Operation 8: Tuhoe Lambert – Lead Scout

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

Tuhoe Lambert

Tuhoe Francis Lambert was not a terrorist, or part of a criminal group, as alleged by the NZ Police after the paramilitary operation in which he was arrested and charged on 15th October 2007. He was war veteran, a patriot who had served his country on active service, a loyal New Zealander, staunchly Ngai Tuhoe, and a devoted family man.

The NZ Police Operation 8 team compiled shallow profiles on all who were suspects. Had they been real intelligence analysts they would have done a lot more research into their targets and could have come to different conclusions. They didn’t bother. But then, they were just amateurs in the profession of intelligence analysis.

Tuhoe Lambert remained a suspect until the day he died. He was one of five primary suspects and after he died four went to trial; the Urewera Four. I’m going to tell you something about Tuhoe Lambert that only a Vietnam Veteran can. This is the deep profile the police didn’t bother to find out.

I’m going to tell you about a lead scout in Vietnam, and about the damage that war did to those who came home. About the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that afflicted so many and does still to this day. And about Tuhoe Lambert’s struggle with that affliction. It was one thing for him to be at war for a short time in the flower of youth, and yet another to live with that war for the rest of his life. This then is a tribute to Tuhoe Lambert.

In the aftermath of his arrest he was condemned by quite a few in the Vietnam veterans’ community. At the time I urged them to suspend judgement until they knew the facts. One of the facts was that the Solicitor General did not agree with the police that terrorism charges were warranted and declined to allow prosecution. Over the long battle through the courts many other false assumptions and transgressions by the police were brought to light. This tribute should also remind us – the veterans – of the loyalty we owe each other in good times and bad.

In one sense it is also a tribute to all of the lead scouts and cover scouts who served us so well, the nine rifle companies of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment that rotated through Vietnam from May 1967 to November 1971 as part of the ANZAC battalions. A tribute to those who died, and a tribute to all of those who came home afflicted by their war in body and mind.

Tuhoe and Taame Iti had two different versions about how they met. Tuhoe said that after Vietnam he became a bit anti-war and went to the odd anti-Vietnam rally. That’s how he first met Taame Iti in the 1970s and when asked by Taame what he would do if he met Taame in the bush, fighting on the side of the Viet Cong, he told Taame he would blow his head off. There was probably an ‘f” word in there somewhere. According to Tuhoe they became firm friends from that day.

According to Taame Iti they met in Christchurch before Tuhoe embarked to join 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment in Malaysia, and to go from there to Vietnam. Taame was living in Christchurch and some of the Maori soldiers from Burnham Camp ended up at his place at a party. Taame was anti-Vietnam and they had a debate about the war. He says that after Tuhoe came back home from Vietnam Taame worked with him for a few years to help him process the mental stuff he brought home with him.

I prefer Tuhoe’s version but it’s probably a bit of an elaboration and is probably based on an actual conversation. However they did become firm friends, the soldier and the anti-war protestor. That’s not unusual. Many Maori veterans went on to forge friendships and close working relationships with those who had protested against the Vietnam War. We found common cause in working together for the advancement of Maori. They were also both Ngai Tuhoe.

The Operation 8 NZ Police Intelligence team didn’t think to do a full profile on Tuhoe Lambert about his war service other than to establish that he was a Vietnam Veteran and that he was in league with Taame Iti in the Urewera. They didn’t think to do one of their background checks with Veterans Affairs.

A proper profiling by a professional team would have quickly established that like so many among our veterans’ community Tuhoe Lambert was a lingering casualty of the Vietnam War. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), badly, and had suffered from it from 1971 when he returned from Vietnam until the day he died in Auckland Hospital in July 2011. Forty years. Vietnam and thoughts about Vietnam lingered on in his mind, forever. They lay just below the surface and in the bad moments they rose to dominate his life. He didn’t have many good nights in that forty years.

Tuhoe Lambert was a lead scout in an infantry platoon. And young. Very young.

Scouts were selected for their skill in the field and for their skill at arms. Good deerstalkers usually made good scouts. Their skills were fine-tuned by intense training. They were a combination of hunter, stalker, tracker and marksman with lightning fast reactions. Outwardly they were calm and assured and they had a wonderful to behold swagger, born of total confidence in their abilities. But in the quieter moments of reflection after we came home some of them would talk of the fear.

As platoon commanders and platoon sergeants we had three infantry sections each of 9 or 10 infantrymen led by an experienced corporal, and including two scouts, a lead scout and a cover scout operating as a team. The scouts were our eyes and ears and we trusted them totally. Our lives were in their eyes and ears, and in their hands, trusting that they would shoot fast, shoot first and shoot straight.

