Feature By Selwyn Manning – first published in 1998, but Chino’s story and the concluding paragraphs show how poignant its message is today.
ANZAC Day – April 25 always brings to mind one man more than any other. Why? I don’t know, perhaps it was his honesty, his humbleness. This man lived in Papakura, a town about 30 kilometres south of Auckland City, New Zealand. He had witnessed the worst and the best of human endeavour. He called himself Chino.
His simple life’s story made an impact, he shared his wisdom and he passed hope for us all as we approached this new century, he left a legacy of hope.April 25 1998 was a special day for Papakura’s Chino Mulligan.
Every year since 1945 Chino joined his mates outside the Returned Services Association buildings. There they would shuffle into lines two files wide and an arm-reach space between each man.
Within the ranks there once were old-man soldiers who had braved the Turkish machine guns at Gallipoli on April 25 1914.Each year they were fewer in number, five, then, three, then one, and now, well they have all passed away.
This year Chino looked at all his World War II mates with tears in his eyes. There was little different about this march, except that Chino noted fewer of his friends there to make the grim pilgrimage to the Papakura Cenotaph. There was one difference this year though. Chino decided to talk to a southern Auckland journalist about his war experiences, he wished to be honest, to tell his own tale of what his life has meant to himself.
He began his memoirs with tears. And it was a fitting start he said because that is what war did to him.
“I spent most of my time on my knees, in tears, frightened and praying for my life to be spared,” Chino told me as we sat inside the lounge of his humble unit.
Chino said the weight he felt at the death of his brothers during the war had never left him. Never had he forgotten how his friends were killed in the Western deserts of Africa during the battles of El Alamein, against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Panzer forces.
From the cool pre-dawn mist, Papakura’s returned soldiers turn from Wood St into Great South Road. Others wait quietly at the curb, we watch on as a stirring from the Palm Trees begins to flutter. First is heard a chucky-clunk noise as the soldier’s medals tap tap tap against each man’s chest.
Then comes a click of boots on road, resounding like hammers upon leather, as 200 men relive memories most care to leave untold.
There is Chino. He marches with one leg moving forward a little slower than the other. But he and all the men still march in time. Chino’s face, like all the other men’s, is taught. Concentration centres on keeping in file, on pride, on survival, on those to whom they have promised to remember: “Lest We Forget”.
This year the line of men is once again thinner. And again a tear breaks its shackles to trickle down Chino’s smile-line.The birds in the Palm Trees awake to herald the approaching dawn. Their chorus is the light-side of this solemn ritual. The men form at “attention”, then “at ease”. The service honours the sacrifice each man, alive and dead, has made in their attempts to create a free-world.And of course then, at the end, a bugler plays The Last Post. All who gather now remember friends, brothers, mates, fathers, uncles, lovers – the men who did not return home from war. And then the rays of a new day burst across the sky. All present say: “Lest We Forget.”
Chino sits surrounded by photos of his family, many in uniform. A black blazer decorated with a long line of service medals pinned to its chest is folded over an armchair.
Beside Chino, on the floor, is a grey woollen blanket. He has kept it with him since 1943 when it kept him warm on cool north African nights. That blanket is as good as new, neatly folded. The man shows it off with pride.
Chino says he was never a brave man. Not even wen he fought in the Maori Battalion in Egypt to halt the German advance.
“I spent more time on my knees than fighting. And I’m here today because I could run fast. I prayed then and I still pray today.”
The ageing man’s hands tremble. He glances at them, always aware of his approaching frailties.Back during World War II Chino was just a boy. He signed up for the Maori Battalion at just 15 years of age. His older brothers had already gone to war. Army recruiters were convinced the boy was “of age” after Chino showed them his father’s dole book. That book did not list a birthdate. But recruiters knew you had to be 21 years-of-age to get the dole, so Chino was in.
That dole book was his ticket for a journey that would consume the rest of his life.
Chino’s war began in North Africa in 1941. “I was a boy on a mission,” he said. “I had back-dated my age. My parents didn’t know I’d joined the Army until it was time to leave. My mother cried and they asked me to stay. But they did not stop me from going.”
