Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on Dec 6, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Interview: Patrick Bronte & NgaToa.com

Jim H. Moreno

A few weeks ago, Armchair General re-published an interview titled "When you’ve got a job to do, you do it: A Kiwi Officer in an Army of Volunteers". The interview, reproduced from the NgaToa website, and conducted by Mr. Patrick Bronte, told the story of Lloyd Cross and his tour of duty during World War Two with the New Zealand army. Recently, ACG had the honor to interview the interviewer of that article about his website, and the hundreds of other interviews he has conducted, all while being confined to a wheelchair and almost completely paralyzed.

bronte_one.jpg

Armchair General: Thank you very much for making what is probably an incredible effort in taking the time for this interview. Now for the first question! What was the spark of inspiration in 2001 that caused you to realize, as your website describes, "the importance of preserving the accounts of the men and women who served their country during modern history’s darkest hour"?

{default}

Patrick Bronte: I broke my neck when I was sixteen, leaving me paralyzed from the shoulders down. Unsurprisingly, I became very depressed but it was two World War 2 veterans that helped to pull me out of what could be termed as my “Darkest Hour”. They visited me on a number of different occasions to share the War Time experiences with me and they really encouraged me to look beyond the physical disability and take a pragmatic approach to life. I had always bugged my grandfather to tell me about his War Experience but he would always change the subject, so it really was a big deal to sit down and talk to two veterans who were in it from the beginning.

The Veteran who started it all goes by the name of Tony "Bones" Langley. He is a good friend of our family and is a real hard case. Bones came to visit my father the day after I first saw Saving Private Ryan and I asked him if he would talk to me about his war experience. A day was arranged and he turned up with his good friend Charlie Reed (whose interview is on my site). Bones served in the Italian Campaign with the Divisionary Calvary and Charlie was an Officer with the 4th Field Regiment and saw action in Greece, North Africa and Italy.

What was really intriguing about the conversations we had is the 8 year age difference between Bones and Charlie. Sometimes things could get a bit heated when they disagreed about the way the New Zealand War effort was conducted. It was funny to hear from my father, after bumping into Charlie, that Charlie got a bit concerned about me getting the wrong idea from Bones, stating to my father "I don’t want your boy getting the wrong idea from these younger ones that came into the war towards the end". It is the ultimate in military history to hear it firsthand from those who make it. If they can handle the cruel scars of war I can handle [and] get on with life with this disability.

It was after I started [attending Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand,] that I realized how important it was to me to have a recording of their experiences and all the advice they had given me. After borrowing the Media department’s camera, I went back to my home town and filmed an interview with them both. After the interview it was suggested I do the same with my Grandmother’s next door neighbor who also had a great story. Then friends of the family suggested I talk to their Fathers and Grandfathers. Before long I had developed an appetite for oral histories and the whole concept started to snowball. I started looking in every direction for veterans to interview. A major motivation was the death of my Grandfather. After talking with these guys I was convinced that he would have spoken to me if I had been able to talk to him from a more mature standpoint. Unfortunately he passed away a couple of years before I started; I would be so appreciative if someone came to me with a recording of him speaking about his military service.

bronte_two.jpg

ACG: Have you had any training towards becoming a military historian? How and where did you learn to conduct oral histories?

PB: I started a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Media studies back in 2001. As part of my electives, I chose a paper called “An Introduction to the History of Warfare”. This really kick started my interest in Military history for I’ve always been keen on all things military. It must have been all the military thoughts that trigged the idea to get Bones’ and Charlie’s stories down on tape. The degree has yet to be completed but University isn’t going anywhere, when I do get back to school I plan to cross credit the papers I have done and complete a Bachelor of Defense Studies. I have had no formal training about the ins and outs of conducting oral histories. It’s all been a matter of trial and error. I try to make the interview as informal and relaxed as possible; this helps to ease the nerves of each veteran.

