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Memories . . . Thurza Batchelor holds a portrait of her late husband, Eric, who was one of New Zealand's most highly decorated soldiers. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Thurza Batchelor will be thinking of her late husband, Eric, on Anzac Day. She thinks of him every day.

Up to his death in Waimate in 2010, Eric Batchelor was the most decorated living soldier in New Zealand.

During World War 2, he was twice awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the only New Zealander of nine Commonwealth soldiers to achieve the award.

But to Mrs Batchelor, he was also a husband and the father of their two children.

Both from Waimate, Thurza Hardwick did not meet her future husband until he returned home near the end of the war.

“He would have stayed [at war] longer, but his father had a stroke so he came back to see him,” Mrs Batchelor said.

She was in her final year of high school, and remembers the moment she laid eyes upon him.

“Me and my friend were on the way to hockey practice when a group of soldiers returned,” she said.

“In those days, when soldiers returned home, the streets would be packed.

“We met properly that Friday after he came back, and that’s where it all started.”

The pair were engaged in 1946 and, after Mr Batchelor made another trip overseas for the victory parade in England, they married in 1948.

“He must have thought it was time to get married, after four years overseas,” Mrs Batchelor said with a smile.

Although she was just a schoolgirl during the war, Mrs Batchelor has some vivid memories of the time.

“Everybody listened to the news to get the latest.

“You weren’t allowed to speak when the BBC was on.”

When young men in Waimate signed up to join the war they would return to Waimate High School to a “great reception”, she said.

She also remembered going to work harvesting potatoes with her friends during the war, as a labour shortage hit the district.

The rationing of the time also remained a distinct memory.

“We had enough to get by; we used to trade things with each other,” she said.

“There were funny things like you could only get a bike tyre if you lived a mile and a-half [2.4km] out of town.”

When Mr Batchelor returned home, he trained as a market gardener, but did not pursue that line of work.

Instead, he ran a taxi business, then a delicatessen and finally a wine shop.

While he would give interviews, he did not like to talk about his experiences.

“He was one of the lucky ones, who could switch off,” she said.

“Some of the things those men experienced were horrible.

“Eric told me the longest he went without sleep was three days.”

Although they were bonded by hard circumstances, the friendships Mr Batchelor made during his time in the war lasted a lifetime, Mrs Batchelor said.

“They were as thick as mud, the ones he served with,” she said.

“The army was a big part of his life, and my life as well.”

Mrs Batchelor is still involved with the Returned and Services Association, and will wear her husband’s medals at the Anzac Day service in Waimate.

“I can still remember his army number, even now,” she said.

“16827.”

Eric Batchelor

Born: August 29, 1920

Died: Aged 89, on July 10, 2010

Service number: 16827

★ Enlisted for service at 19 and embarked with the 5th Reinforcements in April, 1941, aged 20.

★ Served with 23 (Infantry) Battalion in North Africa and Italy.

★ Twice awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). The first was awarded for gallantry, while in command of a forward platoon, during a fierce close-quarter fight in a small house behind German lines at San Donato, Italy, on July 21, 1944, during the advance to Florence. He was awarded his second DCM for gallantry, while serving as a platoon sergeant in a forward company, during an assault on Celle, southwest of Faenza, Italy, on December 14, 1944. He was demobilised in 1946.