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Cambridge People

Explore the history of the local people.


World War Two – Stories

Soldiers’ Stories

Cliff Beech (Regt No. 46691) age 37 was a farmer on Buckland Road when his married brother Rex took over his farm. He joined the 7th Reinforcements in September 1941 and went to Trentham Camp.

Rumours about the troops’ departure were everywhere. There was a big parade on Tuesday; Wednesday was a map reading exercise; Thursday some men had meningitis and Friday the picture show at the Salvation Army hut caught fire. The cookhouse said they must be going – no more food had been ordered!

13 September 1941 they were on board the ‘Acquitane’. Cliff was lucky, there were only eight in his cabin and they shared two wash-basins and a bath.

It was not long before the censor was attacking his letters home with scissors as they moved into the danger zone. No place names were allowed to be mentioned and their duties were never discussed. Mail was erratic, there was sand everywhere and it was December 1st before he had word from home. At Christmas they all got patriotic parcels and were ‘like a lot of children on Christmas morning’.

Cliff was a member of the 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Coy, 4th Platoon. They carried anything from land mines to pack mules but mainly troops, petrol, rations, ammunition and water. Everything it took to run an army in the field.

By April 1942 they had made it to Syria. They had only the mail and the end of the war to look forward to. As Rommel advanced into Egypt the 6th RMT Coy was there transporting troops and building supply dumps.

Finally in September there was word from Cliff – ‘Out of the desert on desert leave, have lost 1 stone 6 pound, again the sand and flies are everywhere. Can’t write after dark as you can guess it isn’t safe to light a match. Did you get the cable I sent – just to let you know that Jerry hadn’t caught up to me although he gave it a good go at times. The trip from Syria was very much the same as going up only of course more hurried. Our bomber fighters are now going back and forth like swarms of bees, they sure are encouraging.’

In February 1943 Cliff had four goes to start a letter- ‘The Jerry bombs are close to our rear and with the ack ack going it sure does rock the place. He is plastering the road not far from here with shells. I only hope he doesn’t switch them on this part of it, it will be just too bad for us. He has just dropped a nestful of bombs. At present you can’t hear yourself talk what with tank battles and artillery and ack ack and shells and bombs bursting about.’ Then another telegram to say – ‘Am well and fit’.

In April and May 1943 he was attached to the No.1 NZ Mule Pack Co. This was to be put into operation for the rough country that lay ahead in Tunisia, but were not needed. They finished their month with the first (and last) Spring meeting of the NZ Mule and Donkey Turf Club.

In November they were in Italy – mud and rain. They were awarded the Africa Star, downed seventy gallons of wine at Christmas and were away on a job for three days after Boxing Day. New Year’s Day 1944 it was snowing, some of the tents collapsed and they received their 8th Army Clasps.

By March – ‘Things are buzzing again and our boys are in the thick of it.’ At the end of June there was leave in Rome and they traded their old Chev trucks for brand new Dodges – not somebody else’s left offs. But then came long fighting and not much rest for the drivers.

With the end of the Italian campaign in sight, the 6th RMT Coy was disbanded and they transferred to the NZ Advance Base D Coy. After Operation Buckland and the advance to Trieste in June 1945 it was only a matter of time before Cliff was homeward bound.

Cliff Beech died 2 June 1973.


Chris Boyce (Regt No.29498) left New Zealand in November 1940. In a letter home in mid 1941 he related to his parents his time in Greece and their hurried departure to Egypt. He remarked on the snow-capped mountains when they travelled north in cattle trucks; the Greek lady in Katerina who offered to do his washing for free; the march high into the hills. They dug trenches and put up miles of barbed wire fences for eight days – all for nothing as the Germans broke through and they had to retreat to avoid being cut off.

During Easter they were in the town of Lavidion – ‘It was magnificent, a stone village set against a stone mountain.’ A nearby division was outflanked and Chris and his mates were on the march again. They dug in 150 feet above a road on a ridge. Every company except theirs moved further south and they watched all day as the Germans brought up tanks and armoured cars. They met at 7pm. Fortunately a few Aussie artillery strays gave them a hand and from the left flank they showed Mr Hitler that it was possible to make his 30 ton tanks bounce off the road. Forty-eight German tanks with eight crews with machine guns, tommy guns and mortars pitted against the New Zealanders’ rifles. The Australians were really their saviours. When dusk arrived they slipped down the back of their hill into trucks and away to Larissa. The Germans came at them from the east but the New Zealanders beat them by 20 minutes. They crossed the bridge at the southern end of the city singing ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and then blew it sky high.

