Ronald Arthur Tinker was born at Christchurch on 13 April 1913, the son of Australian-born parents Harry Albert Tinker, a veterinary dentist, and his wife, Millicent Elizabeth Wood. He attended Addington School and Christchurch West District High School, then found office work with the North Canterbury Hospital Board. Life behind a desk did not appeal to him and he left to become a high country musterer, spending his spare time climbing and deer hunting.
Tinker was working as a taxi driver when the Second World War broke out in 1939. He 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. These patrols, later called the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), operated deep behind Axis lines undertaking clandestine operations, reconnaissances and raiding. A skilled navigator and an efficient gunner in action, Tinker was mentioned in dispatches in 1941 and awarded the Military Medal in 1942. He was commissioned second lieutenant in October that year.
The LRDG did not always come away unscathed. In December 1942 Tinker’s patrol was forced to walk across the desert back to Allied lines after they were discovered by the enemy and had their trucks destroyed. A similar incident in Tunisia in January 1943 saw Tinker lead his men out in an epic journey across the Chott El Jerid salt desert. His courageous leadership earned him an immediate Military Cross. A few months later the 2nd New Zealand Division was guided by Tinker in its ‘left hook’ around the Axis army towards Tebaga Gap.
Tinker then trained in mountain warfare in Lebanon until September 1943, when the LRDG was sent to seize the Aegean islands from the Germans. From their base on the island of Leros the LRDG launched raids and monitored German movements in the Aegean. In late September Tinker was placed in command of a patrol of the New Zealand squadron of the LRDG. Two weeks later the Germans took Leros in an airborne assault, but Tinker was able to keep one step ahead: after hiding in mountain country he escaped to Turkey and then made his way to Palestine.
After the Aegean débâcle the New Zealand squadron of the LRDG was disbanded. However, Tinker was seconded back to 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 hospital in Italy. There he met Elsie Frances Brown, a Scottish-born nurse from New Zealand. The couple were married in Senigallia, Italy, on 14 March 1945.
After the war, Tinker found work as a clerk but civilian life was not to his liking and he rejoined the army in 1947. He occupied various administrative posts. A report noted that he did not have a particular flair for staff duties. However, Tinker did have a flair for unconventional appointments; in 1949 he was seconded to the Fiji Military Forces. Two years later he took command of the 1st Battalion, Fiji Infantry Regiment, raised for operations in Malaya. As a temporary lieutenant colonel he led the battalion through the Malayan Emergency from January 1952 to July 1953. A strong-willed hard man, he moulded his battalion into one of the most effective units in the conflict. Although his uncompromising personality did not endear him to his superiors, he was made an OBE for his services. On his return to New Zealand he resumed staff and training duties.
Tinker left the New Zealand Army in 1962 and took up an appointment with the Antarctic Division of the DSIR, commanding Scott Base over the winter of 1963. On his return to New Zealand he tried several jobs before joining Pyne, Gould, Guinness as a sales agent, working with farmers at the Addington saleyards. He retired in 1980 and died in Christchurch on 16 February 1982, survived by a daughter and a son. His wife had died in 1969.