Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Land Rovers, landmines and fireworks in the field.

Land Rovers have changed little over the last 40 years and have been the work horses of our Red Cross field operations. My first Red Cross assignment was in Vietnam in 1971 and we had a trusty Landrover. Transportation may not have changed much, but the way we work has changed dramatically. I remember puttings sandbags under the seats and extra metal plating on the floor of our Land Rover, as land mines were prevalent in the remote highland areas we worked in.
The New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Welfare Team and their trusty Land Rover in South Vietnam 1971. From Left to right: Simon Evans agriculture, Bob McKerrow livelihoods and education, Adrian Lattimore nurse, John Gordon leader and agriculture, Peter Barnes mechanic and sanitation. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The next year, early 1972, we flew a short-wheel base Land Rover to Bangladesh by NZ Airforce C-130 to be part of an ICRC/IFRC joint operation where over 20 national societies sent socio-medical teams. Our current President Tadateru Konoe was leader of the Japanese Red Cross team, and I was leader of the NZ Red Cross team. With bridges blown up by the retreating army, Land Rovers got us across many rivers and roadless terrain to provide life-saving services to many of the ten million returning refugees from Bangladesh, who had been sheltering in India for over a year. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Iain Logan and I have discussed the merits of Land Rovers over the years, often over pints of beer.. The last of the Series 1, the  1958 SWB was a classic and when Iain was driving trucks of relief supplies as a Red Cross volunteer for the Biafran Red Cross operation, he mentioned to me how SWB Land Rovers were the backbone of medical and relief teams.

Our briefing in the New Zealand Red Cross headquarters in 1971 by Coimmander Maurice Ashdown. Left to right: Simon Evans, Adrian Lattimore, Bob McKerrow and Peter Barnes. Wow ! let's bring back the shorts as tropical attire for delegates.

The New Zealand Red Cross sent another refugee welfare team back to Vietnam in 1973 and I was appointed leader. We purchased a new LWB Land Rover. I drove the it from Wellington to the port of Tauranga, where it went by ship to Saigon, and drove it from there to Pleiku in the Central Highlands where we were running recovery programmes for IDPs. That is where I first met George Weber, who was a first-time delegate for the IFRC/ICRC joint Indo-China operation. George later went on to the the Secretary general of the IFRC.

Land Rovers again enabled the Federation to support the Ethiopian Red Cross with a massive drought relief operation in 1978-79. We would cram full our Land Rovers with grain and drive from 7,000 feet in Dessie (Wollo) up to over 12,000 feet in the highlands where over a million people were starving.

A photo of me left with a young Ethiopian Red Cross volunteers.

Photo: Ato Tsehayou Seyoum (who is now head of delegation for Canadian Red Cross in India.)

Forty years on, I still enjoy travelling in the trusty Land Rover, although it has many rivals. This was shot earlier this year while visiting a tsunami funded water supply in Ampara, Sri Lanka. Someone asked me the other day what I am going to do when I retire from Red Cross, and I said " I will probably end up in charge of fireworks and entertainment.in a red Cross branch somewhere."

(1) Astonishingly, at the Diplomatic Conference in August 1864, the man without whom the occasion would never have taken place was not an official delegate. Henry Dunant was designated chairman of the entertainments committee, charged with organising social gathering and firework displays.

(1)Quote from: C. Moorhead, Dunant’s Dream (New York, Harper Collins 1998 )p.44


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