Kiwi Virtues in a Time of Trouble

A few years ago when I was researching my WWII book Killing Rommel, I immersed myself in reading about a British commando unit called the Long Range Desert Group.

Have you heard of these guys?

Patrol vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group

They fought behind the lines against Rommel and the German Afrika Korps. Their vehicles were civilian Chevy “hundredweights,” i.e. ton-and-a-half pickups. Into these they packed fuel, water, weapons, navigation gear, and spare parts. Their theater of war was the North African desert. In patrols of six to eleven trucks they routinely ventured a thousand miles from the nearest aid to work “beat-ups” on Axis airfields and to provide reconnaissance, transport, and intelligence to Gen. Wavell and later Gen. Montgomery and the British Eighth Army.

Their numbers were never more than 350, most of whom were New Zealanders and all of whom were volunteers.

In one call for recruits, eight hundred applied. The LRDG took twelve.

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with the corona virus and the panicky pandemic times we find ourselves in right now?

The link is the mindset that these Kiwis (and, later, Rhodesians and Brits and others) brought to one of the most emotionally and psychologically challenging assignments any soldier could face.

But here’s what was fascinating to me about the selection process for the Long Range Desert Group:

The commanders did not want supermen. They weren’t looking for elite athletes who could do five hundred pushups or fire-breathing warriors with chests plastered with decorations for valor.

The ideal volunteer to face the loneliness and isolation of the desert was a working man, preferably a husband and father. Most LRDG selectees were older by ten years than the average front-line soldier. Many were farmers and stockmen. No few owned spreads of 10,000 acres and more.

The LRDG wanted men who were happiest with their hands dirty. They sought volunteers who could fix tractors and farm equipment, who had cared for sick livestock and dealt with drought and famine and flood. They wanted men who could grade roads and dig themselves out of ditches and downpours. Patience was a virtue prized more highly than martial valor. The type of individual the LRDG sought was a fellow who could work in close quarters with others under conditions of extreme stress, who did not flee from adversity but rather sought it out and throve on it.

The commanders wanted men with a sense of humor. Good mates in a pinch, as they phrased it.

That’s what you and I need right now.

We need the Kiwi virtues.

Nothing fancy. Nothing heroic. Just do our part and be there for our mates in trouble.

[For a visual glimpse of the Long Range Desert Group, here’s a video I did a few years ago to promote Killing Rommel:]











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  1. Mary Doyle on March 25, 2020 at 7:16 am

    Amen to that! Stay safe and healthy, everyone!

  2. Anna Deac on March 25, 2020 at 8:23 am

    My oh, my! It looks like it is here. The rise of the Enlightened Leaders. Simple Self Realized men and women, emerging from this very crisis. Cardboard leaders will all fall like domino. True values and deeper meanings will unfold rapidly.

  3. Yvonne on March 25, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Steven, this made me cry. To put it mildly, I really needed this, very much so. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wishing good health for all.

  4. Bing on March 25, 2020 at 9:16 am

    KISS = keep it simple sweetheart
    Happiest when their hands were dirty and patience is what stood out for me.
    Thanks Steve

  5. Kim Finnegan on March 25, 2020 at 9:20 am

    Thank you Steve!

  6. Jake Allderdice on March 25, 2020 at 9:22 am

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. Renita on March 25, 2020 at 9:28 am

    I got a CNN update that drinking tea provides the resistance to the virus.

    • Jurgen Strack on March 25, 2020 at 11:12 am

      @ Renita
      “I’ll have what she’s having” 🙂

  8. Jurgen Strack on March 25, 2020 at 11:17 am

    Hi and thank you Steve.
    Yes, I have heard of these guys!
    Theirs was a proper Hero’s journey, theirs was.
    Love your video too.
    Stay safe everyone,

  9. Rebecca Parsons on March 25, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    Oh! This is my family and my country – beautifully said.
    You made this Kiwi in Australia feel very loved this morning, thank you 🙂 xxx

  10. Ray on March 25, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Kiwi here Steve, feeling a little over-awed by this praise!
    As it happens my father fought in Egypt in WWII, though not in the LRDG. There were a lot of those strong self-sufficient men in that generation, they needed those qualities to succeed in farming or any other outdoors endeavour back then when New Zealand had a largely rural-based economy and the country was still being “broken in”. They were useful qualities in a soldier as well.
    I read Killing Rommel and loved it. I wish Dad could have read it too, he certainly would have enjoyed it.

    Our current Prime Minister is doing a good job of leading the country through this pandemic when so many people are scared, she is the voice of calm and reason and appears to be making the right decisions. With so many unknowns in our current situation I think that people need to hear that calm voice.

    NZ has just gone into lock-down and all non-essential workers are expected to stay home and not go out except for food and absolute essentials. Overall people seem to be taking it well.

    I hope all of you and your families are well and feeling OK.

  11. Chap on March 25, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    “Just do our part and be there for our mates in trouble.”

    Right on.

  12. Mike Lerario on March 27, 2020 at 6:39 am

    Your description of how the men of the LRDG were selected and assessed holds true today in how Army special operators are selected–it’s more about intangible attributes and characteristics over physical skill (though the later is important, it’s not the most important thing). I recommend the same thing with my civilian clients, to identify the attributes they need in the people on their team, not just the skill they need.

    As always, your thoughts and the way you share them go above and beyond to highlight an idea or concept. Thanks for all you are doing to help those of us who aspire to be like you.

  13. Terry Weaver on March 27, 2020 at 7:34 am

    Steve, great stuff man. Thanks for keep people encouraged at times like this. Have you written about the Greek god Pan? I know you are somewhat of a Greek mythology guru. I did a little research and etymological study on Pandemic due to our current times. Check if out if you have a sec, I would love to read more of your thoughts about what is going on right now, here is the research and writing I did

  14. Joe Jansen on March 27, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Haven’t been able to get my comments to stick here, so let me try one more time. Gathering around the tube for “The Rat Patrol” was a weekly ritual as kids. Never thought its inspiration would come up as such a powerful teaching metaphor for resilience and bonding.

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  16. Aidan O'Malley on April 11, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Sir, thank you. As a kiwi I hope in some small way I measure up to ‘just do your part and be there for your mates’. Brilliant stuff.

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    These virtues are awesome

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    This lesson is about a historical war which was fighting several years ago. History is my favourite subject and I will try to read your book completely.
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