Chino was with the 7th reinforcements, know as Maori Battalion 28. Egypt was his first base for about nine months. He did not see any fighting then. After this he was moved off to Palestine for six months. Then to Syria. There, Chino remembers: “We used to make our bed out of sacks. Lie it on the ground on the stones in the desert. We had ten men per tent. We would have to take a shower once each week, we had to walk five miles to take a shower.
“I first saw action in 1943. We were trucked from Syria, through Palestine, past the Sea of Galilee to Egypt.”
Chino and his battalion knew Rommel was waiting for them: “We were not too happy about that. But our job was to stop Rommel. But then he was a great general.”
The 7th reinforcements had only just arrived at their Egypt base when Rommel’s tanks surrounded them. News of an impending ambush swept through the gathering: “I had just arrived when a man said ‘go and have a feed Chino’. Then from out of nowhere came this screaming sound!”
It was a German Stuka bomber sweeping down on the Maori Battalion: “The screaming of the Stuka was a killer. As the screaming got louder we would dive for the stones. If you had a helmet on you were okay.”But the fear was there. I wondered then as I do now, ‘How did we get through it?’.
“The Stuka swept down and dropped a bomb. I wondered what the bloody hell had happened.”The earth shuddered. Dirt flew in all directions. The explosion left ears ringing.
“After that, after the attack was over, the man told me again to go and have a feed. But I wouldn’t.”
Chino had lost his appetite. First he dug a trench for protection in case more Stukas loomed in for the attack.With the night came confirmation that they were indeed surrounded by Rommel: “We were told the attack would come with dawn.”
The Maori Battalion got together. They decided to strike Rommel’s soldiers first. They got their weapons ready. Worked out their plan. Chino and his fellow soldiers stalked up to the German lines.
“We did the Maori Haka [a Maori war dance]. Ka mate! Ka Mate!” The Battalion all chanted in unison. The sound was electrifying, Chino said. It carried on the desert night air.
Chino felt the pride of his homeland. The boy became brave. “Ka Mate, Ka Mate!. We were all doing the war cry. It gave us courage and it scared the Germans. They didn’t like it. And we fought to survive.”
Chino and the Maori Battalion broke through he Panzer lines. They cut an opening for all the Battalion’s trucks and guns. They were surrounded no more.
Young Chino saw a lot more action. In World War II the Maori Battalion sustained extremely high casualties, and at a rate disproportionate to its members.
The effects of the slaughter were soon felt by the families back home in New Zealand. Generations of future Maori leaders were wiped out.
But of all his war experience the hardest thing for Chino was visiting his mates in hospital, seeing the wounded: “That always brings tears to my eyes,” he said.
World War II eventually came to its conclusion. Chino returned to New Zealand in August 1945. He then entered J-Force, the men whose task it was to help Japan get back on its feet.
Chino’s war didn’t end. “After the war I couldn’t settle.” He went on to serve four years as a Warrant Officer Class Two with the 163rd Battery in the Korean War, mainly at a place called Kap Yong.
“We were often in the thick of it, but it was the cold that was our worst enemy,” Chino said. While at Kap Yong, Chino heard that his brother, also fighting the Chinese and North Korea, had “got smacked”.
“I visited a clearing station and I heard someone moaning. I thought ‘I know that voice’. It was my brother Raymond!”
Raymond was paralysed, had a shrapnel wound to his spine. He was eventually shipped back to New Zealand. Had his leg amputated. Married. Had children, and died of cancer “some years ago”.
Chino said: “As I get older all of my friends are dying off. Many were killed during the wars. All those buddies were lost over there,” he gestures with his hand.
“Please remember I was no hero. I was not brave. I was scared. I ran often. I did more praying. Still do it.
“I lost two brothers in El Alamein and another wounded in Korea.”ANZAC Day is sad,” Chino’s hands shake as eyes relive memories of pain.
“I don’t want young people today to go to a war and see what we went through. That is my wish.”
ANZAC Day April 25 1998 was a special day for Chino Mulligan. It was his last.
Chino Mulligan died from cancer several months after this interview. He is survived by his wife, daughters, sons, and grandchildren.
His life is a poignant reminder of the most destructive century in the history of this world. His wish for a lasting peace was an impassioned cry, for all who remain, to approach the advent of this new century with a desire for conciliation at home and abroad. Lest We Forget.