Mines killed more than half of all Australians and New Zealanders who died in Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam where we fought together. Stepping on a mine was even more likely than running into an enemy force. The scout’s job was also to scan the ground and jungle ahead looking for any sign of mines, knowing that if he missed sign either he or someone behind him would get his legs and other pieces blown off.

It was the most stressful and dangerous job in a platoon in which every job was stressful and dangerous, just one step away from death, day after day, week after week, month after month. We rotated the sections and their scouts so that they didn’t spend too much continuous time at the front of the patrol but they nevertheless did that job for days on end, sometimes weeks on end, and they did it for the whole of their tour, usually for twelve months. Tuhoe Lambert’s V5 Company spent 270 days on operations out of the 365 days they were in theatre. 270 days when their very next step might have been their last. 270 days when their next breath might have been their last.

I often say, quietly in private conversation with my fellow infantry veterans, that we all died up there, one way or another. And I often reflect that of all of us it was our scouts who were truly the walking dead.

As master samurai strategist Miyamoto Musashi said, “The way of the warrior is the resolute acceptance of death”.

Or to paraphrase that, “The warrior first dies, then fights”.

And having survived you are never the same person again. Tuhoe Lambert survived and brought his war home with him as many if not all of us did.

PTSD is so prevalent in the Veteran community across New Zealand and Australia that it is the new normality. Many of my comrades are actively involved in welfare and support services for fellow veterans. Many of the soldiers I served with and the officers I trained with are stricken with it. It ranges from mild to severe and has no respect for age, rank and status.

There have been suicides, not many but some. Some of my friends and comrades have been and are still self-medicating with alcohol. A few of those drank themselves into an early grave. PTSD didn’t necessarily strike immediately after Vietnam. I have friends who like me were career soldiers for another ten, twenty or thirty years. The Army provided a structured environment in which war service was understood and valued. Some of my friends didn’t fall apart until they retired and lost that structure and support. Some found structure and support in their church. The NZ RSA and the Australian RSL provide more support. Quite a few veterans find their structure and support in golfing fraternities or veterans’ motorcycle clubs.

Community service especially for Maori veterans involved in the many aspects of Maori advancement provides a purpose in life that helps alleviate or distract from the symptoms of PTSD.

I have friends who are receiving psychological or psychiatric therapy usually paid for by Veterans Affairs in New Zealand or Australia, and who expect to remain in therapy until the day they die. Some of the treatment involves both therapy and drugs. With that professional support they lead full and productive, and almost normal lives. Writing is also therapeutic; keeping a journal of an examined life has long been common in the literary world as a form of self-examination and therapy, as well as creativity. Writing poetry is therapy although there are only a few warrior poets. Some find solace and outlet in painting or sculpture. Music is wonderful therapy.

Then there are the many who struggle through life untreated and often unsupported. For some of them the only support is the family and it is very tough on the families. There have been countless family breakdowns but in many cases the wives in particular soldier on living through their own version of hell supporting a war damaged husband with little more than love and tolerance. They are the true heroes. Family violence is not uncommon. I have a small number of friends who are virtual hermits, who have never returned from Vietnam in their minds and are living in a state of mental siege, some surrounded by improvised defences around their usually remote huts or cabins. One or two still carry out the standard dawn and dusk clearing patrols around their homes.

All of that is to describe the mental landscape we have lived in since Vietnam; the mindscape that Tuhoe Lambert lived in. PTSD is not a stigma. It is our normal in the mindscape we collectively live in. PTSD is not the only debilitating condition Vietnam Veterans live with for there are a wide range of medical conditions as well and Tuhoe Lambert’s health problems may well have been related to other aspects of his service, specifically exposure to Agent Orange. But PTSD is what I am concerned with in this profile.

For a long time Tuhoe Lambert had nightmares every night that would have him waking and screaming. After a time the screaming subsided but the nightmares remained. In later life he would go to sleep in front of the TV with the sound turned full on, something that usually indicates someone who is drowning out the chatterbox in the mind with the noise of the TV. A friend recalls watching him sleeping in front of the TV and said, “It was like watching someone having a fist fight with their eyes closed and hog tied”.

He had an incredibly loving, tolerant and supportive wife and whanau. He found purpose working for Tuhoe Hauora as a social worker. But for the most part his PTSD was untreated until Taame Iti took him under his wing and helped him process the bad stuff. It still didn’t go away though.

Rangi Kemara who came to know him well from 2005 onwards has commented about his good friend:

“When I was with him his thoughts were constantly on Vietnam during the day, reasoning over some of the activities they got up to and were ordered to do while he was there, and was constantly trying to retell the more humorous events that took place. His dreams seemed to revisit the place almost every night. He was a tortured soul who rarely spent a night sleeping in peace”. 

