Jack Passings – April 2019

The following Sailors ‘Crossed the Bar’ during the month of April 2019. Details of funerals etc can be found by clicking HERE.

FENTON, John Barry PTI
PENNEY Geoffrey Arnold Seaman
CUNNINGHAM Paul Thomas Seaman

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War Graves left to Degrade in New Zealand

Thanks to Laine Moger and Chris McKeen – Stuff

Click HERE to view video

Members of the NZ Remembrance Army – a volunteer movement based on a Facebook group – visited the Tolaga Bay services cemetery to refurb and clean the grave markers and headstones of veterans buried in the East Coast cemetery.

White paint hisses softly beneath the blades scraping gravestone faces in Gisborne’s Tolaga Bay cemetery.

Pausing between names, ex-serviceman Simon Strombom watches other volunteers tend to each granite plaque in turn.

The group has a saying: Every man dies twice, once physically and then again when a person speaks his name for the last time.

They’ve travelled hundreds of kilometres to stop that from happening, to right what Strombom describes as “our national shame”.

Veterans’ Affairs spends $1.5 million maintaining war graves every year.

Despite this, unreadable names are being lost behind layers of moss and lichen, taking a part of New Zealand’s history with them, as they decay in unkempt cemeteries across the country.

To Strombom, a former army major, preserving the names of fallen servicemen and women is the deepest honour and he has shouldered the responsibility to clean each and every single grave.

But he says his efforts are being stalled by unreasonable bureaucratic standards and people with commercial interests.

“Our history is decaying and being lost right in front of our eyes. We say every Anzac Day: ‘In the going down of the sun, we will remember them’, and we are not,” he says.

Vietnam veteran Bob Derwin drove to Tolaga Bay from Auckland, to scrub the headstone of his fellow soldier, Driver KC Cross who died in a traffic accident months after they had returned from their tour of duty in Vietnam.
There are two types of ‘war graves’ in New Zealand. ‘True’ war graves specifically commemorate soldiers from the first and second world wars. These graves are managed by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Veterans’ Affairs, a unit of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is responsible for the 183 service cemeteries in New Zealand. The war graves in these cemeteries are for all people who have served in any military capacity.

This includes overseas conflicts such as Vietnam, Iraq and Timor, but it also includes veterans who have died on home soil.

Despite the $1.5m assigned to maintain the country’s service cemeteries, cleaning the graves continues to remain the responsibility of family members.

Former army major Simon Strombom has rallied a volunteer army called the NZ Remembrance Army to clean war graves.

The New Zealand Remembrance Army, led by Strombom, is a gang of volunteers eager to help the nationwide quest. The Remembrance Army says Veterans’ Affairs and other authorities have created a lot of barriers when it comes to cleaning graves.

Members must adhere to the strictest of standards: “A standard the people who are being paid to do the job aren’t upholding,” Strombom says.

For one, they are not allowed to clean dirty graves without first gaining family permission.

This is confusing to Strombom who argues it is hard to get the family name off a grave you cannot see or read, almost as difficult as it is to find a family who has died or moved from the area.

The alternative is to leave the graves to decay. That just doesn’t seem logical to Strombom.

Tolaga Bay cemetery is one of the 183 service cemeteries Veteran’s Affairs pays to maintain, and which has fallen into disrepair. Up until 2015, Veterans’ Affairs employed a ‘supervisor of service cemeteries’, a full-time role dedicated to the upkeep and management of all cemeteries.

Stuff understands the role required the employee to spend three months a year driving the length and breadth of the country to ensure cemeteries were up to standard.

But the position was disestablished and a subcontractor was procured to do the same role: Bronze Plaques NZ, run by Chris Fraser.

Bronze Plaques NZ was paid several hundred thousand dollars for armed service graveyard maintenance last year. The contract is for 2015 to 2021, with an option to extend for two years.

Fraser did not respond to Stuff’s attempts to contact him regarding questions raised by the New Zealand Remembrance Army. Instead, he passed the request to Veterans’ Affairs, to speak on his behalf.

Veterans’ Affairs deputy head, Marti Eller, says it is happy with the work Bronze Plaques NZ is delivering.

“We note that many of the graves of service people that are in a poor state are not located in services cemeteries, but instead in public and private cemeteries.

“We appreciate the work that volunteers, including the Remembrance Army, do to help clean and care for these graves, and we look forward to continuing to work with them.”

After cleaning, graves are painted with white enamel paint. Drying times depend on the day, anywhere from half an hour to four hours.
Tolaga Bay service cemetery is one of the 183 cemeteries managed and paid for by Veterans’ Affairs.

A fortnight before Anzac Day, members of the New Zealand Remembrance Army gathered to restore and repair the graves at the request of ex-Army padre and local kaumatua Captain William Gray (retired).

