Served as a driver for Lieutenant Colonel Harding, Commander of 21 Battalion.
This a biography of John Laurence Curtis' war service, written by his son Brett Curtis: 66653 Staff Sergeant John Laurence Curtis. 21 Battalion, 2NZEF
My father, John Laurence Curtis (Jack), enlisted in the Army in July, 1941 and did his basic training at Papakura Camp. He embarked for overseas service as part of the Seventh NZ Reinforcements in September, 1941. He arrived in Egypt as the remnants of 2nd NZ Division were regrouping after Greece and Crete.
Posted to 21 Battalion, he saw no immediate action as the battalion was withdrawn from the front and served as Guard Battalion at the largest ammunition dump in the Middle East at Baggush.
Later the Division was withdrawn from Egypt for R & R and he spent the next few months on the Lebanese border with Syria where some members underwent training as ski troops (a much desired skill in the desert!) He then spent time in hospital with appendicitis. (His appendix scar is nearly 8 inches long. Good army surgeons work).
The battalion returned to Egypt and he saw action at Minqar Qaim, Alam Halfa and at El Alamein. One of his most vivid memories even now is the barrage that started the battle. He says that the noise was so loud that you couldn't hear the man next to you shooting and that the night was turned into day.
He took part in most of the battles in North Africa, including Tebaga Gap and Takrouna and was the battalion commander's driver (and Mentioned in Dispatches) by the time the fighting ended in Tunisia in 1943.
When the Division returned to Egypt, he was posted to 5 Brigade staff with his commanding officer, Colonel (later Brigadier) R. Harding. Harding was appointed POW Liaison Officer for the division. His job was repatriation of NZ POWs in Italy after the Italians surrendered. As the Germans rounded up most of the POWs and took them to Germany there wasn't much to do.
During the battle for Tebaga Gap (where Ngarimu won his VC), he was driving Colonel Harding to inspect the battalion's forward positions when a shell exploded 50 yards from their jeep. The screwcap from the shell gouged a furrow across Hardings hand, giving him the only wound he was to receive in two world wars, and coming to rest in my father's lap!
He was then posted to the staff of Major K. B. Myers, who was in charge of the NZ Forces Clubs. He was appointed Quartermaster Sergeant at the Club in Florence and spent the remainder of the war looking after the needs of the troops on R & R from the front line.
One of the hardest tasks he was given was to find enough wine and chicken to provide Christmas dinner for the troops in 1944. Northern and Central Italy had been devastated by the war and everything was scarce. He eventually solved the problem by taking trucks to Calabria (Southern Italy) and dealing on the black market (swapping coffee, which NZers rarely drank) with the local Mafia.
After Venice was declared an open city, General Freyberg sent a company of NZ troops in to seize the hotel in which he had spent his honeymoon. Their orders were to hold it against all comers (in field grey, khaki, or olive green). My father arrived with the staff to establish a NZ Forces Club there and was on hand when General Freyberg arrived to inspect it.
When the Division arrived in Trieste and the war finished, his war did not. He was again seconded to the POW Commission and was sent into Southern Germany to help repatriate NZ POWs. He finally arrived back in New Zealand on September 6, 1945.
After the war, he began a 25-year career in the hospitality industry, managing various hotels around New Zealand. He recently celebrated his 81st birthday and enjoys good health. He says that he is glad that young people today have never had to experience a war, but he is also glad he didn't miss it. It was indeed the major experience of his life. (November 1998)
Middle name was spelled Laurence, but was misspelled on the Embarkation Roll as Lawrence. AWMM