World War II veteran and Pukekohe resident Desmond Mitchell can’t believe he’s 100 years old. “I think there were three years of being ninety-nine,” the centenarian jokes. “It seems to have been an awful long time coming.”
As well as being the oldest member at the Franklin RSA, he is also the longest-serving member. “My father served in the First World War, and he’d been on the committee, and so I naturally joined in 1946.”
Des was working at the auditor’s office in Hamilton when he was conscripted into the army at the age of 18. He spent three months at Ngāruawāhia Military Camp. Then, after the Japanese entered the war, he was sent to Claudelands Racecourse before marching for four days to Papakura Military Camp. His battalion was later set to work making raupō mess areas in Bombay before being relocated to Ruatangata, near Whangārei.
“While there they decided that those who had reached 21 or over were eligible for overseas service, while those under that age went to Great Barrier Island as on-guard duty to protect the island from Japanese invasion,” he recalls. “We stayed there for 10 weeks at a time. I didn’t enjoy that very much because you could see the bright lights of Auckland.”
Finding his work auditing the quartermaster’s store rather monotonous, and remembering his father’s stories of WWI trench warfare, Des decided to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Instead of applying to be a pilot, Des – who’d never even driven a car – applied to be a navigator, and headed to the Delta Military Base near Blenheim for training.