New Zealand's World War 1 soldiers were renowned for their
ability to build or fix anything with a piece of No 8 wire.
And when Billy Barnes's book Holding The High Ground - A
history of Montecillo (1918-2015) is published next year,
readers will see that Kiwi ingenuity was also put to good use
by wounded soldiers at Montecillo Veterans' Home and Hospital
on their return from the war.
Mr Barnes (67), of Lincoln, said the wounded soldiers were
required to stay on site and, very early on, the principals
of Red Cross and the Minister of Defence were adamant the
soldiers should not be allowed to drink alcohol.
They were also supposed to wear a blue uniform, which
identified them as wounded soldiers, and pubs in the area
were instructed not to serve alcohol to anyone wearing one.
''But the boys objected to wearing them.
''There have been characters all right, and some interesting
''They were all young but they had limbs missing and funny
bits and pieces, and of course they all wanted to get out and
party. They didn't want to be kept up on the hill in
''They would find all these clever ways of sneaking out and
getting down to the Mornington pub.
''These poor guys would often come back to Montecillo, much
the worse for wear, after crawling through the gully and
scrub - they used their military training to get back into
Montecillo undetected - and often they were covered in mud at
the feet of matron, who was standing on the porch, waiting to
pounce on them.''
Mr Barnes said what made Montecillo different was the men
looked after each other.
It was as though they were still in the army.
''In the 1950s, Montecillo had to have fire alarms fitted to
bring it up to spec.
''One of them said, 'We've got our own fire alarm - it's
called Bang on the Wall'.
''If you had a fire in your room, you banged on the wall to
make sure your mate knew to get out.''
Mr Barnes said he had spent several years researching the
veterans' home, and had found the residents formed a
But the character of the family had changed over time, from a
group of energetic, keen men in their 20s to the rest-home
generation of 80 to 90-year-olds.
''All of them were dependent on others for their daily needs;
all of them intent on retaining their dignity and self-worth.
''This is a story of a special class of Kiwis: quiet, honest
workers, hard cases and decent jokers who would do anything
for a mate.''
Montecillo was opened in July 1918, when patriotic Dunedin
residents saw the need for a dedicated convalescent home for
the wounded men returning from World War 1.
Fundraising for the facility was led by the fledgling Red
Cross Society, and the grand homestead on Montecillo Rise was
Mr Barnes said a book had to be written about Montecillo's
history to make sure it took its place as a worthy chapter in
''This is a story of the honour, commitment and sacrifice of
a community, which against the hesitation of elected
authorities and their agencies, persisted in fulfilling the
promise made to those who would serve their country in war,
that they would be looked after.
''The directors, staff, friends, supporters and clients of
Montecillo have all fought on through the years to provide
the best in convalescence, recuperation, rest and respite
care for war veterans and their families, because it was the
right thing to do.
''Someone had to hold the high ground in the face of broken
promises and suspicious hidden agendas,'' he said.
Mr Barnes, an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War,
said he had written four previous books on military subjects
as a way of ''keeping my brain going''.
His books include Old Soldiers Never Die (about
Rannerdale Veterans' Home in Christchurch), and a couple of
books on the Vietnam War.
''There are a few more in the pipeline. It's a pastime I
Mr Barnes said he was almost finished writing Holding The
High Ground, and hoped it would be published in mid-2015.