Dad was an Army man. Royal Scots regiment on the Northwest Frontier in India during World War 2 where he taught soldiers how to shoot straight and blow things up. Went back to the UK after the war to his old job as manager of a tailor’s shop and – a few years later – saw an advert in one of the dailies from the New Zealand Army. Munitions and explosives specialists wanted. Apply here. Pretty soon, he’s on the MV Mataroa to Auckland.
Oliver Prouse was a Navy man. Served on the HMS Achilles in the Battle of the River Plate, switched to the Army after the war. Also learned how to blow things up. He and Dad bumped into each other (and hit it off) pretty much straight away. Both sergeants, both good leaders of men, both approached at the same time to attend Officers’ Selection boards, both offered commissions.
Dad saw a life of moving from Ngaruawahia to Waiouru to Trentham to Burnham – hellholes all – for the rest of his military career and stayed put at the Army Proof Office in Mt Eden. The Colonial Ammunition Company (CAC) in Normanby Road made ammunition for the Army and the Proof Office was there for quality control. Plus doing ballistics on crime weapons, defusing and destroying artillery shells that were past their “Best by” date, testing pyrotechnics for battlefield exercises. Stuff like that.
Snow went for it and moved from Ngaruawahia to Waiouro to Trentham to Burnham and then back to Auckland as senior officer at the Proof Office where their paths crossed again. You couldn’t imagine two more unlike people. It took me years of provocation to finally squeeze a “bloody” out of Dad. Snow used to carve through Auckland traffic in the Army Landrover yelling ” Get out of the way, yer nipple-arsed bastards”.
Dad drank shandy.
Snow used to turn up and drink whisky all night until Mum would drop the BIG HINT by setting the table for breakfast while he was taking a leak. But it was always ” What do you reckon, Arthur?” and “How would you do it, Arthur?” and Dad’d be going like “Well, sir. (Talking to Snow as a commissioned officer) I don’t think it’s a very good idea” and then “Listen Snow,(talking to him as a a mate) this is so stupid, only you could think of it”He’d turn up in the Landrover (we didn’t have a phone until I was 16 or so) and yell “Come on, Arthur, we’ve got a bomb to blow up” after the police got called by some veteran along the lines of “I’ve had this hand grenade on the mantelpiece since Tobruk and it’s started leaking oily stuff”. Nitroglycerin.So off they’d go and have a look at it, put it in the bomb container and blow it up somewhere safe. Then for fun, they’d go and chop down trees with a forerunner of Semtex. (Dad used to set up cordite fuses all through the garden down to a pile of stuff that went “poof”. I would have preferred “Bang”, but anyway.)
So it’s some big event in Auckland – possibly the 125th celebration of Auckland Anniversary Day, I’m not sure of the date and there’s no-one left to ask – and the idea is to simulate the eruption of Rangitoto – a volcanic island in the Hauraki Gulf – with fireworks as the highlight of the big hoolie.
This ends up on the Army’s (and ultimately) Snow’s desk and he and Dad are away. Absolutely in their element.
The brief was pretty straightforward – make sure that it can be seen from the CBD and the beaches and Yorks Fireworks out in Henderson are going to donate the pyrotechnics. (Yorks used to provide the Army with Thunderflashes for exercises. Think the most powerful commercially available firecracker. Times 20. Or 50. Frightening stuff.)
Snow and Dad look at this and think “This is too tame. No-one’ll see anything. We need something with real grunt.” Like all the expired artillery ammunition we can get hold of. Flares. Barrels of diesel and petrol. All the stuff that Yorks can give us. Aluminium powder. Anything that burns well (and quickly. Millisecond quickly). Stack it around the crater and set it all off at once.
So off they went. Organised all this stuff, put in a requisition for a barge to ship it over. a couple of trucks to haul it up to the summit, troops to stack the stuff.
And then someone cottoned on to the fact that they were going to create a massive seismic shock on the largest and youngest – around 600 years old – volcano of around 50 that are sprinkled around Auckland.
The usual “Well, we should have bloody known that Snow Prouse would think of something like this, but Arthur’s normally pretty sensible” and then someone else got the job.
But apart from all the expired artillery ammunition they could get hold of, flares, barrels of diesel and petrol, aluminium powder and anything that burns well (and quickly. Millisecond quickly), they stuck to the plan.
Which was pyrotechnics from Yorks.
The evening arrived, waterfronts and beaches are lined with people waiting for this massive eruption and – poof.
A couple of flashes, a cloud of smoke. That was it.
The press had a field day. Minhinnick, the Herald’s cartoonist, was at his most acerbic and there were editorials seriously questioning the Army’s competence.
Which was doubtful anyway, having decided at some stage that armies have to have tanks which were then bought (cheap ones….), but needed to be transported to the exercise area by a commercial carrier (not enough money for tank transporters…) and a temporary bridge had to be built to get them there.
“Temporary” as in “dismantle-it-when-you-re-finished-with-it”, leaving the tanks to exercise frantically on the North Island plateau with no hope of getting anywhere where they might be needed.
The coast, for example.
When the Chinese invade.
And Snow turned to Dad and said “The nipple-arsed bastards. If they’d let us do, it would have been REALLY good. What do you reckon, Arthur?”