One man had travelled seven hours to tend to the grave of his friend, Kevin Cross, whom he served with in Vietnam. Months after the pair had returned safely after their tour of duty in Vietnam, Cross died in a car crash.

For veteran Bob Derwin, cleaning the graves is personal. But to first-timers, the feeling of scrubbing the paint to reveal a freshly revitalised name is a special experience.

Ex-Army padre and local kaumatua Captain William Gray (retired), wants the graves at Tolaga Bay ready for Anzac Day.
Graves are scrubbed or water blasted before being sprayed with a specialist cleaning product. Next, they are wiped down and then painted with white enamel, until it dries. Drying times depend on the day and can be anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours.

Flat-edged paint scrapers are then dragged across the granite faces, leaving only what’s left in the recess areas carved into the gravestone face.

The final part of the process is to take a white cuttlefish bone to buff any remaining flecks of paint that avoided the scraping process.

An expert who works for the NZDF is impressed: “The homework has been done.”

Overall, the caring for war graves is unusually complex because of how many different layers and organisations are involved.

Alongside Bronze Plaques NZ, specialist subcontractors Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective and the New Zealand Master Monumental Masons Association separately manage both headstone/plaque replacements.

Local councils maintain general upkeep, as do some Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RSA).

Strongbom says he has unearthed a gap between all these individual agencies and believes there are no shared standards for cleaning plaques and headstones in services cemeteries.

NZDF disputes this, stating that a Standard of Care agreement exists for nearly all services cemeteries.

During the course of Stuff’s investigation, attitudes towards the NZ Remembrance Army have varied: from outright attempts to thwart cleaning parties, to more welcoming, albeit still bureaucratic, hoops to jump through.

All parties are hoping for a more cohesive approach to maintaining the graves, and have discussed a future direction at two recent meetings.

The meetings included the New Zealand Remembrance Army, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association, the Cemeteries and Crematoria Collective, and the New Zealand Master Monumental Masons Association.

“These meetings aimed to encourage a coordinated approach, ensure all health and safety requirements are met, everyone understands the complexities involved,” a Veterans’ Affairs spokesperson says.

Bronze Plaques NZ was not at the meetings.

Most agencies are praising the works of Strombom and his team, who are still doing the work for free.

New Zealand Remembrance Army, lead by Strombom, is a gang of volunteers happy to help the nationwide quest to clean all war graves.
In Tolaga Bay, long after the rain clouds have closed in, members of the Remembrance Army finish up the last of the gravestones.

Some left early to avoid the weather but most stayed to the end.

When they arrived, the lichen-stained gravestones were dark and unreadable. As they leave, the name, rank and serial number of servicemen and women beam brightly, each readable from 15 metres away.

To New Zealand Remembrance Army members, it feels like bringing someone back to life.


Veterans’ Affairs paid $1,503,000 towards the upkeep of 183 service cemeteries across New Zealand in the 2017/18 financial year.

The total includes $392,000 for repair and development work to subcontractors, one being Bronze Plaques NZ.

Bronze Plaques NZ was also paid $30,000 for inspections of cemeteries and received a share of Veterans’ Affairs $761,000 given to contractors for plaques and headstones, for the same time period.

An annual grant of up to $320,000 was paid to six local authorities.

These are mostly councils, although six services cemeteries are managed by local Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Associations, five by cemetery boards, and one by the NZDF.

The amount is a contribution and is based on cemetery size.

Despite the $1,503,000 assigned to maintain service cemeteries, cleaning the graves, in these and other cemeteries, has always and continues to remain the responsibility of family members of those who are buried there.
While the grant covers maintenance costs, like lawn mowing and other minor maintenance, it does not cover cleaning plaques.

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MAA Robert William Cunningham

I have received a query from MAA Cunningham’s son, Ray Cunningham who is interested in talking with anyone who knew his father.  If you are happy to spin a dit or two with his son can you please contact him on 0061 417 976 341  or
email ray.cunningham@kerman.com.au

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New Zealand Navy’s biggest vessel ready for launch in South Korea

HMNZS Aotearoa

Photo: Royal New Zealand Navy

The Aotearoa, the biggest ever vessel to be built for the Royal New Zealand Navy is taking shape and is ready for launch in South Korea.

Aotearoa is being constructed at Hyundai Heavy Shipbuilding’s Ulsan shipyard and is scheduled to be launched within the next two weeks, according to the New Zealand Navy.

The launch will take place some nine months after the tanker’s keel was laid in August 2018.

Aotearoa represents the first of a new fleet of RNZN ships built specifically to address the global requirements of the New Zealand Defence Force and government agencies for deployment from Antarctica to the Arabian Gulf.

Aotearoa is designed to provide logistical support to New Zealand and coalition maritime, land and air units.

