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In war, history will always repeat itself

One-hundred-year-old WWII veteran Richard Harding says he was recruited into the Royal New Zealand Navy by his father, an officer in the Royal Navy.

He said the training was tough.

“We had no hammocks, we just slept on the floor, on the ground, and undercover,” he said.

“I went direct to England and then went to sea on a destroyer from Harwich going up and down the English Channel to the north to the south.”

“By that time, I was 19-years-old and that was very exciting.”

Harding considers himself lucky to have avoided deployment to HMS Neptune, on which  150 New Zealanders died after it struck a Mediterranean minefield.

Harding’s second-in-command on the Royal Navy destroyer was Charles Dickens’ great-grandson, Peter Gerald Charles Dickens.

“He wore a red beard, rather like Charles Dickens,” Harding said.

“He was a nice guy.”

“He thought I was pretty smart, which I thought I was. These days, I’m not so sure, though.”

“He recommended me for a commission in the Navy, so I went down to Brighton and did so.”

“I went for four months of training and ended up as a sub-lieutenant.”


Harding took part in Operation Torch landings in French North Africa.

“The French put up a big defence and we were all lucky to survive it,” he said.

“It was very nasty.”

Harding remained in the Navy after the war for 22 years, retiring as a naval commander.

He met his wife Gabrielle in England.

They were married for 72 years and had two children, Caroline and John, before Gabrielle passed away in Greytown.

He was Greytown Mayor for a short time before buying and managing an orchard until the physical work became too much for him.

Harding said his experience of war was one of great adventure, but said it was not like that for all soldiers.

“I had a relatively peaceful war, it was always exciting.”

“It wasn’t a hands-on war like we’ve got in the Ukraine.”

He said history would repeat itself through war, over and over.

“I think it’ll happen all the time, I’m afraid so,” he said.




public interest journalism

Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco
Ellie Franco is Wairarapa’s Local Focus video journalist. She regularly covers in-depth stories on arts, culture, people, health, and the occasional pup.

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