Reminiscences of Mr John (Jack) Lawrence William Salter, BEM, MID.
I remember in 1930 when I joined the Naval Reserve. I think the Naval Reserve was re-organized in New Zealand about 1928 in Auckland and Wellington 1929 in Dunedin. I was not able to get into the first 60 taken on, there were a lot of people ahead of me and I had to wait another year I think until the next draft was taken in. I was enrolled on the 24th April 1930. I had been in the Compulsory Military Training in those days and we had to serve in the Territorial Army from the age of 18, everybody. I quite enjoyed it really, I was in the Signals. When I found out that the Naval Reserve was a voluntary organization I decided to change because I was interested in the sea, boating, sailing and I had my application in. When I was accepted I told the Army blokes and they weren’t very pleased really, because I was quite a good Signalman in the Army. They had no option, because the Army being compulsory and the Naval Reserve being voluntary they couldn’t do any thing about it. I think about 1931 probably, Compulsory Military Training was discontinued, it may have been a little bit later. I had already signed up for three years and it was good, it was hell of a good thing because it was Depression days, and although I had a job at the start I was out of work the next year and for a couple of years. In the Naval Reserve I could always go down to the Navy Headquarters and get a bit of instruction, learn something. They had a couple of Whalers that we used to go sailing in the weekends. They had a rifle range, a .22 rifle range which we could use and it was almost a club, particularly for several of us, or a lot of us who were out of work in those days. We used to have regular dances about once a month in the Navy Headquarters and we actually had a really good social amenity which cost us very, very little.
On joining the Reserve I was due to turn up at the first parades, but unfortunately just before that I contracted Scarlet Fever, which in those days was a pretty serious disease. I was isolated in the Isolation Hospital for six weeks, so I missed the basic few weeks training. When I got there I was dragging the chain a bit and I had to catch up by taking note of what was going on and I really suffered quite badly from that, missing the basic training. I never had that and it was a bit of a disaster, however I managed to get through it.
The naval training in those days, the Volunteer Reserve, we got no pay, we used to parade once a week, from 7 until 9, do all sorts of basic Army training, rifle drill and marching. They had a four inch gun, we used to do gunnery drill, elementary signals, elementary seamanship and things like that. Then we had to do so many Saturday parades I think about once a month, we got no pay from that, the only concession we got for that was we got on the trams for a penny in uniform, big deal. My initial signing on was for three years and I was in Dunedin for that time.
As well as the regular training we did one week sea training in the Wakakura, which was one of the old Castle type trawlers that had been brought from England. The World War I Castle type trawler with one 4 inch gun, Oropesa sweeping gear and the crews accommodation or the RNVR accommodation was in the hold, originally the fish hold, hammocks slung over mess decks, very uncomfortable and in any seaway very wet. We used to leave Dunedin on a Saturday, about midday or the early afternoon perhaps and steam to Oamaru, possibly anchor there overnight. Then on to Timaru or any where up the coast, it would depend on the weather, sometimes stopping overnight, sometimes not and eventually reaching Akaroa where we anchored for a few days. Did a bit of boat work, ordinary training and I mean quite active training and generally being bossed around. Naturally pretty well everybody was seasick on the way up. The living conditions were pretty spartan with our hammocks slung in the hold over the top of mess tables. The feeding utensils, everybody was issued with them and about a 6 inch diameter aluminium bowl for drinking out of and that sort of thing and told definitely if you are sick, don’t be sick in that. Of course everybody was and you washed it out the next day, but you didn’t know whose really you were going to get any way. You had to take turns at preparing the food, it was cooked in the galley and issued fairly roughly, but we were well fed, plain, bloody rough. We used to take turns underway and assist with the watches, hanging around the deck mostly, there was nothing much that you could do. I used to spend a bit of time in the wheelhouse and I learnt to steer, hand steering gear by the way, which was bloody heavy going and polishing brass, cleaning, scrubbing, that sort of work, elementary stuff, you have been through it. Then they would come back to Dunedin at the end of the week, Saturday morning I think we used to arrive, coal ship, a filthy job, scrub down, change into shore going gear again and away we would go home. The next draft for the next week would go away.
There used to be about a dozen of us at a time. There were 60 in the whole Division, two Divisions of 60. I used to look forward to it, it was good fun in a way, but it was fairly boring as well, although I did learn a bit. That went on for a couple of years, I think I did two trips in the Wakakura. Then the Division in Dunedin found out that I knew a little bit about signals, I had learnt that as a scout. I had been taught Morse and Semaphore and so I did know it, nobody else seemed to know anything about it and they made me Signalman, and I thought that would be alright. I took on signals.
Instead of going for the weeks training in Wakakura, the Signal Branch used to do a week in one of the cruisers. Those were Dunedin and Diomede in those days, the D Class Cruisers, they were pretty little ships, they were little beauts and signalmen were trained in them. We would go away for a week in them, really dogsbodies, but it was far more interesting than the Wakakura, because we were being trained by signalmen. There would be a Chief Yeoman of Signals aboard those ships and a Yeoman or two and we got some proper signal training. The rest of the others they still went in the Wakakura.
