|Ngaire Subritzky was born on the 10 October 1923 at Waihopo, in Northland, New Zealand, the daughter of Captain John and May Freda Subritzky (neÚ Evans).
During WWII, Ngaire Subritzky joined the WAACs on 16 November 1942 and served until 12 July 1944 when she was discharged upon "completion of her period of enlistment". While in the New Zealand Army she served as a radar operator with the 9th Heavy Regiment, New Zealand Artillery. She was awarded the British War Medal 1939-1945 and the New Zealand War Service Medal 1939-1945.
"I joined the Army in 1942 and completed my basic training in Papakura Camp (very basic!), down to unarmed combat and throwing hand grenades. Somewhere in a "Weekly News" lies a photograph of me in civvies trying to throw some other poor unfortunate girl during one of these lessons. I ran for the WAAC's in the Inter-Service meet at Carlaw Park. I ran in the 200 yards (I was good at the 200 which was my favourite distance), the 4 x 100 yard relay, and also the high jump. During training my drill was above average and I was approached to stay on and become an Instructor but I wanted to get out into the field and do my bit.
I applied for a Radar Course, something that was very new for Army girls, and I lied like a Houhora flatfish as regards my education ... no computers back then to check! I said I had 3 years secondary correspondence schooling which was what they were looking for. In the meantime I was posted back home to Kaitaia Army Office and was employed as a clerk. I used to forge the Colonel's signature (our C.O.) on whatever was necessary as the old gentleman was usually asleep in his hut, only stirred to have lunch and meet officials ... I can still do his signature, but won't. I was contacted about 2 months later and transferred back to Auckland where I was kitted out with the required boots, spats (gaiters), and battle dress. I was then posted to Castor Bay for Radar Training.
We were also required to man the C.D. set on the Pa behind the camp, and 3 shifts travelled up each night and slept in the 4 man huts. Some working in the engine room as well, we used diesel generators for power. Each day we were lectured for 6 hours by a Captain Taylor (British Army) on the new M.W. Radar which was being installed at Whangaparoa, Rangitoto and North Head. The course started with about 40 of us girls, but at the end of 6 weeks only 26 of us remained. Each Saturday morning we sat a written exam and then we were granted leave until 2300 on Sunday. I always came back in fear, trembling in case I had failed as there were no second chances, you failed and you were out.
While at Castor Bay we also received our full kit, including tailor-made barathea uniforms, shoes, etc. We thought we were pretty Posh. During this period I was chosen to be in the WAAC Guard of Honour for Eleanor Roosevelt and had dinner with her in our S.W.A.A.N. club in Queens Arcade. Occassionally we crawled out under the wire, and down over the Old Pirate Shippe to the dances. Great fun! After the course was over, our section was posted to Whangaparoa and we manned the MW Radar, right on the headland. The Navy were below us in tunnels on submarine watch, all guns were manned each night and one night I was on watch (2300-0300) when the Queen Mary anchored off-shore to pick up the Americans. Whanagaparoa was a great camp, lots of fun and good being with the same bunch of women that I joined with.
In due course our Tour of Duty ended and we were posted to Rangitoto Island; to the Rangitoto station (M.W.) CD. There was insufficient water on Rangitoto for us to live, and so we were barracked at Motutapu Island. Every afternoon it was into an Army truck with kitbags, bedding, and food and then away and across to Rangi, where we had to foot slog the last 3rd of the journey by foot so we didn't carry anything unnecessary. Coming down off the cone was easy ... some bright spark devised a scoria slide, so we just sat on our kit bags, heels down and away. It was hell on our kitbags and boots, and we were not the Quartermaster Sergeant's favourite people.
I was on duty at Rangitoto station when news of my brother Fredo's wounding at Cassino came through. He had been hit in the head by aircraft fire and taken to Casareta Hospital. He was only there for a matter of about three weeks when news came through that his Company (B Company, 21st Battalion) was going back into the line. Fredo asked to be RTU'd to his Company but this was refused by the MO, and so the very next night he and several members of the 28th (Maori) Battalion jumped from the second floor of Caserata Hospital onto a passing hay cart and went AWOL serving unofficially with his Company for more than a month ... he fought in every action right up to Rimini ... Bloody Subritzkys!
I loved being at Rangitoto Island, it used to fascinate me, it was very much like a bonsai landscape. At night I often used to feed the wallabies and possums; and yes there were a few on the Island, we fed them on our own staple diet of toast and condensed milk. I had some wonderful experiences on my leaves, dancing at the Metro pole, Peter Pan, Civic Wintergarden. It sounds like a lot of fun, but always there was that underlying fear of a Japanese invasion, and it was always there, until the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Every day we scanned the casualty lists of the Herald and the Auckland Star, and always there was the name of some personal friend or relative of our close 'tribe' on whatever station we were on. After the threat was over, most of our group was posted to Trentham where three of us ended up in the motor pool! I dispensed petrol, oil etc to all and sundry and learned to drive by the seat of our pants ... no lessons, just told to "Move that truck!" ... so we did!
None of us could drive, so we never reversed, but simply drove gingerly round the block and back! While I was at Trentham, my dad who was by now a Major with the North Auckland Regiment, pulled a few strings and got me sent home (I was heartbroken), to nurse my mother who was suffering from a terminal illness; so that was the Army over for me. I went home to Kaitaia, and after a while I worked at the Northern Advocate bookshop & agency where the news of the day was telegraphed (by me) to Whangarei. While at the Kaitaia office, I met a man who was 2IC of Waipapa's Aerodrome, and a fighter pilot, but that and our very happy marriage is another long story. I am proud to have served my country during time of war.
9th Heavy Regiment
New Zealand Artillery May 2001
from the book: Kiwi Gunners in War and Peace
ęCopyright Mike Subritzky 2004
Kiwiana Publishing 2004. Used with permission