Her primary purpose is to conduct fuel resupply but she will also be capable of supplying dry goods, water, spare parts or ammunition. Her missions will include humanitarian and disaster relief, support to United Nations security operations, support to a coalition naval task group and Antarctic resupply.

Featuring a wave-piercing hull form, the 173.2-meter-long ship will have the ability to carry twelve 20-foot shipping containers, high-capacity freshwater generation plants, self-defence systems, aviation and marine fuel cargo tanks, dual all-electric replenishment-at-sea rigs and will be able to carry a Seaspite or NH90 helicopter.

Aotearoa will displace 26,000 tonnes and will be operated by a crew of 64.

The ship’s $493 million price tag includes the tanker’s enhanced “winterization” capabilities, such as ice-strengthening for operations in Antarctica, including resupplying McMurdo Station and Scott Base. Her predecessor HMNZS Endeavour was not Antarctic-capable.


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Where are you Going to be Buried?

A recent article at page 14 in the VA News 2019 Autumn Edition is another example of a poorly written article, which can be read in different ways, causes confusion and is incorrect in some of its contents.

The article in question, with the major offending paragraph in red, is:

For most of our veterans, one of New Zealand’s cemeteries will be their final resting place

War graves

Members of the armed forces who died during the First and Second World Wars are buried in war graves, which are looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage acts on behalf of the Commission in New Zealand and looks after graves that commemorate 2,908 personnel in 433 sites throughout the country.

Services cemeteries

There are also 183 services cemeteries in New Zealand, where people with specified operational service and their spouse or partner can be buried. There is no requirement that those buried in services cemeteries need to have died in a conflict, or as a result of a conflict. Each services cemetery is the responsibility of a local authority, with most of them being part of public cemeteries managed by district and city councils. Some are managed by local Returned and Services’ Associations or cemetery boards, with one in Waiouru managed by the New Zealand Defence Force. Veterans’ Affairs works to support local authorities to maintain and develop these services cemeteries. In the next edition of VA News, we will have an in-depth look at New Zealand’s services cemeteries—The final resting place of our veterans and the work that goes into their development and upkeep by a range of organisations.

Other burials

Former military personnel may also be buried in public or private cemeteries or urupa. Their graves, in these places, may not identify them as military. Navy veterans also have the option of having their ashes scattered at sea. We have a story about this on page 14.

Leaving aside the issue of operational service, the final paragraph is a real doozy and the epitome of misinformation.

What is the article trying to tell us here? Is it saying personnel with specified operational service may choose to be buried outside of a services cemetery as well as those without specified operational service? If there is not a local services cemetery they do not have much choice. But more importantly, what do they mean when they say the graves may not identify the person as military? Are they merely saying that ex-military personnel buried outside of services cemeteries may have headstones or plaques on their grave that does not indicate that they had previous military service? Or are they saying that personnel buried in graves outside of services cemeteries should not identify them as military; that is, restricting what they can have on their grave? If it is the latter, what right does VANZ or any other authority have to say what an ex-military person can have on their grave about them having military service?

The two main errors, however, are about having ashes scattered at sea. Restricting it to Navy veterans is wrong. As well as opening up the question about who is a veteran, any ex-Navy person may ask to have their ashes scattered at sea. Additionally, it omits to state that this is only relevant to having ashes scattered at sea from an RNZN vessel, with an appropriate service conducted. Anyone can have their ashes scattered at sea from a private boat.

The whole article seems self-serving in nature. It does not contain any news or information relevant to ex-service personnel and does not add value in any way.

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NGAPONA Newsletter


18 April 19 – Ngapona Assn Lunch at Henderson RSA (Thursday)
19 – 22 April 19 – Easter Weekend
25 April 19 – ANZAC Day
3-5 May 19 – Radar Plotters’ Reunion, Taupo. Contact pearcegc@xtra.co.nz
10 May 19 – Navy Club Lunch, Remuera Club
17 May 19 – Ngapona Assn Lunch at Pt Chevalier RSA
25 May 19 – Artificer Apprentices Assn, Ngataringa. Contact andy.francis@xtra.co.nz
1-3 June 19 – Queen’s Birthday Weekend
1-3 June 19 – RNZN Antarctic Veterans Reunion, Rangiora RSA Contact Bill.lochrie@xtra.co.nz
16 June 19 – Ngapona Assn AGM, Pt Chevalier RSA


A reminder that our lunch this month is on Thursday 18 April at the Henderson RSA.


A welcome is extended to all members, partners and friends to attend the HMNZS Philomel Memorial Wall Service. You will be required to be on Base by 0715.