My brother Eric joined the Division, I think the next group after I was in, that would be 1931 or `32 I think and we got away together a couple of times in either the Diomede or the Dunedin. On one cruiser we went right around the South Island. Left Dunedin and went to Bluff, then around the Fiords into the various Sounds and eventually up the West Coast and up to Wellington and then we were sent back by ferry and rail to Dunedin. That was a very interesting trip and the two of us together; we had quite a lot of fun and saw Wellington for the first time. Actually we went up in an aircraft, that was in the cruise in the Diomede in 1933. I did three cruises in her. In March 1933 and November 1933 and again in 1935, by that time I had enlisted for another three years. They were quite good, we got quite a lot of good training there. Then I was away from Dunedin for quite a while, I worked in Invercargill. When I was in Dunedin I used to go back to the Naval Reserve and they would allow me to come and go as I liked. Whenever I was in Dunedin or if there was a cruiser around or even I was sent up to Wellington to do a week or perhaps a couple of weeks training every year or so. During that time of course we had a really good social club and there were some terrific men in that outfit. Weekends where you could go sailing in the Whalers and we still had the rifle club, I was very keen on rifle shooting and the dances.
I went down and got a permanent job in Bluff in June 1939, just shortly before the war, a job at the Southland Harbour Board as a Signalman and a general hand with the Harbour Board on the Harbour Master’s staff. Quite interesting it was, I was lucky to get a job on a local body in those days. If you got a local body job you were set for life provided you kept your nose clean. I went down there on the 1st June. The work there was quite interesting, I was a Leading Hand on the Harbour Master’s staff. That job was to relieve the signal station people on holiday. It was a thrill to me to have a permanent job. Relieving the wharf watchman, they were all shift work jobs. You might be interested to know that in those days you used to do 6 hour shifts, 6 to 12 and 12 to 6 around the clock. They got one weekend off in four, it wasn’t quite two days. The other job was relieving hand in the tug, on the deck and relieving the fireman during holidays, but that took up pretty well the whole year, although I didn’t do a full year on that. The pay was good for those days, 265 pounds a year. For the Harbour Master’s staff, for those who were watch-keeping, we had three weeks holiday in lieu of overtime, you couldn’t get any overtime. If you were called out, you could be called out any time of the day or night, you got time off in lieu of that if you were lucky. Usually they gave it to you when it was raining and you couldn’t do any work.
The other thing was in the conditions where you had to live within half a mile of the wharf, could not leave Bluff to go to Invercargill for shopping or any thing like that, without asking the Harbour Master’s permission, which of course was always granted if you were not on duty. Those were really good working conditions in those days, the salary didn’t make you wealthy and I got married shortly after that.
Then war came along on the 3rd September and the Harbour Board had a signal station on top of the Bluff which had been closed for some years because there were no longing sailing ships boating their way through Foveaux Strait and stuck for days. They closed the signal station down up there, but they manned it again as a war watching station. The Navy probably paid them and I was up there, the same sort of duties, 6 hour shift every day, walk up the hill, it kept me fit and keeping an eye on whatever came through Foveaux Strait. You could see 40 miles there without any trouble, the horizon was about 40 miles. We had a good surface telescope. Then as the war broke out I expected to be called up immediately, but they didn’t want us for some reason or other. My third brother Frank, he was in the Naval Reserve then, was sent away in 1939 over to England. He was a signalman. Then the British Government for some reason or other said that they didn’t need any more, they were going to have the war finished in a year or so, no trouble at all. All of us had quite a bit of naval training in those days, we had had quite a bit of experience and there were several hundred, probably a thousand or so throughout New Zealand trained naval men. They said they didn’t need us, so we could join any other service if we wished, bloody poor really. I stayed at the Harbour Board of course, still expecting to be called anytime.
Towards the end of 1940 the British Admiralty decided that they weren’t going to get the war finished so quickly and they were desperately short of communications people. I got my marching orders at the end of 1940. I was sent to Wellington to the Navy Headquarters there. The first job I got was after a couple of weeks square bashing there was being sent out to the coast watch signal station at Baring Head, it was quite a good job really. We had a great team there and I was there for several months keeping a watch on the ships progress, logging every thing in and out, a fairly active job. I can’t remember exactly when I left there. I was then sent up to Auckland to do a Course for trained operator I think, that’s a signalman. Unfortunately although I had been fairly well up in the Naval Reserve, Leading Signalman or something, when we joined up we were just bunged back as Ordinary Signalman. I complained to the RNVR representative in Wellington, and he said I can do nothing about it. He said, “I know you blokes have put in years of work, we can do nothing about it, you are back to square one and you have got to start at that.” I was sent up to Auckland and I got passed for trained operator and I think I got sent back to Wellington to Bearing Head for a while. I had an interesting job there, but by God can it blow, whew !, blow northerlies for 5 or 6 days or more on end, a roaring gale. We would hoist the flag and it would be just blown off in a few minutes, they couldn’t keep us supplied with flags. Then in the winter it would change to a southerly. Being on the top of the cliff, the southerly wind would strike the cliff and go over the top. It would be marvellous to feel that northerly gone and just the roar of the wind would pass over the top of us, we were so close to the edge of the cliff. It was quite a good place really. We had a bit of liaison with the Army, they had an observation post about three miles away further up on the hill, and we used to wander over there and they used to come over to our side too occasionally. Once a fortnight we would get leave to go into Wellington for a weekend and go in by the Lighthouse truck on Friday afternoons and you would get picked up again about 9 o’clock on the Monday morning and taken back out. We used to pick up stores on the way. We used to bring the weeks stores. It was quite reasonable according to the weather. It was not too bad in the summer, but it could be pretty bleak in the winter. Baring Head was quite an interesting station, except for the Lighthouse Keeper, who was the principal keeper for New Zealand and he still thought he ran the whole bloody lot. The Navy for some reason or other let him and he was a perfect pain in the butt. He used to just wander through our quarters as if he owned the thing and although we complained we never got any satisfaction at all.
