    By 1943, thousands of weary men from the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force had returned home on furlough. At the same time, many young men – who had been too young to join earlier echelons – knew it would soon be their turn to board a ship bound for Egypt. One of them was South Canterbury lad Owen Wilson, who had served the war effort at home since mid-1941, firstly by training young men to drive trucks and then by delivering supplies for the NZASC. On turning 21, he did finally board a ship to Egypt as part of the 13th Reinforcements and by early 1945 was with the New Zealand Division for the final offensive in Italy.

    Click here to read his story.

  • Kenneth Raymond Wright

    Service No: 445257, (Portrait by Maria Buhrkuhl, NZIPP)

    In 1939, Ken Wright was a young Christchurch tap dance teacher with 100 pupils. In 1943 his tap shoes went with him to war. In August that year he danced on mess tables aboard a troop ship bound for the Middle East. Once there, he entertained American officers in Cairo and later dressed in drag to lift the spirits of wounded soldiers in Italy. He served his country by driving trucks carrying petrol and ammunition to supply frontline forces.

    Click here to read his story.