Lt Col John Masters ONZM MC JP
John Masters served in the New Zealand Army for 27 years. He saw active service in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam. He then worked tirelessly for his fellow veterans and their families..
Borneo – Immediate Award of the Military Cross
In 1965, whilst seconded to an artillery unit serving in Borneo, John Masters was awarded an immediate Military Cross for rescuing a wounded Gurkha Warrant Officer, Hariprasad Gurung, whilst under heavy fire from Indonesian soldiers. Having removed him from the scene of the battle, John treated Hariprasad’s wounds as best he could. By this time they had become separated from the rest of their unit. With John supporting Hariprasad the two of them moved slowly through the jungle in an attempt to return to base many kilometres away.
After a short time Hariprasad was unable to manage the journey any longer so John carried him for the rest of the afternoon and tended to his wounds throughout the night. The next morning they set off again but had to stop after about 400 metres when it became obvious they were not going to make it, Hariprasad was already seized with shock and John estimated they still had some 6000 metres of jungle to traverse before reaching base.
John placed Hariprasad near a substantial land mark, an enormous Banyan tree, gave him all his food and three of their four water bottles and set out alone on the long, difficult trek back to the Gurkha base. John eventually reached the base, had some soup and within an hour he had changed clothes, collected new equipment and in spite of having a severe temperature he led a rescue party back to Hariprasad. Some fifty hours after John had left Hariprasad in the jungle, the Gurkha trackers found him, barely breathing and in deep shock. Hariprasad was evacuated by helicopter. However, due to deteriorating weather John, suffering from the ordeal himself, had to walk back to base with the rest of the party.
Subsequently to show their gratitude, the Gurkha Regimental Association made John a Life Member of the Sirmoor Club, normally restricted to Gurkhas. John was to be only the fourth such Life Member.
In the London Gazette of 10 December 1965, it was announced that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had approved John Masters’ immediate award of the Military Cross. The citation for John’s Military Cross ended with:
“Throughout the whole operation Captain Masters acted with great courage determination and coolness and with complete disregard for his own safety. It would have been infinitely easier for him to continue running to the R.V. when the C.S.M. was hit but in the face of heavy fire he chose to risk his own life and what must have seemed certain death or capture to save the life of a comrade.”
Vietnam – Commander 161 Battery, Royal New Zealand Artillery
In August 1977, John took over as the seventh battery commander of the New Zealand Artillery battery since its deployment to Vietnam. He was the last commander of the Battery in Vietnam and on 1 May 1971, 161 Battery fired its farewell shot.
Post Military Service
After returning to New Zealand, John held a number of senior appointments within the New Zealand Defence Force before retiring in 1983.
John then took up a business career in senior management roles with commercial organisations, including some of New Zealand’s leading household names.
But John never forgot the needs of those with whom he served as well as other New Zealand veterans and their families.
Rannerdale War Veterans Home
In the late 1990s, John became involved in Rannerdale War Veterans Home, Christchurch. At that time, the home received funding from the New Zealand Patriotic Funds Board which John noted was in poor financial state; in fact its current position meant that possibly one or more homes could have to close.
John took over Chairmanship of the Rannerdale Home Management Committee and, to protect the future of the home, the Rannerdale Trust was formed with John as the Chairman. He led from the front in a campaign that raised over one million dollars to upgrade Rannerdale and secure its future.
In 2002 John’s sustained efforts were recognised in the New Year Honours list with his appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for his work in support of the veteran community.
John then found time to continue his tireless work for veterans as a panellist assisting with War Pension applications. He approached this responsibility with the same dedication, integrity and fervour that was the hallmark of this man throughout his life.
During the Vietnam War, herbicides had been widely used for jungle defoliation and crop destruction by the United States Defense Force. Decades later questions were being asked about the links between this chemical and illnesses. New Zealand Veterans were being diagnosed with a range of medical issues and their children were being born with malformations or were still-born or miscarried. Two official government inquiries claimed that New Zealand Veterans had not been sprayed and had not come into contact with areas that had been sprayed.
John was not prepared, and nor were other veterans, to leave this report as the formal outcome. It had to be challenged.
John Masters and the map that led to Vietnam veterans and their families being able to receive assistance.
Amongst his belongings John found a military map from his time in Vietnam that did show lanes of defoliation crisscrossing New Zealand bases and areas of operation. The Government’s acceptance of the previous reports that denied the herbicide spraying was now under public scrutiny.
John was one of a number of veterans that made presentations before the Health Select Committee that eventually led to the Government setting up a Joint Working Group and subsequently a Memorandum of Understanding between The Crown with the RNZRSA and the EVSA. The Memorandum of Understanding ensured that Vietnam veterans and their families are able to receive assistance that was long overdue.
As part of the Memorandum of Understanding, the Vietnam Veterans and their Families Trust Fund was set up with a Government endowment of $7 million and John accepted appointment as a trustee to help oversee the disbursement of assistance to veterans and family members from the Trust.
Unfortunately, John’s health took a turn for the worse and he was diagnosed with cancer. John reluctantly resigned from the Trust only when his health had deteriorated to the extent where he felt he could no longer satisfactorily fulfil his role as a trustee.
John Masters lost his battle with cancer in October 2010.