It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Slattery. 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 Leading Signalman Owen Woods Slattery at his residence at 1455 Main Road, Dairy Flat, RD4, ALBANY, on the 20th January 1997. The interviewer is Commodore G.F.Hopkins, OBE, RNZN (Rtd).
Owen to start with tell us a little bit about where you were born, where you were brought up, where you went to school, who your parents were and what they did and then go on and lead up to how you joined the Navy?
To amplify my family a little, my great grandfather, Matthew Slattery. arrived in New Zealand in 1845 with the 58th Regiment of Foot and as an NCO fought in the actions of the northern rebellions finally becoming Quartermaster of the regiment. After about ten years service in New Zealand most of the personnel took their discharge here, with the remainder returning to England. Matthew Slattery became Quartermaster of, I think the 7th Royal Fusiliers and transferred to India, serving with the Regiment until his retirement in the 70’s when he returned with his family to Auckland with the rank of Captain on half pay.
My mother, Henrietta Fenton, was descended from her great grandfather Benjamin Woods, first policeman appointed by the British authorities in New Zealand. He was appointed Chief Constable at Russell in March 1840 by Captain Hobson RN, having been an inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary before emigrating to Sydney. He moved to Auckland when Russell was evacuated in 1845 when Hone Heke sacked the town during the Ngapuhi rebellion returning north when peace had been restored. He carried on his duties until his retirement in the 1850’s.
Another of my mother’s forebears was a Mrs Elizabeth Delahaye Whelch, who arrived in Wellington in 1841. She was a widow with five children and in 1842 married a German whaler moving to Piraki Cove, Banks Peninsular with her family to become his second wife. Hempelman established his whaling station in Piraki in 1836. Previously he had been whaling out of Sydney in the Brig BEE from the early 1830’s. Subsequently his purchase of land from the Ngai Tahu Chief Tuavaiki was not recognised by the Colonial Government. My mother descends from the eldest daughter of Mrs Whelch/Hempelman and James Woods, son of Benjamin Woods. Hempelman who left a Log book of the BEE and day to day activities at Piraki Station, is credited with the erection of the first European style house in Canterbury and the construction of the first sailing vessel, the MARY ANNE on Banks Peninsular. There were no children from the Hempelman/Whelch marriage.
My father was Joseph Henry Slattery and he was a boat builder operating in Judges Bay in Parnell, this was straight after the First World War up until the time of his death in 1932.
We lived in St Stephens Avenue for a couple of years and then moved over to Northcote to 64 Princes Street, Northcote and I went to school at Northcote Primary and Northcote District High School. My father had been building boats up in Fiji prior to the First World War and I think he got Dengue Fever up there or something similar and I think it weakened his health for ever afterwards and he died at the fairly early age of 47. That altered things a bit in the family life. I only went through to the first form in Northcote District High School and then I went and took a job to help the family finances. I worked in a large firm of seedsman and florists, a plant shop opposite the Bank of New Zealand in Queen Street, Gilbert J.McKays, 94 Queen Street, Auckland.
This would be in the Depression ?
Yes and I started work in 1935.
Jobs would be pretty hard to get ?
Yes they were.
I more or less followed that type of work until I joined the Navy in 1941, early in `41. In those intervening years I did quite a lot of yachting and I was fairly active and I built my own small boat for a start and then crewed in larger yachts until the time I came to join the Navy. At that stage I was working out of Newmarket for a firm A.E.Clinkard & Co, they are now gone which gave me a bit of interest in horticulture, which I have more or less followed all my life and you can see looking around I still have an interest. I had two conflicting interests, horticulture and yachting and they don’t really mix very well together.
How came you joined the Navy, what lead you in that direction, because presumably people were being called up for Army service ?
Well I had made an application to join the Army, the Territorials I think when I was perhaps just over 19 or 20 and I got rejected by the Army for some obscure reason. Early in 1941 the word got around our Northcote community, we were all a bit interested in the Navy I suppose living on the North Shore, and word got around that the Navy was accepting volunteers for Hostility Only service. I made application and was accepted. I scraped in really I think only just scraped in. I had a bit of an eye problem, (a stigmatism) in one eye, which showed up later in my service which caused a bit of a problem. Any way I was accepted and I joined the Navy and that was that. I always remember going home on the ferry boat to Northcote on the first night ashore in my hairy dog sailor suit and some of the local urchins said, “Thank God we have got an Army”.
When you reported to the Navy where did you go to and what did you do ?
Well we went down and reported to the PHILOMEL Base and the old Green sheds were down there at that stage, roughly I think where the playing field is now. I think that was the medical centre and we were examined there and we were accommodated on board the PHILOMEL.
The ship PHILOMEL ?
Yes the ship PHILOMEL.
TAMAKI wasn’t going then ?
No it wasn’t going, down aboard the PHILOMEL and that was a really good experience, we liked it aboard there.