The Navy manned Stephens Island, they put a coastal and war watching station, a signal station on Stephens Island. If you look at the map, you will notice that is the top end of Cook Strait, right out past Durville Island. Its about three miles long and about three quarters of a mile wide and about 900 feet high with pretty well vertical sides. There is a light there that is 600 feet up above the ground. They sent out a Leading Signalman and four Signalmen from Wellington in August. They were to guard it for two months and four or five blokes were sent out for August and September. My mate Tubby McKayhey he said, “Look if we volunteer for the next lot, we will go out for the next two months and then we will get back at the end of November, we will have plenty of money for Christmas.” You couldn’t spend it anywhere, there was nothing to spend it on, it was only a Lighthouse, a Light Keeper and his wife and one assistant. So silly buggers we went out, we volunteered for the next lot, we went out at the beginning of October, October and November we stayed there, no sign of a relief, December, then the Japs came into the war, we were still there, we finished up there for five months, the five of us. We got back to Wellington just before Easter in 1942. We had plenty of money. It was quite an enjoyable place if you could accept that sort of life and I did enjoy it really. I enjoyed the native life, the wild life, the big giant wetas, about four inches long and they weighed about quarter of a pound. Tuatara’s, hundreds of them. A very, very interesting place if you are interested in nature. There were quite a lot of earth works there that you could see if you got the right light on it, that was the place where the Moriori, the last stronghold of them before they were chased over to the Chathams by the Maori. To get ashore there you went in a launch from French Pass and if there was any one ashore they would all jump in a basket on the crane and all the stores went up that way. If the weather was smooth you could jump ashore as the launch rose up against the rock. Then we had to haul all our stores up there and then the cable way for about another 500 feet I suppose. There is a cable way and a truck on narrow gauge rails hauled up by cable with an engine, it must have been pretty well level with the Lighthouse, that would have been about 600 feet and then we transferred the stores to a small bogie on small wheels and walked that around for about half a mile to the light. They used to come out once a week with stores and mail. It could blow there, in the middle of Cook Strait of course and you would get all spray, although the signal station was 600 feet above the sea, all the windows would be covered with froth and spray in a nor`west gale, just flying at the cliffs. We kept our weather watch and reported the weather to Wellington regularly. All aircraft and ships had to be reported. We used to code them by a little coding machine, about the size of a calculator and the code was changed every day and each letter was put in. We had to code the reports of ships and aircraft. I remember one spell they complained that we weren’t reporting enough aircraft. They used to train from Blenheim I think and they had Oxfords and Harvards and they used to come flying around the Island. Well the Oxfords, if it was blowing a northerly gale, I have seen them actually going backwards, they couldn’t get around unless they were high. The force of the wind around the Island would push them back. We used to report one if we saw it and then we didn’t bother to report it any more. Wellington said report every aircraft, so we thought we will fix these buggars. If we saw one disappearing behind the Island we would report it and if it would turn up the other side we would report it and if we saw it going back we would report it and if we saw it coming back around the other side of the Island we would report it. After two days of this they said report aircraft once, so we fixed them. Any ship, there wasn’t very much, one or two interesting things. There was the Lyttelton Harbour Board floating crane, RAUPAKI I think it was, it was being towed across to Aussie to go up to the Pacific and I had seen it in sight for a couple of days trying to burst into a northerly gale, and they would make a little bit of progress when the tide was favourable and when it turned they would be driven back to the lee of the Island and have to shelter there for about 10 to 12 hours for the next tide, or 8 hours for the next tide and I don’t know what happened to her eventually. I think I may have got her across. There was another old Union Company vessel we had in sight for three days, I think it was the Port Of Lyttelton and she would come around butting into seas up and down in the same hold for hours on end and back into shelter and eventually got out of sight. We did find one very fast vessel one day and of course the Japs were in the war by this time and we thought what the hell is this bastard. We couldn’t find her in the book and then my mate Tubby was very, very good, he found she was a French very fast sort of light cruiser, a 47 knotter. There were three of them, she was one of them, and the Navy hadn’t told us about this. We reported her as a fast cruiser and apparently she was a very fast large destroyer, so that was about the only excitement there until we got relieved, which was very, very good.
In the mean time they had decided to establish a radar station on the top of the Island at 900 feet above sea level. Radar had only just been developed and New Zealand radar people were way ahead of the rest of the world really and they had to put another cable to the top of the hill from the light, another 300 feet up, a very steep incline. They wanted a rope for the Ministry of Works people to haul their gear up for building this place. They sent over a lot of old wire rope about 2 inch circumference I suppose and they didn’t have anybody that could join these bits together. I was the mug and I got the job of splicing these things, and there were all sorts of mixed ropes and I spent about 4 days splicing this lot up, I wasn’t very pleased with it and I didn’t get any extra pay except hunks out of my hand from this wire. I got back to Wellington and I went on leave for a week.
