Topic: Hugh Harrison (1921-2014)

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Hugh Harrison (1921-2014), Service No. 209195 Div Amm Coy 2nd NZEF WWII 1942 - 1945 North Africa - Italy. An obituary apeparing in the New Zealand Herald on December 24 read: HARRISON, Hugh Service No. 209195 Div Amm Coy 2nd NZEF WWII 1942 - 1945 North Africa - Italy. Loving husband of Melville and the late Venlin. Father and father in law of Paul and Averil, John and Barbara. Loving grandfather to Maree and Melonie, stepfather to Rex, Andrew, Beryl and the late Glenn. A service for Hugh will be held at the Hillsdene Chapel, 143 13th Avenue Tauranga on Saturday 27 December at 1pm followed by private cremation. Communications to the Harrison family C/- PO Box 650 Tauranga 3140. The following was one of a series of articles appearing in the 6th Battalion (Hauraki) Regimental Association Newsletter which was given to Research Collections (Tauranga Library) for digitisation.

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6th Hauraki Insignia

I am Hugh Harrison, born in Te Puke and trained as a Hauraki soldier. At the end of last century I wrote several short stories for President Des and the boys before I went to live up the coast at the beach. I am permanently back home in Tauranga now and Des has invited me to contribute some more stories and articles.

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During wartime, for the three years I was away, I kept a diary every day and the stories I write come all from there so they are essentially true. At the end of March 1943 I was in the 2 NZ Amn Coy. A platoon of our drivers was sent to work with the British, based in the Suez Canal Zone. We were going there because Germany was suspected of thrusting through the Caucasus or Turkey. We were there to assist them to further maintain friendly relations with Turkey and their people by providing them with army stores medicines etc, and also the trucks we drove.

On April 2, in the trucks we had been issued with, already loaded by the Brits, we crossed the canal at Ismalia and were in the Sinai Desert where the sun scorched down mercilessly. The road was sticky tar seal covered with many small sand drifts. We stayed that night in a British camp and the next day crossed into Palestine. We were now using their currency. Next day we moved on through gently rounded hills to Haifa, a pretty place by the sea. There were flowers all along the roads; especially through a place called Rafa were there were vineyards and groves of oranges trees.

We unloaded our trucks and they were reloaded with mixed essential heavy trade goods. I had a load of 44-gallon drums of aviation gas. The loader separated the drums with heavy fibre matting to prevent the drums clashing together or otherwise causing sparks from the steel tray that might ignite the highly volatile fuel.
We left Haifa in the afternoon and arrived across the Syrian border at 10pm passing the Sea of Galilee. The country became hilly but there were still lots of flowers.
We moved through Lebanon into the high snow covered hills and arrived at Horns, a dirty little-town but its countryside was pretty. We passed the ancient ruins of Bealbek and finally came to Aleppo a beautiful town 30 miles from the Turkish border. The people there were very hospitable. We carried out maintenance on our trucks and cleaned them prior to handing them fully loaded to local drivers who would deliver them to Ankara in Turkey.

We rested for a couple of days in Aleppo before leaving for Egypt by train. On April 9 we left in the evening and travelled all night to reach Tripoli next morning where we had breakfast. We then carried on to Beirut and went on leave. This was a purely French town with a rather rough transit camp, which we suffered for the next four days. We were pleased, on the fifth day, to leave at midnight, on our train, to arrive in Haifa at noon next day. We had 18 hours without food and did not need a second call to the mess table.
A couple of days later we left Haifa for Lidda sleeping that night on the train. Eventually, on April 18, we arrived back in our base camp at Maadi our work was done. We had completed this mission with only one driver in each vehicle; normally there would have been two.

However there are four special memories I would like to share with you:

I drove the last vehicle in the convoy from Haifa because if my dangerous load had exploded and the truck burned it would block the road and halt the convoy. When I left the oil depot and was about a mile away I looked back and was astonished to see a large plume of black smoke rising, the Germans had just bombed the port where we had been.

I had been driving for about an hour when the road suddenly dipped down between two hills then turned abruptly to the right to climb up the side of a small gully. I could see the truck ahead and the driver was waving me to speed up. I thought he was telling me that I was getting too far behind so I put my foot down and then I saw it - the railway line partly covered in sand and going straight across my front. Then came the whistle, I snapped my head around and looked straight at the cowcatcher and the round front-end boilerplate of a large old locomotive. I can still see every bolt head of that front plate. By some miracle the train missed me and rushed past my speeding behind.

This incident has a happier note. After leaving the little gully we were among the orange groves again. Away ahead I could see the trucks bunched up and when I arrived I saw they were crowded around an orchard worker and a large barrow, which had been filled with a big load of large delicious oranges. The drivers were hot, dusty and dry and after all they were just normal loot of a sort they certainly were not paying for. Anyway the oranges were all gone when I got there. The elderly worker greeted me with a wide grin. I asked him why he was so happy. He said those robbers saved him a lot of trouble. He was very tired, the oranges were too ripe for the market and the dump was still a long distance away. He said he let them believe they were stealing them, so I told him I would keep his secret. That is when he gave me some of the oranges he had kept aside in the pockets of his white robe.

Finally I caught up with the trucks again. They had stopped after we had driven up the hills into the snow of Lebanon. The driver who had shared the train incident with me remarked how lucky I had been. He said he hoped it would last and for him too as he pointed to fuel dripping from my load just missing the hot exhaust pipe. I had to crawl on top of the drums but once more, lucky for me, it was only a 4-gallon tin of petrol the loaders had put there and it had slipped down to the floor and burst a seam. I suppose it wasn't sabotage but who would know over there.



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