In collecting the stories and photographs of our grandparents this Anzac Day, I discovered more about my father’s father, Tom Ryan. Here are some of his notes he wrote about his wartime journey to his great-grandson Ryan in September 2000.
Written by grandad for his great grandson Ryan Sep-Oct 2000.
“In 1942 I was called up to join the army. I was classed as Grade 2 because I was about to turn 31 and already had 2 children (your nana (Erin) was only 5 weeks old) and (unlcie Michael was 2.5) I was trained to be a soldier in a big army camp out at the foreshore (?) – there are buildings there new.
I was taught anti-aircraft which means that if any enemy plane was about to drop bombs on Dunedin we would have aimed our anti-aircraft gun at it and fired shells (big big bullets) and hopefully hit it. As planes fly very quickly we would have to be ready for action very very quickly.
Other things we would do during a day in the camp would be marching – sometimes long distances – to make us fit. We would be hungry and always looked to meal time – Sometimes we growled at them because they were never as good as the meals we were used to at home.
About once a week we would get leave to visit out homes for a few hours which was great. The wee ones thought it funny to see this man in strange clothes coming home.
After the army thought we had enough training at our anti-aircraft guns they decided that a large number of us would leave the camp and go over the sea to a place called Norfolk Island which is on this side of northern Australia – I’m sure teacher will show you the map. We were to guard the air-field because big lots of planes would call in and fill up with fuell, then fly away further up the Pacific to fight enemy planes. The enemy were the Japanese. There was always the danger of an attach on us because our planes on hte ground would have been a good target for them. We would always be near our guns till our planes had gone.
I forgot to explain how we got over there. We left Dunedin (and worse still our families ealy 1943 and first of all we went up to a big camp at a place called Trentham near Wellington. We were joined by thousands of other soldiers. Then we went on a train in the darkness of night and arrived at Auckland early next morning. We moved to the wharf and boarded a huge ship and shown our cabins. Our beds were not comfortable beds like you children all have at home. They were hammocks and did not [seem] very safe to me (Teacher will explain what a hammock is).
We were 3 or 4 days at sea and I had a mixture of home-sickness and sea-sickness during most of that time. What I did not know what awaited ui when we arrived at the island about day-break. We were up, dress in army shorts, shirts with our packs on our backs, expecting to walk down the gang planks as we had boarded the ship in Auckland.
Instead we looked over the side of the ship and instead of an easy walk down on the usual gangplank we saw just nothing. Bit we saw two things – firstly a small jetty sticking our from the beach a long way away and secondly we were very frightened to see long lines of rope ladders hanging down the side of this very big ship.
We felt as if we were expected to go down the side of a building about 8 or 9 times the height of your school. Anyway we had to try and wondered what awaited us at the bottom because we could see only the sea which was tossing us everywhere. At the bottom we found some soldiers with a flat platform they call a pontoon.
We had to jump onto these pontoons but when we were ready to jump they were many yards away and then the waves took them back we had to jump onto them. We all managed but I’m sure none of us would want to do that again.
You will understand why we had to do all this when I explain that the Norfolk Island is very small – about 5 miles by 2.5 miles (sorry teacher but give these dimensions to the children in distances round about the school).
When we got settled into our camp we found a very small township and were amused to see cows walking up and down the main street – they seemed to own the place.
The climate was nice and warn and although it was mid-winter in New Zealand some of us put in a good garden at the camp and grew potatoes and several other vegetables which we added to our army meals.
We were there just about all of 1943 and came back to Auckland in an old American Ship. We were all glad to come back to our wives and families and at least we were safe and sound. I spent the rest of my army life in several camps before I was let out of the army at the end of 1944.
Some of it at Burnham (near Christchurch, ask Mum) and finally at Otago Heads. We used to walk past the Albatrosses’ nests something people are not allowed to to today. They were beautiful birds so awkward on the ground but so lovely in the air.
At the end of 1944 I was discharged from the army, very pleased to be back with my family – it meant getting used to know the children again.”