17 May 2019
Palmerston North man Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Childs struggles to put into words just how honoured he was to lead the New Zealand Defence Force contingent at the 75th anniversary of the Battles of Cassino.
Lieutenant Colonel Childs led the contingent this week in commemorative services at the Cassino War Cemetery, a remembrance service at Cassino Railway Station and a thanksgiving service at the Basilica of the Abbey of Montecassino.
He did so watched by wife Lieutenant Colonel Mel Childs, who led the NZDF contingent last year at the 100th anniversary of the liberation of Le Quesnoy, children Lily, seven, and Hunter, 10, and his parents, Warrant Officer Class 1 (Retired) Niel and Penny Childs. Also watching were his mother-in-law and father-in-law, Frank and Errol Ryder.
The military connections don’t stop there for Lieutenant Colonel Childs – his great-grandfather fought in the First World War and his grandfather, Frank Childs, fought in Italy during the Second World War.
Lieutenant Colonel Mel Childs’ grandfather, Brian Coburn, fought at Cassino and was in the same regiment as Frank Childs, and the family believe it was likely they knew each other.
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Childs, his father and his children all had a turn at wearing his grandfather’s medals as they remembered his involvement in the war and his contribution to his country.
“Having our kids there to share that is huge. It gives them an appreciation and understanding that all the liberties and freedom we have came at a fairly significant price,” he said.
“I didn’t really know my grandfather, so having Mum and Dad there to bridge that gap is just another layer to how special this is.”
His grandfather was sent to Japan after the war before returning home to New Zealand. He served for another 30-odd years and died soon after retiring. He didn’t talk a lot about his war experiences, and neither did Lieutenant Colonel Childs’ father, who served in Vietnam.
Lieutenant Colonel Childs said there was no pressure on him to join the New Zealand Army but conceded there could be something in his genes that made serving his country a natural career choice.
He joined in 1993, after attending St Thomas of Canterbury College in Christchurch, and his career has taken him around the world, including Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the Sinai.
“I could not in my wildest dreams have imagined going to all these places when I signed up as an 18-year-old,” he said. “It’s been a real rollercoaster and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
“Leading this contingent means a huge amount. I want to do those who were there justice. I want to make sure that we do right by them and be as good as we can be and represent their service and duty and sacrifice.
“The contingent all feel that way. Many of them have personal connections and all understand just how nasty it was over there, and how many men made the ultimate sacrifice.”