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Ngaio Marsh resident Gordon Parsonson served in the Pacific theatre of war

Written by Alan Wood
on April 22, 2023

Medical orderly Gordon Parsonson saved lives in World War II, working hard to ensure the troops fighting for and defending the Solomon Islands did not die of malaria or dysentery.

Gordon started in the army, enlisting in 1942, but then moving to the Royal New Zealand Airforce from January 1943, attaining the rank of Leading Aircraftman and staying in the airforce until December 1945.

In 1945, he received the British Empire Medal for this service. He is now aged 103.

Signing up saw him fly on a Douglas DC-3 from Ohakea to the Solomon Islands, where several major World War II land, sea and air battles had taken place, including the Japanese invasion of Tulagi and the battle for Guadalcanal.

Gordon was a medical orderly attached to a unit on the populous island of Malaita. In addition to caring for the RNZAF personnel based in the camp, that provided radar for aircraft, he also cared for some of the 60,000 locals on the island. In New Zealand he’d trained with the St John healthcare service.

In a RNZAF book By Such Deeds, compiled by Group Captain CM Hanson, Gordon is said, as a medical orderly, to have displayed superior initiative, and helped maintain morale.

“Many cases of malaria and jaundice occurred, and as the nearest doctor was some eighty miles away, the responsibility of treating and caring for the patients fell upon Aircraftman Parsonson, who nursed them with the utmost care and sympathy,” the book recalls.

Gordon says it was a seemingly endless task, looking both after the unit’s 60 men and the locals from various wooden buildings that acted as a hospital. He treated those with malaria and aimed to prevent this with quinine or atabrine. As here was some hesitation amongst men, he asked them to follow his example of swallowing a pill. “There was a lot of suspicion. But I think they grew to trust me,” he says.

Given the unit’s access to radio communication plus radar, the war and incursions by the enemy seemed very close. “One (Japanese plane) came over on Christmas day,” he says. He also spotted a Japanese submarine offshore on one occasion, to the consternation of the forces. There was little chance for rest and recreation.

There were also some unusual fauna on the islands. “By his extreme devotion to duty he undoubtedly played a large part in saving the life of one airman who was critically ill after being bitten by a poisonous centipede,” the book citation says.

“As a medical orderly, I’d have to deal with anything that came up. When people got abrasions and cuts. Mostly it was people suffering from malaria... I kept them, I nursed them back to health, for three weeks perhaps,” Gordon adds.

Gordon was attached to the RNZAF’s 14 squadron, but upon arriving to Guadalcanal transferred to the 3 squadron before again being transferred to the 53 radar unit at Tolobaita, North Malaita. After he suffered a severe bout of malaria himself, he was sent home.


About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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