What happened on the first day, it was mainly medicals ?
Yes I am a little bit hazy on all that, we just did medicals and I remember Padre Robson gave us an address the first day that we were there. He said, “Now you boys I want you to remember I don’t want to hear that horrible word f floating around.” “Yes Padre”, and that has stayed in my brain every since, I still don’t like that particularly. We were just gradually worked into the routine. We didn’t get much square bashing, there was no parade ground stuff very much, we were virtually straight into elementary signals.
A hammock the first night ?
Yes slung our hammocks and that was quite an experience.
Yes one’s first night in a hammock is always …?
Yes the more you use them of course you learn the tricks of them.
Were there boys on board being trained ?
No there were only us and this crowd of stokers. Commander John Elworthy, Long John I think we used to call him was the Commander of the ship and he seemed to have a permanent stoop because I think she was a bit low between decks and he walked around with a stoop. I always remember having to go and do colours the first time I did that and hoisted on the ensign staff on the stern and old John glowering behind me wanting me to make a slip up, every thing went well. There is always a fear when you are raising the ensign the lace would often get entangled, you would have the lace and tighten it afterwards.
How many of you there ?
24 as far as I recall.
Can you remember the names of some of your fellow classmates ?
Yes there was Nathan Jaffe. I always admired him. He was a typical Jewish looking chap, great company, very bright and cheerful and I thought he had a lot of guts joining up. He probably would have been exempt I think because of the problem over in Europe and because of his background. Nathan went to the EXETER and we saw him in Batavia shortly before the EXETER got sunk and he was to spend 3 and half years in Japanese captivity in Sumatra and there was Dick Wagner and Owen Ludlow. He is down in Christchurch, he was a bit of a hard case. His mate I think was the chap McNeil who died in captivity at Fukuoko. We thought it was Ngasaki. There was another chap there in captivity outside Ngasaki, Ginger Shipman, he apparently was there during the time the bomb was dropped and he happened to be on the other side of a hill and survived.
There were a lot of Australian Navy prisoners up there too.
I always remember dinner was worth staying aboard the PHILOMEL to have Sunday dinner and invariably it used to be roast pork. You used to get these big enamel dishes full of this lovely roast pork and old Nathan would be tucking into this. He said this is the best chicken that I have ever eaten.
Now tell me about life in PHILOMEL and the training in the PHILOMEL ?
Now our Training Petty Officer was Yeoman Robertshaw.
He was a second Yeoman in ACHILLES in the River Plate ?
We used to see Bully Martinson every so often, he would come in. There was another old Yeoman Crash Harrison, he used to come and regale us boys with horrible tales of what it was like in the China Sea, about what happened to sailors who misbehaved themselves ashore and who died of all sorts of obscure rots and diseases, scared the daylights out of us.
We did boat training there. I always remember one time we took the cutter out for pulling practice and being a bit keen thinking I knew a bit more about boats than some of them I volunteered for the bowman. I was on this great long oar and the closer you are to the bow the harder it is is to swing this oar. I was struggling a bit by the end of the pulling practice.
We swam in the graving dock there, we did our swimming training. One of the chaps couldn’t swim, I think it was Owen Ludlow. I don’t know what happened, we must of passed in some way. We had to do it in the canvas suits, the white canvas suits.
Actually swim in the suits ?
Yes you had to do it in those. We got very intensive training in basic signalling.
That was non stop all day was it ?
Yes all day.
What Morse, Semaphore and flag hoisting ?
Yes, so didn’t do very much else bar that. We got no parade ground drill much bar having to form up in a reasonable sort of line for morning parade.
It would be an early start ?
Yes from memory I think probably soon after eight. We probably knocked off for up spirits at half past 11 or whenever it was, which we of course didn’t partake in.
How old actually were you when you joined ?
I was 20, but I don’t think anybody could draw a grog while they were under training, which was a good idea.
Did you have to prepare your own food in the old fashioned way ?
They had a galley on the PHILOMEL and we used to draw our food in the big trays from he galley already cooked.
You didn’t have to prepare any thing ?
No it wasn’t canteen messing. Generally it was very good wholesome food and plenty of it.
They had a donkey boiler on the focsle of the PHILOMEL which supplied steam for the ship. It must have been fuelled with coke to a large degree, which meant that you had a large circular grate with an ash pit underneath it and this beautiful glowing grate above it and we used to make toast there, wonderful toast, if the stoker in charge was agreeable to let you do it. We ate on the ship. There were none of those accommodation blocks built at that stage.
Where did you do your actual instruction, ashore in the Green huts ?
Yes along in the waterfront there. They are still there I notice.
We had quite intensive training there.
Where would you do the flag hoists and the signals flags from the PHILOMEL ?
No I don’t think that was there at the time, I am trying to remember that.
The PHILOMEL ship ?
Yes I think we did it there.
They would use the signal lanterns from there ?