“One of his methods of dealing with it was to talk shit constantly, and for hours on end. One of the finest shit stirrers you’ll ever meet… He was funny as hell much of the time, even when we were in prison together, but when we were locked up together for 26 days, being cellmates for most of that time, it almost drove me completely batshit because I couldn’t get a reprieve from it, heh”.

“That was our good mate Tuhoe”.

Interestingly Rangi and Taame Iti were perhaps the only people outside of the veterans’ community with whom Tuhoe shared his war experiences. Veterans rarely speak of it to others, not even to family.

After Vietnam and after a couple of short adventures overseas Tuhoe came back to New Zealand and fell on hard times, mentally and financially. He married, started a family, joined a church and eventually became a pastor. As we do in the veterans’ community he stayed in touch with his comrades in arms who are another pillar of support in the sometimes turbulent mental world of the war veteran.

In the early 1990s he did some courses in psychology partly to comprehend his own condition but also to gain some qualifications. He was eventually employed in the late 1990s by Tuhoe Hauora as a social worker. He worked with Taame Iti at Tuhoe Hauora after Taame moved from Auckland back to the Urewera.

Tuhoe had a massive heart attack in 2004, the first of a series of heart attacks that led to his eventual death on 8th July 2011. He had to give up his job at Tuhoe Hauora and in 2005 moved up to Kaitaia with several members of his extended family in tow. He also had family up there. He was a dedicated family man and his extended whanau followed him wherever he went.

In this profile by Joseph Barratt in Scoop News on 12 November 2007 his eldest son Neuton reflected on his father after he had been arrested:

“Lambert is a pensioner forced into retirement due to ailing health, according to his son, 32-year-old Neuton Lambert. He described his father as someone who was “really giving and had a really big heart.”

“The family was very shocked by the arrests, said Neuton. “He was always there for his friends and family. All the cousins treat him like a dad, if they are in trouble they come and stay for months and he lends them money.”

“Tuhoe was a social worker until he got too sick to continue. He suffered ongoing illnesses and heart problems. These included a heart failure that led to a recent bypass operation. Tuhoe also suffers from diabetes.

“Neuton describes a father who used to watch rugby with him every weekend. “It doesn’t even matter what team is playing, he loved it.”

“Tuhoe is also a real movie buff and buys a new DVD every week. “He’s also pretty onto it, he reads a lot and watches documentaries on the discovery channel.”

“Support from the whanau had been great with family members traveling from as far as Kaitaia and Gisborne to support him.

“A lot of us saw him as a leader, said Neuton. “We miss him.”

“But we are a strong family and we will support him.”

Rangi Kemara met him in Auckland in 2005 shortly before Taame Iti’s flag shooting episode. Tuhoe invited him to Kaitaia to meet the whanau. They became friends to the extent that Tuhoe regarded Rangi as part of his own whanau.

From Kaitaia he would travel back to the Urewera to participate in hui about the Ngai Tuhoe claims. Rangi would drive up to Kaitaia and drive him down to the Urewera. His health was failing and he became less and less mobile. In 2006 his wife got a teaching job at Manurewa in Auckland and they moved there. It was also closer to Auckland Hospital. Rangi Kemara moved into a caravan on the property as an adopted member of Tuhoe’s whanau and to help pay the rent.

They became regular faces at the wananga Taame Iti was facilitating in the Urewera. They travelled there together and after a while the cops bugged the car and listened in to the trash talk as they travelled to and fro. Tuhoe became one of the leaders of the wananga. His specialty of course was infantry minor tactics. Just what that was about is shown in “The Probability Space – Part 5, Unravelling the Paradox”.

The best way to say what I want to say about Tuhoe Lambert’s part in the war games in the Urewera is to start with this poem I wrote a few years ago.

Vietnam Paradox

Stalking the enemy
in far off lands, steaming jungles
so far from home and safety –
month after month
in the shadow of death
and ever present fear
of punji pits, mine-strewn tracks,
and death by tripwire, machine gun,
or AK47 in hidden bunkers.
Death waiting at every cautious step.

But can you feel my son,
how totally alive we were,
living fully in each moment,
engulfed in a purity
of all the senses,
focused only on Life itself
and Life’s true companion Death –
none of the extraneous distractions
of ordinariness and everyday being,
of ordinary people
living their ordinary everyday lives.

How utterly,
how completely,

Tuhoe Lambert wasn’t preparing to fight a new war, or a terrorist campaign. He was still as he had always been, and as he later proclaimed in an interview on TV3, a patriot and loyal soldier of his country.

