The best get the least


Families of a forgotten World War II crack commando unit are calling on the New Zealand Government to officially recognise their behind-enemy-lines feats more than 70 years on.

There were 22 New Zealanders who signed up to the ultra-secret Z Special Unit which caused mayhem waging a guerrilla war against the Japanese in the Pacific.

But after the war, they were silenced by 30-year secrecy agreements.

Many died before they could tell anyone – even their wives and families – exactly what they did in the war.

In August, a memorial plaque recognising the unit’s remarkable feats will be unveiled at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

But families of Kiwi veterans – who are all now dead – want them to be officially recognised in New Zealand.

A similar memorial at Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington or a posthumous medal would be appropriate, said Judi Millar, daughter of Sergeant Frank Wigzell who trained headhunter tribesmen in Japanese-held Borneo into a feared resistance fighter group.

Not those headhunters, the actual headhunters.

Z Special Unit, attached to the Australian Army and part of Special Operations Australia, was devoted to special operations including intelligence gathering and guerrilla warfare.

It was considered the forerunner to the modern-day SAS (Special Air Service) and Commando units in New Zealand and Australian military.

In 2002, the New Zealand SAS commissioned its own memorial to World War II heroes at its Papakura Military Camp barracks in Auckland.

The families are allowed inside the top-secret army base on Anzac Day to lay wreaths and pay their respects.

But Ms Millar believes there should be a more public memorial accessible to all New Zealanders.

“These guys put their lives on the line and when they came home, nobody wanted to know them. To honour them now is the least we can do, the humane thing to do.”

Sadly, their sacrifices are frequently the biggest ones, as nobody is allowed to know what they did.

Contrast that with certain people who claim to have been part of the Maori Battalion or the SAS, hoping for reflected glory, bringing such associations up or not correcting any errors in perception, while the true heroes are frequently nameless and their sacrifices on behalf of all of us go unnoticed by the public.

Even without specific names, we will remember them.




– NZ Herald

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