When they dug in at Inoles they had plenty of support. They were pounded incessantly but held back the Germans. Here again they were in danger of being cut off so they moved across to the Corinth Canal. Again the dive bombing and machine gunning was merciless and ceaseless. Fresh parachute troops had landed and were converging when the navy arrived to get them off. Chris was in the last life-boat to leave Greece and was supping hot chocolate as ‘Jerry’ reached the beach. The next day he had his first shave for a week and then was back in Egypt.

Later he was one of the 24th NZ Infantry Battalion which was overtaken by German tanks at Sidi Rezgh on 30 November 1941. They had the choice of being run over by German tanks or being guests of the Fuhrer. They were marched all night to a German Airforce hangar in Derna, Ben Ghazzi, then packaged into an Italian freighter along with Bush Hooker, Bert Cubis and Lewis Richards and taken over the Mediterranean to Italy. He was briefly free in September 1943 but hoaxed by a supposed British radio announcement, recaptured by the Germans at Treviso and taken to Germany. Here he worked putting sleepers on railway lines, constructing a tunnel, and making bricks for air raid shelters.

They existed on little more than subsistence rations – a small loaf of bread a day, a bowl or two of soup and perhaps a bit of macaroni. Red Cross parcels either came in a burst where they received them for several weeks on end or spasmodically because of the heavy bombing. The English Red Cross parcels were a good variety, New Zealand and Canadian parcels were solid foods like butter, cheese, meat and honey which lifted the calorie count. Chris held an undying gratitude for the Red Cross.

He was released from Stalag XIB by the American Armed Forces on 11 April 1945 and he and Bush Hooker arrived back in Cambridge on 2 October 1945. The Fire Brigade took the engine, fully manned, to meet the cars coming from Frankton Junction. Chris and Bush were delighted to have pride of place on the engine as they headed the convoy, being transported to their respective homes.

Chris Boyce died 3 January 1990.


Mid-1942 Private Alan Buckingham and Lieutenant Dennis Gilfillan were among the New Zealanders desperately trying to break out of the Western Desert at Minquar Quam. A ½ ton pick-up truck had broken down so they tied it on the back of the 3 tonner and off they went. Lieutenant Gilfillan remembered, “It was a real scorch across the war scarred desert. Plenty of trucks were hit and went up in flames. We travelled all night, the tow rope held and we got the pick-up out as well as ourselves.”

Corporal Neville Lodge was a passenger in the pick-up and paid tribute to Alan Buckingham – “As we approached a line of tracer bullets he braked. The instant it stopped he was off. And of course, us too, but we had no such control. I recall one burst starting up again, passing between our vehicles, stopping just as we got to it. I turned to see it scorch over the back of the truck and there was a mighty clang as a bullet must have bounced off one of the bare canopy frames. Any time I think of the break through I mentally throw a salute to the driver for his driving ability and for maintaining his vehicle in reliable working order.”

Alan Buckingham died 21 June 1992.


Private 3245 Reg Buckingham was one of the first 46 men of the 1st echelon farewelled from Cambridge when he left with the soldiers in 1939. He was the first to return and become an RSA member.

Reg had been in the Army Service Corp 18th Battalion – the first New Zealanders to assist the Imperial Forces in Egypt – and was wounded just before the British advanced into Libya. In September 1940 he and Corporal Jim Roiall had driven into Mersa Matruh to get petrol supplies and had already sheltered once during an air raid on entering the town. At the petrol dump they found the sergeant in charge had been killed so they loaded their lorry and began the trip back.

Another bombing raid and four 250lb bombs struck the tar seal right in front of them but spread their flak instead of exploding. Reg was thrown from the truck and Jim ended up under it – both were hit a number of times. The truck and nearly every can of petrol were holed and the men were saturated in petrol as Reg dragged Jim away. Again they were bombed but later found and driven to a casualty clearing station. Reg had an emergency operation on his leg and was then taken to the Alexandria Naval Hospital and on to the NZ Helwan No.1 Hospital outside Cairo. He stayed there until the following May when he left for Sydney – again to meet up with Jim – and they both crossed the Tasman in the ‘Somersetshire’ and finally home.

Reg Buckingham died 1 May 1986.


Roy O Calvert (RNZAF 404890) commenced training with the Royal New Zealand Air force in 1940 after obtaining a pilot’s civil flying licence at Rukuhia. He then joined No.9 Course for flying training and flew Tiger Moths at Whenuapai, then twin engine Airspeed Oxfords at Ohakea.

Roy passed straight through Canada to Britain in 1941 and with him he carried a special scarf sent to him by his fiancée May Fitches – this and letters kept him going throughout his war service.
At the beginning of October 1942 Flying Officer Calvert of 50 Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation reads –”Flying Officer Calvert as pilot of aircraft has flown on many sorties. Whatever the weather or the opposition he has always endeavoured to press home his attacks, and on numerous occasions, has obtained excellent photographs. Throughout his tour of duty, he has displayed a high standard of skill, together with great devotion to duty.” In November while on a bombing raid on Hamburg, Roy was injured and his Lancaster bomber peppered with shrapnel. He was discharged from hospital at the end of the month and awarded a bar to his DFC. This citation reads – “As pilot of the aircraft, Flying Officer Calvert has participated in numerous sorties including attacks on heavy defended areas in Western Germany and daylight raids on Le Creusot and Milan. During a recent sortie, his aircraft was subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire, sustaining much damage. The wireless operator was killed and both the pilot and navigator were wounded. The aircraft became difficult to control, but, although he had a piece of shell splinter in his left arm, set course for home. Flying Officer Calvert succeeded in making a skilful crash landing in bad visibility. He displayed great courage and tenacity in the face of harassing circumstances.”

In January 1944, he was transferred to 630 Squadron, and promoted to Acting-Squadron Leader in charge of ‘B’ Flight. At East Kirkby in Lincolnshire he served his second tour of duty. There, upon the loss of the Wing Commander, he was in charge of the Squadron for about two months until he accepted the opportunity to join a group of New Zealanders about to return home through America.

Home for Christmas 1944 and he received the Second Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross from the Governor General. The citation reads – “Since joining the Squadron in January 1944, Acting Squadron Leader Calvert has taken part in attacks against many strongly defended targets in Germany, including Berlin and Leipzig. He has constantly shown skill, determination and reliability, and as captain of his aircraft he has set a high standard to the other members of his Squadron. His operational experience and enthusiasm have been invaluable in the training of new crews.”

On 8 June 1944 Acting Squadron Leader R O Calvert RNZAF was recorded in the London Gazette as mentioned in a Despatch for distinguished service. Roy flew 59 operations during his four years service and described his tactic to evade enemy fighters in an interview with the Cambridge Edition in 1996. “I always used a gentle corkscrewing action over enemy territory on the way into and away from the target. It enabled the gunners to cover more sky; it was easy to change into a more violent corkscrew if the need arose and it was good for the morale of the crew, as they felt that something was being done for our defence instead of being sitting ducks. We even found on several occasions that approaching fighters broke off their attack and went looking for someone else who did not appear to be so alert,” he said.

In February 1944, with a different crew the Lancaster R5702 in which Roy had made 22 trips, was shot down over Denmark and lay forgotten until Leif Thomsen found the old wing tip in a barn and started researching its history. In 1996 Roy was sent a piece of the wing from the old bomber which he had last seen when he landed it at Bradwell Bay in England in 1942.

Roy Calvert died 26 March 2002.


Rex Veale Garland (Regt No. 14375) was farewelled from Cambridge with the Divisional Cavalry at the end of 1940. In May 1941 (along with 2,200 New Zealanders) he was reported missing in the Greek Campaign. News of Trooper Garland was received in July – he was a prisoner of war.

His parents, Mr and Mrs J W Garland, got their first letter from Rex in October, in which he said, “It seems hard to believe at times but it is nearly three months since first I was captured. You will understand that there is very little news of my whereabouts. As you must have guessed I was captured in the south of Greece along with a good many of the other chaps who joined up and came over with me. Luckily a few of us have been able to keep together. Today our first Red Cross parcel arrived. It certainly was credit to them.”

