Looking back on service with pride, but also sadness

For Milton World War 2 veteran and Ashlea Grove Rest Home resident Bill Sinclair Anzac Day is a...
For Milton World War 2 veteran and Ashlea Grove Rest Home resident Bill Sinclair Anzac Day is a time to remember fallen comrades, as illustrated in a new mural at the home painted by local artist Alice Muir. PHOTO: RICHARD DAVISON
Four returned Milton serviceman Bill Sinclair, Anzac Day arrives each year with a mix of pride and sadness.

When Mr Sinclair (97), in those days a sprightly 21-year-old, first arrived in Egypt for training to join a new artillery spotting section in 1941, every day seemed to promise something new and exciting.

``You can imagine: here's a South Otago boy who's never been much further than Christchurch, lands up in North Africa. We just thought it was a big adventure to begin with,'' he said.

The young Mr Sinclair had had to leave behind friends made during initial army training when he joined his new division, including ``cobber'' and fellow southerner Norm Christie, although new friendships were soon made.

Norm, better known as ``Crafty'' Christie thanks to his talent for finding shortcuts to the daily drudgeries of service life, had, like Mr Sinclair, applied to join the artillery after getting fed up with his initial infantry posting, but missed a critical deadline.

``All that marching wasn't too much fun, so we thought we'd give artillery a go. But Norm never made it through, and ended up staying with the infantry.''

Ultimately, that missed deadline led to starkly contrasting consequences for the two young men, a fact that still exercised Mr Sinclair's mind today.

``Of course, Norm ended up in a different field of operations to me and, sadly, he didn't make it back from Italy. I was one of the lucky ones.''

Under heavy artillery fire, Mr Christie had rushed to provide first aid to an injured comrade who had taken shelter in a hole, only to be struck by a further incoming shell and killed, Mr Sinclair said.

Although he still felt extreme pride at having served his country during World War 2, nowadays it was tempered with reflections of sadness on those, like Mr Christie, who had lost their lives during conflict, and who continued to do so.

``We need to keep their memories alive. They made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of all those alive today. You sometimes wish mankind could stop fighting, but I don't suppose they will. It's just something about being human, sadly.''

Keeping the Anzac story alive was the best way for the next generation to learn about both the heroism and costs of war, and Mr Sinclair was delighted his rest-home, Ashlea Grove, was helping do so with a new, Anzac-themed mural.

The 6m-long mural was painted on a wall adjoining the rear entrance of the home by local artist Alison Muir last month.

``It catches the eye, and means people can think about their own Anzac stories whenever they walk past. I think it's fantastic.''

richard.davison@odt.co.nz

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