The story of John Masters, veteran fighter
Published by the MASTERS FAMILY
By Allan Marriott
Illustrated, 220 pages
Available from www.abridgeover.net
Reviewed by Bill Hopper March 2010
An officer, a gentleman, a hero
John Milbanke Masters, a product of Invercargill in the 1930s, received his blooding as a young army officer during Indonesia’s President Achmed Sukarno’s Konfrontasi (Confrontation) in the jungles along the Kalimantan border with Sarawak on the island of Borneo. This was to be his introduction to lifelong battles not only against military adversaries but also at various times against politicians, Vietnam war protesters, bureaucrats, unions, big business, and eventually the scourge of cancer.
It was his fierce determination, courage and belief in human survival that enabled him to save his seriously wounded Gurkha CSM, Hariparsad Gurung, from certain death in the rat-infested, slimy mud of the Borneo jungle. Left on their own and realising he could not carry his comrade to safety, Masters hid Hariparsad in a banyan tree, making him as comfortable and protected as possible.
With a sense of futility, sheer selflessness and compassion, Masters, fighting the tropical jungle on the wrong side of the border and the onset of scrub typhus, eventually made it back to his lines at Kandai to help organise and then take part in the successful rescue operation. This action resulted in the immediate awarding of the Military Cross.
In Allan Marriott’s A Bridge Over we also read of
the ‘missing, believed killed’ message relayed by the CO at Terendak to John’s wife, Alisoun, and her reaction to the news that is forever feared by all army wives whenever their husbands are on active service.
The book tells of Masters’ time as commander of 161 Battery during RNZA’s last tour in Vietnam. The guns in that final seven months of action fired some 11,000 rounds from 14 locations.
There’s the infamous parade down Queen St on their return home, the protesters attacking and abusing soldiers who had only been doing their job as ordered by the country’s politicians. And, of course, the subsequent arrest charging Masters with ‘behaving in an offensive and disorderly manner in a public place’.
A Bridge Over follows his military career to retirement as a lieutenant colonel and then, as a civilian, his several forays into the world of commerce. Next came the challenge of raising the $1.4m to ensure Christchurch’s Rannerdale War Veterans Home and Hospital was rebuilt to continue its care for aging and infirm veterans.
And then, there’s the veteran map - “tucked into an old tin trunk in the garage” that discredited the hogwash and untruths of the Reeves and McLeod reports. The map that proved once and for all that New Zealand troops had operated in areas of Vietnam sprayed with Agent Orange and other defoliants, and were suffering from the effects. It was the start of the final, long and extensive campaign waged by RNZRSA and EVSA that ended with the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding, a government apology, and a much better deal for all Vietnam veterans.
I, along with all other Vietnam veterans and their families, owe John Masters a massive vote of thanks for his tenacity, perseverance and time spent over the many years he has toiled on our behalf.
Yes – Lt Col (Rtd) John Masters, ONZM, MC, JP, officer and gentleman is a veteran fighter in all senses of the word. This is his story....a story of guts and determination, of compassion and integrity. A story I commend to all.