John August was the son of Roland Galento and Ngahemo, of Manganui, Far North; husband of Rosie Kahukura August (nee Shepherd), of Auckland.
WO II J. August, MM; born NZ 2 Apr 1909; slaughterman; killed in action 2 Nov 1942. (Source: Walker, R. Alam Halfa and Alamein. p.60.)
'At 9 p. m. on 25 August, 23 Battalion's covering party, consisting of 7 and 12 Platoons under the command of Lieutenant I. M. Wilson, set off through the Maori lines and passed out through C Company's patrol gap in the wire and mines. It was a calm moonlit night with occasional cloud and almost ominously quiet, the only noise coming from the customary erratic bursts of automatic fire on fixed lines with which the enemy proclaimed his wakefulness. An hour before midnight Wilson's men were disposed around the observation post, covering the west and south of the start line. The Maori Battalion's intelligence section followed the covering party to lay out a line of white tape to mark the start line, some 300 yards to the south of the enemy wire and 500 yards west of the patrol gap.
Meanwhile A and B Companies of 28 Battalion began to assemble in C Company's area. Here they were joined by Lieutenant Hamilton of 7 Field Company with twelve of his sappers carrying Bangalore torpedoes and made-up charges for demolishing captured weapons. The brigadier, who established a tactical headquarters at the Maori headquarters while the raid was on, then addressed the men, telling them of the importance attached to the operation, what it was hoped to gain, and the need for prisoners rather than scalps. After Lieutenant-Colonel Baker, the Maori chaplain, and the Roman Catholic padre had all spoken, it was time to move. Led by guides, the two companies set off through the patrol gap and lined up on the start line, facing north, A Company (Captain Porter) on the right with one platoon forward and two in reserve, B Company (Captain Pene) with two platoons forward and one to the rear. The engineers in four groups, each with a Bangalore torpedo, were spaced across the front and the battalion commander with a small tactical headquarters took his station in the centre.
The quiet of the night was broken sharp on 4 a.m. as the supporting guns opened fire. The men walked steadily forward until halted by their officers as they reached the edge of the shellfire, where one or two shells, falling wide of the target, caused the first casualties. Soon the burst of smoke shells indicated that the guns were lifting to their second target area further north and the troops prepared to advance. As the smoke, added to the dust raised by the shelling, had by now completely obscured the coils of dannert wire marking the enemy's defences, the Maori officers called on their men to make for the flash of the exploding Bangalores. The sappers went steadily ahead into the murk, to lay their torpedoes so well that gaps up to twenty feet wide were blown in the wire. As each explosion lit up the night, the nearest of the assaulting troops charged through the resulting gap with yells and war-cries, to encounter a number of shallow sangars which were quickly overrun. The few occupants who offered resistance were shot or bayoneted, encouraging the majority either to hold up their hands or to run back into the artillery fire falling behind them.
The men of A Company, working their way along the lip of the escarpment, found a thin line of sangars just inside the dannert wire manned by Italians with rifles and light automatics. Resistance practically collapsed at the sight of the Maori bayonets, so that the company caught up with the supporting artillery fire and had to wait until the guns lifted to their next task. Within half an hour of leaving the start line, Captain Porter found himself on the company's objective and set to work to gather up his men and their prisoners. A distinctive flare he had arranged for his own defence headquarters in the box to fire at intervals gave him a guide for direction and, crossing the dannert wire at a place where it was only one coil thick, he led the men to the east. The supporting artillery fire had now ceased and enemy mortars from further west came to life, laying defensive fire on no-man's land and causing some casualties among the men of A Company and their prisoners.
On the left flank, B Company advanced down to the floor of the depression where the artillery fire had raised a pall of dust. Fire from a strongpoint on the left, quickly overcome, drew the company off its true northerly course, and it was not until Captain Pene noticed that he was on the left of a small knoll on which artillery fire was falling, when he should have been on its right, that he realised how far his company had been drawn off course. Unwilling to slow the impetus of the advance, especially as there were machine-gun posts ahead, he continued to lead his men forward until they met the pipeline, overcoming several groups of sangars on the way. By following the pipeline to the north-east, he regained his correct objective, where he was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Baker. The two officers then decided to return down the correct line of advance to pick up any wounded and stragglers. Back on the start line, B Company withdrew through the enemy's defensive mortar fire, followed by 23 Battalion's covering party. By 5 a.m., an hour after the opening of the artillery support, all the troops taking part in the raid were back in the box.
