Saturday, December 12, 2009


New Zealand military history is littered with great names - Upham, Ngarimu, Ward, Trigg, Apiata, Bassett, Judson ... the list goes on and on and on.

A name probably unfamiliar to many of you is that of John Masters, ONZM, MC, JP. The action which led to his award of an 'immediate' Military Cross in a cross-border operation in Indonesia in 1965 is considered by many to be worthy of a Victoria Cross. Political considerations prevented this. A Victoria Cross and all the attendant publicity would have blown the lid on Operation Claret. Neither the Indonesian or the UK Governments (and by extension Australia and New Zealand) wanted it known there were cross-border operations into Indonesia. It was only in the mid 1990s that the British Government acknowledged the existence of Operation Claret.

And now the John Masters story has been told in a quite excellent book 'A Bridge Over' written by Allan Marriott and distributed by Nationwide Book Distribution Ltd. P.O. Box 65, Oxford.

It covers John's life from his early days; training as an Army Pilot, Borneo, his time as the last commander of 161 Battery in Vietnam, the obscene prosecution taken against him by Vietnam Protesters when 161 Battery paraded down Queen Street on their return from Vietnam, his crusade to rebuild the Rannerdale War Veteran's Home in Christchurch and his spearheading of the campaign to achieve justice for Vietnam veterans. It was during this time that The Veteran came to know and appreciate a truly great New Zealander.

His Borneo MC is 'boys own' stuff. Trapped inside Indonesia and in danger of being overrun John was separated from his patrol when he went to the assistance of a Gurkha Sergeant Major severely wounded in the fire fight. Fighting the effects of scrub typhus John first carried the badly wounded Gurkha on his back deep into the jungle until exhausted he was forced to leave him against a tree. John then navigated himself back through the jungle and over the border to their base camp. When he got there and with his temperature soaring he insisted on accompanying the rescue party back across the border to the tree. Only John could find it. They arrived to find the Gurkha close to death. 12 hours delay and he would have died.

It is not an exaggeration to say that John Masters is revered among Gurkhas. He was made a Life Member of the Sinmoor Club, the Gurkha Regimental Association. Only the fourth such member and one of two still alive.

John Masters has lived his life by a single world 'Service'. Sadly that life is coming to an end as he is ravaged by cancer, perhaps as a result of his time in Vietnam.

John Masters has described me in his book as "his friend". I could ask for no greater accolade. It is an absolute privilege to know John Masters.

Copies of the book can be ordered at

1 comment:

Chris B said...

I bought this book just before Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it.
John has sure had to put up with some shit in dealing with bureaucracy, whether it military, education or veteran affairs.
I am not a veteran but spent 13 years in the army.
I take my hat of to this great man.