Signalman Albert Steven Banbury – Oral History

It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Banbury. Time and lack of resources have precluded the researching of facts to draw attention to any errors. The views expressed in this oral history are those of the interviewee only and not the NZDF, RNZN, and the Navy Museum.

This is an interview with Mr A.S. (Bam) Banbury with Mr Tim De Castro at 17 Hume Street, Christchurch on the 28th March 1995.

Now Bam it is a great pleasure to be here. You might tell me about your beginnings ?

I was born in August 1922 and lived the early part of my life in Birkenhead on the North Shore and living close to the water became very involved with small boats and ended in a yachting situation where we went through Z class right up to 22 foot mullet racing in the Lipton Cup. I also raced in 18 footers the first time they ever ran a world championship in Auckland against the Australians.

That was obviously pre-war ?

That was pre-war.

Do you remember the date by any chance ?

I couldn’t remember the date, it was about `38 if I remember correctly.

That was the first Trans Tasman encounter for the 18 footers ?

Yes that was the first and in Auckland they had formed an 18 foot Flying Squadron. The Australian boats were entirely different to the New Zealand 18 footers, they had about a 6 man crew and carried water sails and very, very long gib booms and bow sprits. The actual boat when they put the mast in wouldn’t stand up in the water, they had to get in it whilst they put the mast up. The New Zealand boats were more the skimming dish type, although it was an 18 foot M class that eventually won the series, a New Zealand boat. The Australian boats, two of them were the TAREE and the ST GEORGE and I do not recall the names of the other two.

When the war broke out we had a 22 foot mullet boat and when you sailed out of the harbour you all had a number. Now when you came back into harbour you had to display this number and that was to keep a record of what boats were coming in. I think the theory behind that of course of any thing coming in from the raider. The German raiders were operating in this area around in the Pacific and this was in case they tried to get in with a small boat or something like that to do sabotage. A friend of mine and myself decided we would join up and we were 18 years old.

Do you remember the friend’s name ?

His name was Doug Cochrane. We went to join up in the Army, I was rejected because I had a leaking valve in my heart, he was accepted by the Army and ended up in tanks and got killed in Casino.

After being rejected from the Army all my other cobbers that I yachted with decided to join the Navy and so I thought I will go along and have a try. I passed Grade 1 and I was accepted and I actually went into PHILOMEL on the 12th March 1941. Now when we went in we were actually aboard the old original PHILOMEL.

Were you. She was alongside Calliope ?

She was alongside the jetty. I can always remember having to get up early in the morning and scrubbing the decks, all wooden decks and the ridges where the joins were, were all raised with the scrubbing.

Teak decks no doubt was it ?


Bam can you give your official number ?

My official number was NZD2404, because at that stage it was still the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy.

We then began our course which was a signalman’s course and the Petty Officer taking it was Yeoman Robertshaw, who was a very, very good instructor and it was quite a pleasure to have him instructing.

He was a yeoman of signals was he ?

He was a yeoman of signals.

I can always remember one event that did happen there. We had leave on a Sunday and they would line us all up and it was an Anglican church service in the Base which lasted about an hour which meant it was an hour you had to wait before you got a liberty boat. When they lined up they said, “Fall out Roman Catholics”, and of course all the Roman Catholics would catch the first liberty boat ashore. It only took about 2 or 3 weeks before the majority of these troops lined up on a Sunday were three quarter Catholic. One Sunday they all fell out and the next thing there was an order for all the Catholics to line up and they were marched up to Devonport to a Catholic church for an approximately 2 hour service, this at the next parade eliminated most of the Catholics, it was quite entertaining.

At the end of our course we were split into two groups and the first group that went away which I was in was destined for Hong Kong.

Now you at this stage were an AB were you ?

No a signalman.

An AB signalman ?


The course had lasted how long Bam ?

Well we enlisted on the 12.3.41, that was the start of the course and I left New Zealand on the 22nd July, so that was March to July, so the course was actually between three and three and a half months really.

Do you remember any of your cobbers on that course with you ?

Yes there was Dick Wagner, a chap named Bilham, there was Warren Aspen, Dicky Norton, Owen Slattery, there was some ex RNVR that came in, Snowy Stevens, there was an O’Neil, there was a Churchill, there was Jacky Nathan who was a Jew, who thought that the Sunday pork was the best mutton he had ever tasted. There was Owen Ludlow who came from Christchurch, he lives not far from me here now, he became a prisoner of war, those are just the names I can think of just at the moment.

Would you say the majority of the blokes were from Auckland Bam ?

I know there is one from Christchurch, Timaru, the majority were Auckland. I would suppose about a third of them would have been RNVR.

The total number on the course approximately ?

Approximately I think there was 24 in the signal class.

Do you remember the officer in charge ?

Not the actual officer, we did everything through the yeoman.

You were on board PHILOMEL ?

On board PHILOMEL, that’s before they had TAMAKI.

The Commander of the Base, or just the Commander who was in charge of the every day running was called “Long John” and he was about 6 foot 5 and he came from a very famous farming family from the South Island.

Do you know him ?

Yes, now deceased, John Elworthy, very efficient and he was good and everyone respected him.

Half of the class were drafted to Hong Kong and also with half of this class of signalman that went to Hong Kong on that draft was a draft of stokers and they were HO ratings as well.

When we left Auckland we left on the JOHAN VAN OLDENVANDERBELT, which was over 20,000 tons. She was a Dutch merchant ship and she was a sister ship of the MANNIX and OLDENHEIM. We went across on her and was escorted by the ADELAIDE, a very old Australian cruiser and a very rough crossing to Sydney. We had to pick up the Australian Division that was going to Malaysia. The MANNIX and OLDENHEIM and the JOHAN VAN OLDENVANDERBELT were in company going across the Tasman, we had a very rough trip across. I was on the bridge and we arrived off the Sydney Heads at night and was challenged by the shore station and I took the challenge and I replied being on the bridge. I said, “JOHAN VAN OLDENVANDERBELT”, and the reply from shore station came back, “What ?”. This was quite amusing really, it is a hard thing to read in Morse light at night on a wild bloody night, they had probably never seen words like this before. Anyway we went there and we picked up the troops. Now in charge of our draft, the stokers and the signalman was only a killick. So these troops came aboard, we had a marvellous trip going over, because there was nobody else aboard. They had a swimming pool, but the swimming pools in these ships are dangerous if it is very rough. If you going to dive in and then the ship rolls and instead of diving in full water you are diving into a puddle. When these troops came aboard we took off and we went around and we met two of the ships that joined this convoy but loaded in Melbourne. In charge of all these troops was a Major General who was called “Black Jack”. The first time we ran foul of him, was some of our boys were walking along the deck and they failed to salute him. He pulled this chap up and ripped hell out of him for not saluting an officer. The chap said, “We don’t salute a naval officer on a ship, we just walk past him.” The next thing all these troops were lined up with the big life-jackets on. He pulled up another couple of our chaps one day for not wearing life-jackets and of course he had his entourage behind him. This sailor or the two that he was blasting hell out of, just reached down inside their jersey and pulled a tit of their Mae West out and said, “This is our life-jacket”, which didn’t make this General very happy. When we arrived at Fremantle, all the troops and we all had leave were all issued with three condoms each and two tubes of paste. For the ignorant there was no instructions how this paste was to be to be eaten, was it to be cooked or whether it was to be used. At that time in Fremantle they had licensed brothels and outside these brothels there were all the troops, plus civilians, with paste going in, lined up outside these houses which had about twelve foot hurricane wire netting around them, waiting to get in. It didn’t appeal to me, so that was my lot there.