At age twelve Rex had been operated on for osteomyolitis. Within a short period he had septicaemia and then developed rheumatoid arthritis. By walking as much as possible and playing polo Rex was able to build up a fitness which allowed him to pass the army medical test. His hips were always restricted and painful but when he volunteered for the army they only x-rayed his chest. As a prisoner of war he was dropped into a totally different world.

A march in Northern Greece saw Rex start out at the front of the line but by nightfall he was with the tail enders. From his small camp in Eichberg in February 1943 he was sent to a hospital in Austria when his arthritis flared up again. From there he went to Wolfsberg, and back to the hospital. Sick parade was held each morning. It was an ongoing battle between clever young men who turned up each morning with a great range of imaginary complaints – their way of slowing down and sabotaging Hitler’s work force. The Canadian Doctor tried desperately to keep Rex in bed. At the end of 1943 Rex was repatriated to Egypt and a month or two later he was home.

Rex Garland died 19 March 1999.


When Les Haworth (Regt No. 22278) was evacuated from Crete in 1941, the smell of sausages on the ‘Glengyle’ cooked by the Navy to feed evacuees, lingered on. Days on hard rations, walking over the mountains of Crete to the sea took their toll. Strafed by the enemy by day, they were glad to see the darkness of night approaching.

Les had left New Zealand in May 1940 and spent six months training in Britain. He fought through the Greek and Crete campaigns being pushed back to Egypt by the German’s superior air power. In Egypt Les spent a while in hospital to heal his blistered feet.

He continued in the army with the 4th RMT and Div. Petrol Company, on through the Desert Campaign and after victory in Tunisia was sent home with the first furlough draft in the middle of 1943.

A British General said – “The course of the New Zealand division could be traced by the string of goal posts,” and Les kept up his rugby practice throughout the desert playing with the Rep teams of his company.


Howard Leonard ‘Bush’ Hooker (Regt No. 3273) was given a farewell from Cambridge with the 1st echelon in December 1939. Like many other Kiwi soldiers Bush landed in Alexandria, Egypt, and went on to fight in the desert campaign. When they left Greece, they filled their water bottles with rum from casks on the beach as they stood and listened to the ripples on the water as the landing craft arrived.

Arriving at the main harbour on Crete, they hid under the olive trees by day, only venturing out at night. German parachutists arrived in the valley below Galatas but many never made the descent alive. The allies took most of the guns and ammunition that came out of the sky with them. However a pocket of German paratroopers gained a stronghold at the airport at Maleme where the allied drivers were stationed. They were short on guns and ammunition and could offer only token resistance.

On May 26 (Bush’s birthday) they began the retreat over the mountains to the beach. Two boats, the ‘Napier’ and the ‘Nizam’ arrived to take off the troops. Unfortunately they were one hour late and got caught in daylight. A bomb was dropped on the ‘Nizam’, the boat Bush was on, but it went down between the rails. The ‘Napier’ got stopped in its tracks by another bomb, but they managed to get going again.

In a letter home Bush wrote – “Don’t be disheartened, because we are all sure that when we have air support, the enemy will not be in it.”

Later in 1941, while in the 18th Auckland Battalion, he was taken Prisoner Of War at Sidi Rezegh. In June 1942 in Campo P.G. 52 in Italy his room-mates were Chris Boyce and Lewis Richards. (Lew went straight into the medical section of the army in 1940 and for 9 months was based at the military hospital in Suva. He came back to New Zealand, was sent to the Middle East and captured by the Italians in November 1941. He was attached to an Italian Hospital and was repatriated in May 1943).

Bush was interned in Udine Camp in Italy for two and a half years and was later transferred to Germany and Gorlitz Camp. There were a lot of Russians there and the food was so scant that when one of their men died they would hide him under the bed so that they could still get his rations. The Russians never received Red Cross parcels and hardly any of them walked out alive.

Cigarettes from the Red Cross parcels were the best traders they could get. Bush did not smoke at that time but he kept the cigarettes under his bed to barter with. They were more valuable than gold.

While in camp Bush was not allowed to forget his trade – a haircut was worth two cigarettes. Cigarettes were also given to the Russians in the camp next door who used them for bartering. In return one young Russian made Bush a signet ring engraved with his initials. This and a book given to the troops at Christmas 1942 by Pope Pius XII held a special place in his memories of the war. The cartoonist Neville Lodge drew one of his sketches on the fly leaf of this book of Bush at his POW occupation.

