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Jim Kirk

1911 - 30 Sep 2003

The original RQMS of the 24th Battalion, Jim Kirk joined the Army in 1934. Jim was born in China in 1911, the son of an oil company engineer. He went to the Cathedral School in Shanghai and, in NZ, to the Mangere School and to King's College.

He enlisted in February 1934 and was trained at the old Army School in Trentham. With the RNZA he served at North Head, the Onehunga Drilll Hall and Narrowneck. Back to Army School, Trentham, for training as an NCO in the NZ Permanent Staff.

1938 - a sergeant in the New Zealand Permanent Staff, he was posted to Area 4 in Hamilton to work with the Territorials and the secondary school cadet units in the area. In those days they were ordered to wear civvy clothes except when parading with T.F. or cadets. One day in 1939, the Area Officer told his staff that war was to be declared and that, as from tomorrow, uniforms were to be worn full-time. Next morning when Jim arrived at the Army Hall in Knox St, he was astonished to find scores of men waiting outside to enlist.

February 1940 to Narrowneck and the 24th Battalion. The RSM, the RQMS and four CSMs were all Regulars. September 1940 - Port Tewfik/Maadi. Jim, having been trained in all the infantry weapons (and in Signals) was posted to the Div. School as a weapons instructor. 1942 - back to the 24th in Syria as CSM, B Company. El Alamein - Jim heard a Brigade wireless order which mentioned Air and Armoured Support to be on hand at first light next day. Right enough but the planes and the tanks which arrived were German. Jim dismantled and buried his tommy-gun and surrendered to a Jerry tank commander.

To Italy. Jim had the distressing experience of standing on deck and seeing the ship sailing next to his being torpedoed; a ship pack with NZ PoWs many of whom were his friends. In a PoW camp at Udine until the collapse of the Italian governement - then by train to Stalag 8A in Germany.

They soon learned the power of a packet of 10 Capstan cork-tipped for bartering. They were not allowed cameras but a German officer traded his camera for cigarettes. By a trick of fate there was a search a day or two later and, by a further trick of fate, the German officer retrieved his camera and was able to repeat the performance. At roll-calls the PoWs sought to annoy the Germans by shifting about after having been counted. Jim looked on this as a futile practice as the Germans must have known what was going on. The result was large numbers of poorly clad and poorly booted PoWs kept outside in the cold by a small number of well clad guards. Then "The March" first to the West then to the East and the experience (together with their guards) of digging potatoes by hand out of frozen fields.

To England, to New Zealand, 3 months leave then back to the Regular Army as a WO1 in Auckland and Tauranga. Jim was discharged at his own request in 1948.

This is a brief account of the service of a Regular Army man. At the outbreak of war the permanent army numbered 300 or so. It functioned mainly as a training cadre - we had no standing army. These men went to various postings throughout the Army. In a sense, they were under a spotlight - everyone in the unit knew who the Regulars were. They had a pride in their profession but theirs is an unusual calling in that, overnight almost, it was filled with enthusiastic amateurs of varying abilities under whom the Regulars were required to serve. And of course they got on with it.

From Jack Ryan, 2001 (24 Bn Newsletter, reprinted with permission from Jim Kirk).

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