I suppose used the masts and yard arms for the rest ?
She was really cut down at that stage. I am trying to remember that now. They were more interested in getting us to identify the flags I think rather than intensive flag hoisting practice. You acquired that quite quickly when you get on a ship.
I was really reading Morse. They even tried us with the one with the mirror into the sun, the Heliograph.
The hole in the mirror.
Yes they even gave us a bit of instruction on that and then they said, “Well it is no use unless you are up in India at any rate and can get on high grounds”, and they abandoned that.
We didn’t do any great marching or physical training at all. We used to get leave.
Right from the start ?
Yes I think the first couple of weeks perhaps we had to stay aboard and after that you would get leave according to the watches.
There was no restriction. The boys were only allowed to have leave at the weekends. You didn’t have that sort of restriction?
I can’t remember. But I know I used to go home every so often to Northcote.
The quickest way home would be to Auckland and then the ferry ?
Yes, no problem.
What sort of speeds were they looking at you achieving with your Morse and signal lamps ?
I really can’t be sure at this stage. They tried to get us up to an acceptable speed. Virtually they tried to get us up to OD standard fairly quickly.
Did you find that easy ?
I didn’t find it any great problem, I can still read Morse.
You can still do it today ?
Yes I can still do it today. If I can find an old signal lamp in the Navy Museum I generally give it a clatter.
Yes it is a knack. I think often the sending is more difficult than the receiving ?
Once you get the gist of the thing, you can damn near put down what is coming next. Signals get very stylized.
Yes and once they have got two letters you can get the rest of the word can’t you ?
Yes it is quite handy if you have got somebody writing it down or otherwise you have got to do it yourself. The best experience I had with it, was to really sharpen me up was going onto the ADAMANT in Mombassa, which was the Base ship and we used to relay messages all around the Mombasa Harbour. We probably had 4 or 5 Semaphore positions going at once. One chap reading out and transmitting the different parts of the harbour.
I suppose Semaphore still exists, but the signalman loved it didn’t they ?
Especially in close company if you were next door to another ship, and I am talking about my vintage, if you were fuelling or something like that, there would be all sorts of private messages going between signalmen.
Yes the old Chief Yeoman used to annoy me. One ship I was on and he would be up on the bridge there and he would be going with his fingers. I remember going into Dar es Salaam one time, it is a very narrow harbour, like a creek more than any thing else and they eased the EMERALD into there. I was sent up onto the focsle to be cable flags and I never received any instruction as to what I was supposed to do with those. I was displaying flags madly and making signals from the bridge which I couldn’t read.
How long did this training go on for ?
About three months from memory. We went in in March, April, May, June, and I think by June roughly I was on the examination vessel out in the Channel, I was posted there my first draft, because we were away in September.
What was the name of that ship ?
I think it was HAUITI.
It has got down here that you were in PHILOMEL from June to September ?
Would that be after I passed out of training perhaps.
I suppose so. You were an Ordinary Signalman (probationary) from March until June and then you were a signalman (P), I suppose that is still probationary from June until September and that is when you were in the examination vessel.
Yes that is right, when I was in the examination ship. That was quite good, that was crewed by T124’s.
You were the only signalman ?
Can you remember the Captain’s name ?
No I can’t remember at this stage.
They had an officer on board ?
Yes I don’t know whether he would be a T124 or RNR something like that.
She would have been a vessel just taken up from the harbour somewhere ?
Yes they had converted the hold into accommodation and it was really quite comfortable, it was well done.
How big a ship was it ?
It was just one of the little coastal vessel, only the size of a scow virtually, but a deep hulled one. They had a Merchant Navy cook on board and he delivered very nice meals from the little galley that he had.
With how big a crew ?
I imagine that there was about eight on board.
Was it just operating in the harbour entrance itself ?
It was just south of Rangitoto light, we generally hung around in there. I remember one time they turned around in a hard easterly gale and she went over so far I thought that she was never coming back. She just lay on her side. There was nothing in her, no cargo.
Were you stopping every ship that came in ?
Yes we had to challenge every ship that came in and then we used to use an Aldis lamp to communicate to the Army back up on North Head or just further around from there, we used to communicate to them. I think we were probably notified that there was somebody coming in and they had to make the appropriate signal.
You wouldn’t have to board them or any thing like that ?
You just went and checked their names and accepted their password or code or whatever it was ?
Yes that was all.
That would be quite a responsible job for a new signalman ?
Yes, if you got it wrong of course. They must have thought that we were reasonably confident at that stage.
Good experience though ?
Because you would have to shape up or otherwise all was lost so to speak ?
I lost track of a lot of the others at that stage, I don’t know where they all got to, to be honest.
You were in the examination vessel for about three months ?
Something like that yes, for two to three months and then we might have had a bit of leave before we went on draft. We left Auckland to go on draft down to Wellington.
Was it always pre planned that you would end up in the Far East ?
