Vic Henderson, 25th/22nd Battalion | 2NZEF (WWII)
(Featherston, Wairarapa) - Desert - Italy
Vic Henderson was born in Featherston in 1919, and grew-up in Wairaparapa on a little farm.
“It was a little town. It had a dairy factory just out of town. A stop on the railway link. But not much more.”
His house bordered the Taharanikau racecourse where the local territorials used to camp and train periodically, and Vic remembers this giving him an early interest in the soldiering and the military. Later, in his teens he could see a war coming, so tried to get what instruction in military training he could, particularly in rifle handling.
“I was a member of a miniature rifle club. We used to travel around shooting at targets and things. As a young guy, I could imagine Hitler in the middle of every one of them (the targets). So it was no surprise when it did happen; when the war did start.”
After finishing school, Vic took a job working at Land & Income Tax Dept in Wellington.
“I always thought, when I grew up enough to think about it, that this was unfinished business from the First World War. I was quite sure the war was coming. Somebody was going to have to get in there and finished it off from the first one So I suppose being a young guy; there was a little bit of ‘it is going to be an adventure going overseas.’ I was going to put Hitler in my sights and free Europe of that bloke. From the age of 16 onwards, I was ready to have a go. 21 was the official age, bit many chaps got away with false papers earlier than that.”I joined the Public Service with a view of the war that was coming. I thought it was a good place to join if I was going to come back with one arm or one leg missing. I knew friends and relatives, ‘rejects’ – disabled from the First World War, who had taken up various jobs in offices that they could do. I knew very well with one arm missing; I would never be a farmer, for example. That was my reason for joining the Public Service in the first place. I knew I could not get away until I was 21 because the benefits that the Public Service were going to give me like continuing superannuation and guaranteed employment when I got back again, and all those sorts of things were very valuable in those days.”The radio and the newspapers had the Europe story pretty well covered. We knew what was going on. Once I did join the Army, one of the blokes was a Czech guy, a tailor. He was very bitter about what Hitler had done in Czechoslovakia, and would have ‘cut Hitler’s throat for tuppence at any point of the clock’. He probably did more to educate the rest of us about what went on in Europe than we knew before we went away.”
Recalling the war breaking out:
“My mother was born in England. It was very much as our Prime Minister said, ‘Where England goes we go.’ It was very much that feeling. There was no question that I should not go. Before the movies at the cinema, it was always ‘God Save The King’. There was respect for the royalty all the way through. I have done my share of lining up at the roadside with British flags to cheer the royal visitors. We felt we were still part of Britain to that extent.”I knew I could not get away until I was 21, so the moment I turned 21 in 1940, I enlisted, and eventually went away with the 4th Reinforcements.”
Vic was assigned to 25th Battalion at Maadi Camp, just outside Cairo, which was the home of the NZ Division in the Middle East. After a period of acclimatising and training, Vic’s unit went ‘up the blue’ – the desert.
“After Minqa Qaim, where 4th Brigade got really chopped-up, 6th Brigade coming down from Syria went to Kaponga Box fortress, and we established ourselves there for a day or two. So that was the formation of the Alamein line, from that point on. There was much fighting backwards and forward with Rommel getting in around the edges of it. Until it was finally established as a very heavily defended line on both sides – the German side and our side.”