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1 RNZIR 1965-67

"Oh, To See Ourselves As Others See Us"
Commanding Officer: Lt Col B.M. Poananga, MBE, RNZIR


It has been suggested that our Battalions were created in their particular commander's image. That is too simplistic. Certainly the commander's character and attitude to command has a major impact on the development of the Battalion; but in the end it is the people in the Battalion who determine its particular character and style - the commanders at all levels, the soldiers and families. A successful commander is one who brings out the best in all those disparate people who make up the Battalion at any particular point in time. And, it is not surprising that despite the problems of the 'trickle' system, the 'half battalion relief, 'company plus' deployments to South Vietnam and others, all our Battalions compared favourably with their British and Australian counterparts in 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade. But, the greatest sadness for me was to see the fine battalion team of my time decimated by the loss of half its numbers after twelve months. It was little comfort to be told that the senior command structure was preserved.

Having said all that, our Battalion was luckier than most; we had the stimulus of first 'Confrontation' and then South Vietnam. Both experiences, not unnaturally, played their part in making the Battalion what it was. The Battalion, when we went to Borneo, was at its best and our then Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson, had this to say about it:

"That afternoon I flew by helicopter with Bill Cheyne, the British Brigade Commander to the frontier area where the lst Battalion of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment was deployed in active operations. At this moment his (Cheyne's) reputation was at its highest and he was regarded as a supreme expert in Malaysian jungle warfare. He told me that out of the twenty or so battalions which had passed through his hands in his present appointment he rated this New Zealand Battalion equal top with one other . . . . . I reckoned that I knew enough of my own experience to gauge whether or not a unit involved in jungle warfare was proficient or otherwise. I was perhaps more probing than a Governor-General, even though also titular Commander-in-Chief, ought to be. But I did investigate that battalion ..... as thoroughly as I knew, and found it hard to fault. I also found it difficult to dissent from Bill Cheyne's judgement, although I hadn't seen the other units on which he based his criterion. It was a tip-top battalion, whose morale was still at sky level, despite the thousands of collective miles they had patrolled in tough conditions - the temperature was 104'F at noon on the day I spent there - without the satisfaction of a clash with the opposition." (Travel Warrant by Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson).

When the Battalion returned to Terendak at the end of Confrontation, Brigadier Cheyne invited me to stay a couple of days with him in Kuching. It was there that I received orders to proceed forthwith to South Vietnam. New Zealand was considering sending an infantry force to that country. Alas, as history records, the Battalion did not go; a reinforced company was to be our lot. But it was another challenge and that was all we needed to restore the fine edge on those who were chosen for the first two companies to go to South Vietnam. They and those that followed were to add lustre to the fine traditions of the NZ infantry.

As I started let me finish. It was the people in the Battalion who made it what it was. I owe a great debt of gratitude to all those people who made up the Battalion - the commanders at all levels, the soldiers and, not least, the families. In the whole of our tour of duty involving long separations first in Borneo and then in South Vietnam I do not recall any family problem which was not sorted out by the Wives Club. No commander could ask for more.

Extracted from:
The First Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment Journal
25th Anniversary Commenorative Edition, pp90-91
Ed Major P.J.Fry, RNZIR

Fergusson, Bernard
Travel Warrant, pp 213-214
Collins, London, 1979

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