When we came back to the ship after we had a day’s leave, the Army were banned from leave the next day. We got together and said to the killick, “We will all line up and you inspect us and we will march down and we will march on the wharf and you will inspect us again and we will march off the wharf and we will get around the shed and we will go ashore again, why shouldn’t we, which we did. Of course the guards there didn’t worry about it. Of course when we got back aboard this Brigadier General we found had complained to the Navy and he told us in no uncertain terms himself, he got us together, that we were the most undisciplined bunch of men or boys that he had ever come in contact with. From there to Singapore we had a Lieutenant Commander from the Royal Australian Navy who was put aboard to control us.

We came to Singapore.

Your passage to Singapore, any sign of enemy activity ?

Japan wasn’t in the war.

Of course it wasn’t.

This was early `41.

That was in `41.

When we got to Singapore, I left Singapore on 24.8.41. Now the stokers went on to Hong Kong and our draft of signalmen were then seconded to the Eastern Fleet which was based at Colombo, because a draft had already gone through of English signalmen to Hong Kong. That was the first stroke of luck we had.

We got to Colombo, there is a signal base there.

That is Trincomalee is it or Colombo ?

No Trincomalee at that stage was only an oiling station..

Right so you went to Colombo.

We went to Colombo and there I was, myself, I can’t just remember who came aboard with me, it might have been Dicky Norton and there was another one. Owen Slattery went to the EMERALD, which was a fast light cruiser with three funnels. The CORNWALL was a County class cruiser, a massive thing with a Walrus and a Walrus hangar, three funnels, 8 inch armament and X and Y turrets of course were manned by marines and it was real pusser Navy. All your orders were by bosun’s pipe, up spirits, air defence, action stations, a marine bugler came through the mess decks in the morning to wake you up.

You were posted to CORNWALL of course ?

I was posted to CORNWALL.

They brought the QUEEN MARY and QUEEN ELIZABETH down into the southern ocean. Now I don’t know why they came down, whether it was to bring a division back from Egypt or not, or why or whether it was to take the last of the division through to Singapore. No it couldn’t have been Singapore because we picked them up off Fremantle and we could travel with them at about 27 knots, that’s day and night. We took them across from off Fremantle and we took them into Trincomalee where we oiled. Trincomalee at that time was just an oiling base, that’s all it was, there was practically nothing ashore that we could see. From there we took the QUEEN MARY and QUEEN ELIZABETH up just past Aden, just into a place called Perim. At night we used to come into close quarters. If you were down below and you went up on watch, you would come out of the light and you would get up there and look around and you would say, “Well where the hell are they”, until your eyes get adjusted. Now to signal between the ships, we used a signal light that had a blue light that wouldn’t be much bigger than my fingernail.

You had to concentrate, you had to keep your eyes on their bridge all the time you are on watch. We are line ahead and at close quarters.

At anchor ?

No this is steaming.

We had a bit of a hassle one night because the Gulf going into Perim up into Aden, narrows down and of course they were running them in convoys at that stage, even though Japan wasn’t in the war and of course you ran into the middle of a convoy and a destroyer challenged with VF. Now VF was visual fixed lights on the mast and those colours changed I don’t know every four hours or every six hours. Of course we were in the middle of a convoy and we had no radar, none of the ships had radar, and the cruiser didn’t have Asdic. So it was a bit of a hassle if you were doing 27 knots and you run into a convoy that is only doing about 8, and you get challenged like that, it was quite a panic. We dropped them off there, just out of Perim and they would send something down from Cairo or down through the Red Sea to pick them up and they only took them so far to the Red Sea.

Then we went down to the Maldives and we were still looking for German raiders.

Prior to my joining the CORNWALL she had already sunk a raider called the PENQUIN, which I think had worked off the New Zealand coast. We were hoping that the CORNWALL would get a trip into South Africa. According to the crew of the CORNWALL the South Africans called her “The Murdering CORNWALL”, because when she blew up this raider, they had a lot of South African prisoners aboard and of course they all got killed. When the CORNWALL engaged this raider, the raider hit her with a shell and then CORNWALL opened fire, I think it was A or B turret that was firing out to the opposite side, they had had a hit on the CORNWALL and it must have put the wiring or something 180 degrees out, anyway they sunk it, but that was before I joined her.

I should just correct one thing. When I left Singapore we actually went up through Singapore by train to Penang and we picked up a Town Class cruiser there called the GLASGOW, that’s what actually took us to Colombo. While we were on that trip we went up to the Andaman Islands.

When war broke out I was still in the CORNWALL and I was still in the Indian Ocean.

This is December `41 now is it ?

I think it was just before December. They put us ashore in Aden and the CORNWALL where ever we were, even in Colombo or in Aden was normally was normally SNOA, that is Senior Naval Officer Afloat. In Colombo and in Aden there was no wharf, you didn’t go alongside a wharf and being SNOA afloat, especially in Colombo there was a lot of work for signalmen. You must remember a signalmen had to read semaphore, we used a lot of semaphore that had to be able to be read facing forward or backwards. If you had a genuine message you would get on top of the gun directors right up the top and then you started to signal.

We were taken off in Aden and Aden is a very barren, dry place, there was about 30 of us and a lot of them came off other ships that were in there at the time and we were put in a place called Crater City which is over from Aden, through the hills and there was just a narrow road through the hills with a fort over the top and we went into this bowl. We were there for about two weeks and there was only three of us that didn’t get embolic dysentery.

Now these are barracks of some sort in this bowl ?

The building actually had a storey above and they put us in this place. Most of the natives there had their goats and fowls that lived inside with them. We were there for I think about two weeks and they sent a sick bay tiffy out from Aden to fix these jokers who had embolic dysentery, which was a shocking thing. They passed blood and they could only crawl, they can’t walk and all they gave them was castor oil, which was to eliminate the bug from the stomach. I didn’t get it, I was fortunate and there were two others I think that didn’t get it.

