The Recruit

by Mike Subritzky

During a Gunners career it was considered necessary to give him/her at least a couple of ERE postings just so he/she could get away from the roar of the cannons, and also the Regimental lifestyle. An ERE posting was 'Extra Regimentally Employed', which meant basically, that you were a 'Wallah' somewhere and did not have to attend Exercises and Annual Camps.

In 1981, I was given an ERE posting to the Hamilton Army Office where I served as an Army Recruiting Sergeant. I worked with an Infantry Warrant Officer by the name of 'Koozer' Pihama. Koozer, was a very experienced soldier who had seen service in Borneo, Malaya and Vietnam; he was a very hard worker with an equally dry sense of humour. Our immediate chain of Command was Captain Gavin Cassie and Major Ted Lile. Ted Lile was well known to me as he was also a Gunner, and had previously been the BK of 161 Battery. They were based in the Auckland Recruiting Office.

Koozer and I were responsible for recruiting from the Bombay Hills in the North, down to Tokoroa to the South, West to about Ohura, and East as far as Rotorua. We also worked in with Staff Sergeant 'Chunky' Hiko RNZAC who ran the Tauranga Recruiting Office, and this meant that we were sometimes required to give lectures to schools as far East as Te Kaha. It was a large area of responsibility, especially during RF Cadet Recruiting times.

Naturally enough, when you rub shoulders with Joe Public on a daily basis you tend to come in contact with a wide cross section of New Zealand society, from bright eyed young university types who would flood the Recruiting Office from about August onwards, not really interested in joining the Army but simply looking for 3 months seasonal work during their Christmas break... I hated university students simply for the fact that you spent quite some time processing their enlistment documents. They would then attend their TF Whole Time Training, and if they made it through a POSB, they generally stayed on and eventually came back to haunt you as a TFYO (Territorial Force Young Officer); however if they did not make it through the POSB, they would simply complete their 3 months in uniform and then just fail to turn up for any further training; placing a considerable strain on their parent TF Unit.

The local TF Units at the time were 4(G) Medium Battery who's cadre staff were Gunners - Captain Graeme 'Jack' Black, BSM Malcolm 'Dinga' Bell, Sergeant Dave Collins, and Gunners Steve Wardlaw and Don Stratton. The other TF Units were 6th Hauraki Battalion RNZIR, 1st Field Ambulance RNZAMC, and a Troop of QA/Wai/Wec Squadron RNZAC which was run by Sergeant Rakei Tawhiwhirangi. I think that in our new millennium, apart from the Hauraki's, the other TF Units no longer exist.

At the other end of the spectrum from university types, New Zealand had at that time begun closing down its Mental Health Institutes, and quietly releasing many long term patients back into the local community. Many of these good people would often see a war movie on TV one night, and appear at the Hamilton Army Office the following morning wishing to join either the NZSAS or the Commandos... very often they would even arrive wearing an assortment of camouflage uniforms and accoutrements. On one occasion, I had a male who was aged about 35, and who had obviously not taken his medication that day, barge into the office, walk straight up to my desk and then inform me in a loud voice that "I've got something for you Sergeant!" ... he then put his arm inside of his jacket. Carole, our typist thought it was a gun and ran out the door to get assistance from the 'Medium' Gunners upstairs, while I was basically pinned in my seat with this chap towering over me, and his hand in his jacket pocket which also had an obvious bulge. When he withdrew his hand from his jacket he was holding a brass and copper military bugle and proceeded to sound the 'General Salute'... to say that he scared the living tripe out of both Carole and myself is something of an understatement; I kept a pair of old fashioned military scissors in my top drawer from that day onward.

Then there were also the 'wanna-be's'. These folks were basically bullshitters who came in off the street and fed you a line about their illustrious service in either Vietnam with the US Special Forces, or in Rhodesia with the RLI (Rhodesian Light Infantry)...or some non-descript mercenary unit they had read about in a back issue of the "Soldier of Fortune" magazine. We averaged about three or four 'wanna-be's' every week and generally after a few hard questions from Koozer on their Vietnam experiences, they generally left the office with their tail between their legs.

One day, at about 1530, a guy came into the office wearing an oversize sports jacket and tie. He looked to be aged in his mid-40s. He wore glasses, had a thinning hairline, and was more than a little overweight. He stood about 5 foot 6 inches in height and looked very much like the kind of guy who collected tickets at your local cinema. He walked up to the counter and spoke with quite a distinct German accent. He was obviously too old for the Army of that period as the cut off age was about 25, so I asked him what he wanted to which he replied, "I vant to join the Nue Zeeland Armie". It was late in the day, so I thought I would be polite and let him down gently.

I asked him if he had any previous military experience to which he replied "Oh yes of course! Many years!" I took another look at this chap and he sure didn't look like any soldier I had seen before so I asked him what Regiment he had previously served with?

He then answered that as a small boy he had served with the "Volks Resistance" in Germany, at the end of the Second World War "But that is OK," he added "Because I only shot the Russians."

"That's very interesting" I replied, (all the while thinking to myself, man this guy has been smoking something he shouldn't). I then asked him if he had any other military experience to which he replied "Yes! Lots! I was in Indo-China with Le Legion Etstranger and fought the Viet Min, I was also in the Algeries. Later I served with Michael Hoare in the Belgium Congo and the Black-Jack and then I joined the Rhodesian Army." ("Now,", I thought to myself "here we go again first Vietnam and then Rhodesia, this guy had to do them both")

I then asked him what his job was in Rhodesia to which he replied "During the Rhodesian War I was a Combat Medic in the Rhodesian Special Air Service". I thought to myself, well this guys is on a roll, I'll just see if he has anything more to add, so I asked him "Oh, and I guess that Rhodesia was your last war then was it?"

