Category Archives: WWII

Dad recounts getting wounded

When I was a kid I remember Dad showing me the scar on his forehead – a jagged ‘v’ shaped scar just inside his hairline. He said he was hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel that went through his tin hat and grazed his head. I knew he had been wounded but in the New Zealand army a wound doesn’t get you a medal like in some militaries, so his scar was his only memoir, albeit one he wished he never had.  As a kid I never knew that this wound caused him so much pain and ongoing discomfort – it was “Oh yeah, Dad got hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel”.   Dad’s application for a war pension came about because about this time he was checked out and had his neck and back x-rayed for the first time and it was discovered that the top three vertebrae were crushed and somewhat fused – the result of an old injury as it turns out. The specialist asked him if he had ever received a blow to the head causing whiplash. That is when he realised that the shrapnel to the head was the only thing that could have caused the injury.

I was tidying up the Woolshed and came across the following documents in a box of papers. One is a hand written letter from Dad when he was applying for a war pension detailing the events surrounding his disability, and a letter to one of his platoon mates who was asked to recount his memories of the same event sent by the RSA (Returned Services Association) Welfare Officer at Dad’s local RSA.  Dad did receive the pension in the end. There is a post-script to this story that I will recount below.  Note that he never once mentions that he was decorated in this action.  He also doesn’t mention it in the letter but he said to me that he was pretty certain the shell fragment was from his own Div Artillery who were stonking the area he was in at the time (see his citation on the post linked to below).

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TRANSCRIPT

SMALLER, BCD 633301, A CO. 22nd NZ BN

On the night of 13th April 1945 during an attack to the Sillaro River in Italy.
While carrying in wounded members of my section I was grazed high on the forehead by a piece of shrapnel which threw me to the ground stunning me momentarily.

Although there was considerable bleeding for a while I carried on with the attack and we duly reached our objective.

By morning and after a wash I examined the wound which was about two inches long and did not appear very deep. I considered going back to let the MO have a look at it but decided it was safer to stay where I was and by the time we were relieved the wound had closed up and was giving me no trouble, so I did nothing about it. It seemed so minor after the ghastly wounds of my mates. I did notice a constant ringing note in my ears. That’s all at the time.

Since the war the ringing in my ears has been constant but I’ve become used to it as one does and for a few years I suffered severe headaches which have reoccurred frequently and are very distressing.

Over the last few years these headaches have become almost daily occurrences and usually start about the middle of the afternoon, often putting a stop to my work for the day because I lose my concentration and am afraid the dizzy spells which accompany the headache may cause me to fall from a ladder or scaffold.  I also have frequent pain in my neck at the base of the skull, it has been suggested that this was caused by the blow to the forehead snapping my head back and damaging a vertebrae there.

I am Sir

Yours Faithfully

BCD SMALLER 633301

Letter to Bill Moulton. Bill “Papa Bill” was the old man of Dad’s platoon. Almost all the platoon were young men but Bill was already in his forties.  There is a tragic story about Bill that I will recount in a future post.

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POSTSCRIPT.

Dad received his Military Medal for his gallantry under fire the same night he was wounded. In the mid-1990s the RSA and Social Welfare were sorting out his pension entitlements and it was discovered that he was eligible for a small honorarium along with his medal. This had been due from the time he was gazetted in 1945 and he had never received it. With adjustments for inflation and so forth, fifty years of back-payments came to a tidy sum that was well into five figures. When Dad found out about this I asked him how he felt about this. He said “If I had known I was going to get this much I would have killed more bloody Germans”.  The joke was that he received his medal for saving lives, not taking them.

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Dad’s Dog Tag

I made a fortuitous discovery inside an old cup in the china cabinet. My father’s World War Two identity tag.  I had not seen this in many a year and thought it had been lost in a move. I was incredibly relieved to have found it.

It has his nationality (N.Z), service number (633301), religion (C.E = Church of England), Blood group (O) and of course his Surname and initials (SMALLER, B.C.D).

I am not sure what the material it is made of is. It almost feels like a hard leather rather than metal. Any help here would be appreciated.

Dog tag 1

https://woolshedwargamer.com/2014/05/17/lcpl-brian-smaller-633301-22-infantry-batn-2nzef/

L/Cpl Brian Smaller,MM, 633301, 22 Infantry Batn, 2NZEF

On Thursday 15th May, 2014 my father, for whom I am named, finally marched off parade and into the memories of those who knew him. He was in his 90th year. He was a veteran of World War Two, a conflict that shaped him and affected every day of his life from when he was sixteen and joined up (after lying about his age) until the day he died.

