On February 24, 1941, New Zealand soldiers from the Machine Gun Company in the 18 Infantry Battalion were made world famous by appearing on the cover of Life magazine as 'Anzac Conquerors'. The soldiers were photographed in Egypt by the famous Margaret Bourke-White and showcased to the world as an example of the heroic men fighting for the Allied Powers. As historian Ron Palenski has noted, the caption assumed that the New Zealanders were fighting with their Australian cousins as 'shock troops' in Libya, though only the Australians were in Libya at the time. The New Zealanders in the picture were recognisable for the well-known Lemon-Squeezer hat clearly seen on the foremost soldier. Catering to an American audience the caption also likened the 'insubordinate, hard-fighting' Anzacs to Texans who were known for their toughness and fighting prowess.
18 Battalion itself was formed in September 1939, and fought in Greece and Crete as infantry soldiers before being re-organised as a tank unit - re-designated as the 18th Armoured Regiment - in October 1942. In Greece, they were part of the untested New Zealand forces that were soundly defeated by the well-organised Germans in April 1941 and had to be evacuated from the country. They were to suffer defeat again in May 1941 and evacuated from the island of Crete after German paratroopers succeeded in taking the island. Losing friends and comrades in large numbers, life was tough for troops on the back-foot and constantly adapting to different conditions and styles of warfare. Nevertheless the 18th Armoured Regiment went on to fight with distinction at the famous battles at El Alamein (Eqypt), and at Orsogna and Cassino (Italy).
Not originally named in Life magazine, two of the soldiers on the cover photograph have now been identified, while another could well be a Parnell soldier. In the front right is Private Harold Ralph Betridge of Great Barrier Island. To the left of him is Private Maurice Carran O'Shea of Remuera, and on the far left of the photograph is possibly Private Guilford Charles "Happy" Thorne of Parnell. The latter two were photographed together here by the Auckland Star newspaper on their return to New Zealand in 1943.
Can you help?
The Life magazine cover has been altered with the unidentified soldiers left in focus. If you recognise any of these ‘Anzac Conquerors’, please contact us. We would love your help to reclaim this piece of history.
Blow, Alan Isbister. Letter to wife, 1941 - including Anzac Conquerors cover. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. MS-2007-4.
Alan Blow Album. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library. PH-ALB-497.
18 Battalion Regimental Flag
"HAPPY" THORNE (left) AND MAURICE O'SHEA, two Aucklanders of a tank brigade (picture caption), Auckland Star, 15 July 1943
War Memories, Auckland Star, 15 July 1943
Palenksi, R. (2009) How We Saw the War: 1939- 45 through New Zealand eyes. Auckland Hodder Moa.
Rubi, S G, (1999) Margaret Bourke-White: her pictures were her life, New York: Abrams.
Wright, M (2002) Desert duel: New Zealand's North African War, 1940-43, Auckland: Reed.
Cite this article
Millar, Dan .
Anzac Conquerors: world famous in the Second World War . Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 19 June 2017. Updated: 11 July 2017.