Prior to their release by the Americans in 1945 the prisoners were forced to march 300 miles. Bush was placed in a hospital in England before being brought back home.

‘Bush’ Hooker died 27 December 1995.

‘Missing in Action In Greece’ runs a headline in the Independent in May 1941 when Walter Frederick Hubbard (Regt No. 31846), a signalman in the New Zealand Signal Corps was captured after the evacuation of Greece.

Six long months later official news was received by his mother that he was a prisoner of war – although a broadcast from the Vatican radio station had reported the news three weeks earlier. Fred sent a letter to the High Commissioner saying – ‘I was at Kalamata in Greece with many others waiting embarkation on 27 April when the town was entered and we were cut off from the beach.

Another New Zealander Signalman J H Doyle and myself took to the hills, where we lived, roamed, and put up with many hardships, such as worn out clothing, until we were eventually captured by Italians on 18 August. We are receiving good treatment at the camp in Sulmona Aquila and both are in the best of health. I have written several letters to my mother but from all accounts I believe that the mail takes several months to reach home.”

What he did not say was that he and Jim were hidden for four months by the Greeks, in particular one family, the Patriakeas. They went to a lot of trouble to feed and protect the New Zealand soldiers and even with bounties on their heads Fred and Jim were not given up. They helped with the harvesting and when the Germans blocked their escape in Cardamily, young Sam Patriakeas and his father took the men higher into the mountain to another village so they could get away.

Eventually Fred and Jim were caught and spent three years and eight months in prison camps in Italy and Stalag V111 in Germany. Later they survived a long forced march across Germany as the allies advanced and after being rescued in 1945 Fred spent some months convalescing in England.

Fred Hubbard died in Cambridge 21 November 1970 and in 1978 his wife Jessie took part in closing Campo 78 in Italy where Fred spent most of his four years’ service.

In 1943 there were approximately 8,000 New Zealanders listed as Prisoners of War. Some soldiers, who had held out in the hills for 16 months after the Greek campaign, had been captured but others were still free. Communications in some camps could be sent only through the International Red Cross, and this caused delays in receiving news from the POWs.


Jim Hyde (Regt No 179698) served in the desert campaign in North Africa 1942 and 1943. In 1940 he had been a member of the 16th Waikato Regiment who went into camp in Cambridge to prepare for war. “We were only territorials in those days, but we were all keen to go to war”, he said.

In 1941 when he became of age he mobilised at Claudelands and marched for three days to the Papakura Military Camp. Later they set themselves up in dense bush at Bombay and lived in makeshift huts for six months. “After our initial training, many of the boys volunteered for the Navy and Air Force and after we went to Whangarei we went in different directions.”

Jim left New Zealand for the Middle East with the 8th Reinforcements in 1942. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Te Baga Gap, Tunisia in 1943 and sent home.

Jim Hyde died 15 November 2004.


Neville Lentfer (Regt No 20128) went to Greece from NZ with the 2nd echelon; was evacuated from Greece to Crete; then fought through the Battle of Crete. They too listened to the waves on the shore as they awaited evacuation but the boat disappeared, leaving them to be taken prisoners.

Neville (POW No.5435) spent the rest of the war (4 years 1 month) in Poland and Germany, working in coal-mines, and cement and sugar beet factories. In the dead of winter on 19 January 1945 he and 500 fellow Kiwi POWs marched 1,000km to freedom. From Sosnowiec in Poland to Landshut in Bovaria, with barely enough food, and carrying everything they owned, they went south as the Allies advanced.

Neville returned to Crete in 1991, with the NZ Defence Force contingent, for memorial services and to lay the foundation stone at the site of the proposed memorial complex at Galatas. Twenty eight memorial services, parades and trips were packed into ten days, and memories and camaraderie came flooding back to all those involved.

Neville Lentfer died 18 March 2000.


R J ‘Bob’ Porter (Reg No. 25327) left with the 3rd echelon, after three months in training, for Fiji in August 1940. He served as No.1 Machine Gunner and returned to New Zealand after six months; then went to the Middle East to join the 27th Machine Gun Battalion in 1941.

