Growing up with his father in Army, John Bennetts has been involved in the military all his life. By age 16, inspired by his father and by a family friend who had recently returned from a military tour abroad, a career in the forces was on the cards. At age 18 he signed up for the Navy, completing basic training and joining as a Sonarman, before beginning his career with a memorable tour to Asia on board HMNZS Wellington. Today, after 21 years of service, including several stints on board ships and a move to the Military Police, he is the Military Police Station Commander at the Devonport Naval Base in Auckland.
Being in the forces and having two young children has proved a careful balancing act for John and his wife, with inevitable sacrifices made by the whole family especially during deployments to ships. “When my eldest son was born I was on a ship, and he had birth complications, which made it even more difficult, though fortunately I received a lot of support and extra leave so I could be with my family,” says John. “A few months after my son was born, the ship sailed and that’s definitely hard… leaving your family behind and missing out on that special time together.”
John is full of praise for his wife’s support throughout his career. “Being the partner of someone in the military is definitely not easy and they have to adapt a lot, while for you the military way is a lot more engrained and possibly you don’t always appreciate the cause and effect that the military way of life can have on others,” he says. “Often, for us as servicemen, we don’t think of what we are doing as a sacrifice, it’s just our duty, I think the partners have the real challenge and make the sacrifices more than we do, especially having to deal with the unpredictability of the demands on our time.” For John, choosing to have a family at an older age was one way of coping with the career demands on his home life. “One of the reasons I decided to delay have a family until later in life was so that the sacrifices could be lessened, rather than having a family at an early age at the start of your career when you are constantly going to be going on deployments.”
Time in the forces has been both varied and rewarding for John, who has taken particular enjoyment in helping to train up and coming sailors. “I’m a great believer in training your replacement, and being able to watch new recruits pass out on completion of their course and see the pride in them and their families is always special.”
The feeling of family is an important aspect of the Navy for John, and ANZAC Day is always a special opportunity to regroup with current and former colleagues and share time and memories together. “I am from New Plymouth and I always try to go back to have ANZAC Day there,” he says. It was only recently that John discovered his maternal Grandfather had served in the forces and had been awarded the high honour of the Distinguished Flying Cross, for courage and devotion to duty when on active service. Each year on ANZAC Day his two young sons take it in turns to wear their Great-Grandfathers medal, when his memory is honoured by John and the family. “My children are being instilled with military pride and gratitude just like I was as a child,” he says. “I’m a strong advocate that there are very good values in the military and I’m proud to be passing those on to the next generation.”
Encouraging younger members of the military to engage with the RSA, and indeed for the veterans to engage with their younger contemporaries, is something John feels strongly about. “As a serving member of the forces, I wanted to tell my story this ANZAC Day as a way of showing that the RSA is very relevant to the younger generations of the forces too… It’s a crucial force for bringing people together and we need to keep engaging the different generations in the military – from new recruits to veterans –– and connecting them through our shared backgrounds. No matter what our type or location of service, whether in a theatre of war or not, we have all given our time and made our sacrifices, and that’s shared common ground you can never take away… we are all family. That’s never more apparent than when we stand side by side on ANZAC Day.”
The RSA partner with various groups who provide experiences and services to the current and ex-serving personnel and their families. One such group is the Soldiers, Sailors and Airman Association of New Zealand (SSAANZ). SAANZ organise regular outdoor activities and journeys. Trips can include diving, fishing, tramping expeditions, hunting courses, river rafting, and even family getaways. The RSA subsidise these programmes for participants and by doing so, make them affordable and accessible. Aside from having a great time, for some current and ex-service personnel the experiences help them find peer support before they experience a personal crisis. It’s the fence at the top of the cliff as opposed to the ambulance at the bottom. The RSA are very proud and excited to have SSAANZ as an RSA Affiliate. Your donation on Poppy Day helps current and ex-serving personnel attend programmes such as these.
This year on the 12th April you will see Poppy collectors in the street. Please give generously and wear your Poppy with pride.