First Name: Christopher
Joined: December 14, 2011, 2:18 pm
Last Active: August 21, 2013, 7:31 pm
Connect: Email

About Me:

Much of my life as a journalist involved reporting on significant military events. In 1965, at the age of 24, I was assigned by the New Zealand Press Association as the first NZ war correspondent attached to 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery, at Bien Hoa in South Vietnam. It was the first time in New Zealand's history that an entire military unit had been flown to war and the RNZAF's new Hercules transport aircraft earned their stripes when we flew out from Whenuapai in the dead of night and under tight security. Three months service included being wounded in a landmine blast which killed Sergeant Al Don and Bombardier Jock White while in a convoy during Operation Ben Cat. They were the first of 37 New Zealand servicemen to be killed in action in Vietnam between 1964-1972. Reporting assignments included search missions with 1 Royal Australian Infantry Regiment, the US 173rd Airborne Brigade, and a US Special Force detachment in the Delta, a South Vietnamese Junk Patrol off the coast to intercept North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, a USAF spotter plane search mission over remote jungle and scrub in the Iron Triangle to identify enemy movement and a subsequent Skyraider bombing mission, a flight to the US Navy aircrafter carrier USS Independence in the South China Sea to observe bomber flights to North Vietnam, and a visit to the New Zealand Surgical Unit at Qui Nhon where my sister Deanne served as a theatre nurse. In early October I was switched to Borneo to report on the tail-end of "confrontation" with Indonesia and attached to 1 Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment whose 'turn' it was to safeguard the mountainous border. That involved undertaking two patrols, one long range to locate Indonesian troops. Assignment also included a re-supply mission by a Westland Wessex helicopter operated by the RAF, a resupply flight to border airstrips on board one of the RNZAF's Bristol freighters, and an extended patrol in Malaysian waters on board HMNZS Santon to search for Indonesian infiltrators. In 1966 I returned to South Vietnam to cover a New Zealand Parliamentary fact-finding delegation visit including top-level briefings from the American military and South Vietnamese government leaders. The delegation also flew to Nui Dat near the coastal town of Vung Tau where New Zealand troops had moved from Bien Hoa to become part of an ANZAC unit responsible, with American air and ground support for controlling a large part of Phuoc Tuy Province. (Later that year the Australians fought a won a decisive battle at Long Tan with artillery support from New Zealand's 161 Battery). In 1973 I was on board the 3,000-ton Leander-class frigate HMNZS Canterbury as an NZPA correspondent when it sailed for the Pacific atoll of Mururoa to draw international attention to continuing French atmospheric nuclear testing. After France ignored an International Court of Justice ruling to stop testing, the New Zealand government decided to mobilise world opinion by sending protest frigates, first the 2,500-ton Rothesay-class HMNZS Otago and then the Canterbury. The government felt so strongly that it sent a Cabinet Minister, Fraser Colman, who spent almost three months at sea and a great deal of time responding to radio calls from what turned out to be a growing international media audience keenly following the drama. From 1966 France exploded 41 nuclear devices above Mururoa atoll and the Otago and Canterbury observed the 30th and 31st at close quarters before France stopped atmospheric testing in 1974, apparently in response to international opinion. The Canterbury, standing upwind just outside the 12-mile territorial limit around Mururoa atoll, received a "light dusting of radiation" according to a National Radiation Laboratory scientist who monitored fallout from the 31st test. While France was finally forced to stop atmospheric nuclear testing above Mururoa atoll it simply moved underground to a new testing site at neighbouring Faungataufa atoll and continued with 147 tests until 1996. In 1975 I had become Radio New Zealand's first political editor and was invited by the French government, together with NZPA correspondent Bruce Kohn, to visit Mururoa and see the "progress" made in moving into underground testing at Faungataufa atoll. That "progress" led to progressive fractures in the sub-surface basalt and underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau found radiation leakage. One of the by-products of these military assignments was that in 1998 the government recognised in a significant policy change that there are no front lines in modern warfare and that non-combatant civilians can be as much at risk as military personnel and allowed the award of service medals. Today it is a privilege to be entitled to wear the Operational Service Medal, the General Service Medal with Warlike Clasp Vietnam, the South Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Special Services Medal (Mururoa).

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