Yes we were trained specifically for the purpose of being on loan to the Royal Navy, there was never any intention to employ us in New Zealand apparently.
None at all ?
You knew that when you joined ?
Yes it wasn’t spelt out to us perhaps, but I think it must have been, because we were still the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy at that stage.
You were aware that you would have been sent to Singapore ?
Colombo a lot of us went to originally and made our way to Singapore. Colombo seemed to be the point, perhaps because the troops ships were going through there and I think it was easy to drop ratings off at Colombo. Colombo had quite a lot of ships coming and going at that stage.
Okay, so how did you get to Colombo ?
Well we boarded the AQUITANIA at Wellington and we were escorted across the Tasman by the ACHILLES. We had another Dutch ship in company with us, the JOHAN VAN OLDENBARNEVELT. Off the South Coast of Tasmania the SYDNEY joined up with the MARNIX VAN ST ALDEGONDE and the SIBAJAK or what we used to call the Superjack, that was a small Dutch freighter, reputed to be laden with munitions. The ACHILLES left us at that stage and returned the way she had come I imagine and we proceeded under escort of the SYDNEY. Shortly into the Great Australian Bight we got hit by a fearsome storm and they had to reduce speed down to approximately 7 knots, which was virtually hove to, because of this small Dutch freighter and its load of munitions. The JOHAN VAN OLDENBARNEVELT and it’s sister ship, they were I suppose 20,000 tons or more and they were just pitching in these great seas and you could see right under their forefoot almost back to the bridge at times, they would come right out. The SYDNEY was awash, she had put her focsle under and lifted the quarter deck out and then she would go down again and the seas would be going right across the quarter deck, it was amazing to see. We were out for about two to three days.
Were you just passengers in the AQUITANIA ?
No we did bridge watches, as the signalmen on the AQUITANIA, it was quite good because we shared in the Officer of the Watches sandwiches and what have you.
Were there just 24 Navy people ?
24 as far as I can recall.
The rest of the ship would be filled with Army ?
Now we were quartered down off the working alley which runs along the length of the ship just above the water line and I think we had the galleys one side and something else the other and the engine room underneath us. In these big seas, they have these big half doors or gun ports, the water was gushing in those. Even though they had those big dog clip things on them. When the big waves I suppose hit the side of the ship the sea water would come through, it was quite interesting to see.
Presumably not all that comfortable spot to be all down that low ?
No it was very dark and it seemed almost like a storeroom they had us in, but it made up for the fact that we did our watches on the bridge.
Did you have much interaction with the Army people ?
Not a great deal, most of them were horribly sick for a long time. After we got out of the Australian Bight things improved. They had a wet canteen down aft somewhere on the ship and I got to know a couple of the Army chaps and actually one of my friends from yachting days, he was a soldier going over. Food was pretty elementary or basic I think, but we had quite a good trip, it was quite an experience.
Did you go into Fremantle ?
No we stood off.
Just kept going ?
Yes we might have refuelled there. The trouble they had if they got any where near the shore in Fremantle half the soldiers used to go over the side.
Yes there were all sorts of tales there I think.
When we were in this storm in the Australian Bight I asked one of the bridge officers what the ship would have been doing if we hadn’t been escorted. He said we would have had revs for 25 knots and we would bash through it. He said the bridge you are standing on is the second bridge they built on this ship, and there is a duplicate down below us. Apparently one of our early trips across the Atlantic the whole bridge and fore funnel got demolished by bad weather. That was his story. He might have been impressing us, they built another bridge one deck higher.
You all kept a watch ?
Yes they shared it around.
Real work to do ?
We used to do a little bit with the SYDNEY that was about all and pass messages to the other two ships if necessary.
The AQUITANIA would have had its own signal team would it not ?
No it didn’t.
The Merchant Navy deck officers do their own signals don’t they ?
Yes actually convoy signalling is always pretty basic, not a great deal goes on.
The Radio Officer does the telegraphist type activities ?
Yes but I should imagine it would be radio silence. They probably just had their orders before they left and they stuck to them I suppose.
Yes certainly the deck officers did their own visual signalling as I recall.
The SYDNEY detached off Sunda Strait with the SIBAJAK and they went up to Singapore and of course the SYDNEY would have gone a few weeks after that, she was lost with all hands. I think the GLASGOW picked us up at that stage and took us up to COLOMBO where we disembarked and we were accommodated in very nice buildings referred to as the Fisherman’s something or other, they were two storied buildings and extremely comfortable. I don’t know what command we came under there.
I have got you down as serving in LANKA, HMS LANKA. Was that a proper barracks there ?
I think that was the Naval Base in Colombo.
It was a formal barracks like PHILOMEL has become ?
It was inland as far as I can recall, it wasn’t near the water, it was inland based.
Was it just buildings taken over for the war ?
I think it was because these buildings had a name to them and they had been used for some other purpose, but they were extremely comfortable. We thoroughly enjoyed Colombo.
