Battle site revisited
FOR Brendan O’Carroll, travelling thousands of miles and crossing a scorching desert was a small price to pay to uncover a piece of New Zealand history.
The Mt Roskill amateur historian went on an expedition to Libya to find a World War Two battle site, where a little-known New Zealand unit took on enemy forces.
“It’s such a unique Kiwi story,” he says.
“They were the forerunners of the SAS and trained the SAS when it was formed a year or so after. They did work behind the lines.”
The unit was called the Long Range Desert Group, made up of Kiwi and British soldiers.
Its main role was reconnaissance and gathering intelligence on enemy forces.
Mr O’Carroll has a longheld fascination with the group and arranged the trip to southern Libya, where three Kiwi army trucks remain untouched in the desert since the 1941 battle.
“The Kiwis were spotted by the Italians, who had a special force. They met by accident. It was the first special forces battle of the war.”
One New Zealander and one Italian were killed in the fighting.
The site had been rediscovered by oil expeditions in the 1960s and 1980s, but had since been forgotten.
Because of its remote location the trucks escaped being turned into scrap when Libya cleaned up its battle sites in the 1970s.
“It’s probably the only battle site in the world that is as it was left after the battle, which makes it very interesting for historians.”
Mr O’Carroll arranged to meet two overseas friends in Libya for the expedition.
A television crew heard of the venture and went along to document the journey and discovery.
After several gruelling days crossing the desert in 4WD vehicles, they located the trucks.
Although burned out in the battle they were intact.
“Being the first New Zealander to see the battle site was quite moving. There was still ammunition lying around. Everything was still there. The desert preserves things,” Mr O’Carroll says.
He also found a button from a Long Range Desert Group tunic and brought back ammunition shells, pieces of a rum jar and a bottle. They held a small ceremony for the two dead men, laying flags on their graves, and Mr O’Carroll buried a tiki for the New Zealander.
He has written three books about the Long Range Desert Group and is co-writing another about the trip.
The documentary of the expedition is expected to screen next year around Anzac Day.
Staff Sergeant Brenton Beach of the Waiouru Army Museum says it has had several displays on the Long Range Desert Group.
“It’s important to understand the hardships our forefathers went through. About half the group were Kiwis. By actually walking the ground it will help our understanding of what they went through and maybe alter perceptions and interpretations of what they did.”
Battle souvenirs: Brendan O’Carroll brought back ammunition shells and an old bottle from the Libyan desert. Right: Brendan found the burnt-out trucks on a battleground unchanged in 67 years.