From there we went back and got aboard a C class cruiser, I can’t remember the name of it, it had a centre line 6 inch amidships which had a plaque on it, that a chap, Boy Cornwall, a young chap in the First World War had won the VC.

On this gun turret ?

It wasn’t a gun turret, it had no turret, it was just a centre line 6 inch, it had no shield.

On that trip we went to Bombay, they took us to Bombay. It was the first time I came across it was where they had canteen messing. You went down to the store and everyone had an allowance on the mess deck of money and you went down to the store and you bought your potatoes, all your sago, all your rice or whatever they had and then you took it back to your mess deck. The meat was cooked for you by the galley, but the potatoes you had to peel and if you wanted pudding then you got the basics from the store and then they took it turns to prepare this. One thing about Englishmen, they didn’t have the first bloody idea. The thing with the Englishmen they were pretty basic education wise, I suppose we were, but we were probably better taught than what they were. They asked us what New Zealand was like I remember on the CORNWALL, so we told them that New Zealand was good, but once you got out of a town you had to carry a pistol or a rifle or otherwise the Maoris would have you. They believed all the story and while I was on the CORNWALL we used to get our mail. Now the mail in New Zealand might be posted three days apart, but it might be two weeks before you get one letter following the other or the next one it might a month and then you might get one a week after. Well the first letter we got was “Graham had killed one and wounded one”, and this backed up our story about New Zealand. The next we got, “He had killed three”, and of course this continued for about four months of mail and of course this backed us up about just how wild New Zealand was. When we told them we had cabbage trees that grew to 12 foot high in New Zealand they called us bloody liars.

When we got to Bombay we were taken off the cruiser.

What was the name of that cruiser ?

I can’t recall the name.

Then we went into an Army camp that held the Ghurkhas, that was the Ghurkha Division going down to Singapore. Then they used quite a few Bibby Line ships for this convoy, now they were a well known passenger liner that ran to India in peace time before the war and they had big open decks. We went aboard this Bibby Line ship and of course having all Ghurkha troops aboard, all Ghurkhas but warrant officers up were all English officers. We ate with the officers had a steward on every table. The New Zealanders on board showed themselves up, because there would be two chaps there eating, one would leave a bit of potato on his plate and he would put his knife and fork dead down straight and the steward had to walk away slowly. Another chap might have nothing left on his plate, and if he put his knife and fork crossed, no way, it stayed there, so they made a few faux pas there. On this Bibby Line ship we had the best of cabins. When we got to Singapore, coming into Singapore, we came under a bit of air attack, so they sent some of us down. They never hold all signalmen under an air attack because you wanted some spares. We had to go down with side arms in case some of these Ghurkhas became upset, it was the first time they had been at sea and the first time under fire. They were magnificent under fire the Ghurkhas, fantastic.

Now Bam in terms of date, we reckon it might have been December `41 ?

It would have been the middle or near the end of December in 1941 when we came in. We came alongside at night and we didn’t know where the Naval Base was, this is in Keppel Harbour where we came in, we could see anti aircraft fire well away and we were told that was over at the Naval Base. We did not leave the ship until next morning and went to the Naval Base. There they had a well established Naval Base which had a big dry dock and in it while we were there they had an English sub from the Mediterranean called the ROVER and she suffered damaged in the Mediterranean and she was in dry dock there which was quite interesting. The Navy had a big barracks, built for the tropics and they were two storied and very wide big concrete buildings with double doors all along the full length for the tropics and the heat with tarseal around it and you went down a hill down to the actual Naval Base proper where they moored the ships and they had the headquarters down there. I was actually allocated into the headquarters there and the first bomb that I had while in there I didn’t hear any explosion, all you just had was this rush of air.

Was it close by ?

No it was a fair way away and it went into the mud somewhere and it was just the movement of the air, like a whoof. Its a different ball game when it gets onto hard stuff. We were under pretty constant air attack and I can always remember thinking that Owen Slattery who we called “Slats”, he was on the ENTERPRISE I think it was and I remember being at headquarters and EAO message came in, that meant “enemy aircraft overhead” and I thought he would be for the chop, anyway they ran into a rain squall and the next thing she came in, so he was safe for the time being.

While I was there the PRINCE OF WALES and the REPULSE were also there.

I remember being at night under air attack and the PRINCE OF WALES with all her ack-ack going and it was a magnificent sight to see. They had an open air picture show there one night for the forces and I can always remember it was a Heidi Lamar film and its not very good for men’s morale when they see this lushish lady on the screen. Anyway we heard this plane and it was a Hudson and we thought it was one of ours. It was a Hudson and it came in and the next thing there is machine gun fire from this plane and of course being on a concrete floor in this open air theatre, it is not a place to lay on the concrete floor. Every one was trying to get out and it crashed down and the next thing they dropped a couple of bombs away from us. He came in quite low and it was one that they had captured and they just thought they would sneak in and have a raid. They probably saw the screen, it was open air, the screen had a cover over it in case of rain, but that is probably what they saw and thought they would burst some machine gun fire.

Then things must have got desperate up in the Islands and I remember we had air raid shelters not far from these barracks where you could get down to if you were going to have an air raid on that area. That’s where I first saw real panic, and it is a very catchy thing. Because I went down there a couple of times and of course you start to stroll, and there is a big crowd of you because you can hear the planes coming. Then somebody up the front starts to go a bit faster and then somebody goes a bit faster and before you know it you are like a mob of sheep and you are running and you are running flat out. I decided the next time I thought we would come back to the barracks and there might have been a few holes around the place where a couple of bombs had landed, but the barracks were alright. I decided the next time that I would stay in the barracks. The next time came and sure enough the bombs started to land around the barracks. I lay down on the concrete floor against the wall by a wardrobe and this shrapnel was coming through the open doors and it was coming too high to get me, but I never stayed in there the next time. When things got bad we were sent, the signalmen, to the top of the building that is the highest building in Singapore, about eight stories and that was right away from the water and the town. The building they put us on was about six stories high and we were there to deal with the ships in the harbour for signals. Unfortunately on the roof of this place where they put us they had an air raid siren and that is shocking if you are standing next to it. We could see across to Seletar Airport, because at that stage we had very, very few aircraft, we had a few Hurricanes and we had run out of our Brewster Buffalos, that was the American plane that they had been using as fighters. Most of them got knocked out. I can always remember when my faith in the BBC went down the drain, I saw this raid that came over in the morning and this Hurricane came down with smoke coming out of it and it hit the Base fair on, it must have been doing 600 miles when it hit it. We heard on the BBC that night on the radio describing this raid, that Singapore was bombed, our aircraft went up to engage them and all our planes returned to Base, but they didn’t say 600 miles an hour on its nose.

