His 21st in Italy and chasing Churchill, oldest living Kiwis player and WWII veteran reflects on an incredible life

It has been an Anzac Day like no other for Ray Cranch, a World War II veteran and the oldest living Kiwis player

Your playlist will load after this ad

Ray Cranch’s routine was more than a bit upset by recent circumstances, although combatting a bit of adversity is nothing new to the 97-year-old. Source: 1 NEWS

“This year I was in hospital for Armistice Day and now this bulls**t has come along and I've missed again. I'm 97, I don’t expect to go on much longer,” he said.

The life member of Auckland and New Zealand Rugby League last month had Auckland's second division competition named in his honour.

In his life in league, he has made lifelong friends through service and storytelling

“He openly chats about his time in the war and he's got some amazing stories. he's seen some horrific things but it doesn't seem to phase him, he's always positive he's always upbeat,” former Warriors Logan Swann explained.

Cranch lied about his age and enlisted as a 16-year-old.

He went on to train all over New Zealand before shipping out to Egypt and eventually seeing action in Italy.

“The snowfall was so heavy that a lot of us got trapped in the trenches and needed assistance to get out of it. and that's where I had my 21st birthday on the 7th of January 1944,” Cranch told 1 NEWS.

He was in Italy the following year when the war ended

Cranch toured once with the Kiwis but one of his most memorable outings was an Auckland colts match against Australia at Carlaw Park, featuring the great Australian Clive Churchill.

“Jimmy Edwards who was a winger in that game with me. We chased Churchill up the field and couldn't catch him. The thing was he looked behind him and said come on you bastards can't you catch me?”

While there was no psalm or ode or laying of the wreath today, there was still a bottle of rum and a few calls to family and friends, which have never been in short supply.