How long did you have there ?
It must have been perhaps only a week or so at the most.
You didn’t have to work for your living there ?
No I think it was more or less leave and around the town. We had a very good Naval Club there too. I forget whether we used it at that stage. We certainly used it later.
What you were then posted ?
Four of us were drafted to the EMERALD at that stage.
Who were the four ?
There was Bluey Wheldale, Dick Norton, who has since passed away and Cyril O’Donnell and myself. I think we were probably a bit of an embarrassment to the EMERALD because she had a fairly full complement but they fitted us in.
What you weren’t really needed when you got there ?
Well we always seemed a bit surplus. I suppose they were quite happy to have us. I know if any halyards wanted rigging, I was the one that went up to the top mast.
Okay lets talk a bit about the EMERALD. I would like to try and get the facts down.
What we heard about her was, she was laid down at the end of the First World War approximately and she was supposed to be fitted with 7.9 guns and she was fitted out as a raider chaser.
She was completed on the 19th May 1920.
Yes and so she was fitted with seven 6 inch guns.
And five 4 inch guns.
I can’t remember five, I can remember three on board, but perhaps there were four.
I think the other feature about her was there were a lot of torpedo tubes ?
Yes she carried 16, eight each side. Shortly before we joined the EMERALD she was in collision with the DAUNTLESS and the forward set of torpedo tubes on the port side were swept down to the after ones and there 20 ratings sleeping on the deck that night and the whole lot got killed. As well as that they ended up below the aircraft, the catapult. There was a fire and apparently the petrol or something was coming down on top of the torpedoes and the whole lot caught fire. There was no explosion. The Commander forever had a broken voice after that. Apparently that night he shouted orders so much, he was up on top of the tubes throwing sand down to try and quell the flames that he damaged his throat in some way and has always had a very broken voice.
Now why I say she was going to be fitted with 7.9 guns, a lot of the fire control stuff aft of the compass platform, there was a lot of gunnery stuff up there that all had 7.9 in it. Whether that was correct or not.
They seemed the same sort of guns as fitted to those early D class cruisers ?
Yes they were exactly the same. For a long time the EMERALD and the ENTERPRISE were the faster ships in the British Navy because of that extra boiler room that they put down aft. She held the record for 24 hours continuous steaming. She ran the Prince of Wales up the East African Coast when King George V died or was dying and they rushed him up the coast. ENTERPRISE was I believe the first cruiser fitted with a turret. A and B 6 inch guns were in a twin turret mounting.
Yes it says here that EMERALD is reported to have exceeded 32 knots and 32 knots is a very good speed for a cruiser ?
Yes at one stage they talk about 35 but I could never see that.
She was built in Armstrongs and completed at Chatham Dockyard. Machinery Woollsend and Brown, Curtis turbines and she made 32.9 knots on trials. A lot of torpedoes ?
Yes so forever afterwards while I was on her she just had the four each side. They must have swopped one of the starboard set over. It was quite a thing to go down aft when she was travelling at speed, down to the Wardroom with a message perhaps, she was a long skinny ship with tremendous movement. She had capstan bars each side of the Wardroom flat on the bulkheads and these damn things would be jigging away and rattling and the Royal Marine Orchestra would be down playing for lunch amongst all this bedlam.
They did such things still in the war, they still had Royal Marines playing for the Officer’s lunch ?
Where did you Mess on board, where was your Mess ?
Our Mess was forward, just about under A gun and we shared that with the Royal Marine Band.
A comfortable Mess or very crowded ?
Oh a crowded Mess, a typical Mess.
Room for a hammock each ?
Oh yes, a lot of them used to use the Mess tables and forms, they would sleep on those. Once we got to the tropics we used to sling our hammocks on the flag deck.
Were there hooks there for it ?
No we just used to use the stanchions, swing in between those and get them down at action stations in the morning. It was fairly well covered the flag deck. We spent a long time up in the Indian Ocean and one night a monsoon hit us, and Bluey Wheldale was sleeping alongside me and he had his shorts tucked into the hammock lashings and his shorts blew away and the next morning they are hanging up off one of these funnel guys, they were caught up in there.
With his name in red ink ?
They were a petty relaxed crowd the officers on there, a great crowd of officers. The discipline was there, but it wasn’t visible really, everybody knew their job. The ship was commissioned in England before she came out East again, just after the start of the war with pensioners and boys apparently. That was the crew, because by the time we had got there the boys had been licked into shape pretty well. She had quite a happy crew.
Did the Yeomen give you a hard time ?
No. We were very competitive, when it came to a flag hoist, the four Kiwis would form a bunch and we would try and beat the Poms. This would go on and quite often we would come out on top of the flag hoist in exercises. She had a mighty big mast on her too.
What about the hierarchy of signalman, were you allowed to send signals on your own or for the first few weeks were you just the message boy and then you were given a big more ?
