top of page

12103 Sergeant Robert Gordon Aro, No. 1 Ammunition Company, NZ Army Service Corps 2NZEF

2NZEF MM Group and Photo Album

  • The scarce 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force Military Medal group awarded to Robert Gordon Aro of No. 1 Ammunition Company, NZASC. He was decorated for his bravery in leading 12 trucks through an enemy armoured vehicle screen near Tobruk in November 1941.


    Robert Aro was born 9th February 1914 at Auckland, New Zealand. Son of Francis Emmanuel and Merenia Aro (née Grace). His father was of Indian extraction, and his mother was born of Hauraki Maori whakapapa. Robert married Margaret McMurchie in 1937 and at the time of his enlistment in the 2nd NZEF in 1940 he was working as a fitter and turned with the Auckland Farmers Freezing Company.


    Aro arrived in Egypt in October 1940, and deployed to Greece in March 1941 with Lustre Force. He was safely withdrawn to Crete on the conclusion of the campaign in Greece, and on the fall of Crete, was safely evacuated to Egypt. Aro was promoted to sergeant on his return. The war in North Africa at this period was extremely mobile, and No. 1 NZ Ammunition Company was heavily involved in reupplying the various Forward Supply Dumps (FSD) along the road between Bardia and Tobruk in Libya. On 24th November, Aro had a lucky escape whilst on a recconaisance to 'feel out' the enemy dispositions before moving his trucks. ‘I was in the staff car with Freddy Butt and his driver,’ said Sergeant Bob Aro. 'Freddy put the glasses on the armoured cars but what with the shadows and the haze they weren't any help. We crept nearer and stopped. We did that four times, halting finally when we were about 150 yards away. In the leading armoured car there was a joker with a black beret like our tankies wear. He was standing on the turret and waving us to come on. Then we saw someone hop down into a weapon-pit beside the car. We all saw him at the same time and Freddy yelled to his driver: “Go for your life, Jack!” Jack Girvan spun the car round and as we turned I saw the joker on the turret drop behind his gun and a second later a burst of bullets ploughed up the sand alongside us. It was Jack who saved us. He did a marvellous job of driving, going flat out and flinging the car around to make it hard for the Jerries to draw a bead on us. Our drivers saw the staff car come tearing towards them in a spray of bullets and the lorries turned as one. As they did so five more armoured cars appeared on the right flank, and for a minute it looked as though the game was up. Bullets went between the lorries and over and under and through them. At first the convoy drew ahead, but then it struck soft sand and the armoured cars started to gain. One lorry was hit in a vital part and it clattered to a standstill, the drivers tumbling out. The enemy kept up the pursuit mile after mile, and all the time Captain Butt's staff car was like a sheepdog. Now it was in the lead indicating the course; now it was on a flank watching over a straggler. The C Section drivers were beginning to swear by him. Finally he led them back to the recovery section and only then did the armoured cars give up the chase.'

    The following day,  25th November, Aro was in charge of a number of trucks of the convoy which were intercepted by enemy armour. Aro took immediate action and lead the convoy through the enemy armoured screen - under fire the whole time, and made it back to the Allied lines. The history of the NZ Ammunition Company describes the action: There was an instant - a moment suspended in time - in which the dust cloud was stabbed with orange flames and a voice could be heard shouting ‘Take post!’ and the Tommies could be seen manning their ruined tanks, calm through despair or through long discipline. Then the shells came over with a squeal and a short rush and the dust hid everything. On Bob Aro's orders our drivers had started their engines at the first hint of trouble and they were under way as soon as the firing started. They zigzagged among the slit-trenches while shells burst ahead of them. Twelve lorries headed west, four headed west by south, and smoke and dust separated the two groups.Bob Aro was leading the larger group, and as soon as it was safe to do so he swung north and went straight to the Supply Column lines near Abiar Nza Ferigh - no mean feat without a compass. There he reported to an officer, but his story was laughed at, so he pushed on in the hope of finding either Captain Butt or the rest of the section. Presently he met Major Pryde, who put him on his way to the ammunition point at which the loaded lorries were still standing by. It was where he had left it that morning. Ten minutes later a staff car drove up with a short, stocky man, a tommy gun in his arms, leaning through the trapdoor in the roof. ‘Freddy,’ said the drivers, their hearts lightening.

    The citation for his subsequent award of the Military Medal summarised the action: "On 25 November 1941, Sgt. Aro was left in charge of 16 vehicles at Bir Rafaa. As he anticipated danger, he kept these vehicles alert, and when he was attacked by enemy armoured vehicles at 1400 hours, he decided to try and break through the screen of enemy armoured fighting vehicles. By his leadership and daring he managed to get clear with twelve vehicles, the other four apparently being caught by the enemy fire. He returned to his company late the same afternoon. It was solely due to his coolness and daring that these vehicles were saved." He was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but this was downgraded to the MM. Such was the fluidity of the battlefield around Tobruk, it was not uncommon for the soft-skinned vehicles of the NZ Army Service Corps to be under fire from enemy tanks and troops - the bravery of the men of the NZASC operating in these conditions should never be forgotten.


    Aro served throughout the remainder of the North African campaign, returning to New Zealand on furlough in 1943. Whilst in New Zealand he was promoted to Warrant Officer II, and re-embarked for Egypt in January 1944. WOII Aro served during the Italian campaign from March 1944 until returning to Egypt in February 1945. He returned to New Zealand in June 1945.


    The Military Medal is correctly impressed 12103 SJT. R.G. ARO. 2 N.Z.E.F. 1942. (it was announced in the L.G. of 19/3/1942, hence the date on the medal, even though the action occurred in 1941). All other campaign medals are unnamed as issued. This superb group comes with an original photograph album containing numerous photos of Aro's time in North Africa and Italy. It also comes with an original copy of his citation.

bottom of page