Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Hard Men, Another New Zealand War Hero

News trickled out today about a New Zealander serving in the British Army who is being hailed as a hero after he saved two colleagues' lives when a hand grenade was thrown in front of them.
Rifleman James McKie (pictured above) was under fire from three directions when the hand grenade hit his platoon commander and landed at his feet.
He picked up the grenade and hurled it back at the enemy moments before it exploded.
"My first thought was I hope this doesn't hurt too much," he told British media.
The grenade exploded mid-air a split second later, sending fragments into Rifleman McKie's face and arm, and injuring his commander's leg. The third soldier escaped unharmed.
His actions helped to save the lives of his commander and one other soldier who were engaging the enemy in a fire fight, from a compound roof, in the Sangin area of Helmand Province.
"There was no way you could throw yourself off and not get injured, so I made a decision to pick up the grenade and throw it off the roof," Rifleman McKie said.
"My platoon has taken a lot of casualties. I really didn't want to see anyone else get hurt."
The 29-year-old has been serving in Afghanistan for five months.
He recently joined the British Army, having previously served in the New Zealand Army.
Commanding officer Captain Graeme Kerr said he owed his life to Rifleman McKie's brave actions.
"Bearing in mind you only have three seconds when it lands by your feet and half a second to make a decision and another three seconds to throw it, that's pretty heroic in my book," he said.
Standard procedure was to jump away from the grenade, Captain Kerr said.
"He's one of those very brave people that has a complete disregard for his own life and a high regard for other people's."
Captain Kerr, from Recce Platoon, 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was recovering in hospital in Britain.
Rifleman McKie continued to fight on the front line and is now in line for a bravery award.
When interviewed again McKie said he's "embarrassed" by being described as a hero after saving his commanding officer from a hand grenade attack in Afghanistan.

His father, Andrew McKie, said he was incredibly proud of his son's "brilliant and courageous act".
"He was probably seconds away from dying."
"I'm just glad he came out of it. My heart's with the people in his unit who have been killed over the last week who weren't so lucky."
Rifleman McKie had continued to fight on the front line after he was injured.
Rifleman McKie grew up around army camps, where his father had served as Warrant Officer Class 1 until he retired in 1991.
He was stationed in Waiouru and Palmerston North before "he'd done his dash in the New Zealand Army".
"He wanted a bit of adventure I think, and he'd read all about the British Army, what they were doing," Mr McKie said.
"It took him a year to get into the British Army, he sort of slept on a couch in London doing all the paperwork and everything."

James McKie carries on the proud tradition of New Zealand 'H ard Men' or war heroes which they don't like to be called.

Corporal Willie Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2007 for carrying an injured Kiwi soldier out of the firing line during an attack in Afghanistan three years earlier. New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark paid tribute to Cpl Apiata's bravery.
"Cpl. Apiata carried a severely wounded comrade over 70 yards across broken, rocky and fire-swept ground, fully exposed to the glare of battle, heavy opposing fire and into the face of return fire from the main New Zealand troops' position," she said.

But the most highly decorated New Zealander was Charles Upham who earned the Victoria Cross twice during World War II.He was only the third person to receive the Victoria Cross twice and has been described as the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of that war.

Hard men
Te Ara (New Zealand Encyclopedia) describes the New Zealand soldier of WWII as Hard Men. While there was much that was familiar in the image of the New Zealander at war – the egalitarian spirit of the officer who led from the front ‘as one of the boys’, the emphasis on the quiet unemotional nature of mateship – there were subtle changes. New Zealand men were no longer regarded as notably tall, but as strong and wiry. And there was a growing acceptance that they not only fought hard, but also played hard. New Zealand writer Dan Davin wrote, ‘you couldn’t have the wild dash of the Galatas counterattack or, after it, the grim steadiness of that ferocious withdrawal over Crete’s spine without this same discharge of vigour in the drunken backstreets of Cairo where pimps prospered and gutters stank of piss.’ The war also saw a full acceptance by both Māori and Pakeha of their joint identity as New Zealanders. This time Waikato Māori enlisted, and while the Māori Battalion was a separate unit, both peoples joined in a mutual pride in its reputation.

Thanks to Stuff website for information on James McKie.


Unknown said...

Mmmm, I don't know Bob, Charlie Upham was a childhood hero of mine, I still have a worn copy of Mark of the Lion, but I wouldn't like to see too many comparisons between him and these later soldiers.

They are volunteer soldiers and not even content with courageous peace keeping and community duties they have gone out of their way to play with guns.

I think, even with their reluctance, their deeds are been used by military marketers to glorify war and death. I'm not going to buy it.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

It's an emotional subject Jamie. You could say Upham was selfish as his heroism was due to the fact he hated war and wanted to get home to help his Mother on the farm. So his logicr was, speed the war up, kill as many Germans as I can, so I can get home and help Mum on the farm. We could also say the most heroic NZers in both wars were the conscientious objectors who had the balls not to go to war.

I think Apiata and McKie will be remembered as brave men. Upham, Colin Meades and Ed Hillary are icons, and it seem we cannot say an ill word against them. If you are young, brave and not etched into the conservative Kiwi fabric, it takes at least three decades to catch up, and possibly surpass, the Uphams, meades and Hillary.

Marja said...

I heard that most NZ soldiers in WW2 fought and died in the fronlines.War is very ugly and something you don't like to think about it. For me every form of people helping or saving each other is great. My son made me think about war as well as he wrote a poem about it. He refused to write anything for 2 1/2 years
because his teacher showed the class how awful his work was (he is severly dyslexic) so I am happy at the moment he wrote ( his poem is on my blog)

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Hi Marja.

War is incredibly ugly. I was happy and sad to read about your son. Happy because it is great he had the courage to write a poem about war, probably knowing the consequences. Sad because the teacher and some of his class discriminated against him. I must read his poem.