Dad's Rack

He started his military life in 1940 as a Trooper/Bandsman in the Queen Alexandra’s Own Wellington West Coast Mounted Rifles. They actually rode horses and practiced cavalry charges with lance and sabre.

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He transferred to the Coastal Artillery and was stationed at the forts covering Wellington Harbour. He operated the mechanical range finding calculator to feed targeting information to the big guns. The Range Finger shoulder flashes below are rare as hen’s teeth. I have been looking for another set for years with no success. Rather glad that Dad managed to keep these items.

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In 1942 he transferred to the Infantry and first went to Egypt for training and was posted to 22 Battalion, 2NZEF as a replacement. His first taste of action was in Italy in 1943 at Monte Cassino, a hell of a baptism of fire. He spoke of the horror of experiencing combat in such a nightmare place, and how he quickly learned to respect the enemy he was fighting.

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My father was a natural soldier. He fought throughout the rest of the Italian Campaign. Like most New Zealanders of the time he was used to living rough and was able to make-do with what he had on hand.  For the most part he enjoyed soldiering. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. This is a copy of the original citation document held in the War Office Archives in the UK. The original presentation certificate signed by the King was lost to a fire. He said that he must have been shell shocked because no sane person would ever have done what he did.  Self-deprecation is the way of Gallantry Award winners it seems. He always said that he didn’t deserve his medal and better men did. In latter years he spoke of this award with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

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He never actually received his medal until about 1950 when his old Divisional Commander General Freyberg, who was Governor General of New Zealand at the time, came up from Wellington to Wanganui (the town where Dad and his young family lived) and presented him with it at a special ceremony at the Opera House. Dad had to draw a uniform and present himself. He had been demobbed in 1947.  Dad did have the opportunity to go to London in 1945 to get his medal pinned on him by the King but he was chasing a young Italian woman (my mother) at the time and that seemed more important.  He told me that having “Tiny” Freyberg pin his medal on meant more to him than if he had got it from the King.  After all, Tiny knew him by name.

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Dad Congratulatory certificate

A full shot of what Dad called his Brag Board.  You will notice that bottom right there is a badge missing. That was a cap badge of his with a dent in it where a bullet nearly took his head off one day.  When Dad gave me this Brag Board before he went to live with my sister in Australia he took it with him. His good luck charm he reckoned.

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You never remember your parents as anything other than old, and sometimes it is hard to imagine they were anything else. I see that in my own kid’s eyes. But he was a young man once.

 Dad Italy 1944

 Dad in centre with Bren.

A photo of my father, Italy c.21st Oct 1944

Now I have seen this photo before in a few books but while trolling through the National Library of New Zealand web-site I found a copy of it. Ordered it as a high resolution jpg.

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My father is the young guy in the middle of the photo with the bren. I look at this and shake my head at how young he was. Only nineteen years old. He was a Lance Corporal in the 22nd Infantry Battalion, 2NZEF.  The old bugger is still going at 88 and not quite ready to start pushing up the daisies.

We have another photo of Dad taken by my Uncle Bob from the turret of his Sherman – it shows Dad escorting prisoners he took back down the road from the front. Dad said it was the best day of his war. He captured about forty Germans who had been asleep in a church and no-one died – on either side.

Here is a link to the original source. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23034721?search%5Bi%5D%5Bsubject%5D%5B%5D=Military+personnel%2C+New+Zealand&search%5Bi%5D%5Bsubject%5D%5B%5D=Italy&search%5Bil%5D%5Bcategory%5D=Images&search%5Bpage%5D=3&search%5Bpath%5D=items

ANZAC Day, 2013

Lest we forget.

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And the man who saved my father’s life while giving his own. They were in a farmhouse that was being shelled. Dad said the wall was blown in next to him and Lt Keith Cave blocked the hole with his own body to prevent fragments from subsequent shells from  entering the room.  Dad said he felt the shell fragments what killed Lt Cave hit him.  My father is still alive at 88 years of age and has five children, 13 grandchildren and god knows how many Great- and Great-Great grandchildren.

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Lt Keith Cave is buried in Forli War Cemetery in Italy.

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Monday Music: 633 Squadron.

When I was a kid, about seven years old, I remember seeing 633 Squadron at the movies on a Saturday afternoon with my mates.  We spent many an hour using the jungle gym at school as our ‘Mossie’ as we re-enacted our favourite bits of the film.

