Wednesday, June 19, 2024

102-year-old WWII veteran honoured

At 102 years old, Brigadier (Retired) Les Wright MBE would have been confident he had collected all the medals he’d rightly earned over a lengthy military career.

But it turns out he was entitled to one more.

Today, Chief of Army, Major General John Boswell, presented Brigadier (Rtd) Wright with the New Zealand Armed Forces Award and First Clasp at his home on Auckland’s North Shore.

Brigadier (Rtd) Wright is a veteran of the Battles of Cassino, some of the New Zealand forces’ most gruelling and costly battles of the Second World War.

Having enlisted in February 1941, he served at Cassino from 12 April 1944 as a gunner with the 30 Battery, 6th Field Regiment, New Zealand Artillery, and went on to have a 36-year career in the New Zealand Army before retiring in 1977.

Les Wright in 1944, aged 21, when he was serving as a gunner with the 30 Battery, 6th Field Regiment, New Zealand Artillery.

During the New Zealand Defence Force’s preparations for the 80th anniversary commemorations of the Battles of Cassino this week, it was discovered he was eligible for the New Zealand Armed Forces Award.

Instituted in May 1985, the award was given to officers of the regular forces of the New Zealand Armed Forces who completed 15 years’ service and whose character and conduct have been irreproachable. The clasp, which Brigadier (Rtd) Wright also received, was awarded for a further 15 years of good conduct.

The award originally covered Regular Force officers who had served from 1 December 1977, but a policy change in 2020 extended the eligibility to officers retiring between 6 February 1952 and 30 November 1977.

Brigadier (Rtd) Wright says the award was very unexpected and he was delighted to receive it.

In his time of service, Regular Force officers didn’t get long service medals.

“But it didn’t bother me. It was part of the rules and I accepted the rules as they were.”

Today was the first time he had met Major General Boswell, as their careers did not overlap.

“He was probably a boy by the time I retired,” Brigadier (Rtd) Wright said

Major General Boswell says Brigadier (Rtd) Wright’s 36 years of dedicated service to New Zealand was exemplary.

“It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be able to recognise his commitment – not just to the New Zealand Army but to New Zealand,” Major General Boswell said.

After the Second World War’s Italian Campaign, Brigadier (Rtd) Wright went on to finish his war in Japan, before setting off for home on Christmas Eve 1946.

During his time with the New Zealand Army, he went on several overseas deployments in the Middle East, Italy, Japan, Malaya 1959-1962 and Singapore 1970-1973.

He has a special connection to 2nd/1st Battalion, as he was their Second in Command in Malaya from 1959 to 1962 and their Commanding Officer in New Zealand from March to November 1962.

Brigadier (Rtd) Wright was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1961 for his distinguished service in Malaya during the Malayan Emergency.

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