Anyway things were getting desperate, there were ships on the horizon that we would report as on fire and every thing like that, it was getting chaotic and they had knocked out most of our ack-ack. We had some which were a magnificent gun, Bofors and they in the end were coming in formations of nine, slowing down trying to wipe out these Bofors batteries, it was pretty chaotic.

These are shore based aircraft I presume were they Bam ?


From up the coast ?

Well they had all those airports up north of Malaya, up across in Johore. Because I actually saw the explosion of the smoke going up when they blew up the causeway.

Things were getting pretty desperate and in the end we were informed that the last naval authority had packed up and they gave us a list of what ships we were to get on and what they wanted to try and do was to put the signalmen aboard each vessel. I had a ship called the WO KWANG to go to. Just prior to this, before they told us this, they just told us to pack up and await further orders. We were getting pretty bombed, and we had tin hats and we had clips of 303 ammunition, we had 303’s and we were just in khakis.

Were you, shorts ?

Yes nothing to indicate that we were Navy.

About four or five of us were yachties and I said, “Well look if we get out of here, we go down and get on a junk and see if we can get out of here”. They said, “What about the crew ?”. I said, “Either they help us or either they go over the side”, I said, “We have got 303’s”. But anyway these wise old heads, one was Scott, he came from Auckland an ex RNVR and of course they pooh hooed my idea, it was probably just as well. Anyway I was sent to the WO KWANG. When we packed up, all the `go downs’ were ablaze on the shore and there was an Island just out from there that oil tanks on and that had been blown up.

When you say “go downs” Bam, what do you mean ?

They are the sheds on the wharves, all those were on fire and on this island all the oil tanks were set alight by our own fire, that is so the Japs wouldn’t get it. On the wharves they had MP’s, red caps to stop all Army personnel getting on. We picked up a car, and you could just pick up a car in the street, because they were all left there and we drove down there and we had a hell of a job getting through the wharf to convince them that we were Navy, not Army. We got onto the wharf, we pushed the car over the end of the wharf and I was with a chap named John Henderson, and we went aboard a ship, now this is historical, it was alongside, it had its engines out and it was the old LABURNUM. Now there was two sloops that used to be in the New Zealand Navy, one was the LABURNUM and I can’t think of the other one and they were about the last warships to be built with the mast before the bridge. At sea during the war you always picked out a warship if you saw the silhouette over the horizon, because the mast is behind the bridge. But these sloops had the mast in front of the bridge, that’s how old they were. I can remember laying down, there was another air attack and there was a chap there and he was actually gone, he was suffering shell shock which is a shocking thing to see.

(end of Tape 1)

(beginning of Tape 2)

I must also point out before we got to the wharf to go and reach our ships to show what the position was in Singapore, the Japanese actually had observation balloons about five miles distant from the building we were sending signals from and there was nothing to shoot it down, no guns that could get at them.

I was to go the WO KWANG and Ron Everson was to go the PINGWO, and this launch was loaded with people to go to different vessels, so we left. He went to quite a few vessels and luckily for me the WO KWANG was anchored well out. When he got to the PINGWO he said I think the WO KWANG is too far out, so Ron Everson said to me, “Come aboard the PINGWO”, so that’s how I got aboard the PINGWO.

Describe the PINGWO to us Bam ?

The PINGWO was originally a ferry in Hong Kong. It was brought down to Singapore and was fitted out with a four inch up forward Asdic and depth charge throwers and charges on the stern. It had a bridge right forward with crew cabins underneath on the bow section. It was on that small bow section that they had put down a platform and the 4 inch QF.

Overall length of the vessel, about what ?

That I couldn’t say, it would be I would say from 1500 to 2000 tons, but I could find that out from other information I will locate. It had a well deck and then aft it was big wide areas with roofs over, as being a ferry it didn’t require canons, it was a coal burner. The well deck was one heap of coal, because they had loaded coal on her in Singapore before she had gone out to anchor and on board we had refugees. I know there was the General Manager of the Ford Company from Singapore who was pakeha, there was quite a few women and children and it was mixed. We had a few Australian soldiers.

All the small ships in the harbour made up a big convoy the next day and I think there was about 30 odd ships and they took off. That night that we got aboard, you can just about read a newspaper on the deck on the PINGWO from the island with these oil tanks and all the “go downs” ashore on the waterfront were just alight.

The next day, I think it was the next day we saw this convoy being attacked from the distance, we were behind them, we left a lot later than them. Our skipper pulled in between two islands and we just had enough room to swing around and we were ordered, those who had rifles to get on deck in case we drew dive bombers if they were going to attack us. Its a very interesting order. The gun up front was manned by the soldiers we had that had got aboard and lucky for us they were flying back to base because they had bombed this convoy and they had no bombs, so we missed out. Just then I heard a shot and I heard a body thump on the platform of the 4 inch gun platform and a voice said, “Right through the leg”. I thought to myself there is Japs on the island and but it wasn’t. When they had gone forward to man the 4 inch gun they had all put down their 303’s. When the trouble had gone past somebody bent down to pick them up and pulled the trigger and the shot had ricocheted off.

From there we went down through Banka Strait expecting trouble because it was wide open for air attack, but we were lucky we got through and we got into Batavia.

This is in daylight ?

In daylight, I think that was an overnight trip.

In Batavia there was the EXETER and there was the DE RUYTER, there was the navy pay ship that had all the naval records from Singapore and we came under air attack while we were there, but they were pretty light. We saw the EXETER and the other cruiser and the English destroyer, I think it was JUPITER go out and that was the last time they were in port, they got sunk. We picked up the VENDETTA and then there was some other small ships, they stayed, the PINGWO was anchored all the time, we still had all our refugees aboard and we hadn’t picked up any food or anything. Then we were to take over the VENDETTA and with a small convoy to set off for Australia with the YARRA as escort. Well the big point was whether we would get through Sunda Strait, and we had to go through Sunda Strait in day time.

Why was that ?

It was just the way we had to take off and get off out of it quick, but it seemed a stupid thing to me to do. We went through in daylight and that was just like an invitation to bomb as far as anything was concerned. Well the YARRA after she left us got sunk there and there weren’t many survivors off her. In the mean time we pressed on and we were escorted by I think the ADELAIDE that came out to us, this was the original ship which escorted me across the Tasman on the JOHAN VAN OLDENVANDERBELT. None of us had Asdics, VENDETTA had one 12 pound that could fire, but no depth charges and no power whatsoever.

She had no engine did she ?

No engine, no power whatsoever, so all my signalmen, there was two signalmen aboard the PINGWO, there was Ron Everson and myself and we did four hours on and four hours off, no watches, just four hours on and four hours off and we had to be there. Luckily for us the water was pretty flat and when we signalled to the VENDETTA we had to use semaphore, because they had no power and their batteries wouldn’t have lasted them long with an Aldis. We had to go aft and stand on the top of the after deck-house of the PINGWO and send by semaphore.

