The life and military career of John New

Born in Saltash, Cornwall, England, in 1936 John New's long and eventful life, after many years, brought him all across the ocean and had him reside in Midale.

His military career that started quite early in life took him to different countries and had him participate in various operations. New served during Malayan Emergency with a Gurkha regiment and during the Suez Crisis as a member of the British Army. He has served 25 years in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve as a cadet instructors cadre officer, acted as an interpreter for land damage and run winter warfare training.

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At ten, he was sent to board at Norwood Prep School, and that was the place that sparked his interest in the military.

“The school I went to, cadets were compulsory, and we used to do all kinds of exciting things,” recalled New in the interview with the Mercury. “Fifteen-16-year-old, it was nothing like it is now in Canada and America.”

Once some of those kids tried shooting revolvers and rifles for the first time, they were hooked. So was New. He won a scholarship to Kelly College and then decided to forgo university and joined the army. That was a way to do something practical in life.

John New
John New at the Malta during Suez crisis, when Nassar closed the Suez Canal and they had to go around the cape of Good Hope, which took 28 days. Photo submitted

“When I joined up, I joined what you call combats engineer division. At some time we were sent out to Malaya, where there was police action (Commonwealth armed forces) against communist terrorists (Malayan National Liberation Army, which was the military wing of the Malayan Communist Party) as they were called then,” said New, recalling his participation in what is known as the Malayan Emergency.

“I became a marksman and worked as an electrician in a leper colony and for the Gurkha Regimental Goldsmith. Patrolling in the communist terrorist jungles was another part of our military duties. Sports were a large part of my life, representing the Royal Engineers (Sappers) in both cricket and rugby.”

He remembers those times as pretty adventurous not only in a sense of military duties he had to perform but also because being on a mission they had to deal with some challenges Mother Nature had for them in Malaya like spiders, big snakes and more.

“We had to go out and sleep in the silos, just make our own tent,” recalled New. “But what was I, 18? Who cares when you are 18?”

Being involved with the military, he also had some artistic hobbies.

“It was there I got designing the lighting plot for a Royal Command performance of The Gondoliers and worked with the Kuala Little Theatre,” said New.

New didn’t want help from his family and decided that he was going to make it on his own. So a military career became his path, which worked quite well.

“Things worked out pretty well for me. I did all these things that other men (couldn’t) do.”

The peace was eventually declared in Malaya. New stayed there for a bit, but being a professional soldier he soon got moving onto a new mission.

“Then came the posting to Osnabruck, West Germany, British Army of the Rhine (BAOR),” said New.

There he was putting long lines of cables and deploying serious generators at strategic points at a moment notice to supply BAOR with power.

“Other duties were designing searchlight tattoos, close circuit TV and lighting BBC documentaries. I became fluent in German and acted as interpreter for settling property damage and taught English at the Berlitz School of Languages,” said New.

He also kept playing rugby, this time for BAOR.

Later there were different military exercises, but after nine years New called it a day and went to university. In 1963, after a stint at being an army educator, he realized that teaching was something he was quite passionate about.

John New
John New, middle, has been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for over 50 years. Pictured here with Troy LeBlanc, left, and Robert Rooks. Photo submitted

At St Luke’s Teacher Training College in Exeter, Devon, England, he elected a major in math and minor in French. The transition from a military career to teaching was perfectly normal as in one way or the other New has always been involved in education.

“An opportunity came under the Saskatchewan leadership of Ross Thatcher to become a teacher there. We packed up and sailed into Montreal just in time for the rail strike. Bused to Saskatoon, we were brought to Landis, near Biggar, August, ’66,” remembered New, recalling that the demand for French teachers seemed to be higher in the province, but he always wanted to teach math more.

In Landis, he taught French, physical education, music and one class of math. There he joined the Royal Canadian Legion and learned how to hunt, where his military skills came in quite handy. He also learned how to water-ski.

Soon, he became involved with special education in Kindersley, Saskatoon, Hodgeville, Alsask and Midale. He also taught physical education, music, art, English, sex education and drama.

He ended up settling in Midale. Being a speaker with the Memory Project by Historica Canada, New nowadays shares his stories and military experience with new generations.

He has been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for over 50 years and is involved with Weyburn’s army cadets.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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