Ron Turner thought his life was already on track to become an engineer.
Born on 17th April 1945 in Auckland, he was schooled at Wesley Primary and Wesley Intermediate before his parents then decided to send their tearaway son to board in south Auckland at Wesley College.
After school he got a job with Alex Harvey Ltd and had been doing that for a few years when, as Ron describes it, ‘National Service caught up with me!’
As part of the 17th intake, ahead of him lay 14 weeks of full time service followed by part time for the next three years.
“We were on the train leaving Auckland to take all these 18-year-olds and the vast majority did not want to go. But on the train that left Waiouru, the vast majority said how they’d thoroughly enjoyed it, they were much fitter than they were, they’d met a lot of nice people and we all had skills that we retained for life.”
In Ron’s case, after the aptitude tests they selected him for officer training and near the end of the 14 weeks he was invited to join the regular force for a short service commission.
This was one year of training, one year in Vietnam and one year in New Zealand before going back into Civvy Street.
On 3rd January 1967 Ron was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the Royal Regiment of NZ Artillery and was mixing with men who’d trained at Duntroon and Portsea in Australia and Sandhurst in England.
“I felt almost out of my depth with a variety of things,” he admits.
Ron in uniform with wife Jo on their wedding day.
A year later and he was off to 161 Battery in Vietnam, which he described as periods of boredom and periods of intense activity and danger, ‘like every conflict’.
“Professionally it was satisfying, because you’re trained to be an artillery officer and you’re in Vietnam and you’re doing the job you’re trained for.
“I don’t think I have ever met anybody who has told you that they killed somebody. It’s just one of those questions you don’t ask a soldier, and it’s one of those questions very few answer.”
Back home in New Zealand, he was invited to stay on in the Regular Army and he decided to do just that.
As Adjutant for 3 Field Regiment, a territorial regiment at Burnham Military Camp, he met people that he still sees to this day.
Next, back up to Waiouru, he was appointed as the officer commanding the Officer Training Unit, this time for the Regular force and enjoyed another great posting, this one groundbreaking.
“I ran the first male/female course. Prior to that it had been totally separate, and it was great to see the combination of men and women.
“What it signified was the realisation that if you’re an officer, you’re an officer. And if you’re an NCO, you’re an NCO.”
There were still some limitations placed on the roles women were posted to but it was the start of a lot more modern approach.
Ron’s manner clearly lent itself well to training others, and his next posting saw him as part of the Training Directorate which organised courses for army staff to complete, be it internally or as part of civilian training.
He continued this with a three year posting to Canberra enjoying diplomatic status and then returned to NZ as Commandant of the NZ Cadet Corps which included Sea, Navy and Army cadets in units up and down the country.
Ron (far right) in the presence of the Duke of Edinburgh.
After 20 years, and by then a Lieutenant Colonel, Ron was ready for a change and left the Army to be CEO of a child healthcare provider that saw the merging of seven children’s health camps into one organisation.
“That was the great thing to see kids with behavioural or physical problems and spending time where you could fix the problems or at least get them on the right track.”
Adapting to civilian life was a non-issue for Ron: “I don’t reckon there’s a hell of a lot of difference except for the method of getting people to do things!”
Helping children became a theme for Ron, with a sideline as a JP leading to work as a judicial JP and being called upon as a nominated witness to support under 16-year-olds who’d got into trouble with the police and whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t support them.
During the Gallipoli centenary commemorations in 2015 with Ron, left, leading the parade alongside both the New Zealand and Australian Governor Generals.
As a veteran, Ron was a member of the Wellington RSA, becoming President, a role which led to him being featured on the back of a bus!
His leadership coincided with the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli landings in 2015 and the various commemorations included a special Chiefs v Hurricanes rugby match which was advertised on public transport.
Even more significantly was the dawn service that year.
“It was held at the National War Memorial and it was the then Governor General of NZ, Jerry Mateparae, Peter Cosgrove, the Australian Governor General, and me leading the parade!
“It was the biggest dawn service in New Zealand for a long time, with an estimated 40,000 people. That was special.”
Ron is now a member of the Devonport RSA since moving there to be near his daughter, whose youngest son is named Gunner in his honour.