Happy Birthday to the New Zealand Special Air Service!

Today is the birthday of the New Zealand Special Air Service; a regiment that prides itself not only on its gruelling and ruthless selection and training regime, but on the extraordinary professionalism, skill, endurance, and unrelenting pursuit of excellence of its soldiers. 

Tracing its origins back to the famous WWII North African army unit, the Long Range Desert Group (who we will be doing a series on in the near future), and including stints serving with the British Special Air Service, the NZSAS has become a premier combat unit and strategic asset of the New Zealand Defence Force. The NZSAS has been deployed operationally to the Pacific, Afghanistan, and South-East Asia, and have received many honours and awards, including Corporal Willie Apiata who was awarded the Victoria Cross, a medal that recognises extreme valour in the presence of the enemy.

The training of an NZSAS soldier is intense. It teaches the soldiers to have the self-confidence and skills to step into the unknown in any situation and provide an effective response. They “train hard to fight easy” becoming highly-skilled and hardened warriors, yet remaining mentally agile, that must maintain a sound moral basis. At their core they have to motivate themselves to push through whatever they face; they rely on their own drive, and they rely on their fellow NZSAS soldiers to do the same. 

In recognition of their birthday, we are featuring a collection of items made and used by Q994810 Major Neil John (John) McNutt during his SAS field training in the Coromandel during the late 1990s. During the exercise, John procured these raw materials in the field and fashioned items out of them to use to protect himself from the weather, help evade capture and complete various tasks. These items (see the gallery at the bottom of this page) include several handmade from hessian including a hooded rain jacket, a small open top pouch, and a backpack. Other items are made from light green synthetic material including a vest and a small hand drawn map. Also included are a length of braided rope and a pair of fingerless gloves made from animal fur. They showcase the problem solving, MacGyver-style skills of the NZSAS, and the grit and determination of the soldiers to survive and succeed. After passing the New Zealand SAS selection course in 1999, John was deployed to Kuwait where he served as the New Zealand coalition force liaison officer. Tragically, on 13 March 2001, Major John McNutt was killed alongside five United States Army soldiers whilst observing a live fire training exercise in North West Kuwait. He was only 27 years old. His body was repatriated to New Zealand where a full military funeral was held at Burnham Military Camp.

An NZSAS soldier is a breed of its own, and one who is highly respected by all of the New Zealand Defence Force. The Regiment is a place where those who dare, win. So from all of us here at the National Army Museum Te Mata Toa, happy birthday to the exceptional soldiers, past and present, of the New Zealand Special Air Service. You are elite, premier, the first among equals, and you have a task that matches your drive to be challenged and to make a difference. 


We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea…
A quote from ‘The Golden Road to Samarkand’ by James Elroy Flecker, inscribed on the Regimental Memorial at Papakura Military Camp.


Gallery of SAS Training Equipment, John McNutt