Now the VENDETTA was under tow of course at this stage ?

Yes we were towing her and we had the string on her.

When we got further down off the coast of Aussie an Aussie aircraft came out from coastal command and I worked it myself with an Aldis, they told us they had sighted a submarine about 8 miles behind us, and it was presumed hostile. Now we had no Asdic, the destroyer had no Asdic and we were like a small convoy.

Three vessels one under tow ?

No, there was about four, I think there was roughly four vessels and us towing the VENDETTA, so it looked like a convoy with a destroyer on the tail of it and the old ADELAIDE out the front. Everyone was keeping a good look out to see if they could see a periscope or a stream of water coming towards you. Anyway nothing happened. When we got down and of course we were running out of food, we had a few kids die aboard and there was no stopping for funerals, they just wrapped them up and said a few words, there was no stopping and they were just thrown over the side and we were running out of tucker. By this time the heap of coal in the well deck had gone down and they would shovel it in the bunkers and they actually just using it as the bunkers. Two or three days out of Fremantle down one of these bunkers they came across this body and obviously the PINGWO was being coaled under an air raid and so somebody had jumped in the hole to get out of the way, but they kept loading and so he was buried and they found him down there. When we got down off Fremantle we broke a tow and got into all sorts of hassles. We eventually got into Fremantle and of course they took our rifles, I got issued with one uniform.

That must have been a great relief to get into Fremantle when you were low on fuel and food Bam ?

Well they had enough coal to get down, obviously that was no problem. It was the refugees and that we had, some of them had been poorly treated.

Bam you were saying the departure date from Singapore was just before the surrender?

Just before the surrender and from Batavia we left for Perth on the 17th of February 1942 and we arrived at Fremantle on the 4th March 1942, so that was 15 days, just a bit over two weeks.

On the PINGWO the captain was RNR and from Singapore he had with him his Eurasian mistress in his cabin the whole trip. He always carried a pistol on his belt, all the time.

What sort of a bloke was he Bam ?

He did not like me at all because I had a bit to say at times on signals, because he had no experience of signalling. But this difference between us came to a far greater head later on in Albany. What I did I went to the naval depot there and requisitioned a uniform. I told them I had not been paid since well before I left Singapore, months. They gave me a hand out of about 20 pounds, because I did not know that all our records were destroyed anyway.

The next thing we are back aboard PINGWO, reloaded and we set off for Melbourne. We left for Melbourne on the 10th March 1942. It was quite a rough trip and during this trip it was that rough at one stage that the bunker holes on the side of the ship, where the coal goes in were actually distorting with the weight of the destroyer on the stern. Under these conditions it becomes rather dangerous. On the PINGWO Ron and I slept in a pilots cabin that had two bunks in it, it had a light switch by the door and was full of rats, you had to kick them off you, they would run over you while you were in bed. We had no bunks, no hammocks, just pull a flag over you. Coming down from Singapore we only had Army biscuits, now these had to be soaked for 24 hours before you could eat them. I still had a flick knife and what I used to do was put one of these biscuits on the deck and when I heard a rat pushing it around trying to get a bit out of it I would switch the light on and try and spear it with my knife. When we went into Albany, we didn’t actually have a mutiny, but what we did do was we mustered in the well deck and we wanted to speak to the skipper and asked for better tucker and that if the rats didn’t leave the ship we weren’t going to sail in it. So we didn’t go alongside in Albany, so the rats would have had to swim ashore and they didn’t want that. While in Albany there was two American four funnelled destroyers in there and I signalled one, one night and asked them if they had a ship going ashore at about dusk, a ships boat. They said yes and I asked them to call off our stern. Four Australian sailors who had come aboard at Fremantle to help sail the PINGWO down came ashore with me and we spent I think it was three days ashore. When I came back aboard the Captain said that I was going for a court martial plus these three sailors. The next night I got ashore again and came back and he pulled me up and said, “You went ashore again”, I said, “No I didn’t Sir, I was down at the tiller flat”. He said, “That’s a lie, but you are going on charge.” It had then been decided that they would send down a small merchant ship called the ISLANDER which had a native crew, a merchant ship, a merchant skipper. They came down and these three Australian sailors had been sent ashore and had been sent across by train to Sydney for a court martial. The skipper wanted me off the ship, he said, “You go aboard the ISLANDER”, because the PINGWO was to escort the ISLANDER which was towing the VENDETTA, escort her to Melbourne.

You were put aboard the new towing vessel ?

The new towing vessel and told that when I got to Melbourne I would have my court martial.

You were on charge ?


These chaps got six months in Garden Island in Sydney. I went aboard the ISLANDER and we ran into very bad weather and we were off Cape Leeuwin off the south west coast of Australia. It was the first time that I have ever seen it on a ship, the old merchant skipper put over bags of oakum over the hawse pipe soaked in oil and it was amazing it stopped the break in the water. It just spread out and it stopped the break in water, absolutely fantastic.

While you were underway or while you were heave to ?

We were heaved to, just keeping ahead, because that night I got a signal from the PINGWO that said, “Have tried to heave to, cannot do so, I am running before it.” PINGWO took off and ran before her. In the meantime we had this rough weather and this oil as I say was fantastic. We broke the tow again later on going through the Aussie Bight, and there was one instance, while we were in this bad weather it also broke one of our fair leads on the stern. Then it broke on the destroyers bow and we had to pull it in. Now this was a flush deck merchant ship with two big fairleads in the back and it could go right through to the forward winches and she just had a small foc’sle on it, but these winches were actually down. They took a strop onto the wire that was hanging over the stern, take it up to the winch, strop it and then go back and get another go. She had a Malay crew aboard and one of these strops broke and it is the quickest I have ever seen. While it was snaking out this Malay is jumping in between it and he never got caught. We got it back aboard and then we had to get a barricade, we tried to go alongside the destroyer and we had a beam sea at this stage, the destroyer was rolling in a beam sea, because she couldn’t have a sea anchor or anything like that. The skipper brought her in alongside and they did a line over with a rifle from the destroyer.

On the windward or leeward side ?

He came down the leeward side of the destroyer and I was on the bridge of this ISLANDER and the bridge of the destroyer actually came in front of me, I was on the wing of the bridge, actually came in front of me and over our fore-deck. Then they rolled away again, luckily we didn’t touch. The old skipper got her out of there smartly, what we did was he got the destroyer to float a barricoe down.

Down weather ?

No the destroyer had more windage than us, so she was drifting faster, so it was far better for them drifting faster to put the barricoe out.

You were up to windward ?

