Arthur James, 6th Field Ambulance | 2NZEF (WWII)
(Wanganui) - Greece - P.O.W -
Image: Arthur James Collection
Arthur was born near Swansea in Wales on the 7th of December 1918, moving to New Zealand as a very young boy with his parents. His father, a Welsh veteran of WWI, had planned to emigrate to Australia with his English wife, but was convinced to move instead to Wanganui by a friend here who set him up with job in carpentry.
“Mum didnt like Wanganui. She went down to the beach and it was black sand! She was used to white sand.”
Arthur attended Key Street School then Wanganui Intermediate School. Arthur’s schooldays were the Depression years, which he remembers clearly.
“Dad was only on half-work (working one day on, one off). We ate the cheapest of everything. Mum was very prim and proper, and I had to wear shoes to work, but most of my friends wore bare feet. I took my shoes off when I got to school.”
After leaving school at 14, he took a job initially with a cabinet-maker friend of his father’s, then the Wanganui Education Board. Arthur could see the war coming in the late 1930s, and joined the Red Cross to do his medical and first aid training in anticipation of joining-up. As a committed Christian, he wanted to do his bit, but knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to kill anyone, so elected to join the Medical Corps. After brief training, he sailed with the 3rd Echelon.
After the Division moved to Greece, Arthur served at the New Zealand General Hospital near Athens. Captured and taken prisoner of war during the evacuation, he was eventually repatriated to New Zealand due to ill health in a prisoner exchange organised by the Red Cross.
(Interview by Nga Toa/Patrick Bronte)