Casualties in 28 Battalion, caused as much by the men overrunning the supporting fire or by shells falling short, were reported as two killed, fourteen wounded and six, including an officer, missing; of these six it was later ascertained that the officer and four men had died and one wounded man was taken prisoner. The engineers, who after blowing the wire demolished one or two heavy machine guns, had two men wounded and one missing, later known to have died of his wounds.
In return for their losses the Maoris estimated that they had left behind them about sixty enemy dead and they brought back forty-one prisoners, of whom about half a dozen were wounded.
The fit prisoners were hurried back to Divisional Headquarters, where a special interrogation team had been assembled to get immediate assessment of any information forthcoming. All the prisoners turned out to be from 10 and 12 Companies of 39 Infantry Regiment of the Italian Bologna Division. Most of them were described as ‘poor physical types’ and, shaken by the heavy shellfire and the Maori bayonets, were willing to tell all they knew rather than stand on their rights under the Geneva Convention. But the information they offered of surrounding dispositions or Rommel's plans was disappointingly scant. The absence of any officers among such a large batch of prisoners was surprising and none of the men who took part in the raid could clearly recollect seeing any Italian officers during the action, though some thought they had seen officers running to the rear. The prisoners took the absence of officers as a matter of course.
In spite of its seemingly meagre intelligence results, the raid had at least proved that an important sector of the Axis front was held wholly by Italian troops who, moreover, had not yet made any preparations for a share in an offensive. One certain result, judged by the number of prisoners and the estimated total of killed and wounded, was the elimination of two full companies of Italian infantry.
The raid, one of the first major engagements undertaken under the new army command, was considered a model on which future operations of this sort should be based. Messages of congratulation to all concerned in the planning and execution of the operation were received the following morning. Captain Porter was awarded a bar to his Military Cross for his leadership and Sergeant August of his company received the Military Medal. (28 (Maori) Battalion text) The reserve platoon with Battalion Headquarters was just through the wire when the first prisoners appeared. Lieutenant Waaka writes:
One was a huge fellow, well over six feet and who appeared larger still in the dust and smoke haze. The smallest chap in my platoon, ‘Hoot’ Hapimana, who stands at five feet nothing, immediately ran forward and circling around the bloke rummaged at his clothes. The Italian looked down amazedly at this little chap apparently unconcerned at the sight of a gigantic enemy and only interested in his waist line. I was also wondering what Hoot was up to until he burst out disgustedly, ‘No bloody luger’ and kicked the Itie in the seat of his pants, or as close to the seat as his short legs could get. The old tale, loot at all costs.
The attack itself was a gory business. A Company overran sixteen machine-gun posts, half of which fell to 9 Platoon led by Sergeant Jack August, who was awarded an MM for his aggressive leadership. Lieutenant Waaka's most vivid memory is overtaking Lieutenant Hamilton, NZE, standing with his hands on his hips and swearing disgustedly because he had a spare bangalore and nothing in sight to blow up. The two sappers carrying the torpedo eventually ditched it. Thirty-five minutes had been allowed for the raid and A Company, with time on its hands, found its immediate vicinity on the far side so peaceful that cigarettes were produced and lighted one from the butt of the other, after which Captain Porter gathered up his sixteen prisoners and, hands firmly and deeply in his pockets, led his men home. A bar to the MC awarded for his leadership in the Libyan campaign was later announced. WO II J. August, MM; born New Zealand 2 Apr 1909; slaughterman; killed in action 2 Nov 1942.; Alam Halfa and Alamein - The raid, one of the first major engagements undertaken under the new army command, was considered a model on which future operations of this sort should be based. Messages of congratulation to all concerned in the planning and execution of the operation were received the following morning. Captain Porter was awarded a bar to his Military Cross for his leadership and Sergeant August of his company received the Military Medal.
' (Source: Walker, R. Alam Halfa and Alamein. pp. 60-2.; Cody, J.F. 28 Maori Battalion. p. 210.; Walker, R. Alam Halfa and Alamein. pp. 60-2.) AWMM