We were up to windward, so as she drifted down this barricode stayed there and this is how we got her up to get the line across. Then when we got further down we broke the tow again down and we were on a lee shore. A little ship had come out to escort us and I felt the tow broke, so my first instinct was to turn around, because I am the only signalman on board and to call the ship ahead of us that the tow had broken so he could come back. Of course the destroyer is trying to contact me with semaphore and of course he is getting no reply from me, and they think the tow is broken and nobody knows anything about it. They are steaming away and they are on lee ashore. What they did was they put a shot in this 12 pounder and put a shot over the top of us. Anyway we got out of that one and we went into Adelaide. When we got into Adelaide I went to the Naval Department again and told them I hadn’t had money well before Singapore and drew another 20 pounds.

From there we took off to Melbourne and that was pretty uneventful until going into the harbour there they have a place called the rip, it must be an extreme tide.

This is near the heads presumably ?

No it is going into the harbour itself, I don’t know, I have never seen a plan of it. We came in there and we were towing the destroyer and there was a tug coming out to pick the destroyer up, there was a shore station and of course they are all trying to contact our ship. I ended up using an Aldis, that’s your trigger finger, I was trying to get it through that quick but I didn’t use the trigger finger, what I was using was the handle, just the light. In other words just switching the light on and off and sending Morse that way and I had a hell of a job, but we got through it. When I got to Melbourne I reported back to the PINGWO and this skipper had obviously got a rap over the knuckles because he told me to get off his ship, he didn’t want to bloody well see me ever again. The merchant skipper told me, “You will have to go, I have got nothing for you”. He thanked me very much, he had never had an able signalman before and he really appreciated the fact because they wouldn’t have been able to handle the Morse that we had to handle with the semaphore. When the skipper of the PINGWO told me to beat it, I went around and found the local naval barracks in Lonsdale and went there. I told them I was short of money and they gave me some more. I thought while I am in Aussie I have got the chance to spend some money if they are going to give it to me. I will get a norwester when I go home to New Zealand and I don’t mind because my family live in Auckland, so while I am here I am not going to go short of money. At this naval barracks they gave me a job guarding prisoners and I thought I was going to be left there until the end of the war. We arrived in Melbourne on the 15th April and then the MONOWAI came in and somebody told me the New Zealand merchant cruiser had come in, so I went around there and saw Jimmy the one and he said, “We are sailing for New Zealand tomorrow, bring your gear aboard”, and that’s how I got home. When I got home I found out that I was reported missing.

Your family must have been ?

Of course in the Navy once you are reported missing its usually lost.

Your mother and father still alive at that stage Bam ?

No I was adopted as a child and then that marriage broke up, I was kidnapped and then I was taken over by an Aunty and I lived with an Aunty who looked after me and brought me up.

In Birkenhead ?

Yes and she had about seven children of her own. Then I was kidnapped by my step-mother at one stage of it and ended up in a court and I have been in a child’s home. Of course when I was in Birkenhead I left school at 13 and went to work for 5 shillings a week in a grocers and I gave my mother 5 shillings a week.

This completes the interview with Bam Banbury.

(end of Interview)

Albert Steven BANBURY
Born 18 August 1922
RNZD 2404 (Official No.)

I joined the Navy as an hostilities only rating on 12 March 1941. Approximately 24 in the signalmen’s class instructed by Yeoman Robertshaw. Commander John Elsworthy was Commander of the base and was known as Long John. The class was billeted on the old warship PHILOMEL which was a real relic of a bygone era. Up early to lash hammocks, scrub the teak decks, then to training. We were taught Morse Code by lights, flags and key. Flags of the Naval code and International code. Semaphore by hand flags and mechanical arms. When the course was finished final leave was taken and half the class was drafted to Hong Kong departing Auckland on the 22nd July 1941 on the Dutch passenger ship JOHAN VAN OLDENBANDERVELT escorted by the old Australian cruiser ADELAIDE. Our group was under a leading hand and together with a draft of stokers was virtually the only passengers.

After a rough trip I arrived in Sydney to pick up part of the Australian Division going to Malaya. From Sydney where we joined the ship we went to Melbourne and picked up the remainder of the division and proceeded to Fremantle.

Aboard our ship was the General commanding the division who was known as Black Jack. Our draft had two run-ins with him on the trip. All troops on board were wearing deck life jackets, and while on deck one day the General with his officers around him spotted some of our ratings not wearing life jackets. They were stopped by the General and told to don jackets. It did not please him when the ratings pulled the teats of their Mae Wests from their jerseys. The second incident was when some of the ratings were pulled up for not saluting an officer when passing on deck. It did not please him when told that in the Navy, ratings did not salute officers unless addressing an officer or being addressed by an officer. The General eventually told us we were the most undisciplined group of servicemen he had encountered and when we later left Fremantle an Australian Lieutenant Commander accompanied us for the rest of the trip. While berthed in Fremantle leave was granted to all Army personnel and us and every man going ashore was issued with two condoms and two tubes of ointment. No instruction re the ointment – where to put it, who used it or what it was for. Perth at this period had licensed brothels which had a busy time while the troopships were in. Civilian Police were used to control the queues outside the houses of comfort.

Arrived in Singapore and were sent to the Naval Base. Luckily for us signalman, a draft of English signalmen had arrived a week before us and been sent to Hong Kong and us being surplus to requirements were then seconded to the Far Eastern Fleet based in Colombo. During this time I had my 19th birthday at the Naval Base. We left Singapore by train for Penang to join town class cruisers GLASGOW for transport to Colombo. My trip by train which had a marvellous bar and dining coach – overnight trip with very comfortable sleeping quarters. From Penang, the ship did a quick survey around the Andaman Islands for raiders and then to Colombo, where we were drafted to various ships. My good fortune was to be drafted to HMS CORNWALL a County class cruiser, 8 inch guns, which had recently sunk a German Raider. Very Pusser. All orders by bosun’s pipe, like action stations, air defence, up bubbly, etc. After turrets manned by Marines. In Colombo all ships moored to buoys and often in harbour our Captain (Mainwaring) was S.N.O.A. Senior Naval Officer Afloat, which meant a lot of signal traffic to and from the ship mostly by semaphore. From this base, CORNWALL travelled to Port Tommy which was in the Maldive Islands – down to the Seychelle Islands, around Madagascar and using the Walrus extensively. Patrols were of approximately 2 to 2 and a half hours and could cover a vast area of sea. On return from patrol, a plane would land, taxi alongside, where one crew would climb on the top wing and attach a crane hook, then it was lifted aboard and put in the hangar. If the sea was rough for landing, the ship would make a slick turn to give the Pussers Duck reasonable smooth water to land on. The plane was catapult launched athwart ship.