He was living out his old war, the one he had been living for 36 years already. But this time he wasn’t living it in his mind in the troubled night. He was acting it out. Inwardly he was reliving part of the actual experience, and outwardly showing his audience of activists and Ngai Tuhoe nationalists just a small part of what it was that he was re-living.  Tuhoe Lambert – lead scout. His audience was interested in his operational service in Vietnam and asked him questions about it. At night he talked to them about some of it and in the day he showed them a bit.

Although reliving his old war it was wrapped in the rhetoric and trash talk of his political cause, the Ngai Tuhoe cause. But in his/our mindscape he was actually reliving the experience of being part of a tight close-knit team with total trust in each other and totally reliant on each other for their lives. Brothers in arms.

And despite the ever present fear, and the shadow of death being constantly upon them, the feeling of being utterly, completely, exhilaratingly alive. If you haven’t been there you can have no idea how close it is to the very essence of existence.

In 2006 and 2007 with his heart problems, diabetes and fast failing health Tuhoe was once again living in the shadow of impending death. Tuhoe Lambert – lead scout. Out there in the Urewera bush though he would have been totally alive. They say that out there in the bush he moved again lightly with vigour and with purpose whereas at home in the city he hardly moved at all weighed down by his ill health.

The bush or the jungle is the spiritual home of the infantrymen of our era, the overhead “thwok, thwok, thwok” of the Huey helicopter its unnatural throbbing heartbeat. For most of the time though it is completely silent except for the birds and the beetles and we too lived and moved in harmony with it in total silence, communicating only through hand signals. You come to know the jungle and the bush as a world of its own and a place apart that is your place too and a part of you. If I were Tuhoe Lambert I would have been happy to die out there in the Urewera on one last patrol.

Tuhoe vented his depression, exhilaration, frustration and anger through his trash talk. That’s what he always did. Part of his mamae was about the way Vietnam veterans were treated after they came home from the war. Part of it was about the never ending struggle for justice by Ngai Tuhoe. He was staunchly Ngai Tuhoe and he followed the Ngai Tuhoe claim and settlement process closely. Tuhoe often expressed his feelings in extravagant and exaggerated ways, sometimes absurd or bizarre. That was his way. He vented. Other veterans became so withdrawn that they were almost mute, some shut themselves off becoming virtual hermits, and some found solace at the bottom of a bottle. Tuhoe Lambert ran off at the mouth. To his family, friends and comrades that was just Tuhoe the Vietnam Veteran.

NZ Police intelligence knew none of that. They took his trash talk at face value and said he was a terrorist. Perhaps because that’s what they really wanted to find, rather than a PTSD stricken and diabetic Vietnam War veteran, once again close to death.

The cowboys in black who conducted the paramilitary operation on the morning of 15th October 2007 knew none of that either, of the life of the real warrior. Unlike those cowboys who invaded his home in Manurewa in the early hours of 15th October 2007 and who then held at gunpoint him, his wife and 12 year old granddaughter, and the rest of his whanau, all of them unarmed, Tuhoe Lambert was a real warrior. He was a lead scout.

He got locked up for 26 days after being arrested. By dying before being brought to trial Tuhoe was spared the indignity of a longer time in prison alongside his two friends Taame Iti and Rangi Kemara who had supported him in his bad moments, rejoiced with him in the good, and put up with his incessant sometimes infuriating banter and trash talk. For behind the troubled mind and trash talking mouth was a heart of pure gold. The heart of a soldier, friend and comrade, loyal New Zealander, staunch Ngai Tuhoe nationalist, and a loving and much loved family man.

584865 Lance Corporal Tuhoe Francis Lambert, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment – Lead Scout. He was not a terrorist or a participant in a criminal group. He was a patriot. A wounded patriot.

In February 2015 after a long struggle in the courts Tuhoe Lambert’s whanau finally received confidential financial compensation from the NZ Police in an out-of-court settlement. It was probably not a large amount. Whilst the police have never admitted that they got it wrong about Tuhoe, and probably never will, that settlement is an acknowledgement of the unwarranted, undeserved and arguably unlawful treatment meted out to his whanau – the collateral damage.

E kore ratou e koroheketia, penei i a tatou kua mahue nei
E kore hoki ratou e ngoikore, ahakoa pehea i nga ahuatanga o te wa.
I te hekenga atu o te ra tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata
Ka maumahara tonu tatou ki a ratou.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Kei wareware tatau.
Lest we forget.

E Tuhoe haere te tamatoa haere,
No reira e te rangatira haere, haere atu ra.

He maimai aroha tenei na
Major (Retired) Ross Himona,
Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment.

Tuhoe Lambert – Collage

Links: The Operation 8 Series

“Te Karere” news clip – Annette Sykes and Taame Iti remember Tuhoe Lambert