633 Squadron One Sheet

My best friend was called Ken and his father (also named Ken) was a radar operator in both Night Fighters and Pathfinders during the war and I used to love listening to his reminiscences about serving in the Mosquito. As an aside, our fathers became good friends in retirement and used to belong to a social club that did ‘raids’ on kindred-clubs up and down the country. Ken Senior used to get them lost all the time. Dad said to him one day that he had no idea how the hell he could find his way to Berlin at night with Jerry shooting at him when he couldn’t find a street in Auckland.

Anyway, back to the movie.  I loved it then and it is still up there on my list of top war films. The soaring music of the score by Ron Goodwin over the opening credits is instantly recognizable by any aficionado of war movies.

The movie used a number of real recently decommissioned RAF Mosquito fighter bombers that were mocked up to resemble wartime variants.  As good as CGI is today, knowing that they used real aircraft for many of the scenes adds something to the impact of the film.

The musical score:

For those who have not seen the movie, here is Part 1 (you will find the rest easily enough)

Wargaming with Mosquitos

There are a heap of companies who manufacture models that can be used for table top wargaming. A 633 squadron game would be fun – with the right type of terrain. I have the sneaking suspicion that someone posted a link to a demo game based on the film. Here are a couple of examples of the type of model available.

Airlex

http://www.airalex.com/MOSQUITO.html

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Old Glory (True North)

http://www.oldgloryminiatures.com/proddetail.asp?prod=AUK04

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Why I was banned from Battlefront Forums

Webb Cartoon from 2004
Webb Cartoon from 2004

After some email to-ing and fro-ing between Chris Townley (from Battlefront) and myself we arranged for a call from BF for this morning and subsequently today I got a call from one of the owners of Battlefront to explain why my account was deleted from the battlefront forum.  Peter Suminovich was polite and explained very clearly why I was evicted, which is all I was asking for.

Back in 2008 I made a post on a New Zealand political blog, at a time when a major New Zealand politician was in the news with regards to a big political spat over scampi, fishing quotas, alleged corruption, dodgy politicians, paper bags with money in them and an injunction on a video interview with a guy who worked for Peter S who said that he had told him to lie to a Parliamentary commission.   There was this big court case where Peter Suminovich and another joker sued a media company and state-owned TV for defamation and I understand it was settled out of court.  It is all on the internet as part of public record if you want to read about it.  Anyway, that is the background.

I had forgotten all about that period in New Zealand history and could not even remember the comment so after a lot of searching archives on a multitude of political blogs, I think I found the offending post.  I am not sure that there were others but if there were I couldn’t find them.

http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2008/08/hansard_of_hide_re_peters.html#comments

He said to me on the phone that I wrote a hurtful thing and he didn’t want anything to do with me and by inference that included my having any interaction with his company Battlefront. He obviously has a long memory.  My mother was a Southern European, so I know all about that.

So, there you have it.  It was not anything I said or did on the Battlefront Flames of War forums. He is exercising his right of ownership of the Flames of War Forum – and that is that. Perhaps in a similar circumstance I would do the same as Peter S did if someone called me Fat Brian.

Monday Music: Sergeants Major

Today I thought I would share a few classics about the backbone of any military – the Sergeant Major.  Every old soldier I have ever talked to has tales about sergeant majors and their propensity for yelling.

windsor davies

The first is the classic George Formby accompanying himself on his banjo-lele.  This clip is from the movie “It’s in the Air”.

And the other piece of music is “Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major”.

If you want to watch the entire movie the George Formby clip was taken from here is the link (Update: Video removed from Youtube).

For those of you who remember the classic British comedy series “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum”, here is the very first episode with Windsor Davies playing Battery Sergeant Major “Shut Up” Williams.

Banned from Battlefront’s Flames of War Forum

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Today I got an email from Chris Townley (Design Studio Manager at Battlefront) with this rather terse sentence.

Hi Brian,

your forum account on the Flames Of War site has been deleted at the request of the senior management.

Regards
Chris Townley

Battlefront Miniatures

Well, I wondered why – I had hardly said or done anything controversial at the Battle Front Forum. The sum total of my contribution was posting a link to my painted Battlefront Stuart Recce tanks post (in the Galleries section), and to some of my Monday Music posts that had themes that may or may not interest people interested in social history of WWII and Vietnam War (in the Canteen section – the appropriate part of the forum for such posts).

Here is what I wrote about their Vietnam range:

Battle Front’s Tour of Duty line.  Quite extensive and looks pretty good. I have only ever seen the models in blisters but I am guessing that they are of the same pretty high standard as the rest of the BF line – arguments over the shape of a T-55′s turret notwithstanding.

Still waiting to see if I get a response from Chris as to why my account was removed, but I have to ask – has Battlefront become thinner skinned than an Opel Blitz truck?