Engagement not a phoney war

Lee Russell, 61, proposed to Rolien Ham-Geliefde, 54, while they were dressed in full military...
Lee Russell, 61, proposed to Rolien Ham-Geliefde, 54, while they were dressed in full military garb at Warbirds Over Wanaka at the weekend. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
For Rolien Ham-Geliefde, it is not uncommon to find her friend Lee Russell lying face-down in a field after being shot by a 25-pounder artillery field gun.

The couple have been re-enacting historic war battles with the Oamaru Coastal Defence Group for the past couple of years, so everyone knows exactly what to expect during each battle.

But at Warbirds Over Wānaka at the weekend, Mr Russell did the unexpected by taking a shot that no-one saw coming — not even Ms Ham-Geliefde.

He got down on one knee and proposed to her.

"I turned around and he was down on one knee holding up a ring," she said.

"I was just so excited and tears started — I just grabbed the ring and forgot to say ‘yes’.

"What a place to do it. We both love the military."

She said the engagement ring was of Victorian vintage, and a reminder to them both of World War 2 sweethearts.

Mr Russell, a former British Royal Air Force communications specialist who served in conflicts from 1983 to 1998, said it was one of the more frightening times in his life.

"I was hoping she would say yes. I thought she would, but you know what it’s like for every bloke — you know, you start thinking ‘I hope this is right, we’ll see’.

"Doubt starts to creep up on you."

He said there were any number of military ways to make her submit if she had said no.

"But I don’t think there are any that would be widely approved of."

She did eventually remember to say "yes".

The couple officially met while studying an online health and safety course with the Southland Institute of Technology.

It was not until later in the course that they discovered they both lived in Dunedin and started messaging each other.

A relationship grew and soon after meeting face to face, Mr Russell invited Ms Ham-Geliefde to join him in a war re-enactment in Oamaru.

"I didn’t want to be one of the gunners," she said.

"So I asked if I could be a medic. And from then on, I was enlisted."

Now she works as a health and safety officer for Foodstuffs South Island, and he is the health and safety officer for Presbyterian Support Otago.

They plan to get married in November next year, on a day that is close to Armistice Day.

Ms Ham-Geliefde said once they were married, they would take all they had learned from the war games, and use it to avoid war breaking out at home.

"There won’t be love and war. Just love and love."