Be warned that there is heightened security and you will need a photo ID to enter the Base.
Please advise by return email your intention to attend and numbers


A major upgrade is planned for the Navy Museum at Torpedo Bay in Devonport. The Mine Store, which is directly ahead of you and to the left of the main building, as you pass through the main gate is about to get a major face-lift. I visited the Museum last week and found that the three rooms, which make up the Mine Store, have been left virtually untouched for nearly thirty years. I was the Boats Officer when the Navy closed the Boatyard in the early 1990s.

The master plan is to upgrade the Mine Store to house a ‘Contemporary Navy Gallery’ a ‘Torpedo Bay Gallery’ and classroom and activity space. The Mine Store is physically separated from the main Museum building and a new secure covered way is planned, not only to improve access to the Mine Store but to also house the Wasp Helicopter.

The work required to make the Mine Store safe, halt ongoing deterioration, upgrade the structural integrity and to make the building legally compliant for safe occupation is estimated at $791,000. The total cost to complete the restoration, the covered way and open the area for display is estimated at $2,804,147. The NZDF has committed to funding the upgrade of the Mine Store while the responsibility for raising the remaining funding rests with the Trust Board.

The planned works will increase the existing gallery space by 257m2, 55% over the current area. The addition of the Contemporary Gallery will focus on the period from the introduction of the Project Protector vessels. The gallery in the main building will be enhanced to cover the period post-WWll through to the end of the Leander Class Frigates. This will close a significant gap in the Museum exhibition and storyline.

This is an exciting addition to what is a world-class Navy cultural and heritage institution.


The Royal New Zealand Navy’s new diving and hydrographic support vessel has started her journey from Norway to Auckland, New Zealand. Formerly known as offshore support vessel MV EDDA FONN, the vessel was sold by Norway’s Østensjø Rederi to the New Zealand Navy in August 2018. The vessel was modified for Navy needs and was repainted from a bright yellow to navy grey. EDDA FONN completed sea trials earlier this month before sailing to her new home. Once in New Zealand, the vessel will be commissioned as HMNZS MANAWANUI and will undergo final modifications before entering service by November 2019.


Growing up I watched my mother ‘slaving’ at the washing tub doing the family washing not knowing that one day I would be doing exactly that.

From the very first day on Motuihe Island we were introduced to the scrubbing hardboard, ‘pussers hard,’ a hand scrubbing brush and the mark 1 concrete tub. Most things on the island were done manually from pulling boats, knots, physical training, drills and of course taking personal care of ourselves.

Every item of kit from our blankets to our white lanyards had to be hand washed, even stripping our hammocks and scrubbing them clean every week was time-consuming and required physical effort. In time we became disciplined and into a routine that would last a lifetime.

This prepared us for when we went to sea where we had a galvanised/plastic bucket, soap powder/pussers hard or, if you were creative you obtained a small can (ex-baked beans) stuck small round holes in the bottom, placed a cake of sunlight, made a wire handle and “Bobs your uncle” you had the perfect washing machine.

‘Make and Mend” was precisely what it meant, to make and mend parts of your kit, NOT to have half a day and go ashore. “Air bedding” was carried out once a fortnight or weather permitting, you simply lashed your hammock and bedding over an upper-deck guardrail to acquire fresh air for the day.

Whilst in Auckland or around NZ you never had the luxury of “Dhobi Wallers” onboard, you did it all by hand. In the Far East, you certainly had that luxury, however, many of the “old school” matelots continued to do their own, and still do to this very day.

Ironing, folding of your kit and manual tasks such as spit polishing your footwear came naturally. From ironing your own clothes came the habits of adding creases to your shirts, ‘blue jean’ collars, silk and adding starch to your senior rates cap covers. A tradition that still exists today for many of the “Old Jacks”

It was a time that most will never forget, a time when we did most things manually and although they were hard times, we learnt that doing things for oneself gave you so much more satisfaction. I bet that many of our generations still do most of these tasks to this day.


(Supplied by Jack Donnelly)

Dhobi lines rigged


On 9 April 1942, Morewa was commissioned as a tender to Philomel for duty as a survey yacht for the controlled mining service. She was fitted with an echo sounder and a Bren gun, and began work at Whangaroa and worked south, charting depths and tidal streams in preparation for laying defensive minefields.

Morewa was owned by Sir Ernest Davis, a New Zealand businessman, and was Mayor of Auckland City from 1935 to 1941.

(That would have been a good draft!! – Ed)

HMNZS Ngapona Assn Inc

“There are good ships, and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea.”
“But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be.”


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Dropped into the site of HMNZS IRIRANGI on 28 March 2019 to find the following.  Click on images to enlarge.

Main Gate with QM Lobby on right

Main Road into Camp

Thorne Park

Thorne Park

Road to Receivers

The Captain’s House has been moved to the other side of the road.  Soon there will be nothing which identifies this area being used by the Navy as HMNZS IRIRANGI.

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