Between major offences he was three months in Syria digging in. Then, wounded, he spent time at No.2 General Hospital just outside Cairo. The care and attention by the nurses to the wounded is something Bob will not forget.

At the end of November 1943 Bob saw action through the mud and snow all the way up Italy and it was the end of 1945 before he saw New Zealand again.

Bob Porter died 1 April 2002.


Francis Theodore Stites (Regt No. 34064) went into Trentham Camp in May 1940 having changed his name, lowered his age and listed only two of his four children.

He became Lance Corporal and joined the 6th Infantry Brigade Band but was soon drafted into action. He named his truck after one of his daughters ‘Iris’ and also served with the Motor Cycle Corps. He was wounded at El Alamein and returned to New Zealand July 1943.

Raymond Francis ‘Buster’ Stites died 17 May 1963.


Thomas Craig Wallace (Regt No. 1060) joined the 4th Waikato Mounted Rifles at the age of 16 as a Trooper. He rose through the ranks and was commissioned in the regiment in 1930.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 he went overseas as a Captain in command of a squadron in the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, First Echelon, 2nd NZEF. He served in the Western Desert, Greece and then in the Pacific Campaign.

He was the first Cambridge member of the 2nd NZEF to go into action, when attached to the 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards on the Libyan Frontier. Along with Lieutenant L Palmer and 14 other soldiers of that regiment, on 22 and 23 August 1940, he followed the orders – “Information respecting the enemy is urgently required. A prisoner will be taken.”

The raid was silent with no other help. Sand shoes replaced their boots and all means of identification were removed. Their object was a cyclist or a driver. They sat for an hour, a taut piece of wire across the road to trip the unwary cyclist. No one showed. They decided to go on. The dark shape of a hanger appeared on the flank and they decided to surround it. Not a sound was heard except their own breathing. It was empty.

Again they went on, deeper into Italian territory, when a sentry was spotted. Then another, and some lorries were revealed in silhouette. There seemed to be about 150 enemy. One group was laying stones on the edge of a trench so the raiders made these men their objective. The signal was given. Every man rose to his feet as one man and with rifles barking and bayonets thrusting they did their deadly work. Enemy hands were soon held high in pure fright and bedlam supplanted the quiet of the Egyptian night.

While some rounded up several prisoners others spent a few brief moments protecting either flank. As the party left an enemy machine gun opened fire. The British Sergeant opened fire with his machine gun and two magazines were emptied onto the pursuing Italians.

Finally they reached their trucks, the wounded prisoners were attended to, and they returned to their battalion commander to receive congratulations on a job well done. ( Abridged NZEF Official News Service ).

Temporary Major Tom Wallace was mentioned in a despatch for Distinguished Service in the Field – the first award to the 2nd NZEF.

Tom Wallace died 6 April 1987.

Edward Preston ‘Bill’ Wells
left New Zealand as a Pilot Officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. By January 1941 he was flying a spitfire and had the best ‘bag’ in his squadron. A friend writing to Mrs Wells in Cambridge stated, “As you probably know by now, Bill has shot down two Messerschmitt 109s and severely damaged several other types. There is no need for me to tell you that he is doing very well and knows more about looking after himself in these matters than most. His judgement as a marksman, which he has trained for so many years, is now most useful.”

In March 1941 he was one of 16 pilots selected from units all over England to form a New Zealand Fighter Squadron. In July he was promoted to Flight-Lieutenant and added to his record by shooting down another German plane while escorting bombers over France. His total was now eight and he was known in his squadron as ‘Hawke-eye’. By August he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

His exploits continued and in October he engaged single-handed, four Messerschmitts over the English Channel. He had already shot down one ME 109 and was returning to England when set upon by another four 109s. They dived at him in pairs but he turned and faced them every time and when one 109 overshot after his attack, ‘Hawke-eye’ was able to fire his canons. The enemy went down. The remaining three decided it was time to get back to France and Wells landed in England with only ten shells remaining and very little petrol. After 46 operational sorties he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and kept in training by shooting hares, rabbits and partridges in the neighbourhood of his base.

By November 1941 Bill had been promoted to Squadron-Leader and everyone in Cambridge took pride in his exploits as he distinguished himself over the Dover Straits. A Royal Air Force Officer stated, “The New Zealand Squadron is now recognised among the best five squadrons at the Fighter Command, and Squadron Leader E P Wells DFC and Bar, who is the squadron’s commanding officer, is regarded as one of the best fighter pilots New Zealand has produced.”