I was sent to Auckland then and I was drafted to Moa. The Moa had just arrived from the UK, it must have been about the middle of 1942. These papers of mine had been messed up from the Navy, there was a hell of a lot of stuff left out. I was drafted to Moa as signalman and the Leading Signalman was Nobby Clark. The Captain was a two and a half ringer Phil Connolly, and he belonged to the Dunedin Division and he was a bloody disaster. I knew him over the years in the Dunedin Division of the RNVR. He was a bit of a red fed and he was a fitter at the Hillside Railway Workshops and he was a very strong member of the Labour Party. When I joined the Moa he was skipper and the whole crowd had just come out from England for a week or two beforehand and we got sent to the Gulf, minesweeping duties. The Leading Signalman Nobby Clark, he was a bit of a dead loss, he said to me, “Oh you are going to the Moa, you won’t like this”. He said “Have you been in the rattle yet ?”, and I said “No”, he said “Well you will be, everyone aboard this ship is in the rattle”. I thought what the hell sort of ship is this bugger and I found out that Phil Connolly was a disaster as far as a Captain was concerned and the officers were just about as bad. There wasn’t one decent one amongst the whole lot, so it was no wonder the ship was in a bad state there, the morale was absolutely disastrous. We were sent up to Norfolk Island as an anti submarine screen when the Army first started landing troops there during the war, that was in 1942, and clearing the way for an air landing strip in Norfolk Island. It was quite an interesting place, except there was no berth alongside, you had to anchor off. I think it was one of the Union Company ships, Waimanu I think, she was unloading stores and we lay just outside her and kept an anti submarine watch. I got ashore two or three times which was very interesting and wandered up to the top of the hill to see the soldiers up there. Most of the day they were in fog because that’s in the south east trade wind area and the cloud covers the top of the Island during most of the day, so they didn’t see very much any way. It was an interesting little spot before it was spoilt of course and the inhabitants were very, very nice people. They had been the Pitcairn Islanders originally who had transferred to Norfolk when the Australian Government had decided that they would be better off there, it was under Australian administration. There was a resident Magistrate, who was a boozy old bugger, he lived in a great house with no coverings on the floors and about four or five wooden chairs and a stretcher. The only time I was up there was when the skipper sent me up with a couple of bottles of Gin for him. He was pissed at the time and couldn’t have cared less and I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. But the people on the Island were very, very nice, they were great people. I went ashore on a Saturday and I met some of them coming along the road and they said, “Would you like to come to church with us”, that sort of knocked me back a bit, and then I found out later they were Seventh Day Adventists, they were delightful people. We spent three or four weeks up there and occasionally had to duck around to the other side of the Island if a gale came up, because there was a lee shore when it came in from the south east strong. Cascade was the place and we would anchor off there for a day or so until the weather moderated again. Going ashore was quite exciting, they had large dory’s for ferrying freight ashore and we went ashore in our boat. You would just go alongside a concrete wall and the raise and fall of the swell was a good six feet. You threw your line to the blokes on the wall and they held you and when your boat went up on the top of a swell you jumped and they made sure you made it, or otherwise you wouldn’t have been very happy.
Back to Auckland and then we did several weeks in the Gulf, keeping a swept channel from Auckland up to Cape Brett, up and down there all day, every day. Then on the loop patrol they had an anti submarine loop off Whangaparaoa Peninsula and we used to have to stay on that a week at a time, and any thing that went over at night was recorded by the shore people. They would let us know that there was vessel that had crossed and we would pick it up and signal them and find out who they were. When we got back to Auckland I was sent ashore to do a course as Leading Signalman and I passed that and then I was sent back to Moa and Phil Connolly was still the skipper and he and I didn’t agree at all. He used to have me sleeping in his sea cabin and whenever any thing crossed the loop, call me up. I don’t know why one of the officers couldn’t have used the signal lamp, I was getting no sleep at all. After about a week of this I said, “Look I can’t stick this any more”. I think he arranged for one of the officers to do night work occasionally, not much of it and then we went back to Auckland I went ashore for a VS3 Course for Leading Signalman. I passed that and I went back to the Moa as Leading Signalman for a while. The skipper got under my skin and I was ready to jump over the side pretty well.
She was sent back to Auckland for a complete overhaul which took a month or so, I was just standing by. They transferred pretty well the whole crew. Some of the old ones, the better ones were kept. The whole of the officers were changed except one. Lieutenant Commander Phipps came on board one day, the ship was filthy with dockyard blokes every where and I had a dirty old ensign, the only one we had. He came along and he said “Yeoman get a new ensign”, “Yes Sir, no sir, three bags full”. I got an order for a new ensign and I didn’t see much of him at all, but while we were there I managed to get a few things that I wanted. We only had one ten inch signal and you try lugging a ten inch signal lantern from one side of the ship to the other when you are working with the flotilla, you alter course and you have got to switch it from one side to the other. Its alright if it is smooth water, but if there is any sea you are liable you are liable to land up in the scuppers with the whole lot. I got them to order me another lamp. Fine I got the order for the lamp and I went ashore and got it and what did I get, a bare lamp. What about all the other bits, sorry you have got get an order for them. I had to get an order for a shutter, took that aboard and fitted it and I had to get an order for a lamp for it and then I had to get an order for a mirror for it, every one. I got that and I felt a lot happier then.
Peter Phipps and the new officers, the ship was different altogether, as soon as they came aboard you could feel a confidence in the crew, it changed over night almost. We were doing exercises in the Gulf and loop patrol and that sort of thing and we thought we were going back to Norfolk Island. We were sent over from Devonport over to I think the Auckland side, I can’t remember what we were sent over for, it was just one day and some of the blokes on board must have got a rumour that we were going further than Norfolk Island and jumped ship.