No they soon had us integrated into the watches and they would say send this and you would be on the lamp. We continued Morse practice pretty well all the time, that would keep you going. At that stage there was a lot of visual signals going on between ships and we were nearly always in company with somebody and you would get a lot of practice with Flags and Semaphore.
Well what would a watch consist of. Would there be a Yeoman in each watch ?
Yes a Yeoman in each watch and a Leading Signalman down on the flag deck probably.
The Yeoman would be on the bridge ?
Yes the Yeoman would be on the bridge.
Then the Chief Yeoman would be up when the Captain was there ?
The Signal Team have always been the ones to give advice too on ship manoeuvres and that type of thing ?
Well that is right, they had to have the knowledge of the Fleet Signal book. I can’t remember whether we carried a Signal Officer, perhaps we did, who would then take part in what was going on.
I always remember the Chief Yeoman was right by the Captain’s elbow.
Do you remember their names, some of the Yeomen or the Chief Yeoman’s name ?
I can’t remember at this stage.
The Captain’s name ?
Patrick Flynn. Now prior to him taking the ship over, Captain Agar VC was the Commander of EMERALD and I read his book a while ago and he said that EMERALD was one of the best ships that he had ever commanded.
Where did you go to, what did you do ?
Well from Colombo we took drums of aviation fuel down into the Meldives, Diego Garcia and Peros Bonhos. We landed these 44 gallon drums of aviation spirit ashore. We would always put a signalman ashore on there and he would keep communication with the ship from shore by Aldis lamp. From there I think we worked our way down to the Seychelles Islands and then down to Durban. At that stage we were more or less showing the flag around a bit I think. We worked our way back up the East African Coast to Tanga I think is one place, Pemba, Dars Salaam we went into at that stage, Zanzibar, up to Mombasa. Then I think probably we worked back out to the Seychelle Islands and generally just in and around the Indian Ocean.
You were operating in Defence watches, watch and watch or one in three ?
One in three at that stage.
I think we were in Mombassa when we heard the PRINCE OF WALES and REPULSE had been sunk and at that stage Captain Flynn was probably one of the senior Captains afloat in the Indian Ocean, not that that meant a great lot I suppose.
It means that a lot of signal traffic would be coming to him ?
I know we were in Mombasa for Christmas `41 and at the end of the month the 28th we took an American transport out from Mombasa, the WASHINGTON I think it was and that was when we sent reinforcements to Singapore. We met up with a convoy from Durban, probably mid ocean or some where and that had the SUSSEX with the 50 odd Hurricanes on board, plus there was the AORANGI, the ship, I don’t know whether you have heard of her, that used to run between here and VANCOUVER and a couple of others. That was when we knew that we were going through to Singapore. We went through the Sunda Strait and there was a contact for a Japanese submarine in the Sunda Strait area. One of the escorting destroyers who had joined us by that time made an attack on the submarine, I don’t know whether it was successful or not, but we think they got a sighting report off on us at that stage. As we turned north to Bangka Strait. Have you been through there at all ?
Yes I have.
Well you will know how narrow it is, the monsoon came down and closed in on us. The EXETER went through first and she had a modern set of radar or reasonably modern for those days on board and they must have had signals from Singapore about Japanese bomber aircraft and we were all closed up ready for action and the whole convoy was in single line ahead. I think we had the DE RUYTER and the JAVA following us through and when we went through Bangka Strait it was just heavy weather and the EXETER picked up this force of Japanese bombers on the radar and they came so far down towards us and then turned out towards Borneo and that saved our bacon.
(end of Tape 1)
(beginning of Tape 2)
We got into Singapore under cover of this heavy monsoon weather and berthed up alongside the oiling jetty in Jahore Strait. We were tied up there and we were supposed to go out again at midnight but the weather was so bad they decided to delay it until morning and when we went out the Japanese had laid floating mines in the Riau Strait. It was quite a chance that we would have copt it if we had gone out that night.
We went out with the EXETER in company and we went down through the Bangka Strait at 25 knots and then the old problem arose for the ship moving fast in shallow water, the stern sucks down and the wake follows and so they had to cut speed at that stage. I think we proceeded then down to Batavia at that stage from memory. I know we went and picked another convoy up which we escorted into Sunda Strait and passed it over to the DANAE. I know at that stage we went down to Batavia again and picked up the Commander in Chief Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Leyton to convoy him up to Colombo and we came out of there at 25 knots. Apparently he complained at the vibration of the ship and asked for the speed to be reduced. We had a clear run through to Colombo. They put some Oerlikons on board the ship at that stage.
They hadn’t put any small arms on ?
No the only small arms we had were .5 quadruple mounted machine guns.
That seemed to be one of the big failings didn’t it of the British Navy ships no effective anti aircraft weapons.
No the 4 inch were just an open mount, no shields, no nothing.
