Tag Archives: family

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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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.

Grey House Leavers Dinner 2013: Haka

Many of you would have seen the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team doing the haka before the start of a test match. It is often called a war dance, but it is more than just that. It is also a challenge and a mark of respect that can be given or received in Maori culture.

From Wikipedia:

The Haka (plural is the same as singular: haka) is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge from the Māori people of New Zealand. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment.[1] The New Zealand rugby team‘s practice of performing a haka before their matches has made the dance more widely known around the world.

Haka are performed for various reasons: for amusement, as a hearty welcome to distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

Last night my son had his House Leavers Dinner at Wanganui Collegiate School. The school is a Co-ed Boarding school for kids aged 13-18.

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The Year 13 lads (17 and 18 year olds) have finished school and are now heading off into the world to University and working life.  The Leavers gave a rendition of their Grey House haka to their younger house-mates and the parents and teachers in attendance.  The rest of the house (boys aged 13/13 through to 16/17) gave the school haka back in response.

The dinner was held in what is known as “Big School”, the main classroom block at Wanganui Collegiate.  It has the look and feel of a medieval Great Hall. A fantastic setting. Behind the boys are the names of all the Old Boys who fought and in many cases died in WWI and WWII.

Sorry about the cheap cell phone quality but it was all I had on me at dinner.

Haka are embraced in schools here.  This clip is of all the boys giving the Rowing team the traditional send off before the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships.

For you Americans, here is the school doing the School haka for the USA Eagles when they were here for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

And for a real tear jerker. Army welcoming home soldiers of their battalion who fell in battle in Afghanistan.

People either love it or hate it but for me I never hear a haka without feeling an emotional response.

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