Convoyed a couple of 11 knot convoys and if on a Sunday, after divisions on the quarter deck, would steam between the lines of ships with marine band playing. Also convoyed QUEEN MARY and QUEEN ELIZABETH from the coast of Australia to Trincomalee for oiling, then up through the Gulf of Aden to Perim in the Red Sea where an English cruiser would take over. While escorting these massive ships, we would travel at approximately 25 knots and at night close up in line astern. It was while in this formation we ran into a convoy in the Gulf, and all hell broke loose. No ships had radar and an escorting destroyer had spotted us in the dark and switched on her visual fixed identification lights. When all convoy ships navigation lights switched on, it was chaotic, but luckily no collisions occurred.

When in Japan attacked Pear Harbour, CORNWALL was on her way to Aden – at that time all ships were moored to buoys and in the harbour was a passenger liner (I think the EMPRESS OF JAPAN) being loaded. From a barge moored alongside was a gang plank to a door low down in the hull and the coal was carried by coolies, in bags, into the ship. Aden had a large Naval presence and ashore had a massive Naval canteen and a brothel just out of the town at Mala. It was run by the RAF.

Ratings from various ships that were to return to Singapore were all taken to Crater City outside of Aden to await passage. Crater City was surrounded by bare hills where no plants of any kind grew. The area was populated by Arabs who lived in their dwellings with the goats and fowls. Camels came in from the desert carrying twigs for fuel. To my knowledge, no white person lived in this area. Our group of about 30 contacted Embryonic Dysentery and it was pitiful to see them crawling to the toilet passing blood. A Sick Bay Tiffy was sent out from Aden to help, but all that was given to the sick was castor oil. When asked what good that would do, he said it would eliminate the bug from the stomach. I, fortunately with two others escaped the infection.

From Aden, I was put aboard an old cruiser which had a centreline 6 inch admidships. No shield, no turret and carried a plaque stating that in the First World War Seaman Boy Cornwell had won a VC while manning this gun.

The trip to Bombay was uneventful and on arrival were billeted in an Army Camp which was occupied by the Ghurkhas of the Indian Division. Then boarded a Bibby Line ship for passage to Singapore. The Ghurkhas aboard had all British officers from Warrant Officers and while aboard during the trip we dined with the officers. All meals had a choice of menu with a steward for every two persons at the table. Our sleeping accommodation was in four berth 1st class cabins with a cabin steward on hand at all times. As the convoy came into Singapore, we came under air attack. In view of the Ghurkhas inexperience, having never been to sea before and being enclosed below while under attack, all Naval ratings not required on deck were sent below with side arms to quell any unrest if it eventuated. The Ghurkhas however were magnificent and the few who were on deck would have a go with Brens or rifles at the planes flying at 15,000 feet or more. We arrived alongside the wharf in Keppel Harbour at night and in the distance could see the flashes of Ack-Ack fire from a raid on the Naval Base.

Next morning we were taken to the Naval Base which covered a large area. The barracks were on a rise which looked down on the wharf area and the dry dock area near which were the Naval Headquarters. The area around the barracks was all tar sealed and a bad place to be in an air raid, as the hard surface really made the shrapnel fly. A lot different if you were on swampy ground where bombs would bury into the ground a fair way before exploding and curbing the range of the shrapnel. After a raid, it was amazing the amount of ships’ rivets we would find laying about – a nasty piece of metal to get hit by. Many times we saw the Brewster Buffalo fighters and a few hurricanes attacking the bombers but with few successes. The Brewster Buffalos, American fighters, were no match for the Jap Zeroes and suffered great casualties. The Japanese bombers came over in formations of 27 and were pretty continuous on the base.

At this period of time, I was working in headquarters amongst all senior officers of the Navy. One outstanding sight I remember was a night raid on the dock area while the PRINCE OF WALES and the REPULSE were alongside. To see the PRINCE OF WALES with all its Ack-Ack in action at night was really spectacular. I was still at the base when the PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE survivors were brought into the camp and saw the smoke from the explosion when the Johore causeway was blown up. Near the end together with a group of signalmen, we were sent to a building near the waterfront in Keppel Harbour and were to handle all signal traffic to and from the ships in the harbour. Our position was on the roof of a six storey building with an air raid siren six feet away from our 10 inch lamp – with air raids and then all clears, it was pretty continuous.

As things deteriorated, the Japanese had an observation balloon in the air approximately five miles from where we were and there were no aircraft to shoot it down. At this period of time, we carried 303’s, were dressed in khaki shorts and shirts and wearing a tin hat for long periods of time which was not as comfortable as Naval head gear. This was the Navy’s last signal station in Singapore and at the end we were told the Navy Authority had ceased to exist and we were given names of various ships we were allocated to, if it was possible.

At this stage things were chaotic, the Jap planes were in low in formations of nine, wiping out the remaining AA Batteries, most of which were Bofors, cars abandoned lined the streets. To get to the ships we were allocated a departure point from a jetty where a launch was servicing the various ships anchored in the harbour and the road stead. We picked up a car and drove to the jetty and found British MP’s stationed at the wharf stopping all Army personnel from entry.

Dressed in khaki, tin helmets and carrying rifles we had a hell of a job convincing the MP’s we were Navy and not Army personnel. We made it eventually onto the wharf, pushed the car off the wharf and sheltered during the air raid going on aboard the old sloop LABURNUM which was, when I was a boy in Devonport together with the VERONICA. Ron Emerson and I ended up on a launch going out to the ships in the harbour. Ron to the PING WO and I for the KUNG WO. The remainder on board being mostly white refugees.

After calling at various small ships and unloading various groups, arrived at PING WO to drop off Ron Emerson. The Launch Master told me KUNG WO was too far out and he was returning to shore. Hence I boarded PING WO. This was at night – the waterfront was a mass of flame with most of the Go Downs alight and a small island with oil installations ablaze behind us. The night on deck I had my first cigarette, standing on deck and watching Singapore burn.

The PING WO was previously a 3150 ton Hong Kong ferry which had been taken over by the Navy having been fitted with a 4 inch forward of the bridge, asdic and depth charges and manned by the Malaysians. The Captain was an RNR Lieutenant Commander who had company of his Eurasian mistress in his cabin and wore an automatic pistol in a belt holster all the time. Aged 40 to 45. No Malaysian seamen on board but the ship was crammed with white refugees with many women and children. Being previously a ferry, had no cabin space for passengers and refugees mostly slept on deck. Also aboard about six Australian soldiers – how they got past the MP’s on the wharves, I do not know.

PING WO took off next morning in day light and as we progressed we were slowly catching up with a large convoy of small ships on the horizon and saw them being attacked by aircraft. The Captain took the ship and anchored between two small islands where we could just swing around on the anchor. The planes attacking the convoy flew over us returning from the convoy, but did not attack us. We proceeded through Banka Strait to Jakarta (then called Batavia). Saw no trace of ships from the attacked convoy and we were not attacked from air. We anchored in harbour. PING WO had been coaled in Singapore and had between bridge and after-structure a great heap of coal. To get from bridge aft we had to climb this mountain, hence the ship did not require refuelling in Batavia. In port at this time, were quite a few Naval vessels including the EXETER, a Dutch cruiser, and quite a few destroyers. Many of these left shortly after we arrived and for some it was for the last time. We had a few light air raids during our short stay during which time we received no stores and nobody left the ship while anchored.