They had no real fire control for them at all and very little in the way of Bofors or Pom Poms.
No we hadn’t seen those.
The aircraft carriers which we joined up with a bit later, they had the Pom Poms and stuff like that aboard. No we were pretty defenseless and made you realize how usefully the Japanese employed the aircraft carriers with the type of planes they put on them, they were absolutely lethal. We were still playing around with the old Swordfish which might have been good torpedo bombers, but they weren’t much good for any thing else. We often used to see them landing on and taking off and they would virtually just fly straight up in the air, they didn’t need any run.
Which other ships were you operating with, you mention aircraft carriers, the HERMES was out there wasn’t she ?
Yes the HERMES, we didn’t see much of her, I don’t know where she popped up from, but that is a bit later in things really. The INDOMITABLE and the ILLUSTRIOUS, those are the names that spring to mind, but I would have to really check those notes there to be absolutely certain. That was later when we joined up with the Eastern Fleet.
After we dropped the Admiral off in Colombo we went around to Madras and did several convoys over to Rangoon and evacuated the Andaman Islands and made a trip up into Calcutta up the Hugli River. We had turned back for the last convoy to Rangoon and from then on I think we worked more around the units of the Eastern Fleet.
Were you actually taking units into Rangoon or out of Rangoon ?
No we were still taking them in.
These were Indian soldiers ?
I don’t know really, because we just convoyed them there and left them at the entrance to the river up to Rangoon. I think the whole outfit more or less at that stage retired over to Mombassa to regroup and that is when I think the WARSPITE showed up. About as far east we got then was back to Bombay. The whole of the Eastern Fleet gradually started to come together, the four R Class Battleships. Not many cruisers about. We had the CORNWELL and the DORSETSHIRE.
Tell us a little bit about the domestics of EMERALD. Food was canteen messing or general messing ?
General messing, she had her own baker aboard and generally food was acceptable. At one stage we were about three months without a supply train that we seemed to be at sea all the time and food got pretty scarce at that stage. I remember in Madras taking aboard some horrible looking beef the Coolies carried aboard. It looked as though it had been slaughtered with a machine gun by the condition of it. We seemed to get along alright, nobody made any great fuss and bother about the food.
What about washing facilities, some of the British ships weren’t renowned for their showers or their ablutions ?
No we had one big general bathroom we used and two buckets of water a day you are allowed. We would use one bucket for our dhobying, which we would wash out and then often hang in the boiler rooms to dry, take them down there and hang them above the boilers. One bucket you would reserve for your own shower, washing facilities.
I remember my first time at sea, you soaped yourselves down and then tipped it over yourself, it is a great way to have a wash actually.
Yes and it is quite refreshing.
She was quite a clean ship which was good, some of them got a bit scruffy.
Hot in the tropics ?
Yes very hot, that is why we used to get up on the flag deck at night. We practically lived on the flag deck I suppose.
Could you keep your hammocks up there or did you have to taken them down ?
I think we used to take them down to the mess deck.
Presumably you would have to take them down may be a bit earlier than the ships company would ?
Particularly for dawn action stations we would clear it all away. No we found life pretty good all around on the EMERALD.
Was sleep a premium ?
Not that I can recall. Quite a bit of time there we would spend perhaps in a place like the Seychelles at anchor in the harbour there. It was very pleasant there, you would get leave for watches every other day. You forget a little bit about the general day to day stuff I suppose over the years.
A lot of people talk of the lack of facilities when you went ashore. Were there plenty of things to do ?
We never found it any problem. We would perhaps got to the YMCA in Colombo and get a curried chicken or something like that. We weren’t very interested in chasing other company or any thing like that, it didn’t occur to us really. None of the boys were very heavy drinkers, nobody really got under the influence of alcohol that I can recall too much.
A lot of New Zealanders seem to be good sightseers and visitors to the beach and that sort of thing ?
Yes one episode up in Madras we found a very nice big department store there, a luxurious place, and so four of us wandered in and had a look around. I think adjacent to it or somewhere near it was a very smart hotel, the Connimara I think it was called and so we went in there and asked if we could have a beer and they put us down in the lounge and they served Tenants lager in silver tankards with uniform waiters. We had a couple of those and we asked if we could have a meal and that was a bit of a quandary for them, because a lot of the officers ate at the hotel and they didn’t know what to do with us and so they put us in the grill room and we had a most excellent meal about seven course meal and quite cheap. After being on the ship and the ship’s food it was really enjoyable.
You would be paid a bit more than the British sailor ?
Yes that was a little bit of a bonus. We weren’t all that short of money. Every where you went there was private homes generally made available if you wanted to go to those and we had several good episodes in visiting those places. We used to sight see and get out and about as much as we could. It was just like one big long holiday except for the gory bits.
What comes next ?
