Vice Admiral Sir Neil Anderson RNZN KBE, CB.
Chief of Naval Staff: December 1977 – April 1980
Vice Admiral Sir Neil Anderson was born in Hastings and educated at Hastings High School. During WWII, most NZ high schools supported a School Cadet unit. In Hastings, Neil won a prize as top school Army cadet, but he displayed his commitment to the Navy: “I was the Sergeant Major of the cadets in High School. In October 44 a Brigadier came to interview me, telling me about … the Australian Military College at Duntroon. I said, “But I am going to England … to join the Navy.‟ I wanted to go to sea and it seemed the RNZN was a very good deal.”
Neil joined the RNZN in November 1944 as a Special Entry Cadet and was sent to the Royal Naval College (which had been evacuated to the Midlands). At first he found it hard. “I found I didn’t fit the training; I just had to fit in somehow. My marks were not particularly good. The next term when we were training in a ship HMS FROBISHER they shot up. I was awarded the King’s Telescope for the best all-round cadet that year. Since then I have managed to get the right results.” He served under training in various RN ships from 1945-49, including HMS DUKE OF YORK (a battleship) during the Occupation of Japan. One incident that tested his leadership was at the naval China Fleet Club in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve when fighting broke out among the sailors. As the duty officer, Neil told his platoon of armed sailors: ‟What we are going to do to clear them out, we will go inside and we will form up at one end. Fix bayonets and we will tell everyone to leave.‟ we just moved them quietly outside. That was the end of it.
Sport was important to him; Neil was selected for the RNZN Rugby First XV in 1950. “I once added up and I had played rugby in 50 countries. I played rugby until I was 32.” As a Lieutenant, Neil was appointed as Navigator of HMNZS ROTOITI (the Loch-class frigate). He was set a good example of delegation by his Commanding Officer: “LTCDR Tony Blomfield would delegate. He had expectations that you would do the job.” After undertaking the Royal Navy’s Long ‘N’ specialist Navigation and Direction course Neil stayed on exchange and was appointed Navigator of HMS VANGUARD (the UK’s last battleship) for the 1953 Coronation Fleet Review. This appointment speaks volumes for Neil’s professional abilities and his high standing; there must have been many officers coveting that post at that time. Command at sea in 1960.
CDR Anderson was appointed as the commissioning CO of HMNZS TARANAKI (F148), our second Type 12 frigate. He worked up the frigate in the UK and brought it home to New Plymouth. “Going in command of the TARANAKI, brand new, was the most exciting thing. The sailors also enjoyed being in this new ship, with all bunks and no hammocks and all sorts of things like that. “We had great problems with one of the propeller shafts. They got it wrong somehow when the ship was being built. We went back to Portsmouth on one shaft and went into dry dock. I had planned to go to Oslo as the ship’s company’s overseas trip and we were running short of time. I said to the ship’s company, “We will go to Oslo if we possibly can, but I don’t want to take the ship to Oslo unless it is
really smart.‟ The First Lieutenant said, “Well, we will have to paint the ship, how
about painting ship in dry dock? ‟ Not a usual practice because of the danger of
falling on to the concrete below. I said, “Well okay, I will be the first over the side and
the other one on the stage will be the First Lieutenant,‟ and so we did. It took more
trials and another docking before the shafts were satisfactory. But there was no time
to get to Oslo, instead he arranged for “a run ashore on the Continent” at St Malo,
France. “And the sailors loved it. Some even went up to Paris.” Diplomacy In 1969
Captain Anderson organised the multi-national naval participation in the Cook
Bicentenary Celebrations at Gisborne. HMNZS BLACKPOOL and ships from four
other navies took part. “I went down to Gisborne for my first visit and learnt a bit
about what people had in mind. I realised that I had a real problem; the Chairman of
the County, the Mayor and the Chairman of the Harbour Board would not talk to each
other. So I started talking to them singularly and eventually managed to get them to
realise that they had to talk. They agreed that, only if I was there!