He paused for a moment and then replied "I vasn't going to tell you this but I also served in South Africa after Rhodesia was lost."

"Oh South Africa too?" I answered "Mmm, then what unit did you serve with during that war?"

"Oh," he replied "I was first in the Recce Battalion, and later I was transferred to the Pathfinders' Unit".

I looked across at Carole, who had by now stopped doing her typing and was busy rolling her eyes up in the air as if to say "What's this guy on Subs?" As it was quite late in the afternoon, I then simply handed him a green MDA116 recruiting form, asked him to fill it out and bring it back with his various discharge forms; plus any gallantry awards etc that he might have received. He then asked if he should make an appointment for an interview and I told him not to worry as I would remember him and handle his enlistment personally upon his return with the completed documentation. I was actually in no doubt that this guy was a dreamer and that this was the last we would ever see of him...

"By the way," I asked, "what is your name?"

"My name Sergeant, is Wolfgang Hucke."

Just as he was leaving the office he turned to Carole and asked "Excuse me Private, what time does this office open tomorrow?"

"At 9 AM sharp." replied Carole. And with that he was gone.

We were having a cup of coffee shortly after when Koozer returned from doing testing at the Tokoroa Office. After he sat down we then gave him a blow by blow account of this little old German chap with glasses who had come in and wanted to join the Kiwi Army. It was one of the best 'wanna-be' yarns that he had listened to in ages.

Next morning at 0855, we were busy doing admin before office hours when we looked up and saw that same little German chap walking up the steps to the Hamilton Army Office clutching the MDA116 I had given him, and as well a large brown bulging envelope.

"Hey Koozer" I said quietly "Here comes that guy we were telling you about yesterday." to which Koozer quickly replied "He's all yours Subs, I'm off to Rotorua."

Wolfgang Heinrich Hucke came into the Hamilton Army Office at 0900 sharp, and then commenced to hand me his completed enlistment form. Then very slowly and carefully he began laying out his various military papers. First a handwritten document from his Unit Commander in the Wermach Volks Resistance, then his many documents of service in the French Foreign Legion, including citations for several medals and as well, he had been decorated with the Frech Croix De Guerre twice, once in Vietnam and a second time in Algeria.

He had served as a Combat Medic first with 1 REP (Legion Paras) and had been present at Dien Bien Phu. Then later, after it's disbandment he had served with the 5th Legion Commando.

He had a letter of service which was signed by Colonel "Mad Mike" Hoare for his time with the Wild Geese in the Belgium Congo conflict, and a further letter and documents by another Soldier of Fortune of the period 'Black-Jack' Scharmme stating that he had been a member of that mercenary unit that put down the revolution at Kanga (also in the Congo, and after Hoare had left).

Then there were his documents of service in the Rhodesian Army, including a citation for crawling forward under fire and retrieving the bodies of some RLI Troopies who had been KIA during an ambush. He also had several documents relating to his service in the South African war including a Tour of Duty with the South African Pathfinders, an Elite Unit known locally as the 'Philistines' due to their international make-up.

At the top of all of this he placed his letter of permanent residence in New Zealand, and his German birth certificate; I think from memory he was aged about 43.

Looking down at the pile of documents that were in front of me I realised that this gentleman was a very real asset for any Medical Unit that might want to enlist him. It was only then, when I actually looked into his piercing blue eyes that I realised that this guy certainly had the look of a man who had seen many years in actual combat.

The headquarters of the 1st Field Ambulance Unit was based out at Hopuhopu Camp and their RF officer was none other than our own John 'Doc' Gardiner. 'Doc' Gardiner and his apprentice in the black arts, Corporal Ian 'Kid' Curry had been our 161 Battery medics for several postings during the 70's, and at times both had jumped onto the gunline during fire missions and helped out. John in an earlier life had served in an Infantry Mortar Section in Vietnam, and both medics could load, lay and fire the L5 Pack Howitzer. John had later received a commission and was currently serving in 1 Field Amb, as a Captain.

I rang John and read him some of the citations over the phone and explained to him that Wolfgang Hucke was aged 43, so he would need to be recruited into the Kiwi Army as a special case, and probably as a Staff Sergeant which meant he would be within the parameters for 'Retiring Age For Rank'.

Shortly afterwards Captain Gardiner came into Hamilton and personally assisted with the recruitment process and shortly afterwards I again met Wolfgang Hucke dressed in a Kiwi medics uniform. He was a real asset to his unit and took many of the medical lectures, and on many occasions lectured the TF soldiers of 4(G) Medium Battery. He became something of a Legend in 1 Field Ambulance, and served with them for a number of years. In many ways he reminded me personally of our own Kiwi legend of Rolly Hill, NZC.

Snow Berkett, late of 161 Battery became a Civilian Helicopter Medic after he quit the Regular Force and then later when he re-enlisted into the 1st Field Ambulance he served for many years as an instructor. Snow Berkett stated that Wolfgang Hucke was the most professional medic he had ever worked with.

I lost count of the actual number of different military uniforms that Wolfgang wore, but later he even managed to chalk up a stint in the RNZAF as well, where he served as a GSH with Malcolm Bell and also Ian Trott, both of whom were Gunners in Vietnam. He was later again, contacted by the Army and was, I understand the last Regular Force Medic to serve at Hopuhopu Camp before it's closure and return to the Tainui people.

In later years, I would quite often see Wolfgang on Anzac Days where he always appears wearing a mixture of French and Rhodesia insignia and he often ribs me, and asks me to tell the yarn about how he joined the Kiwi Army... sometimes 'first impressions' can be deceiving!

©Mike Subritzky, 2001