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We were just ready to sail and the skipper was stamping up and down going mad. This bloke said, “Oh there he is up the street”, and I said “Go and get him, silly bugger”, so away he went and of course he didn’t come back either. We pulled off into the stream and I managed to get a couple of other blokes sent on board and we were off. I can’t remember exactly, but I think we called in at Suva and then up to Noumea. I think we were on our own until we got to Noumea where Matai was with Smokey Joe, she was senior officer of the 25th Flotilla with Captain Holden who was a proper bastard. We spent a few days in Noumea, got ashore a couple of times, it was a dead loss place any way. Then we must have joined up with the KIWI and the Tui and the Matai were there. Now Kiwi, Tui and us were despatched via New Hebrides to the Solomons. I don’t know why Matai didn’t join us at the time, but we were all three of us together and of course they were all chummy ships these skippers. There was Gordon Bridson in the Kiwi who was senior officer, Jack Hilliard in Tui and Peter Phipps who was the junior bloke by the way. Jack Hilliard was a bit of a dead loss. We set off by easy stages. I remember one night the Tui had to stop engines for a couple of hours, she got a hot bottom end or something, so she was stopped and Kiwi and Moa did a half circle around her at about a mile off. Then for some reason or other we lost her, although we were keeping in touch. After a couple of hours they decided there is no use hanging around here, so we pushed on towards the Solomons. I think they reduced speed a wee bit and the Tui caught us up around about late afternoon the next day. We got to the Solomons in December 1942, Matai senior officer 25th Flotilla took charge and we were allotted various sorts of jobs, mostly anti submarine patrol off Guadalcanal, Henderson Field, where the Americans were landing stores and stuff. We would be doing a slow patrol about a mile or a mile and a half off and sweep a big half circle from the shore outside and around and back slowly all day. Outside that again there was an American destroyer or two. It was very monotonous work. The weather was hot and sticky. At nights we were still doing this sort of business, although frequently we would be anchored and just keeping an anti submarine Asdic watch and we would be across to Tulagi occasionally or quite regularly really, which is only 20 miles across there, about the same as from Bluff to Stewart Island. We would go across there for stores and water, usually lay alongside one of the American support ships, they were like a depot ship, American yachts. The first one we had there was the Jamestown I think, she was a yacht belonging to one of the big American millionaires, a fantastic job and she was under camouflage nets in Tulagi. The next one was the Niagara, she was another one of the large American wealthy people ships from the New York side. I think it belonged to Commodore Morgan I think it was, from the New York Yacht Club, I don’t know what his people were, they had probably gone over in the Mayflower. They had ice plants and cool water and a doctor and good tucker, we used to feed aboard there, it was great to get away from our own stuff. Our food was not too good, until we got American stuff, although a lot of that was dehydrated. The dehydrated spuds looked like grey paste when they were mashed up. Cabbage was like chaff, the same colour too by the way, like straw. The best was dehydrated onion, they came up pretty well, they didn’t look like onion, but they tasted alright. If we were alongside the Americans we would get fresh bread. Sometimes we got it from some of their big transports if they were over landing troops or transferring troops in off Henderson field, we would get fresh bread and that was a big thing. Water and fuel we got regularly from those other ships as well.
If we went on anti submarine patrol around ships, usually two or three of us, the Flotilla possibly, slowly steaming up and down the straight on the east side of the hostilities side of Guadalcanal doing an anti submarine patrol, that would be night and day sometimes. A little bit of manoeuvres when Smokey Joe decided we needed some manoeuvres, he was a great man for looking up the Fleet Signal book and finding destroyer manoeuvres that his Fleet could do. He would have liked to have been an Admiral of the Fleet or something, he was a bit of a disaster, embarrassing. The Tokyo Express used to come down at night and drop stores for the Japs ashore, they were in a hell of a bad way really. Their destroyers would come down and they would drop strings of 45 gallon drums, roped together with wire and the American patrol boats, PTs would try and get out and sink them as soon as they could, or during the night try and intercept the destroyers. They were more or less successful, although they lost some PT boats as well. They would shoot at the wake and generally get them. We would go up in the morning as soon as it was daylight, and any of these things floating we would fire at them with a gun and .303 and sink them. We would pick up a few just to see what was in them, most of them were filled with rice, dried fish in amongst it and some ammunition, a lot of them were filled with fuel and if you hit them with a tracer, they would burn, a nice big cloud of smoke. The Japs ashore must have been very frustrated, they did come out in landing barges hopefully to collect them before daylight, but I don’t think they got an awful lot of stuff. Several of their barges had been run ashore there, their landing barges, and Smokey Joe decided, big deal we will go along and sink these things and smash these things up one day. He got his Fleet in line ahead, battle flags flying, and started firing at these things on the reef, about a mile or so off Guadalcanal towards the top end. The four of us went along there firing all guns and we hadn’t started because being last ship in the line, junior ship we hadn’t got any shots away and I was embarrassed about the whole lot and I think the skipper was too. Anyway after about two rounds from Matai we got a sudden call from the Americans to stop firing on their positions, the shells were ricocheting off the shallow reef and landing amongst their positions on the shore where they were still cleaning up the last of the Japs.
At Tulagi it used to be quite good to get in there for a day or two break, it was only 20 miles across from the Guadalcanal side. I remember one day there were a lot of American ships that had been beached and holed when they were landing the troops and stores there. They were salvaging some of them, and most of them were Victory ships and there was one that had a great hole right through it, you could sail a boat through it from one side to the other in an empty hold. They got two of their salvage tugs one each side of her and they were going to take her off the beach at high tide, mind you the tide was only a foot or so there. We were supposed to do an anti submarine sweep ahead of them and they took her off the beach and headed her back to Tulagi. We were circling backwards and forwards making a half moon sweep in front of them and these two tugs suddenly picked up, backed off, turned around and shot off towards Tulagi, we never caught them. Gee they were big power buggers. We could do 12 knots, 13 knots at a pinch, but we never got ahead of them to do any sort of a sweep. They were very, very efficient those Americans.
