Colin Wright talks with John Fordam of New Plymouth, 29th May 2002 about his early life and war experiences in Greece, Crete and Eygpt as a truck driver.
Tape One Side One
Topic: Life History (World War II)
0.1 Introductory information by interviewer.
1.0 John gives family details following mother's death in 1920.
Moved from Wanganui to Wellington (Miramar, Seatoun, Kilbirnie schools) and finally to Wellington Technical College.
2.7 After holidaying at Apiti he worked briefly on local dairy farms and later at Shannon. Wages are mentioned.
4.5 John then attended the Ruakura Farm of Instruction and describes his tuition for the 18 months he was there.
5.9 Work on a Masterton farm was his next job, then three and a half years as a tractor driver in Central Hawkes Bay.
7.5 A Waipukurau doctor diagnosed a broken wrist bone and he was re-directed to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr Gillies who in 1939 removed the bone.
8.6 War broke out and he was deemed fit for active service.
9.6 The 19th October 1939 found him in camp, later heading overseas with the 1st Echelon. John landed at Port Tewfik and was then based at Maadi Camp for three and a half years.
10.6 He now recalls the Battle of Greece and Crete. As a truck driver in Div. Signals he gives many details of an exceptionally rough trip from Alexandria to Greece.
13.2 Arriving in Greece (Athens) John mentions passing the Swastika flagged German Embassy. Some war particulars are given.
15.2 They then traveled up a mountain pass to Yugoslavia, a German access route. Although German reconnaissance planes were in the skies, no Allied planes were seen during these campaigns.
16.4 The journey from Greece to Crete on the ship Ajax is described. Details are given of the heavy bombing by Messerschmitts and the crash-landings of gliders and paratroopers. Lines of communication had to be kept open for the 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions.
20.6 Breaks in the lines were coped with, but the Germans gained a foothold on the Maleme Aerodrome. Many details are given of the seventy landings and the communications with Brigade Headquarters. Bombings began, so they departed - the beginning of the end.
22.3 Evacuation of troops from Crete commenced. A forty to fifty mile walk without food is described.
22.8 They were taken off Crete by an Australian destroyer. Bombed by four Heinkels as they left bound for Egypt.
25.2 At this stage the Germans were using equipment left behind by the Allies. Div. Signals preferred the German equipment in preference to their own primitive equipment.
26.0 John was now back in Egypt (1941). More details are given regarding the evacuation of Crete.
27.4 The battles of Sidi Resegh and Mersa Matruh are mentioned. Rommel was now on the scene. Italian troops did not compare with the Germans. A land corridor had to be opened, the Navy assisting from the seaward side.
29.0 There were many casualties and troops were taken prisoner. They returned to base-camp at Maadi for reinforcements.
29.7 1942. The desert battle of Ruweisat Ridge is described by John. He mentions the lack of co-operation between the N.Z. Division and the British Tank Brigades. Many details are given of the battle. This period concluded John's desert fighting.
Tape One Side Two
Topic: Life History (World War II) contd.
0.1 Introductory information given by the interviewer.
1.0 After the battle at Ruweisat Ridge, General Fryberg decided to form his own tank brigade. Details are given. John was promoted to Sergeant and compares the Allied Sherman Tank with the better-equipped German Tiger Tanks.
3.8 July 1943 John returned to N.Z. for six months with the first furlough draft. Details are given of the troops refusal to return to the Middle East.
6.0 John and his pal decided to return to the Middle East, as they desired rehabilitation assistance. Eventually he returned to N.Z. a second time and did his initial training in sheep farming in the Hawkes Bay. Details are given of rehab. Conditions. He was thirty years old.
8.1 His family suggested that he acquire a farm at Tokorimu in the King Country, it was a farm of 280 acres. John has been living in New Plymouth for the past 30 years.
9.3 More details of the 'furlough rebels', 15000 single N.Z. men had never served overseas, this angered those of the Echelons who had served for years.
11.0 John mentions the disreputable conditions on the ships he sailed on during his war service.
12.7 John refused to remain in base camp on return to the Middle East and was drafted to Italy (at Toranto -Vesuvius was in eruption) traveling to some small towns south of Cassino, that were later taken by Allied troops.
14.7 Moved to Northern Italy (Faenza) where his army career finished.
15.6 Back to 'Civvy Street', firstly to the Hawkes Bay farm and then to the 280 acre Tokorimu farm carrying 700 ewes. Gives details of the financial and stock management of his rehab. farm.
18.0 Back to the war years. John describes the July 1942 journey to Syria and the final action in the desert, giving details of this aspect of war in the Middle East. John feels that the Allies were not as welcome as the Germans would have been. Details are given.
20.0 There were now rumours as regards a return to N.Z. as the Japanese had entered the war. However it was Egypt again with Fryberg in control. Reference made to the lack of Allied planes and more war details given.
21.8 As new vehicles were arriving, John remained in the Middle East. He refers to the desert campaign at Mersa Matruh and describes in detail the journey away from the area.
24.0 The group was bombed by four enemy planes, a dozen men were killed outright or injured. This was the last scrapping John saw in the desert.
24.9 Army food is mentioned. Good cooks can make a palatable meal out of anything. There was not much 'bully beef', which John preferred to herrings in tomato sauce! There were no refrigeration facilities.
26.4 John maintains that the Allied equipment and arms were miles behind the Germans, whose firepower was infinitely superior.
27.0 John is thanked. He replies he did not go to war to fight Germans, but to keep strife away from our own back door.
Date 25 July 2003
Interviewer Colin Wright
Abstracter Florinda Lambert
Copyright Puke Ariki
Access Not restricted