Daughter's tragic honour as AOS turns 50

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 12:27 09/08/2014

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Gwyneth Macdonald carries a tragic honour.

The death of her father led to the formation of a specialist unit of New Zealand Police that would work to prevent others from being killed.

Her father, Detective Neville Power, and his partner Detective Wallace Chalmers were gunned down in the Waitakere Ranges by Victor George Wasmuth on January 6, 1963.

Less than a month later, constables Bryan Schultz and James Richardson were called to a domestic incident in Lower Hutt. A man opened fire from the house, killing both officers before they could switch off their car's engine.

The armed offenders squad was founded in August 1964, when the first hand-picked officers began training at Papakura military camp. It was created in response to the fatal shooting of the four police officers.

''I was only 6 months old at the time but my life and that of my family changed dramatically that day,'' MacDonald recalled. ''Neville is my father. I am immensely proud of him, the New Zealand Police and the AOS.''

The loss of a father, who she never got to know, all ''comes flooding back'' when anniversaries roll around or a police officer gets killed.

However, Macdonald never turns down the invitations to attend the Police Commemoration Ceremony every year, wearing her feather with pride.

''It is so important that New Zealand keeps remembering and honouring all that fall in the protection of our society and those who continue to put their lives at risk to protect others,'' Macdonald said.

Only a baby in her mother's arms on the hot and sultry day her father was gunned down by Wasmuth, Macdonald said she has grown up surrounded by an extended family of AOS members and police.

Her father died in the arms of one of those members. Constable John Langham was holding Power when he took his last breath.  

''I have been reassured all my life that my father died in John's arms,'' Macdonald said.

She is also grateful the death of her father and the three other police officers in 1963 were not in vain and lead to the formation of the AOS the following year.

''There have been 16 police officers killed since Neville but I think there would have been a lot more if the AOS was not around,'' she said.

There were also a lot of positive changes to police tactics after the shooting in the Waitakere Ranges, Macdonald said.

''That's why I say it's a tragic honour. I know what did come out of my father's and the other police officers' deaths.''

Her father's, her own and her family's lives are one part of AOS legacy, Macdonald said.

The family tradition looks set to continue, with both Macdonald's teenage son and daughter interested in joining the thin blue line. They will be following in their grandfather and great-grandfather's footsteps.

Gwyneth Macdonald is a guest in Wellington today at the Royal New Zealand Police College to mark the 50th anniversary of the armed offenders squad.

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