I mentioned about the Tokyo Express that used to come down at night. Well when that was coming down we used to get in as close to the beach as possible and lay low and say nothing. One night we got a fairly late alert that the Express was coming down and we were stuck over the Henderson Field side. The skipper anchored fairly close in, as close as he could for safety and he said, “Well the Express is coming down, there is nothing much that we can do about it, if the worst come to the worst, there’s the beach”. We slept in life jackets that night. Fortunately there were several heavy thunder storms and I think it might have kept them a bit of a distance, but it was a very uneasy night.
I tell you another funny thing. Going back to the trip from Noumea towards the Solomons the skipper decided to do a gunnery exercise one day and dropped over a 44 gallon drum, had a few bashes with the 4 inch and missed, had a few bashes with the Oerlikon, we only had one by then mounted and we got a few shots off with that and missed and fired away with all the .303’s the Hotchkiss and missed and they were getting closer and closer. In that savage trade you get a very short sharp little sea, it is quite uncomfortable. Eventually the skipper said we had better fix bayonets and charge. That drum is probably still floating around the Pacific.
We got a couple of runs ashore on the Henderson Field side. By run ashore I mean a few of us went ashore with the First Lieutenant a couple of times and met some of the Americans, they were great fellows, they were having a hell of a time in the dust at the field there and they had pretty severe rations. Their main food was Spam, which was in tins about 15 inches long and about 6 inches by 4, and it was only lard with about an inch strip of bacon through the centre of it. Those poor buggers were seen off by the blokes that provided the tucker for the Army and the Navy. In the next war I am going to be a war profiteer, its the only way to do any good. These tins were fat and there was a bit of a pipe of bacon or pork in the centre and it would be about an inch and a quarter in diameter and they had covered it with all the fat they could and fry it up with a bit of bacon and try and give us a treat. They were great chaps and individually I have got a lot of time for the Americans, but as for their politics I don’t like them a bit, but individually they are great fellows and do any thing for you.
I am trying to think of one or two of the other funny things that happened.
Remember when Sydney Harbour was attacked by mini subs dropped from Japanese submarines off the coast and they blew up one ship in Sydney harbour and they had a panic in Auckland of course then. At that time Leander was in dock with that great hole in her side where she had been torpedoed in the Solomons. The Calliope Dock was pretty vulnerable and Moa being there they put us in what they called a physical screen across the dock. They moored us across the dock entrance, didn’t worry about us, poor buggers inside. If any torpedoes went in there they took the Moa instead of hitting the dock gate, a great idea. We slept in life jackets that night, we didn’t do a hell of a lot of sleeping, because it is bloody uncomfortable with a pusser’s life jacket around you. That was another interesting night, nothing happened of course.
When we were on the days off we used to have a day or two off for fuelling and relaxing in Tulagi Harbour or around that area. Around Florida Island the skipper took us up a narrow channel, it must have been through Florida Island or one of those, a very narrow channel, a pretty little spot and we had a bit of a run ashore. Then coming back he ran over the point of a reef and put her ashore and tore off the Asdic dome and took quite a while to get off. They discharged all the water they could, shifted the crew aft, got both anchors on the reef, laid out a cable and eventually she got off and picked up our gear and away again. It was a bit tough on the skipper he was due for a court martial on that, but the ship got sunk before it came up. One of the others got a spare dome and I don’t know whether it was Matai or Kiwi and they managed to ship the spare Asdic tail. The Asdic gear itself was not down at the time fortunately, so they didn’t lose that. One of those little things that happened.
Do you remember the Fireflies when we were anchored in Tulagi, on a quite night the Fireflies in the jungle would light up a little bush about a foot across, very interesting and there was fantastic thunderstorms. You would hear the roar of the rain coming half a mile away, you would wonder what the hell is that roar, a big black cloud somewhere. You would hear this roar and the next minute there would be absolute downpour, you could hardly breath the air was so thick with water and the bridge would be awash the scuppers couldn’t take it and it got very, very cold because the rain was from very high thunder clouds, it was probably hail before it got down to a few thousand feet. This stuff coming down, I never wore any thing except skimpy shorts most of the time. On those nights I had to put on a jersey, bitterly cold. There were fantastic sunsets up there. You would be watching a sunset, all the colours you could imagine, purples and blues and golds and reds and they would be changing all the time. You would be waiting for it and watching it and watching it and then it would suddenly disappear as the sun went below the horizon and then in about another 5 minutes it was dark again. I loved that place, I used to sit up on the bridge and get up in the crow’s-nest if I wanted to be alone. I never went down below if I could avoid it, I hated it down there. Mind you I was a lot older than most of the kids, you see I was about 32 then, I was an old man and I couldn’t stand the racket down on the mess deck, but they were a nice lot I suppose, we had some great chaps on board that ship.
The Jap bombers used to come down at night and they would bomb Henderson Field and drop a load there and then some of them would go across the straight to Tulagi and drop a few on there, it was only a few minutes flight for them. On moonlight nights two or three times we were steaming across there when the fireworks had started at Henderson and then they would stop there and the aircraft would be going over head towards Tulagi and we used to see them and go dead slow, so as not to create any wake if possible, hoping that they wouldn’t pick us up. You never fired at any thing like that, you would only let them know where you were and we were never spotted apparently, well they didn’t intend to waste any bombs on us fortunately.
