Ronald Arthur Tinker was a highly decorated member of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), a unit that operated deep behind enemy lines in the North African desert during World War II. Born on April 13, 1913 in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tinker attended Addington School and Christchurch West District High School before finding office work with the North Canterbury Hospital Board. However, he soon left this job to become a high country musterer, spending his spare time climbing and deer hunting.
When World War II broke out in 1939, Tinker immediately enlisted in the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force and was sent to Egypt with the 27th (Machine Gun) Battalion. In July 1940, he volunteered to join the Long Range Patrols, which later became known as the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).
Formed by Ralph Bagnold in 1940, the LRDG played a major part in the Allies victory in North Africa during World War Two, acting as their forward eyes and ears. The LRDG had two specific roles in the war in North Africa. They were to get behind enemy lines and act as scouts and gather intelligence to feed back to British military headquarters. After receiving the agreement of General Wavell to create the LRDG, Bagnold was given 150 New Zealand volunteers, most of whom had a farming background. Bagnold believed that they would be more adept at maintaining vehicles in a difficult environment should mechanical problems occur.
The LRDG had three main patrols of forty men each. Each patrol was equipped with ten Lewis machine guns, four Boyes anti-tank rifles, anti-aircraft guns, Bren guns and Thompson sub-machine guns. Communication with base was maintained with the use of wireless sets. Their vehicle of choice was a Chevrolet 30-cwt truck. The first batch of these vehicles was obtained from the Egyptian Army or bought in Cairo. Each vehicle commander was allowed to modify his vehicle as he saw fit. The normal range for the Chevrolet was 1,100 miles and it could carry three weeks supply of food and water. In many senses it was the perfect desert vehicle.
Tinker was a skilled navigator and an efficient gunner in action, and he was mentioned in dispatches in 1941 and awarded the Military Medal in 1942. He was also commissioned as a second lieutenant in October of that year. The LRDG faced many challenges and dangers in the desert, and Tinker's patrol was forced to walk back to Allied lines after their trucks were destroyed in an encounter with the enemy in December 1942.
Officers of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) in Egypt. Back row from L, Captain R Tinker, MC, MM (Christchurch), Lieutenant R F White (Christchurch), Captain F P Koorey (Wanganui). Front row from L, 2nd Lieutenant R J Landon-Lane (Marlborough), Lieutenant J M Sutherland (Waimata South), Captain C K Saxton (Dunedin), Captain R P Dawson, MC, (Sussex), who has been with the New Zealanders for a considerable time; Major A I Guild (Canterbury), Captain K S McLaughlan, MM, (Invercargill). Photograph taken on 16 August 1943 by M D Elias.
Tinker's leadership skills were put to the test in January 1943 when his patrol was forced to undertake an epic journey across the Chott El Jerid salt desert. His bravery earned him an immediate Military Cross. A few months later, he helped guide the 2nd New Zealand Division on a "left hook" around the Axis army towards Tebaga Gap.
After receiving training in mountain warfare in Lebanon, Tinker rejoined the LRDG in June 1944. From Italy, the LRDG launched raids against the Germans in Yugoslavia and Albania. Tinker commanded operations from an advanced base in the Dalmatian islands for a time and was parachuted into Albania to assist the partisans. In late November, he was sent to the hospital in Italy where he met Elsie Frances Brown, a Scottish-born nurse from New Zealand. The couple was married in Senigallia, Italy on March 14, 1945.
After the war, Tinker returned to civilian life but found it unfulfilling. He rejoined the army in 1947 and held various administrative posts. He was seconded to the Fiji Military Forces in 1949 and took command of the 1st Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment during the Malayan Emergency from 1952 to 1953. Tinker's strong-willed and uncompromising personality earned him the respect of his soldiers and the OBE for his services.
Members of the 1st Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment waiting for an air drop in 1952, during the Malayan Emergency. About 40 New Zealand officers and NCOs served with the battalion between 1951 and 1956.
He retired from the New Zealand Army in 1962 and later worked for the Antarctic Division of the DSIR. Tinker died in Christchurch on February 16, 1982, survived by a daughter and a son; sadly his wife had died in 1969.