Clive Sinclair’s 28 years in the NZ Army, many of them as a United Nations peacekeeper, saw him working with people from many different backgrounds, religions and nationalities.
It assured him that the training he received rated well compared with other armies in terms of peacekeeping and was certainly rewarding.
But just as rewarding, he says, was the seven years he spent living in Waiouru, working as both Chief of Staff and Commander and enjoying the strong sense of connection to the community there.
“I think that’s the time I’m most proud of. I was a Rotarian and the things we did to help that community such as when the church burnt down and my wife and I used to go out on weekends looking for a replacement church. I was very lucky to do that,” he says.
Clive was born in England on the 3rd December 1946 and sailed to New Zealand with his family as an eight-year-old. He says he is unusual compared to many who join the Army, due to the fact he’d worked for several years before signing up.
After schooling in Wellington and Auckland and not feeling satisfied with the various jobs he’d tried, he followed his mother’s suggestion to join the Army and by June 1969 he had graduated as a second lieutenant in the RNZ Army Service Corps.
Postings in Palmerston North and Hobsonville were followed by overseas service. In 1977 he was posted to the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation (UNTSO) in Palestine, also serving in Syria, Lebanon and the Sinai with his family in tow.
Above left: Clive with binoculars observing the 'A' Line from OP 58 in the Golan Heights Palestine/Israel in March 1978. Above right: The following month, on 15th April 1978, Clive at the Norwegian Battalion HQ at Ebel-A-Saki in South Lebanon.
The work involved overseeing the peace treaty signed by Israel and its Arab neighbours and ensuring there were no violations such as over flights and land incursions, often with an observer from a different nation to ensure impartiality.
When Israel started a conflict with Lebanon, Clive was sent there for a month to evaluate the logistic capability of the UN battalions assigned to southern Lebanon along the Litani River.
Being unarmed, military observers were vulnerable to capture, vehicle theft and death.
Clive says being unarmed could usually be your ‘greatest weapon’ as a peacekeeper. “Because you aren’t a threat.”
Some parts of the world are so dangerous it didn’t make any difference if you were armed or not, and Clive took measures to lessen the risk. Or at least, feel like he had.
“I used to think that sitting on a couple of flak jackets in my jeep would be enough to save me from death if I hit a land mine on the road!!
“Whenever I do these things I take a fatalistic approach. If you go anywhere with the idea of tiptoeing around I don’t think you can operate very well. If I’m going to be blown up, well then it’s my time.”
From 1984 to 1987, Clive was posted to Singapore with his family to take command of the NZ Transport Squadron within the NZ Force South East Asia.
This unit employed local civilians of Chinese, Malay and Indian origin as well as NZ soldiers, and deployments into the Malaysian jungle were a necessity to maintain soldier skills.
Clive and the Operations staff at the UNIIMOG Headquarters in Tehran in January 1991.
Next, in 1990, was a posting to Iran as the second NZ Contingent Commander of the UN’s Iran Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG).
Clive commanded a sector in NW Kurdistan on the Iran-Iraqi border in the Zagreb mountain chain and was responsible for a border over 500km long with winter temperatures of -20C.
He loved this time and, through working with local Liaison Officers, grew to appreciate the Iranian people as friendly and generous hosts.
They were forbidden to take photographs however, and Clive took that instruction very seriously, committing the striking landscape to memory instead.
By late 1990, the Iraq troop numbers on their side of the border were diminishing and they hurriedly concluded a peace treaty with Iran – unbeknownst to the UN at the time it was so Saddam Hussein could redeploy the army to invade Kuwait, prompting a 35-country coalition to wage a war against Iraq.
“I remember seeing cruise missiles flying over our UN base in Khorramshahr on their way to strike Baghdad at the onset of the war.”
Clive stayed in Iran until March 1991, becoming chief operations officer responsible for the 1500km border which he describes as ‘a most satisfying professional challenge and posting’.
“The posting confirmed the NZ Army standard of training was up to that of other armies and in many cases exceeded expectations,” he says.
Clive retired from a 28 year Army career after serving a two year period as Commander Army Training Group Waiouru and finishing in Wellington in Army General Staff as head of Army Personnel Branch.
Pictured at Waiouru in June 1991 as Colonel Sinclair with Major General KM Gordon CBE (left).
While he and his wife Kate went on to run a B&B in Devonport for 15 years, Clive also ran logistics for the US contingent for three Apec Summits in Auckland, Brunei and Shanghai.
He takes an active part in veteran commemorations and believes an Army career has brought out the best in his character.
“The Army and services generally do wonders for individuals; they give you self-esteem, self-confidence and I think you can become a great contributor to society,” he says.