The stormy nights when Tokyo Express was coming down, we were a bit lucky I suppose. Fantastic lightning displays in those stormy nights. I remember one night we had a very, very heavy thunderstorm, at about 9 or 10 o’clock the continuous lightning up in the clouds, they were purple lights up in the clouds and this smell of ozone in the air. The rain stopped and it cleared away, it was very cold of course that rain and I was on the bridge there and I suddenly felt the hair on the back of my neck prickling and I thought that’s funny and I looked up and on top of the whip aerial, if you remember there is a whip aerial on the bridge, it was swaying around and on top of it was a ball of bluish light, about the size of a big football, shorting around on top of the aerial. I knew what it was, I knew it was an St Elmo’s fire and all along the rigging the jumper stay and wireless aerials where there was drops of water still hanging, every one of those was glowing with this bluish white light, really fascinating it was, it would last us for several minutes and gradually faded away. It was the first time I had ever seen it and I have never seen it since either, but that was a very enjoyable experience. The first I knew about it was the static electricity, I could feel the hair on the back of my head standing up.
Once or twice at night when we were doing an anti submarine patrol up and down the strait, Iron Bottom Sound they used to call it, we lay alongside the Tui or the Kiwi while they had a bit of a yarn and then got told off for not getting on with the patrol as the Americans would pick us up with their radar. We got told off a few times for that, but it was good to get alongside just to have a yarn with those boys.
The Americans were good, they fired first and asked questions afterwards. The Kiwi got fired on one night, I can’t remember the name of that destroyer that was friendly with us. She fired at Kiwi with her Oerlikon, the shells that hit above the water-line put a dent in her side and the ones that hit just below the water-line, they penetrated, she got two or three shot holes in her. It didn’t seem to worry the skipper a hell of a lot, he told them that the wardroom bar would be closed next time we were lying alongside. Both Kiwi and Moa managed to scrounge an extra Oerlikon I think from Noumea and they decided to mount these. Kiwi mounted hers straight in front of her 4-inch gun on the fore deck and we mounted ours slightly to starboard of the 4-inch. I have a feeling that it was only first used the night we were sent up to Kolombangara to an anti submarine patrol and we ran into a submarine. Anyway that gun that the Kiwi had actually saved the Moa because we were being fired on, three shells had gone across us. Fortunately they were high, but they made a noise like an express going through a tunnel. We called up to Kiwi, “Are you firing at us”, he said, “No, that’s the submarine.” Fortunately at that moment the Kiwi came up on the other side of the sub. We had been firing starshells to light them and her Oerlikon guns crew shot across the subs 5-inch gun crew, wiped them out and put their gun out of action, for a while anyway and really saved the Moa. The next shot would have bound to have been a hit when we had three over the top. They only wanted one of those bricks to finish us. Nothing there that you don’t already know about that lot I think. The Kiwi didn’t stop and when she went out we went along and followed the submarine until she ran ashore and stood off until daylight and found out what it was. She was sticking out of the water and then some shore batteries opened up on us and we thought we had better move off a little bit. We picked up a Jap, I think he was a Gunnery Officer, out of the water about an hour later. He had a hole in his leg from a bullet, but he was a big powerful bloke and he could speak English well. He had been in the water for a long while, he was just sinking and then popping up for a breath of air and going down again, he was very near the end of his tether. He didn’t want to be taken prisoner. We said “At the end of the war you will be able to go home”. He said, “No I can’t go back, its a disgrace to be taken prisoner”. Well of course the next night the Kiwi was out of action then and we went up with the Tui on the same patrol. I think we missed another submarine because the native that we had with us, we had two natives aboard, stewards, and one of them reckoned that he saw a submarine. We ran into a fleet of four barges. I think they had put Army people aboard the submarine and she had taken off and we had missed her. We ran into the barges and there was a bit of a mix up for a while. I think we sank one and Tui I think got one, and I don’t know what happened to the others. One of them fired a shot that came through the shield of the gun, fired a shell about an inch in diameter, about the same as an Oerlikon shell and it exploded on the bridge and Ian Fraser had the next charge in his arms when a splinter ignited it and it went up in his arms, the flames were higher than the mast head. The skipper thought the magazine had gone up and he wanted it flooded. The Chief Engineer didn’t food it fortunately, but the whole guns crew were put out of action with very, very bad burns and a few splinters and the gun was jammed. The gunners cleared it the next day. That put us out of action for that lot. There were some American patrol boats a mile or two away, we called them up, and the buggers wouldn’t come alongside, I don’t know what they were scared of, to take our casualties ashore. When they got them on board, they left them on the deck and all the way back at about 30 knots or so in bitterly cold conditions. The poor buggers were just about frozen to death by the time they got them into hospital. They wouldn’t taken them below. Funny buggers those Americans.
I am glad the TUI wasn’t with us the night we got into a mix up with the submarine, because I didn’t have the confidence in Jack Hilliard that I had in Gordon Bridson as a skipper, it would have been a different story altogether. I was lucky enough, the leading signalman on the KIWI was killed, he was the only casualty really, the poor bugger got shot in the guts and died the next day, he was from Port Chalmers. I think he must have joined us at that time as one of the replacements. There were about 10 casualties from that episode.
One amusing incident, we were doing firing exercises on the way to the Solomons and the ship was just keeping steerage while we were still banging away with this gun over the side and we had also been exercising depth charges loading and unloading and the old man said, “Well give us another run”. The next moment there was a crack and he and I looked over the side just in time to see the depth charge curling into the water, they don’t throw very far as you know. It was set to explode at 25 feet. The skipper dived for the telegraph to put it full ahead, hard to port. The engine room whistle went just as the gadget went off and it sure shook things up, put out most of the lights and broke a lot of bulbs and threw things around a bit. Any way he blew the whistle to the engine room and the Chief said, “I know what’s happened, you don’t need to tell me”. Fortunately there was no damage, but it could have put a good dent in the bottom.