In April 1942, as the NZ Fighter Squadron was acting as top cover for the Boston bombers, 52 Focke Wulf 190’s pounced -12 attacking from above and 20 from each side. Miraculously Bill escaped without a scratch. By now he had carried out 100 fighter sweeps and destroyed at least 13 enemy planes, the squadron’s highest individual score. In May he was promoted to a wing comprised of New Zealand, Australian, and City of Glasgow squadrons.

He had become something of a legend among young pilots for his coolness in action and in July was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His nickname was shortened to ‘The Hawk’ and he had added another four planes to his ‘bag’ when given leave for rest and recreation while still on reserve.

In October he and Sergeant Keith Horn and Gunner Thomas Chard were given a civic welcome home to Cambridge (and the opening of the RSA Clubrooms).

‘Bill’ spent a fortnight in America visiting aircraft factories and then was in charge of personnel and training at No.11 Group Headquarters in Britain. He returned to flying in March 1944, bagging another aircraft as they bombed an airport at Dreux west of Paris. He was promoted to Squadron Leader (Temporary) RNZAF and in July, again escorting Lancaster Bombers, was part of the Normandy invasion. In November 1945 Wing Commander E P Wells DSO, DFC and Bar was granted a permanent commission in the Royal Air Force.
Edward Preston ‘Bill’ Wells died 1 November 2005



Women serving in WWII

Miss Ivy Arnold of Hamilton Road must have recorded a ‘first’. She bred and shore her own sheep. The wool she cleaned, dyed, spun and knitted. She made her first spinning wheel from parts of an old pump and a pram wheel. The dyes she got from walnut leaves and barbery berries, Karamu and pear leaves.
During World War Two she gave lessons to the Red Cross members as the shortage of wool became acute.

Ivy Arnold died 18 August 1985.


Elizabeth ‘Lily’ Bone (Regt. No.81354) worked full time on the family farm at Fencourt, as well as showing cattle at shows and playing basketball for the Waikato team. Two evenings a week she went to Red Cross training in Cambridge, and as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment she learnt first aid, home nursing, hygiene, sanitation, air raid precautions, sudden childbirth and chemical warfare. Lily also did a week’s practical training at Waikato Hospital.

Because of the farm commitments she was not able to go overseas until 1944 and then her Red Cross and Emergency Precautions training was put to good use in No.3 General Hospital in Bari, Italy. Lily spent two years and two months in Bari and in that time there were 46,000 admissions with 11,400 operations. It was cold in winter; the horse hair mattresses were very hard; dehydrated vegetables were very tasteless; but the arrival of Patriotic parcels meant great feasts. Enemy planes rattled the building and casualties poured in whenever the harbour was attacked.

Locks were torn off the doors and equipment hurled across the wards like a severe earthquake.

When Lily returned to New Zealand she married Fred Saunders, raised a family and continued her work for the Red Cross. She served from 1958 to 1961 as president of the Cambridge RSA Women’s Section and president of the Waikato Returned Servicewomen’s Association. In 1977 Lily was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for community work and in 1991 the Red Cross 50 years long service medal.

Lily Saunders died 23 December 1999.


Ruth Fleming nee Allan joined the Women’s War Service Auxillary and then the WRENS. Her first job in May 1943 was to deliver the official mail to the Combined Services Headquarters at the Museum in Wellington.

She transferred to Waiouru where she gained her heavy traffic licence and transported men and equipment from the railhead and base to the transmitters.

With five other drivers Ruth did a 24 hour shift, had a day off and then did ‘daymens’ hours. ‘Shore Leave’ was taken at Taihape where she played sport for the Navy team. After the war Ruth took her discharge December 1945 and she kept up her driving – for the Red Cross.

Ruth Fleming died on 9 October 2002.


Joan Meredith (Regt No.72049) of the Women’s War Service Auxiliary was a conscientious Red Cross worker and dental nurse when called up with 200 other voluntary aids for service overseas in December 1941. She had been involved with the Voluntary Aid Detachment from its inception being the secretary of the Cambridge branch. She passed her Red Cross and St John exams, did her practical at the Waikato Hospital and gained her medical clearance prior to acceptance.

