Words & photo: Geoff Lewis

Ross Wardlaw loves collecting military medals – you can see it in the way his eyes light up as he handles the bronze and gold and coloured ribbons.

Wardlaw is the national president of the King’s Empire Veterans (KEV), a group that represents former service men and women.

A former army cook, the decision to join the New Zealand military came when he was given a hard choice by his school headmaster.

After 23 years’ service, including a stint in Vietnam where he was contaminated by the infamous Agent Orange defoliant, he eventually left the army. Wardlaw became the catering manager, at Waikato University’s student village, before suffering a stroke which forced him to retire.

His interest in medals began with his own father’s collection, from WWII and that of wife Irene’s dad, along with medals awarded to a great uncle who fought on the Somme during WWI.

The KEV will host a stand at the Waikato Show and welcomes those coming to the show to bring medals to be identified.

Many people have medals, awarded to relatives and ancestors, which they might be interested in having identified and knowing more about. Each one is a slice of history and says something about the service and experiences of the individual involved, he said.

“Last year lots of people stopped to talk and ask questions. We even had two guys who were both colonels – one in the Indian Army and the other in the Pakistani Army, who had been enemies at one time and were now friends.”

The Empire Veterans Association was established by Lord Ranfurly, shortly after the turn of last century, and titled King’s Empire Veterans in 1912 – predating the establishment of the Returned Services Association by 16 years.

Today the group has about 400 members nationally and is head-quartered in Te Awamutu.

The Kings Empire Veterans were proud to be awarded ‘The Graham Hannah Best Exhibition Stand’ at the 2016 show, in the Clubs and Creativity Showcase. They look forward to returning to the Waikato Show this year; Claudelands, April 7-9.