Author(s): Tom O'Connor
I interviewed Eric Batchelor several times during the years I worked as a journalist in Timaru, usually in the lead up to Anzac Day or some other military commemoration. Sitting in his homely kitchen he shared stories of his exploits during World War Two in his quietly spoken manner. He was always frank with detailed accounts of battles as well as his personal experiences and recollections away from the front lines. He went into details of combat, death and survival few other returned soldiers were willing or able to do. My notes of those interviews and the notes of interviews by Joyce Cooper for the Waimate Historic Society have formed the basis of the record of his life experiences before, during and after the war. I have also drawn extensively on the outstanding official history of Eric's 23 Battalion by Angus Ross to ensure the chronology of battles and the history of the war in North Africa and Italy, where Eric served, were accurate. In fact in places I have ignored the accepted and traditional conduct of writers and lifted whole passages from the official history for no other reason that it would be fruitless to attempt to improve on the words written by Ross.
This is not however another history of 23 Battalion but the true story of one of the men who served in the battalion, who survived the war and returned to his hometown of Waimate in South Canterbury where he continued to serve his community both in the military, in business and in many volunteer organisations for the rest of his long life. One of the sad threads I picked running through his story was the transition from excitable young men in their late teens and early twenties at the start of the war into hardened old men in their mid-twenties when it was all over. At the beginning some of their pranks and adventures were typical of over exuberant school boys pushing the boundaries of discipline and acceptable behaviour as boys always have. Those still alive four years later had seen and done things beyond the comprehension of people who have never served in the front lines of a world war. Their personalities, attitudes and empathy had irreversibly changed. Nightmares disturbed their sleep, the sounds of gun fire, terrifying closeness of violent death and the screams of dying men never left their memories.
Many had difficulty readjusting to a non-violent, non-aggressive role civilian life and some ended up in prison for actions at home that would have won them praise and medals during the war. Eric was one who made that adjustment, with initial difficulty, and spent the rest of his life in his beloved Waimate. He was, rightfully, considered to be a local hero, earning the title Waimate Warrior which became the title of a bagpipe tune composed in his honour. He died in Waimate on 10 July 2010 just a few weeks short of his ninetieth birthday and was buried in the Returned Services section of the Waimate cemetery with full military honours. His decorations were; Distinguished Conduct Medal and bar, 1939-45 Star, Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp, Italy Star, Defence Medal, Coronation Medal 1953, Efficiency Medal.