Christchurch, NZ. 13 October 2017. Graham Hutchison holds the dubious honour of being (as far as we know) the South Island's oldest remaining gunner and the world’s record holder of the fastest 100 yard sprint through the dessert with his trousers around his ankles. 97-year old Hutchison is looking forward to the 150th Anniversary of the E battery formation of the Royal New Zealand Artillery in Christchurch 1-2 December 2017.
Extraordinary people that have been involved in the Artillery over the last 150 years and the events being held will be reflecting on the characters and events that have not only shaped military history, but also to a degree, the history of Canterbury. As part of the celebrations, there will be a walk around some of the early sites where 32(E) Battery was based with a wreath being laid at the Bridge of Remembrance on the morning of Saturday 1 December.
At 97 years old, Graham Hutchison joined the Territorial’s one week past his 16th birthday, and served with the artillery in WWII mostly in Egypt. As artillery Gun Sergeant, he was responsible for 6 gunners using the 25 pounders sometimes with sometimes frightening consequences.
“On one fire mission, the boys were loading a round into the breach, perhaps a little too quickly, but as the mechanism recoiled, the breach block was opened with the loader putting the next round into the breach. Without any warning, the round detonated blowing me 20 odd yards into the dessert and killing a number of my crew instantly”. Hutchison suffered wounds, but after recuperating was back in the action.
“My world record – yes. When nature called, you couldn’t just go on the gun position; you had to go some distance to find some privacy. Jerry usually sent four Messerschmitts over every afternoon around 4:00pm on strafing runs. So long as you were back on the gun position you were OK. “This particular day, I thought I had to go to the loo and said to my crew that I was off to attend the duties of nature, (well before 4:00pm), when they snuck up on me – early. I had my tweeds down and suddenly, these dammed Jerries (Germans) arrived. “There was a bit of a lull, so I started pulling my trousers up when they returned again. They were coming overhead and strafing at a hundred feet or so – very low. It gave me a fright. I had to high tail it back to the gun lines as fast as I could with my trousers around my ankles. I never knew it was so hard. I’d been in a three legged race, but with trousers around your ankles with planes firing cannon and bombing me, I had extra incentive to get out of harms way. “I leapt and bounced back to the position and found out later that my crew were cheering me on and said it was quite a sight to watch their Gun Sergeant running and leaping like a kangaroo across the desert with trousers around my ankles. The German pilots must have thought it highly amusing.
Hutchison says the anniversary will be quite a milestone for him and the 32E Battery. He is looking forward to sharing some more stories around war in another time period – though it doesn’t seem to have changed much. War is not nice, he says.
E Battery was officially accepted by the Canterbury Governor on the 31st December, 1867. Although this formation of E Battery did not survive for many years, it was a very active group and regarded by the city and province as one of the best volunteer groups in existence. In fact, Charles Allison, the first lieutenant, later became prominent in local body elections and became the Mayor of Christchurch.
It seems military humour never changes. Around 1869, E battery gunners were manning mortars in an exercise with Cavalry in the Canterbury area. It was reported that the gunners were becoming peevish in the expected Cavalry attack and decided that for every 5 minutes they had to wait, they would add another handful of fine gravel to the blank charge. When the Calvary eventually arrived, (by then the mortar tube was full of fine gravel) it was discharged in their direction. The Calvary was taken completely by surprise with a hail of gravel rained down around them and quickly retreated in great confusion.
As Hutchison attests, while there were some terrible events, remembering one amusing instance when he was visiting a buddy in a collocated Anti Tank platoon. “As I approached their battle lines, he seemed to be shaking something, like a cock tail container. When I got closer, he called out, “Hutch – saw you coming in the distance – would you like a brew? Here try this out”. I tried it and thought it was quite pleasant. He said, “Have another”. And one pleasant drink went to another and after 4 or 5, I had to return to my lines feeling a little woozy. “On the way back, and it gotten dark at this time, I suddenly took short with the only bit of privacy being a tank trap. Once I was in, I couldn’t get out. In the meantime, my trousers were up and down like a yoyo. I eventually stumbled back to my lines and when I caught up with him next, I asked him, ‘What the hell was in that drink’. “Oh well”, Vince said. ”Yes, it was quite pleasant wasn’t it”. I said, “Yes it was nice”. Vince continued, “Well, I thought it lacked a bit of something, so I tipped a half a can of Andrews Liver Salts into it”. No wonder I had my tweeds down so many times.
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