In January 1973 Neil was promoted as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff. The Government wanted to protest against French atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. The Chief of Defence Staff and CDRE Anderson talked with Prime Minister Norman Kirk. I said, “Well the frigates haven’t got enough legs. You can have a frigate certainly, but you need some more fuel from somewhere.‟ I went back to the office and we found that there was a small ex-RFA tanker about to be scrapped. But buying the old tanker would cost half a million dollars, not what the PM had in mind. “So then I said, “Well, you will be going to see the Australian Prime Minister shortly, put the hard word on him. If you want to go to Mururoa, you can go … providing you get a tanker.‟ He [Kirk] came back having talked to Whitlam. “Yes, their tanker [HMAS SUPPLY] could do the job.‟ HMNZS OTAGO was sent to Mururoa. The frigate maintained a radio teleprinter link directly to Navy Office; CDRE Anderson and Rear Admiral Ted Thorne (then CNS) worked watch and watch, sleeping in the office ready to respond to any query from OTAGO or, later, CANTERBURY, and be a link to the government. Flying his flag at sea In 1977 Neil was promoted to Rear Admiral and became Chief of Naval Staff.
Even as a senior officer Neil had time for personal courtesies—one officer recalls missing out on a promotion, but as CNS, Admiral Anderson sent for him to explain why his class mate was to be promoted ahead of him; a kind act of understanding by the CNS that the officer concerned still remembers. The Admiral never forgot the excitement of being at sea; it is a clear theme throughout his oral history. “One day I was looking at the fleet forecast, and realised that … we had three weeks when we were going to have all four frigates running. I said to the Commodore Auckland, “Look this is never going to happen again, to have four running together. You can have all four from Auckland to Napier and I will take over from Napier to Wellington.‟ “We came into Wellington harbour I turned them together to go along the Petone foreshore in line abreast. Then we turned in succession to come down to Wellington. That was very exciting, I liked that.”
In April 1980 Admiral Anderson was promoted to Vice Admiral and posted as Chief of Defence Staff. He was known for being calm and relaxed, but with a rapid grasp of policy papers and of events. He was willing to sit down with his staff officers and expose his thoughts to the rigours of the collegial staffing process.
Rear Admiral Ray Gillbanks was a Lieutenant in 1980 and he recalls a visit by the then CDS. “He and Barbara visited HMNZS TARAPUNGA in Napier in 1980.
TARAPUNGA was a newly commissioned Inshore Survey Craft; Mrs Anderson was
TARAPUNGA’s “launching lady‟ and I invited her to visit. “I knew that the Andersons
were on holiday but I had expected the CDS to arrive rather more formally than he did—in their own small car, with the Admiral driving. As we welcomed them onboard it was plain to us that Admiral Anderson had set aside his status in favour of his wife. She was the guest of honour and this was her day. “However, when we went to sea to demonstrate our newly-fitted electronic surveying equipment Admiral Anderson’s specialist “N‟ background emerged and we were very professionally quizzed. Thereafter I knew why he was held in such high regard; he was natural and friendly with the ship’s company, interested in them and their roles onboard and deeply interested in the hydrographic survey work we were doing.”
VA Anderson was awarded the KBE in June 1982, becoming Sir Neil. His extensive RN experience meant he retained the manners of an English gentleman throughout his life, but there was no doubt that he was a loyal New Zealander with the RNZN’s interests at heart. His postings overseas meant Sir Neil had an extensive professional network which
he drew on throughout his career. He retired in 1983. In 2009 Sir Neil agreed to give
his name to the Cup awarded to the top student of the Major Fleet Unit Navigator’s
A contemporary of Sir Neil, Captain Tom Riddell (Rtd), says that “Neil was a very fine
officer and gentleman. He had great leadership qualities and was highly respected
and generally popular with all ranks.”
Sir Neil Anderson died on 5 June, aged 83. His funeral took place on 10 June at St
Michaels and All Angels Anglican Church, Waikanae Beach.