Long-lost friends reunite

Commemorations mark 70th anniversary

CHE BAKER IN ALEXANDRA
Last updated 15:00 24/04/2013
Southland Times photo
CHE BAKER/Fairfax NZ
Pacific War veteran George Vernon holds some of the scheelite rock used as steel for guns.

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The atomic bomb drops on Hiroshima and Nagasaki undoubtedly led to the end of the Pacific War during World War II.

However, the name atomic bomb was not something commonly known among those at war at the time.

Pacific War veteran George Vernon, of Alexandra, who served in the war as an aircraftsman 1st class from May 1945, said when they were told of the atomic bomb drop "nobody had an idea what it was".

It wasn't until months later when he returned to Glenorchy after the war ended that more information about what it was come to light.

Mr Vernon, 91, will attend commemorations in Noumea, New Caledonia, to mark the 70th anniversary of New Zealand's involvement in the war in the Pacific as part of an official delegation.

He, along with 83 other veterans aged between 86 and 96 - including Cromwell veteran Tom Landreth, travelled to Noumea by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 to attend an Anzac Day service at the Bourail Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.

The Pacific War began with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941, and ended with the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

Nearly 25,000 New Zealanders across all three services served at various times in the Pacific War and more than 900 died.

Mr Vernon said he would be taking part in the trip to catch up with long-lost wartime friends and to follow in the footsteps of long-time friend and Queenstown pioneer Ian Hamilton, who died in New Zealand in 1962.

He and Mr Hamilton had worked together in Glenorchy, mining scheelite , which was used as steel hardener for guns during the war.

Veterans' Affairs New Zealand general manager Rick Ottaway said he was pleased so many New Zealand veterans have the opportunity to attend this year's Anzac commemoration.

"These men served New Zealand very close to home, at a time when New Zealand was under the possibility of direct threat. For many veterans, this will be the first time they have returned to the Pacific and it will be an emotional experience as they remember their time there and pay tribute to the comrades they lost," Mr Ottaway said.

To be eligible to be part of the delegation veterans were required to have served in the New Zealand Armed Forces between December 8, 1941 and December 2, 1945, and have been awarded or qualified for the Pacific Star for service in the Pacific.

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- The Mirror

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