Well after we got back to Auckland, I think it was about Easter time, I can’t remember but I think it was, it must have been Good Friday when we got back to Auckland. I was on leave for a couple of weeks and then I got sent to that place in the Gulf, Tiri Tiri I think, there was a war watching station there, a signal station or something like that. I had only been there a couple of weeks when I got another draft to Dunedin, my wife was in Dunedin, to go to the Signal School as an instructor. The Signal School had been going 4 or 5 months or perhaps a little longer, it was in pretty poor condition. The boys were there for 3 months, 12 weeks I think. We carried two classes at a time of 24 and they overlapped and it was quite an interesting job. I think the reason I got it was that they wanted to have someone there that was a fine example to the young people to go and fight for their country and all the rest of it. We were there, I can’t remember how long, it might have been about 6 months until the school was transferred to Tasman at Lyttelton, across the harbour from Lyttelton where the oil installation is now. The Signal School was there and there was also a Cook’s School I think, I don’t think they trained any telegraphists. I was there until 1944 and about June or July I got a draft to Achilles and one other yeoman went with me. We were sent across to Sydney to join the British Pacific Fleet, they had a lot of ships in Sydney, doing a bit of training and we were exercising off Jervis Bay when the Germans packed it in. We anchored at night in Jervis Bay, the fleet, I can’t remember how many ships there were, quite a few ships on that exercise. While I was down below having lunch this day, I came back up and I saw a carrier and two destroyers come past, I have forgotten the name of the carrier, it was one of the fleet carriers escorted by two destroyers. My brother was in one of them, he had been back in England in the British Fleet for quite a while and he came out in one of the destroyers escorting them. We anchored at Jervis Bay that night and I got in touch with him with the light and had a yarn and agreed to meet in Sydney next day, everybody was to meet in Sydney next day, which was the day after VE Day. I duly picked him up about 4 o’clock in the afternoon from his ship and we went to the Navy Canteen ashore there. The pubs had been shut, you wouldn’t believe that in Sydney of all places they shut the pubs, I don’t know why, perhaps they were scared people were going to create too much havoc. There was also a shortage of beer and after we had been in the canteen there for half an hour or so they ran out of beer. It was a disaster there at the time, there were a hell of a lot of ships. We were there for a few days a week or two and then the fleet proceeded to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. The ship went into dry dock there, a huge dock we were inside and docked with two destroyers as well in the one dock. We had a hell of a lot of trouble with one tail shaft in Achilles had been out of alignment when their X turret was bombed and she had never been right and they were always having trouble with the shafts and they had 2 or 3 days in the dock there.
Then the next exercise I think was to Manus Island, which was the British Pacific Fleet Base and we messed around there for quite a while. Did one exercise, a fleet exercise to bombard Truk in the Pacific which had an airfield that had been fairly well hammered. We stood off about 5 or 6 miles I suppose and the whole fleet bashed away with whatever they had, mostly 6-inch and 8-inch cruisers. I got sick of that, it is just about as bad as being shelled I think when you are firing for a long time. I think we fired 25 salvoes from the 6 inch, it shook a lot of lights down.
Then the British Pacific Fleet proceeded up to off Japan, met the fleet train which supplied the ships with the stores, fuel, ammunition, that would be about a day and a half to two days steaming off the coast of Japan, well out in the Pacific. They used to change aircraft there from the Woolworth carriers that used to ferry them out. Then we would steam in towards the Japanese Coast, just out of sight a bit for a couple of days and aircraft attacks would be carried out all the day during the daylight hours. At night the heavier ships, we had one battlewagon and our 6 inch cruisers would go in and shell the shore installations and come back again before daylight out of sight of land. That would be for two days continuous and went back to sea again to meet the fleet train for fresh ammunition, stores, water, fuel, that would take two days. We would do that about three times. We were delayed there with the hurricane, we just had to steam around it. We steamed around it for about three days and when you were steaming around the hurricane of course you’ve got enormous swells on the beam, like a ploughed field, the crests are a quarter to half a mile apart, quarter to half a mile apart. The cruisers could ride over them if end on, we had to head into the wind of course to fly off aircraft, they used to fly off a couple of aircraft a day to track the hurricane.
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The carriers and the battlewagons didn’t have it so funny heading into this swell, enormous swell. The battlewagons just ploughed just through with guns trained aft and proceeded to completely disappear into the sea. The carriers they did a hell of a lot of pitching and we lost a few aircraft flying off. If the bow was lifting this aircraft took off it would be alright. If it just happened to strike the send they didn’t always make it and usually flipped into the water. They lost a few aircraft, but I think they only lost a couple of men, but the destroyers were alongside them so quickly. It was a bit monotonous rolling around in that thing, that hurricane. It cleared away and we carried on with the usual sequence of aerial bombardments. Achilles was still having a hell of trouble with the tailshaft and she was detached to two other ships to go back to Manus. I think we had been about 24 hours away, probably about 18 hours away when they dropped the first Atomic Bomb. Then of course the second one a couple of days later. Then the next thing of course the Japs chucked it in and so that was splice the mainbrace again, everybody was happy about that.
We got back to Manus and then we were sent straight back to Sydney. We had a few days in Sydney, pretty monotonous and back across the Tasman to Auckland where the ship decommissioned then, I know I was paid off and sent to Base. I thought, “Oh well it won’t be long before I am out now”, but it was 6 months before I could get out, six months after the war I got out of the Base. Others were getting out but they seemed very reluctant to let me go. They asked me if I would like to stay on, but I said no I wasn’t interested in the peace time Navy, I was quite happy with wartime service but saw no sense in being in the Navy in the peace time, I had had enough during training trips in the cruisers.
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