Dom George is the on-air producer for The Country.

Dom 'Furious' George: War heroes put life in perspective

Charles Upham, double VC winner during the Second World War. Photo / File
Charles Upham, double VC winner during the Second World War. Photo / File

Shock horror from weather man Phil Duncan on The Country on Monday when he revealed to the nation Auckland recorded a colder temperature than Dunedin!

It was 2 degrees versus one degree in favour of the south and we both sat there bemoaning the brutally cold conditions we had to endure between walking to our insulated, heat-pumped homes and offices - brutal stuff.

Then I happened upon a 'this day in history' entry regarding the German invasion of Crete in 1941 and the heroics of two New Zealanders during that brutal episode in May and gave myself a theoretical uppercut for a distinct lack of perspective.

When Nazi paratroopers descended from the sky on the morning of May 20, it marked the start of a battle that would rage for 12 days. Most of the NZ second division were on Crete after a hasty a costly evacuation from German forces on the Greek mainland. They were among 50,000 Allied troops who managed to escape with the great bulk of them ending up on Crete.

The Allies, under Freyberg, were holding their own with limited resources on the island but a few strategic blunders and the sheer number of German reinforcements able to be flown in meant the Commonwealth soldiers found themselves on the back foot.

But for a couple of Kiwi battlers, it was an opportunity to get stuck in and defy the odds and they systematically went about trying to thwart the Nazi advance with sheer guile and bravery.

The first of these men was Alfred Clive Hulme. Born in Dunedin, he was a sergeant with the 23rd Battalion. Most accounts tell us he virtually mounted a one man campaign against the enemy, hunting down German troops by himself, or with a few mates at best.

He was relentless in his pursuit of the enemy and performed a number of heroic deeds. He led a series of counter attacks at Maleme airfield as the momentum of the battle shifted back and forth. He then played a key role in the New Zealand counter-attack at Galatas, personally clearing out the enemy with hand grenades.

But after hearing that his younger brother had been killed during the fighting, Hulme ramped up his one man hit-squad operation and began hunting down and killing German snipers.

He even went so far as to don German battledress so he could get closer to his enemy, again in order to eliminate as many as possible. It was said of Hulme, who would go on to father motorsport legend Denny Hulme, that he conducted himself with such courage that the story of his exploits were on everyone's lips. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his deeds.

Another VC winner was the legendary Charles Upham. After obtaining an agriculture diploma from what is now known as Lincoln University, he worked as a sheep farmer and farm valuer before enlisting in 1939. He found himself on Crete a couple of years later, wounded and ill following the German attack.

However, that proved no deterrent at all for the feisty Upham who went about leading attacks against the invading forces before proceeding to rescue wounded soldiers, carrying one to safety while under fire.

He also guided a company to safety which was in real danger of being cut off from the rest of the division. Like Hulme, who disguised himself as a German, Upham was inventive in his crusade, at one point feigning death then shooting two approaching Nazis.

These heroics on Crete were followed up by Upham the following year, when he became the only combat soldier to win a second Victoria Cross after once again adding to the German body count during a battle in the Egyptian desert, his thirst for Nazi blood seemingly not yet quenched. Wounded again, he spent the rest of the war in a Nazi POW camp before retiring into private life, never one to exploit his legendary status.

These two, like many others, were just ordinary New Zealanders who were driven to do extraordinary things when world events conspired to place them in hellish situations.

They're worth remembering when adversity strikes and things aren't going so smoothly, even when it's only one degree in Auckland!

- The Country

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Dom George is the on-air producer for The Country.

Dom is Jamie Mackay's reluctant sidekick and long-suffering verbal punching bag. When he's not being abused at work he's being abused at home by his wife and kids. His cheery disposition is further enhanced by the fact that he has to get up at 4 am every day to host The Country Early Edition on Radio Sport. (5-6 am Tue-Sat). Tune in...if you dare.

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