WWII vets photographed

STANDING TALL: Official portrait of 91-year-old World War II veteran Jack Bennie, of Timaru, taken as part of the NZIPP Anzac project.
STANDING TALL: Official portrait of 91-year-old World War II veteran Jack Bennie, of Timaru, taken as part of the NZIPP Anzac project.

A picture captures a moment in time for posterity. For 37 South Canterbury Returned and Services Association (RSA) members this moment took place on May 8, when the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) photographed the veterans as part of their national project.

The project involved taking pictures of every living Kiwi World War II veteran on and around Anzac Day.

The general manager of South Canterbury RSA, Michelle Brown, recalled the day.

"We contacted all our World War II veterans, explained what was going on, that they would need to wear their suits and medals, and arranged times for them to come down to the club for their portraits to be taken - proud men, wearing their medals, trying to stand as straight as they could."

Due to the age of the veterans, three passed away just days before their portraits were to be taken and two were just too incapacitated to take part.

Some were just not well enough to make the journey to the club. Currently the youngest member (of the group) is 88 and the oldest is 96.

"The photographers were very flexible and I was able to arrange for several men to be photographed in the rest homes they now reside in and two of them were photographed in their own homes as they were not well enough on the day to come to the club," Brown said.

On the day, she remembers, conversation filled the air.

"The air was filled with chatter as these gentlemen, some of whom hadn't seen each other in years, sat down and waited for their names to be called," Brown said.

And as she completed the forms with the names, ranks, serial numbers and theatres of war served in, so the identification process would be easier, she was told stories of bygone days.

"The men told me all sorts of stories of when and where they served as I filled in their forms. Amazing stories of young men off on the biggest adventure of their lives. Men changed by their experiences, some of them in the throes of dementia but still able to recall facts of their service abroad."

She felt privileged sitting among the men. "It seemed almost impossible for me to look at these faces and imagine them on the ground, on ships or in the air, being shot at, watching mates die. It was so hard to put the face I see before me together with the mental picture that forms when you hear stories like that."

Two of the men had never applied for their medals, not wanting to make a fuss on their return to New Zealand. With Brown's help they have now received those medals - wearing them for a photo session nearly 75 years after they were earned.

The Timaru Herald