On the 17th of February we took up tow of VENDETTA and together with a convoy of small ships and escort of HMAS YARRA set off for Fremantle. The convoy passed through the Sunda Straits in day light and although we expected air attacks, none occurred.

VENDETTA was a V and W Class destroyer which had no power asdic, or fire power except for one 12 pounder which was capable of being fired. The YARRA continued until the cruiser ADELAIDE took over escort duties off the NW coast of Australia. YARRA was sunk shortly after leaving us and very few of her crew survived.

Meanwhile we continued on at approximately 7 knots in easy swells and good weather, although we had a couple of deaths (2 young children) and food was very short. The ship continued to steam ahead, while the bodies after a few words were dispatched over-board.

By this time the heap of coal on the well deck had disappeared and while stoking the boilers, a body was discovered in a bunker. Probably the ship was coaled during an air raid, the deceased had sheltered in the bunker but coaling had continued and he was buried alive. The convoy was stretched out with the ADELAIDE leading and PING WO and VENDETTA at rear of the convoy.

An Australian plane doing coastal patrol appeared off the NW coast and circling in a low circle round us and the destroyer with an Aldis lamp that they had sighted a submarine approximately 6 miles behind us. We obviously thought it was a Jap sub and kept a real good look out but sighted nothing. Later in Fremantle we met some of the crew who stated that on sighting the convoy they had thought it was a small Jap force going to land on the NW coast. Thinking the VENDETTA was escorting destroyer and they closed for attack when they picked up the tattered white ensign on the VENDETTA. The sub was later attacked by the Australian Coastal Patrol as no friendly sub was supposed to be in this area and it was immediately presumed hostile and arrived in Fremantle with a dent. Off Fremantle we ran into bad weather but reached port okay on the 4th March. I went to Navy Office and asked for money, had to hand my rifle over, then receiving one uniform and an advance of 20 pounds. The ship lost its refugees and the Captain his mistress.

Left Fremantle on 9th March to tow the destroyer to Melbourne and ran into really bad weather breaking the tow. After recovering tow, both ships received a battering from the big seas. On the PING WO, the bunker holes in the deck could be seen distorting when the two ships hit opposing seas and the towing line would snap taut with a great jerk. Battled into Albany to repair any damage and a breather for the crews on the 15th March. While anchored in harbour no shore leave was granted. In port anchored were two 4 funnelled US destroyers who ran their own liberty boat ashore for their crews. I signalled one of the ships requesting that the next liberty ship ashore call off our stern after dark. This they did and I together with three Australian Ratings, taken aboard in Fremantle went adrift for three days. Returning aboard we were put on charge. In the meantime a small merchant ship, ISLANDER (1598 tons) arrived in Albany to take over tow with PING WO acting as an escort.

The Captain informed me I was to do the trip to Melbourne on the ISLANDER as signalman and would be charged with being adrift on arrival in Melbourne. Left Albany on the 24th with tow and immediately ran into bad weather. The tow was broken then recovered but weather deteriorated further and ship hove to. Seas big with a lot of breaking water. Captain ordered two bags of Oakum soaked in oil lashed in the eyes of the ship, the result of which was fantastic. The oil spreading out and stopping the breaking water. That night PING WO signalled she could not heave to in the seas and was running before it. The last we saw her until arrival in Melbourne.

Tow parted again and ISLANDER fouled her screw which took a long time to clear and had broken a stern fair lead. The Destroyer in the meantime was drifting in big seas and to pass the tow while the destroyer with beam on was difficult. Captain brought ISLANDER to windward, while on VENDETTA they had a rifle ready to fire a line aboard. As we came parallel, both ships came down big waves and standing on the starboard side of the bridge saw the top of VENDETTA’s bridge right over our fore deck. How the this never collided I’ll never know. The Captain had us at full speed to pull away at once. As VENDETTA drifted faster to leeward in the conditions, a barrico with a light line was dropped by VENDETTA to windward and when sufficiently far enough to weather ISLANDER had no difficulty picking it up. Soon after the HMAS MORESBY joined us as escort and on the 6th April arrived in Adelaide.

Departed ADELAIDE on 10th of April with sloop HMAS WHYALLA as escort ship. Again ran into bad weather and while on the bridge, the ship jumped and realising the tow had parted I immediately signalled the escort ahead of this fact. When this occurred, VENDETTA was on a lee shore and as I had not answered her signal right away, they fired a round from her 12 pounder over us and the escort to draw attention. Finally arrived at the entrance of Melbourne Harbour on the 14th of April on a cold night in heavy rain. As we entered, what was called the rip, a tug came out to pick up tow. In a short period of time, I was flat out with signal lights everywhere – Port War Signal Station, Escort and Tug. The next morning both ships alongside. The skipper of ISLANDER thanked me for my part in the rough trip we had just finished, telling me that being a merchant ship he could not keep me aboard. I located PING WO and boarding her approached the Captain who told me he didn’t want me aboard and to get off his ship. He did not like me obviously. I searched and found the nearest Naval depot, which was LONSDALE. Issued with a hammock, advanced some money, and spent my days guarding prisoners when there were any. I was beginning to think I would spend the rest of war here, when later a rating told me that armed merchant cruiser MONOWAI was in port. I went aboard and saw Jimmy the one who told me the ship was leaving next day for Auckland and I was to come aboard.

I left LONSDALE depot, not telling anyone, so presume I was, or still am, reported a deserter or missing by the Australian Navy. I arrived back in Auckland ex MONOWAI on the 2nd May 1942 to find I was still listed missing by the Navy.

Left New Zealand 22 July 1941
Returned 2 May 1942
Overseas just over 9 months in which time I was aboard two passenger lines – JOHAN VAN OLDENBANDERVELT and Bibby Line Passenger Line, 3 British Cruisers – GLASGOW, CORNWALL, C Class Cruiser, ex Hong Kong Ferry PINGWO, Merchant ship ISLANDER and Armed Merchant ship MONOWAI.


Join the Navy and see the world.

The enclosed account covered a period of just over nine months and for an eighteen year old with limited education, where the only trip outside of Auckland prior to enlisting had been a sail in a 22 foot Mullet boat to Whangarei and Russell. The class I joined was one of the first for hostilities only ratings and of the approximately 24 ratings at least 17 were either prisoners of war, died in captivity or killed in action. Unfortunately I do not recall all the names, but if all the experiences of this group during the War could have been put in print it would have made interesting reading.

Names Recalled:
McHUGH- Killed in action
SCOTT- Killed in action

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