McRae fam­ily em­braces An­zac spirit

Matamata Chronicle - - Your Paper, Your Place - REXINE HAWES

Robin McRae feels an enor­mous amount of pride watch­ing the New Zealand and Aus­tralia flags fly­ing at An­zac Day ser­vices.

The re­turned Viet­nam vet­eran is a se­cond gen­er­a­tion ser­vice­man. His fa­ther, Peter McRae served as a NZ Air­force radar op­er­a­tor in the South Pa­cific in World War II.

Robin’s daugh­ter Kelly Clow, re­tired NZ Navy Lieu­tenant Com­man­der, is the fam­ily’s third gen­er­a­tion to serve in New Zealand’s forces.

In July 1969, Robin left New Zealand, headed for Viet­nam. He was 19, ex­cited and fear­less.

‘‘I was ab­so­lutely bul­let­proof,’’ he says. ’’It was a good time for the army. You got to see and do things that you wouldn’t have other­wise.’’

He left be­hind his teen-aged fi­ancee, Lynda.

He served with the 161 Bat­tery, one of the youngest of 130 men. They joined con­scripts from Aus­tralia.

‘‘They were pro­fes­sion­als, and did a bloody good job,’’ he said.

He says in the year-long tour, there were three-to-four days where the sit­u­a­tion was dan­ger­ous for the men of 161 Bat­tery.

But for the most part there was a lot of wait­ing around. And he used the free time to write let­ters home to his young fi­ancee Lynda.

The Viet­nam war was well covered by the me­dia. In­for­ma­tion com­ing from the United States de­picted that the North Viet­namese, pri­mar­ily us­ing the Viet Cong, had the up­per hand.

That is not how Robin re­mem­bered it.

‘‘They had a strong up­ris­ing but they were crushed.’’

This mis­in­for­ma­tion meant the re­turned ser­vice­men did not re­ceive a hero’s wel­come.

‘‘It made me an­gry at the time, but it made the guys tighter knit, we looked after our own.’’

Whilst he at­tends An­zac Day to hon­our his tour and all men and women who had served, it is the AN­ZAC’s of Gal­lipoli for whom he had the great­est re­spect.

‘‘Fo­cus­ing on Gal­lipoli, I look at what I learned from their ex­pe­ri­ences. The cam­paign ut­terly guts me. It went wrong from the start.’’

He is pleased to see par­ents with young chil­dren at­tend­ing An­zac Day ser­vices, pay­ing their re­spects.

‘‘It looks like it will hon­oured for some time yet.’’

When Kelly signed up for the NZ Navy, Robin knew the odds were favourable for her.

Her 10-year ser­vice, as an elec­tri­cal engi­neer, took her to the Gulf, in Op­er­a­tion En­dur­ing Free­dom.

Robin passed on what ad­vice he thought would be most help­ful. She lis­tened to her dad and did as he sug­gested.

‘‘I was con­cerned their per­sonal weapons train­ing wasn’t be very good.

‘‘I told her to make friends with the ar­mourer and learn to fire her weapon.’’

Robin says while serv­ing their coun­try with the armed forces is a bond they share, it’s not one they dis­cuss of­ten.

‘‘You don’t want to fall into the trap of telling war sto­ries over and over again.

‘‘I oc­ca­sion­ally think about my time. There are things I saw that are burned in my mem­ory for­ever.’’

SUPPLIED

Kelly Clow (nee McRae), Robin McRae and Peter McRae are three gen­er­a­tions of ser­vice­men and women.

SUPPLIED

Robin McRae, right, was one of the youngest to serve with New Zealand’s 161 Bat­tery in Viet­nam.

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