Overseas she worked at No.1 Hospital in Helwan just outside Cairo and after two years transferred to a forward hospital in Italy. Her duties were mainly in medical wards nursing pneumonia, hepatitis, dysentery and typhoid. She helped the sisters sponging patients, serving meals, making beds and squeezing a never ending supply of limes for drinks.

On night duty, in tented convalescent wards they were on their own with a Sister doing two rounds during the night. Joan too, appreciated the Red Cross and Patriotic parcels, especially fruit cakes and toiletries.

When General Freyberg visited Cambridge in July 1943 he said of the New Zealand women overseas – “Our nursing sisters and VADs are second to none, and their devotion to the sick and wounded warrants the gratitude of everyone in New Zealand.”

In a letter home to her Mum Joan said, “Have had to work thirteen nights instead of eight before getting a night off. This shows we are short staffed when enough relievers can not be supplied for night duty.” Joan returned to Cambridge in April 1945 and continued to serve faithfully the Red Cross Society.

Joan Meredith died 1 December 1996.


Meryll Neely (Regt No 48402) was farewelled from Cambridge to the Women’s War Service Auxiliary in August 1941 (later changed to the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps) and returned in July 1947.

She was promoted to Second Lieutenant in charge of the first 30 girls (known as the Tuis) chosen for service in the Middle East and worked from headquarters in Cairo. In 1942 Meryll was mentioned in dispatches.

The unit undertook the work of establishing the NZ Forces Clubs, first in Egypt and later in Bari. From NZ patriotic funds every possible amenity and the best of equipment was provided for these clubs which were also established in Rome, Florence, Venice and London.

In 1945 Meryll was promoted to the rank of Senior Commander, which was equivalent to that of Major. As well as organising the canteens she was responsible for the personal welfare of the soldiers and was referred to as ‘Director of Welfare’ by General Freyberg. In June 1945 she was awarded the MBE and invited to join the UNRRA organisation, going to Tarana, Albania in charge of personnel.

Meryll Neely died 5 July 1975.


Nursing Sister Elizabeth ‘Jane’ Nicholl (Regt No. 31589) started her training in 1926. She was farewelled with the 2nd Echelon in the New Zealand Army Nursing Service 1 May 1940 sailing aboard the ‘Empress of Briton’ to Scotland.

In May 1941 she was involved in the battle of Crete attached to the No.2 New Zealand Hospital, and reported ‘safe in Egypt’ on 7 May 1941. In May 1966 the Chania Council in Crete awarded Jane as “the freedom fighter who fought at Galata Chania, the Medal of Honour for her involvement in the battle of Crete”. She was also awarded a Diploma, confirming that she had been included on the Galata Memorial, from the State of Greece and the people of Crete.

Jane spent three years overseas in the Middle East returning to New Zealand 15 July 1943. She married Louis Tickner in 1947.

Jane Tickner died 17 December 1986.


In 1942, forty Cambridge girls were called up under the National Service Emergency Regulations. One of these was Joan Watt (Regt No.W4064). She worked for six long hard months in

Auckland and Hamilton making ·303 bullets in the Colonial Ammunition Corps. She was then called into the Air Force where she served as a steward (her first job was peeling onions) and then to the Post Office. (About ten Cambridge girls, either training college students or teachers, were working in the Government Gardens. From Koramatua one wrote that she was packing beans, pruning tomatoes and making lettuce boxes. Her fingers got badly blistered at first, but she enjoyed the food, the company and hot showers.)

When Joan returned to Cambridge she married George Bartlett and they farmed on St Kilda Road.

Joan Bartlett died 30 May 2002.


Betty Wilsher from Palmerston North volunteered for the Navy and became a WREN. She joined up on 7 December 1942, one of the first group to serve. The chief stoker at Petone Motor Mechanics camp taught her to cook and she went from cooking for 30 to 200 at Lyttleton. She then moved to the officers’ block in Auckland.

Betty had been in service for two and a half years before they caught up with her and gave her the basic training. But by this time tramping up and down the parade ground was like a week’s holiday. She signed out on 14 January 1946.

Click here for further articles on Cambridge women.


Personally researched and written by Eris Parker
Ref: Cambridge Museum Archives