I have workewd for the Red Cross in at least 10 different wars, and had to work with the civilian population who have been killed, maimed or traumatised.

However, men and women frequently have no choice but to fight out of self defence, the threat of death or punishment if they don't, or because of societal pressure. Heroes do emerge, and they should be acknowldeged.

Perhaps I should stick to safe ground and write only about mountains and beautfiful things.
Have a good weekend.


Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

I just got this email from James McKie's father who works for the New Zealand Red Cross and I know quite well. I am sure he would be happy for me to post this as it gives another perspective on this issue.

Hi Bob

Greeting from NZ

I have just read your blog about NZ hard men, did you realise the James is my son. We are very proud of him and will certainly be in London when he gets his medal, what ever it is.

I recieved this message from his Platoon Sgt

"Hi Andrew, Thank you for getting in touch. You and James's mother have every right to be proud of him. Your son is very much a hero but more than that he is a top bloke, It is really a great pleasure to work along side him outhere and call him a friend. He brings so much to the platoon especailly after all our hardships. He should milk all this attention he is receiving because he deserves it, but he,s being his normal Kiwi self. Even though he is not cocky the photo is a gift thank you i forsee great fun mass producing it around the FOB. "


Andrew McKie

Unknown said...

Hey Bob,

Please don't stick to the easy subjects, too many of us do.

McKie sounds like a good guy, but a hero? I don't know. I think that the threshold for a volunteer professional soldier to cross to become a hero should be pretty high....otherwise we are glorifying violence, encouraging military aspirations and worst of all helping those damn arms manufacturers.



Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
It would be a far different world if war was the heads of our governments and corporations whom had a beef had to trot out into a boxing ring and duke it out. But we send boys, and now women, to die in place of the people whom a
started the conflict. I guess that is as old as humanity, how many millions of lives have been lost as mere cannon fodder? Reading accounts of so many men running to their deaths across withering machine gun fire and the unfolding of the age of modern warfare still brings tears to my eyes.
The bravery I understand completely. But I also know how silent and damaged my own father was from his war experiences in WWII, the last war which can probably be "justified". The reasons these men and women are even there in these places are dubious at best. Having written that it takes nothing away from their acts of bravery.
Bob, to me personally, I consider Ed Cotter a bigger hero than Ed Hillary. And having actually the man and witnesed his quiet countenance I stand by that.
Cheers my friend,

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Jamie and Robb

I think we can leave it that, James McKie, a young Kiwi adventurer who chose to join the British Army, is a brave young man.

Robb, I was inspired yesterday as travelled with Jusuf Kalla, the Chairman of Indonesian Red Cross, and former Vice President of Indonesia. He is a peac maker. He has brokered a number of peace agreement between warring factions in Indonesia, and tried to broker a ceas fir in Sri Lanka some years ago. We flew to Padang yesterday to follow up on our post earthquake housing programme and it was inspiring to hear how he does it.

Blessed be the peacemakers.

Have a good weekend guys, and yes Robb, I agree with you aabout E Cotter's greatness.

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Mike said...

Hi Bob. I certainly don't wish to detract from what this man did, but to add some perspective, the 14th March 2010 edition of MediaWatch on New Zealand's National Radio (stream in windows media or mp3) ran an interesting analysis of how James McKie's story got into the media in the first place. Among many other comments about the media's role and how it reports on far away war, they traced it back to this blog entry.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Mike. Your information helps give the act another perspective. It shows how blogs are imoortant in providing immediateb information. Bob

Mike said...

Hi Bob. That's certainly true, but I think they also made some other very valid points (on MediaWatch), such as how the media only got the story through approved military channels, and (in NZ at least) showed very little interest in researching anything about what Mckie and his platoon were doing, who they were fighting, why they were fighting them, who threw the grenade, why they did it, or generally any kind of background whatsoever.

Much of the media here shows little interest in such things unless they can be dressed to match the news-is-entertainment model. All we had here was a mad rush of journalists to be first to make a lot of noise about "Heroic New Zealander saves friends from evil bad guys" with little context to justify what they said. There were few questions asked -- asking real questions and digging up more information than what the military had decided to release would be hard, but regurgitating what they say is fairly easy. Is he really heroic and were the overall actions justified? Perhaps, but I don't have confidence in the channels that are telling me this.

This is a big reason why I find your blog such an interesting read and I suggest it to friends, because you're giving an experienced perspective of what's actually happening in Indonesia and other places that goes far beyond the entertainment segment at 6pm on local TV, or the very brief 1-2 page World News segment of the DomPost. Thanks immensely for taking out the time to write about what you do.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Thanks Mike

Instant food, instant thrills, instant news and as you note, "few questions were asked."

I communicated with Jame's Dad, talked to a few friends working in Afghanistan and had a look at blogs and what the British media were saying. I believe the key factor is, James Mckie is an adventurer. He wanted an adventure, joined the British Army, a grenade lands at his feet, he throws it back to save his life, and others around him. I believe many of us would do the same thing.

But as I found out many years ago, the world, particularly America, needs ready made, or instant heroes, to justify what they, and the allies, are doing in Afghanistan. After three Anglo Afghan wars, and the Soviets being sort of defeated in Afghanistan, you would think the Brits would have the sense to keep out. No !

Forget the politics, the wider context, what James did was heroic. Whether he gets a gong or not, it is good for our dented nationalism, that Kiwis make a difference out there. And we all love a heroe.

Having lived in Afghanistan for almost four years during total anarchy (1993-96), and knowng the area James McKie is fighting in, I believe my opinion should add some weight to the discussion.

Thanks for your feedback on my blog. I am passionate about what I do, interested in helping people make positive changes in their lives, and I try to do my best to communicate this.



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