Wives and families well looked after

21:51, Apr 22 2012
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Graeme Henderson had support on the Malayan peninsula: his wife Joan.

The 2nd Battalion New Zealand Regiment sergeant took his young family with him when he embarked on two years service in 1959.

The Riverton man had joined the army in 1950 as a gunner, and while Malaya meant making the transition to infantry, his wife understood the deployment was something he was trained for.

"The Malaya vacancy came up with infantry ... I talked it over with Joan and she said 'yeah, we'll go'.'' Initially his battalion was stationed in Taiping, a town located in northern Perak, while his wife, and then pre-school-aged children John, 4, and 18-month-old daughter Robyn were housed in Ipoh about 90km away, Henderson says.

Rather than culture shock they enjoyed all the trappings of the British colonial past as Malaysia took baby steps towards independence.

The army wives were well looked after – each was given a housemaid, who not only took care of household chores, but also bridged the cultural gap with the local population.


"The wives had a marvellous time and they admit it, too.''

Their housemaid moved with them when his family was transferred to a house near his Taiping base, Henderson says.

He describes the work in the jungle as "pacification'', while they were prepped for contact with communist terrorists encounters were rare, he says.

"No contact was made by our platoon or our company there wasn't a shot in anger.'' He would return home in 1961, but downtime was short-lived.

"I was home for three months before I went back to being a soldier.'' Skills honed in the Malayan jungle would later come into play when he served in Vietnam.

The Southland Times