This story was given to us by John Mitchell, nephew of Wiremu Mitchell. It's about his father and Wiremu's brother Te Morehu Mitchell (aka Mo) who served with New Zealand Divisional Army Service Corps, 2nd Reinforcements.
Notes from David Rees, 27 January 2006:
About a year ago I had an email note from David Rees (son of Alan Rees) to say that he had a story about Dad. I had intended to meet David but it was only on Friday 27 January at the opening of the Horoirangi Marine Reserve that I finally caught up with him. David now works for DOC and is based in Motueka. He told me that a few years ago when he was working at DOC's Milford Conservancy he met an elderly man - Roy something (David couldn't remember his surname but he was well over 80). When David mentioned that he hailed from Takaka in Golden Bay, Roy asked if he knew Mo Mitchell "from up that way".
When David said that he did and that he had gone to school with some of Mo's children, and that he had played rugby with Terry, Roy said "Mo Mitchell should have been given a VC for something he did during the War in the desert".
This is the story which Roy told to David:
"I met Mo under awful circumstances. I had been badly wounded and so had Mo, and we were with several other seriously wounded men who were being transferred in an ‘ambulance' from near the front to a field hospital behind the lines. It wasn't really an ambulance at all, but just an army truck with red crosses painted on the canopy and bonnet. We were in a convoy of several such ‘ambulances' and other vehicles, travelling across open desert - completely exposed - no cover.
Suddenly all hell broke loose. German planes had spotted the convoy and swooped out of the sky, and started going round and round - strafing and bombing us. Trucks and so on were being blown up and people killed. It got so frightful that when our truck was forced to a halt, our driver bailed out - he jumped out of the cab and took off out into the desert where it was safe, as the planes were concentrating on the vehicles in the convoy.
We were sitting ducks, and almost immediately Mo, who was nursing terrible injuries already, muttered "to hell with this". He struggled off his cot, dragged himself to get off the back of the truck, and round to the cab. None of this was easy for him as he was very seriously wounded - his leg was a hell of a mess, and he had other injuries as well - head, shoulder, gut etc. He had a hell of a struggle.
He managed to get up into the cab and got the truck started again, and then we took off. Mo drove that truck like a maniac rally driver - flat out, dodging bomb craters and the wrecked and burning vehicles, and weaving and swerving to try to keep out of the line of fire as the planes swooped down on us.
Mo got us out of there. Eventually he got us into a sort of overhang in a narrow gully, where the planes couldn't get at us. A lot of men bought it that day; if it hadn't been for Mo we would have been killed too. We owe our lives to him. He should have been decorated for that, but nothing was ever done".
Dad's full name was Te Morehu Maui Maurice David Luke Mitchell, son of Ruke (Luke) Te Uira Rongonui-Arangi Mitchell (late of Rahotu, Southern Taranaki) and Ngawati Ngawerawiti Morehu (of Takaka, Golden Bay), although goodness knows what name he gave when he volunteered. He went overseas with the Second Echelon, having been assigned to Div Supply of the Army Service Corps as a driver.
I was aged about 4 when Dad was repatriated home
in 1944 seriously wounded. The war
certainly had long-lasting effects on him.
Even though he recovered well from the physical injuries and within a
year or so had resumed playing rugby and hunting the hills of Golden Bay,
I feel it was many years before the subtle psychological effects
diminished. I recall every night as a child and on
through to early adulthood, Dad could be heard grinding his teeth for long
periods during his sleep - even 2 bedrooms away this noise couldn't be shut out. He would toss and turn and completely shamblise
his bed, and often he and Mum had to sleep separately. He seemed to succumb badly to winter colds
and flu, and he would often run high temperatures and become delirious, crying
out in his sleep. Sometimes we would
find him cowering under the bed screaming in fright. As kids we would be terrified by all this;
wasn't that easy to deal with as a 20-year old for that matter.
I don't think he ever got over it completely - it was always lurking in the back of his mind, ready to burst out whenever he became ill or over-tired. During his last days, aged 69 and riddled with cancer, he had periods of delirium, and on his last night I happened to be the only member of the family sitting with him at the hospital when he died - Mum and the others had been there all day and had gone home for dinner. Dad was expected to live for a few days longer, but suddenly went downhill and died before the others could get back. He had another delirium attack and suddenly shouted out "Christ! Here they come again!", and scrambled to try and get out of bed and onto the floor, looking up at the ceiling from under the crook of his arm - eyeballs wider than any staged pukana - he looked absolutely terrified. Then he suddenly relaxed and quietly said "No no I'm ready ... I'm coming" and died.
He would never talk about any of this with us; after he had had one of these episodes, he would just shrug it off - "must've eaten too much pork", or "probably Jim Edmonds' bloody cows polluted the watercress again". All of his friends were the same. The only sorts of things they would talk about, after a good "session" at the RSA on Anzac Day, was about fights with Aussies, Brits, Canadians and anyone else in the bars of Cairo, or Alexandria, or on furlough in London, or going AWOL to join poker schools with cobbers from Golden Bay who were in other units.
It was during one such poker "outing" that he was captured by the Germans - see the following story, which occurred before he was wounded; I found this recently in Mum's handwriting among some of my family papers; apparently Dad had been asked by the Prisoner of War Association to give an account of his brief experience as a P.O.W. - he had dictated this story to Mum who wrote it down and sent it to the Association, although he conveniently left out the bit about being AWOL from his own unit at the time - he, Bert Hill and Rex Delaney would often laugh about it when they "got in their cups" on Anzac Day.
Corporal M Mitchell
Royal NZ Army Service Corps
I was captured by the Germans near Bardia during November 1942 while with the Army Service Corps attached to the NZ Mobile Surgical Unit. There were about 270 NZ troops captured at this time, and later I found B H Hill (5th Field Pack) and R J Delaney (27th Machine Gunners), so we stayed together.
We were held for about ten days at Bardia, camped out in the open without blankets or extra clothing, and a daily ration of three tablespoons of water, bread roll and half tin of bully beef, if the rations arrived.
Then one night we were taken out and trekked until the next afternoon before getting a real spell, about 24 miles, accompanied by German and Italian troops who were withdrawing and on the run. Our forces had cut their water line and supplies were not reaching them. We three had planned to make a break if possible, under cover of darkness, but Delaney was showing signs of exhaustion and we were assisting him when necessary. He said he could not come with us if we made a break.
We were halted and issued with rations for two days and our trek continued about 2pm. The retreating enemy lines were using us as a shield for their Brigade, with British Artillery on one side of the desert valley and troops from Tobruk shelling from the other side. Shortly after resuming the march we found ourselves under intense gunfire and we decided to make a break towards British lines if this became possible. At this stage, Delaney said he could not escape with us and we could see his condition was becoming worse and he was completely exhausted.
For about an hour the enemy kept us moving and eventually we were turned up another valley and came under heavy fire from other British artillery, but shortly after the shelling had stopped and we realised we may have been recognised. Hill and myself made a run with other New Zealand soldiers towards a small truck which had appeared and came towards us, with soldiers aboard. They were from the Scots Guards and took us back to their officers, who arranged to send armoured vehicles to rescue our troops.
As I was the only N.C.O present, I was told to accompany them, and soon the enemy guards were captured and our men were released. I found Delaney and got him aboard one of the vehicles, and we all stayed with the Scots Guards until next day.
During the next few days we were trucked back to Division HQ, and dispersed to our units. I did not see Hill and Delaney again during the desert campaign and apparently Delaney became a P.O.W. again a month or so later.
As I know I was not reported officially missing or P.O.W. it is quite likely that there is nothing on record of Delaney being prisoner for this period November-December 1942.