Long Range Desert Group Honoured in Papakura
18 August 2009
The SAS maintains strong links, both practical and commemorative, with Special Forces veterans in New Zealand.
An area of the Papakura camp contains a series of memorials to various Special Forces units. It is flanked by landscaped gardens, with a picturesque black and white chapel, St Marks, at one end. The area was built and officially opened in 2005, and the LRDG is among the New Zealand Special Forces units represented in the memorial.
In 2000 1 NZSAS Group invited the LRDG Association to its unit facilities, then based at RNZAF Air Base in Hobsonville. This led to a room being named the LRDG room. An SAS officer arranged for LRDG veterans or descendants to be presented with a National Greek Commemorative Medal of 1941-45 from the Greek Ambassador for service during WW II in Greece and Crete.
Each year the LRDG president and secretary are invited to attend SAS birthday celebrations.
More than 400 New Zealanders were part of the LRDG during WW II. The unit began life as the Long Range Patrol detachment in 1940, later becoming the LRDG. Its formation was the idea of a British officer, Major Ralph Bagnold, in early 1940. Between the wars he was part of a civilian expedition into the deserts of North Africa driving Ford vehicles. Initially 150 New Zealand volunteers were chosen with the permission of General Bernard Freyberg, the New Zealand Commanding General in the Middle East theatre.
It was thought that New Zealanders, who came from mostly rural backgrounds, would be more suited to the long periods of isolation, harsh weather conditions and danger than their British counterparts.
The unit undertook reconnaissance missions, and attacked enemy outposts. A year after its formation it began raiding enemy supply convoys and airfields, with one attack destroying 30 aircraft.
According to RL Kay, the author of Long Range Desert Group in the Mediterranean, after the battle of El Alamein the LRDG guided the 2nd New Zealand Division in a series of “left hooks” designed to trap Rommel’s retreating Army. In early 1943 it reconnoitred possible routes to outflank the Axis Mareth line, and navigated the New Zealand division in the subsequent operation to achieve this in March 1943.
After training in mountain warfare in Lebanon, the LRDG was particularly active in Greece. In December 1943 the New Zealanders were withdrawn from the LRDG and posted to the Divisional Cavalry.
The SAS, which often used the transport provided by the LRDG, began in July 1941 when it was founded by Briton Colonel Sir David Stirling. It was based on the establishment of small teams of parachute-trained soldiers who operated behind enemy lines to gain intelligence, destroy enemy aircraft and attack enemy supply and reinforcement routes.
Two honour boards containing details of every New Zealand soldier who served in the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) were unveiled at Papakura Military Camp on 7 August, the 69th anniversary of the unit’s formation.
The Minister of Veterans Affairs, Judith Collins, was guest speaker at the unveiling.
The forerunner to the Special Air Service, the LRDG was one of the first Special Forces units of WWII, and originally comprised mainly New Zealanders.
The honour boards were created by the secretary of the LRDG Association of New Zealand Mr Ian Judge and his wife Peggy. Mr and Mrs Judge researched the LRDG’s history and the people named on the Roll of Honour, and also built the boards. Mr Judge is a LRDG veteran.
He presented them to the 1st New Zealand Special Air Service Group at the unveiling ceremony, which was also attended by other LDRG and WW2 Special Forces veterans, veterans’ widows and descendants. The boards are hanging in the foyer of St Marks Chapel, near the SAS compound in the camp.
During the service, which was conducted by the Rev. Kevin Herewini, odes were read by serving SAS members and veterans. Remembrance prayers were read by Rev Herewini. Wreathes were laid, the New Zealand National Anthem sung.
Judith Collins told those gathered for the unveiling they could take heart that the memory of the LRDG was in good hands.
“Far behind enemy lines, away from supplies and reinforcements, the (LRDG) Kiwis proved to be incredibly adaptable, self-reliant and resourceful. The units also carried out many successful intelligence-gathering and strike operations. There is little doubt their activities had a significant impact on the Desert War.”
Ms Collins paid tribute to the assistance current SAS soldiers and the NZSAS Association provide for their Special Forces veterans.
“1 NZSAS Group and the association have provided invaluable support for the LRDG in their Charter Parades through the streets of Papakura, and purchasing mobility scooters for two LRDG veterans and a widow to use in their twilight years.
“Since 2001, LRDG veterans, widows and descendants have attended the 1 NZSAS Group Anzac Day celebrations each year, laying a wreath on their own memorial inside the grounds of the New Zealand Special Operations Forces Memorial area. This is a very special relationship built on respect and the desire to honour the history of these elite units. I am sure it will only get stronger.”
This page was last reviewed on 24 August 2009 and is current.