21 years ago, on 24 July 2000 the New Zealand Army lost a greatly respected soldier in a Militia ambush on feature Foho Debalulik, East Timor.
Private Leonard William Manning from Bravo Company, 2 nd /1 st Battalion, Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment (RNZIR) was killed instantly when a six-man tracking team was engaged at 10 metres by a large Militia group.
Private Manning had a passion for soldiering and loved a good pistol shoot.
20 years after the inaugural shoot, The Leonard Manning Memorial Trophy – for Top Pistol Shot was competed for once again at Aylesbury Range, Burnham Military Camp.
Commanding Officer, NZ Batt 2 and of 2/1 RNZIR at the time, Lieutenant Colonel (LTCOL) Martin Dransfield said the trophy was made to keep his memory alive.
“In October 2000 I attended a memorial service with Len’s platoon at the place where he had lost his life in the militia ambush.
“I collected a piece of rock from the ridgeline, on a feature called Foho Debalulik, and decided to place it on a trophy dedicated to the memory of Len Manning. I also spoke with Len’s parents Charlieand Linda to get their approval,” he said.
LTCOL Dransfield said when the Battalion returned from East Timor he asked Bravo Company Officer Commanding, then Major Evan Williams what the trophy should be awarded for.
“He advised me that Len’s passion was pistol shooting, and so on leaving the Battalion I presented the Leonard Manning Memorial Shooting Trophy to 2/1 RNZIR to be awarded annually at the Leonard Manning Memorial Shooting Competition.”
This year, 60 soldiers from 2/1 RNZIR competed for the trophy with Private Will Osborne securing the top shot. The shoot involves participants firing the pistol from various ranges up to 25 metres under time constrains and from various firing positions.
Staff Sergeant (SSGT) Nick Marfell, then Section Commander Bravo Company Batt 2 addressed the Battalion before the shoot and said many still serving have a connection to that place and time.
“This trophy has a connection with the present, it has a connection with the Battalion, and it still has a connection with many serving soldiers here today.
“The early 2000’s deployments to East Timor were unique, they were the first wholesale deployment of New Zealand Forces since the Vietnam War. Batt 2 was also significant as it was the first Killed In Action the New Zealand Army had since the Vietnam War,” he said.
SSGT Marfell said the trophy’s connection with Burnham is significant.
“The trophy is based in Burnham, based with 2/1 Battalion, we did our pre-deployment training here, in the same areas you train now.
“24 July 2000, on feature .799, Len was shot and killed instantly, it is an event that the soldiers who were involved, me as section commander, and everyone who were on deployment still have memories of that day, whether they were involved or not.
“It is a very significant moment in time for us as a Battalion and we will never forget it,” he told soldiers.
He said that Len was a real character and that he was an excellent soldier.
“He was a soldier’s soldier, a highly skilled operator, he had huge leadership potential, he was versatile and had a cracking sense of humour.
“He was very proficient in his weapon handling, in particular his pistol shooting, he loved it, he was a very good shot and this trophy acknowledges that, and remembers him as a person,” SSGT Marfell said.
Major General (MAJGEN) Evan Williams, then Officer Commanding Bravo Coy said Len was a solider on the cusp of being promoted to Lance Corporal.
“We was a very skilled infantry solider who thrived in all forms of training, but in particular, weapons training. He was an excellent shot overall, but excelled with pistol shooting.
“Len was killed in the service of his country. Remembering that beyond formal occasions is important.
“We remember on Anzac Day and on other memorial occasions, but internal to the unit, the occasion of the Leonard Manning Memorial Competition highlights to our soldiers that our job is dangerous, no matter the cause but that a sacrifice in service is remembered eternally,” said MAJGEN Williams.