Next Year, I’ll get back to Uni and start chipping away at the degree. The plan is to juggle the interviews, the site and start a paper on the New
Zealand Land Wars. The Major goal is to construct a raw, blunt documentary about New Zealand’s Combat Experience during WW2.

ACG: Would you please describe the normal process of a typical interview session, from start to finish?

PB: I travel to them and film the Veteran in his own home, in his chair. It’s not easy for me to direct the camera because I do have to rely on help from an old mate from Uni Carl Bradley and my support Rick. I’m paranoid about the picture and sound quality, so it’s difficult to co-ordinate the camera.

I start asking each veteran about their childhood and progress through their school years and early employment, asking feelings towards various aspects of life leading up to the war until we reach the time they joined the military. From this stage I start a conversation about life within the Forces. I aim to get anecdotes by following history while using relative questions to explore their part in the war. I try to keep things informal so everyone is relaxed.

The average interview lasts three hours and I’ll go back if the veteran and I can cover more detail. Once complete the tapes are deposited in the archives of the QEII Army Memorial Museum, Waiouru. The content from these tapes have been all burnt to DVD and handed to the family.

bronte_three.jpg

ACG: How did you pay for the camera you use to record the interviews with? And why use a video recorder versus an audio recorder?

PB: I had to purchase the camera through finance which took me two and a half years to pay off. That was four years ago so it has had a lot of use.

A lot of the family members I meet know very little about the father or Grandfather’s war service. To be able to offer a copy of the interview to them is what it’s all about. This is where video is better than a transcript or sound recording. Video allows you to capture idiosyncrasies that are more pertinent to their relatives. Sometimes a smirk or wink can tell you a lot of how they are feeling, what they have been through and it impacted them. These experiences have to be preserved otherwise we will forget their sacrifices.

ACG: Are you still using that camera?

PB: I recently put a new camera on finance in order to keep up with the latest technology. It’s going to take just as long to pay off but it’s worth it. I’m constantly paranoid about the picture and sound quality of each recording. My major concern is that these interviews will later be judged on their technical aspects rather than their content. I don’t want that to happen.

[continued on next page]

Pages: 1 2

4 Comments

  1. How does a student get ahold of a veteran in order to interview
    him/her? I really need to interview one or else…..my teacher
    will fail me…..

  2. Hi Patrick, My dad is 92, lives on Gold Coast, born `17. Taumarunui. Service #3055.He was with the 21st Bttn Army band, and saw service and was wounded on Crete, at Galatos. He has a wonderful memory, and no-one has asked him, except me, he has been reluctant to speak until the last few years, and now the stories are comming out. This am. I was reading to him, he is blind, from the website about the battle of Pink Hill, he was enthralled, as he was wounded, he never really found out what happened after he was taken to hospital. He tells a good story about the hospital. Dad was flown out of Crete on the 1st June, and spent the war as a POW. He would love to contribute, soooo— who can do the job for you, who lives on the Gold Coast ??? He will not leave Aussie.
    His name is Francis Howard Morgan, he can be rung on: 00 61755109729 Hope this helps,
    Regards, Howard.

    • Hello Howard,

      Frank worked for my father, Wynn Fraser in Whangarei. The last time I saw Frank was about 6 years ago in Runaway Bay. I was talking to Sherrill Whiteman who is also wondering about him, and I have just received a query from Jim Trapski who also knew him through WF & Co.
      I remember that he did occasionally mention the war, but not in any detail. I remember he had quite a bad injury to his leg.
      We would love to know how he is as we all have fond memories of Frank.
      Sherrill did look in the Auckland phone book as we thought that either you or your brother lived here, but it appears that you have moved.
      Hope to hear from you with news of Frank.

      Kind regards

      Jenny Cathcart (nee Fraser)

  3. Hi Patrick, you interviewed my father, Lloyd cross, but I never received a DVD, is it please at all possible I could have a copy, kind regards pippa

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *