M1001592 ~ CLINT HUIA SORENSEN, RNZN
This is a short story that started with another coincidence, of which I seem to encounter many in my line of work and rarely fail to amaze me. The second week of August this year was no exception.
A phone call from a Timaru resident alerted me to a case of medals that had been found by this lady’s next door neighbour. Faye O’Rourke rang to tell me that neighbour Bob Flynn, a member of the Pleasant Point RSA, had found a black leatherette case containing medals stuffed into his letterbox. There was no wrapping, no note of explanation and no obvious name on it. By the time Faye called me, Bob had located the name of the recipient on the edges of both of the larger medals inside. The case contained four medals, two standard full size military medals and two matching miniatures. The medals represented areas of contemporary Active Service in which the New Zealand Defence Force had deployed personnel – East Timor and Saudi Arabia. One medal was the East Timor Medal and the other, a NZ General Service Medal (Warlike) with Clasp: ARABIAN GULF. Both medals were officially named to a Royal New Zealand Naval rating: M1001592 C. H. SORENSEN. ASTD. RNZN.
The coincidence in this case came about as a result of an email that arrived that same afternoon. Kay Miller ** is a volunteer at the Salvation Army’s Family Store in Nelson and had emailed me to say the ladies had found some medals in among an anonymous donation of ‘stuff’ (as most donations to charity shops are, anonymous that is) – would I like to take a look?
The Manager showed me three boxes containing medals I immediately recognised as being awarded for Active Service in the Middle East in support of the war in Iraq, or the “Gulf War” as it was commonly referred to, and to which a large number of New Zealand Defence Force personnel had been deployed to. Closer inspection revealed only one of the medals was named, to a Royal Navy officer.
Coincidence ? … two sets of medals in one day, both named to naval men, one a Royal Navy officer and the other a RNZN rating, each of whom came from opposite ends of the earth, and both having served in the same operational areas – the Arabian Gulf, at a similar time and for the same purpose. I was amazed!
The medal case Bob had found in his letterbox was either a random disposal or, someone knew that Bob being an NZRSA member, might just know what to do with them? As it was Bob wasn’t 100% sure, particularly as the South Canterbury RSA had closed its doors for good. In mentioning the find to his neighbour Faye, an NZRSA committee member, Faye suggested MRNZ may be able to help and so gave me a call with what little detail she had.
Instituted on 12 March 2001, the East Timor Medal was awarded for service in the operational area between 19 June 1999 and 27 April 2006. Those who qualified for the Medal and had service of 365 days or more in the operational area, were awarded a silver clasp bearing the words “EAST TIMOR”, to be attached to the ribbon of the Medal. To denote the award of the Clasp, a silver rosette is attached to the ribbon of the medal when the ribbon bar alone is worn, normally on uniform.
Instituted on 28 March 2001, the New Zealand General Service (Arabian Gulf) was awarded for service of 30 days or more service, not necessarily continuous, in the operational area. The operational area was defined as any area bordering the Arabian Gulf ** or the Gulf of Oman,** or on the sea areas of the Arabian Gulf or the Gulf of Oman, where members of the New Zealand Defence Force were deployed as part of a New Zealand Government contribution to coalition forces. The NZ GSM 2001 was awarded with a clasp bearing the words “ARABIAN GULF” attached to the medal ribbon.
Where the medal was awarded for Warlike Operations, both the medal and the clasp were in silver. Where the medal was awarded for Non-Warlike Operations, both the medal and the clasp were in bronze. No silver medals NZ GSMs were awarded.
Note: ** The Arabian Gulf is also known as the Persian Gulf, or Gulf of Basra. The Gulf of Oman is that body of water that all shipping passes through to enter the Arabian Gulf via the Straits of Hormuz.
RNZN operations 1999 – 2000
Timaru born Able Steward Clint Huia Sorensen marched into the Royal New Zealand Navy at HMNZS Tamaki, Auckland on 22 May 1996. On 16 August, he commenced basic training at HMNZS Philomel followed by trade training as a ship’s Steward. Posted to HMNZS Canterbury in June 1997, he returned to Philomel for further training in February 1998. One year later in March 1999, ASTD Sorensen was posted to sea again aboard HMNZS Te Kaha upon which he would experience some serious Active Service.
HMNZS TE KAHA [F77]
ASTD Sorensen had been posted to the RNZN’s newest acquisition, the Anzac Class frigate HMNZS Te Kaha (F77), meaning ‘fighting prowess’ or ‘strength’. Te Kaha was commissioned on 22 July 1997, some 14 months after Sorensen joined the Navy. Te Kaha is one of ten Anzac-class frigates, and one of two serving in the RNZN, the other being HMNZS Te Mana (F111), meaning ‘status’ or ‘authority’.
On 28 June 1999, HMNZS Te Kaha departed Auckland for Darwin where she would join with the RNZN’s replenishment ship HMNZS Endeavour to participate in an Australian Defence Force sponsored exercise KAKADU IV, from 28 July to 13 August. From Darwin, both ships then proceeded to Singapore to take part in a Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) exercise STARDEX from 1st to 12 September, involving both ships and aircraft from NZ, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and . Once the exercise concluded, Te Kaha was directed to the Arabian Gulf (also known as Persian Gulf) where she joined with the US led MIF (Multilateral Interception Force). The MIF role was to police and enforce UN sanctions on Iraq by controlling ship movements and cargos that were transiting the Arabian Sea, to and from the Arabian Gulf via the Straits of Hormuz. The sanctions had been put in place to encourage Iraq to comply with UN resolutions requiring the dismantling of its weapons of mass destruction. The then NZ Minister of Defence, Max Bradford said at the time, “although international attention has been recently focused on Kosovo and East Timor, we should not forget that Iraq has not yet complied with UN Security Council Resolutions on the abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction program.” New Zealand had previously committed RNZN assets to MIFs on three separate occasions in 1995, 1996 and early 1999.
Whilst on station in the Gulf, the NZ Government announced on 9 September that HMNZS Te Kaha would be re-deployed to the Darwin-East Timor waters. Te Kaha remained on station in the Gulf until mid September when she was redirected to support operations unfolding in East Timor.
When Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, invaded the predominantly Catholic former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 and annexed it a year later, this was the beginning a brutal occupation that is believed to have cost more than 200,000 Timorese lives. The repressive regime was hated by the majority of the population but there was little they could do beyond forming localised gangs of jungle fighters to randomly retaliate against the invaders when an opportunity arose. However, they were no match for the might of the Indonesian military either in number or firepower.
In early 1999, the Indonesian President held a referendum in the island territory, allowing East Timorese to choose between autonomy within Indonesia, or independence. Timorese overwhelmingly were against remaining part of Indonesia. Elements within the Indonesian military had organized and supported anti-independence militias who conducted a campaign of intimidation and terror prior to the referendum which only intensified after the results were announced. Indonesia adopted a strategy of letting East Timor secede, but only after emptying the province of its population, killing off its political leadership and destroying its basic infrastructure. The Indonesian army and police force began marauding openly alongside the anti-independence militia gangs, and pursued a “scorched-earth” policy in the provincial capital of Dili, blowing up bridges, looting abandoned houses, setting fire to telecommunications facilities, hotels, the radio station and other sites, leaving the city a smoldering ruin. This was repeated in communities around Timor, the lawless slaughter also taking the lives selected NGOs and representatives of the foreign press. The carnage was only stemmed following the arrival of the INTERFET.
HMNZS Te Kaha arrived on station at East Timor on 19 September and joined with other elements of the Australian Navy that had deployed, to support the landing of Australian Defence Force elements and assist with evacuation should it be necessary. Te Kaha remained on station until 26 September by which time the multinational INTERFET (International Force East Timor) that included a New Zealand Infantry battalion and Special Forces, had been landed on the island to arrest the chaos and restore order. This would prove to be the precursor to a UN Resolution which sanctioned the installation of a multinational UN peacekeeping force. Once the landing was completed, HMNZS Te Kaha returned to Devonport Naval Base after more than three months at sea.
At the end of this particular Tour of Duty, ASTD Sorensen was returned to HMNZS Philomel at which time he took his release from the RNZN on 2 March 2000, having completed three and a half years service.
On receiving the medals, all I had at that point was Sorensen’s service number, initials, last name and rank/trade so the first task was to find out who exactly this person was. Without further ado I contacted the NZDF Personnel Archives and Medals (PAM) office at Trentham to confirm the sailor’s full name (initials do not define whether a sailor is male or female) and status – whether still serving and if not, alive or dead?
M1001592 Clint Huia SORENSEN, Able Steward had discharged from the RNZN in Feb 2000, returned to South Canterbury and by all accounts was still living. Twenty plus years can be quite a gap in which to trace someone’s movements. The problem for MRNZ is that records of people born from 1962 onwards will not normally appear in publicly viewable records on-line. Ancestry for instance and most other genealogical information tools terminate at 1981, the legal limit in order to protect individual privacy. With PAMs guidance I started a search of all records available on-line for Canterbury. There have been many Sorensens in Canterbury region over the decades however from those I was able to whittle the list down based upon the spelling of his last name – Sorenson was out; Sorensen was in. I then worked through telephone directories and Electoral Rolls on-line in the Ancestry records. There had been a concentration of Sorensens in Christchurch and the South Canterbury area (Timaru, Oamaru, Temuka) some 20-30 years previously but by 1981, only a handful. I zeroed in on these looking for a clue and found two entries in the Timaru Electoral Rolls for 1972 and 1981 that immediately struck a chord. In 1972: “Charlie Huia Sorensen, 121 Church St – Freezing Worker” appeared as the only person at the address shown. In 1981: “Charlie Huia Sorensen, 46 Pukaki Street, Freezing Worker” appeared again but this time, also at the same address was “Dawn Elizabeth Sorensen, Home Duties” (was she Charlie’s wife, daughter, other?) and there the on-line records ended. The name “Huia” seemed to be an obvious lead – Charlie Huia Sorensen and Clint Huia Sorensen had to be related I surmised but without proof, nothing is a given.
Connecting the dots …
There was every likelihood they were connected in some way but I also needed to take into account the records were 40 years out of date! Not knowing how old Clint Sorensen was at that time I made a calculated guess that one, if not both, Charlie and Dawn Sorensen were both possibly deceased? My next check therefore would be for any sign of a burial or cremation in the cemetery records of Timaru and nearby towns near Timaru that also had cemeteries. No deaths were noted on-line in Ancestry nor in the NZ Internal Affairs Births, Deaths and Marriages registry for either Charlie/Charles Huia or Dawn Elizabeth Sorensen. This usually indicates that 50 years has not yet elapsed since death, or less than 80 years has elapsed from the date of birth and therefore, the Privacy Act precludes that information being made public. It could also mean the Sorensen’s, if deceased, could have been buried/cremated anywhere else in New Zealand with no relationship to Timaru.
I have learnt the hard way to rarely trust on-line records in genealogy sites since the number of transcription errors that exist can often lead you in a direction you never expected. On the other hand, City Council records are fairly trustworthy sources and do not often make errors as the format and legalities that guide the maintenance of this information is prescribed. The Timaru County Council Cemetery Database provided me the answers I was looking for: “Dawn Elizabeth Sorensen, 13 March 1956 ~ 13 April 2001″ and complete with a photograph of the grave marker. These are the type of records I am most grateful for, all the answers in one place. Dawn’s headstone conveniently detailed her family, and confirmed “Charlie” was her husband … all dots were connected!
One other clue that helped to build an early picture of Clint Sorensen’s service and therefore potentially his age profile, was his service number – M1001592. The “100” series numbers only came in to use in the mid to late 1990s and so from this fact alone I could reasonably assume his length of service was not particularly long, and that he was in all probability between born after 1962, possibly between 35 and 45. The fact that he was an Able Steward when he discharged and not further up the promotion ladder means nothing, since there have been sailors who have spent their whole career of 20+ years at Able Rate and been completely satisfied to do so. Conversely, it could also be an indicator of a short period of service but without some other qualifying factors, assumptions made from these can lead you away from reality. On balance, if taken at face value, these factors would generally suggest a person who has had a short period of military service and was of a younger age group – under 45 years. This was later confirmed once I had learned when Clint had enlisted in the navy.
This was the kind of result I expected. When looked at together with the active service represented by the medals (1999), on balance these scraps of information suggested I was looking for a person in a demographic of persons under 45 years of age (incls a guess of enlistment, say 18yrs + 20 years elapsed since discharge), a mobile phone was probably Sorensen’s primary means of communication (texting was the norm), and particularly if involved in the hospitality industry which experience tells me is a transient style of employment. Long term commitment to one place of business by an employee in this industry is rare. That being the case, he would also most probably be a regular user of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Messenger, even email on occasions. Apart from that, as it had been 21 years since Sorensen left the Navy, theoretically he could have been anywhere in the world, if indeed he was even still alive?
Facebook (the only social media I use) fortunately turned up an account in his name “Clint Sorensen” but no location, a few family friends were specified AND the account had not been active since 2008! I sent a message regardless, hoping it might find its target. No reply. I sent another – no reply. In reviewing the postings on his FB page, I came across a post from a RNZN Petty Officer (PO), Andrew F. The PO was in uniform and the text of the post implied the two men knew each other well. From this I was able to make contact with PO Andrew and requested his assistance with making contact with Sorensen. Would he mind passing a message to him on my behalf – no problem, he would get back to me. In a few days I had a reply. PO Andrew had made contact and messaged me that Sorensen was contactable on Messenger and that he (Sorensen) would make contact with me. In due course, Clint messaged me and gave me an email address that I had requested to detail the background regarding the medals.
I explained how they were found, and then asked the obvious – when and where was the last time he had seen his medals? He said he had left them in the care of a friend in Timaru around December 2000, just prior to his leaving the Navy. Clint was of the belief his medals had been secured in his friend’s safe, until he called to collect them. Since that time he had not seen his medals (nor presumably his friend?) and thought they had gone for good. Perhaps the ‘friend’ had posted the medals in Bob Flynn’s letterbox?
Having cleared that up and satisfied I had the correct person, the medals were soon on their way to their owner.
A big thank you to Bob and Faye of the Pleasant Point RSA for placing their trust in MRNZ to reunite these medals with their owner. My sincere thanks also for the guidance of Geoff, Team Leader Research & Entitlements, and RNZN specialist representative Rick, at PAMs who contributed to the successful return of these medals to their owner.
The reunited medal tally is now 385.