Things were in a bit of state of hiatus there for a while I think until Admiral Somerville came out and I think he might have addressed us on the EMERALD’s fore deck the ship’s company and he said what he was going to do and get things going. We gradually formed up the Eastern Fleet, EMERALD, ENTERPRISE, WARSPITE, the four R Class Battlers, sundry destroyers and it was really a bit of an odd bod sort of a fleet really, but it was a great experience, it was probably the last time and the first time for many officers they had exercised in a fleet situation and did a lot of the line ahead stuff with the mechanical semaphores, passing the message down the line and they were quite hard to get used to.
I have never seen one of those.
You had a couple of handles and they worked these big long, they must have been counter balanced, they were quite easily used once you got the knack of it.
In the photographs they seemed like railway signals don’t they ?
Yes that is what they looked like.
Would they be as big as that ?
Yes probably as big as that, quite good for passing signals down the line because you get funnel smoke and haze and all the rest of it. They practiced the various manoeuvres.
Each ship had to relay the signal ?
Yes relay it down the line. If they wanted any thing instantaneous it would be done with a flag hoist. They tried various things, they put up an umbrella barrage over the RAMILLIES I think it was one day, where every ship fired ammunition over the top of her. They had the shells that exploded at a certain height or time. I forget what they call those.
The idea was to put an umbrella over the top of the ship and the idea was to knock out any dive bombers coming in. It must have been a bit fearsome to have been on the ship receiving it, because there must have been a shower of shrapnel coming down.
Especially if they were doing it from opposite sides.
They were, they were all around, they were firing this great cone over the top of her. I only saw them do that once.
They gradually got the Eastern Fleet sorted out and going and were mostly based in Mombassa. Then at the time all the things got a bit rough and I think it was Admiral Ngakama or Ngakumu who came into the Indian Ocean with his fleet and they attacked Colombo. We were out at Port T at that stage.
Where is that ?
Port T is that major Base. Now the Americans have got it. It is a great ring of coral atolls hanging off the bottom end of the Maldives.
Diego Garcia ?
Yes Addu Atoll.
We formed up there on this particular occasion and refuelled. Fast and slow division and so the WARSPITE, EMERALD, ENTERPRISE and I am not sure whether one of the carriers or not, we took off out to meet the DORSETSHIRE and the CORNWELL coming down from Colombo and that is when they fell on them. We saw the smoke going up in the afternoon of one of the ships caught fire and we just steamed on and then sent the ENTERPRISE back to pick up survivors. They were in the water for quite a while I think. We stood to battle stations, it was April the 7th from memory and the idea was we would conduct a torpedo attack on the Japanese Fleet because we had no hope of doing any thing in daylight. Any rate the Japanese for some reason turned away and they never came back into the Indian Ocean after that.
It would have been a difficult encounter I would have thought ?
Oh pretty hopeless I think. Whether the WARSPITE would have withstood every thing I don’t know.
She was fairly elderly wasn’t she ?
Oh yes she was an old ship that had been reconditioned. Quite a powerful ship. The Japanese wouldn’t have been able to operate their aircraft at night it would have been the only advantage that we had. Any rate they turned away and I think we went back to join up with the other section. They must have taken the survivors off the CORNWELL and the DORSETSHIRE back to Addu Atoll I think from memory.
Yes because Ceylon had been vacated hadn’t it ?
Yes there was great panic there and HERMES and the other ship that was coming out with her, the destroyer they were pounced on by the lighter forces operating in the Bay of Bengal, they were sunk up there.
At that stage I think we moved back to Mombasa and shortly after that the invasion of Madagascar took place, because they were afraid apparently of the Japanese making a sortie to the west and establishing a foothold there.
Now I have got you down here as being transferred to HMS TANA.
TANA was the Base, the shore Base at Mombasa.
At Kilindini. I am not quite sure of the geography of it all, but Kilindini is over the bay from Mombasa ?
Yes it is around the corner from memory, it is the old port I think Kilindini.
Because everybody talks of Kilindini and it took me quite a while to work out where it was. The geography of some of these things is quite difficult at times.
It is quite a big harbour Mombassa.
That would be June `42 when you went to TANA ?
Yes that’s right.
At that stage they had an accommodation ship there, the BURMA, an old tramp ship moored in Mombasa Harbour and I was their signalman and that is probably how it occurred.
What was ADAMANT, was that another time ?
ADAMANT was prior to that. I had been on ADAMANT while they had me down as TANA perhaps. I just forget when I was transferred off. From EMERALD I went to ADAMANT.
What was ADAMANT ?
ADAMANT was a submarine depot ship, a beautiful ship, brand new and the accommodation on her was really excellent and the messing. She was used as a destroyer depot ship while we were there, but it had very big officer accommodation on board, passenger line stuff virtually for the crews of submarines. The only submarines we had were Dutch ones, a couple of Dutch ones floating around. It was quite enjoyable on ADAMANT because a couple of times I was able to get the 14 foot sailing skiff away and even though I didn’t have a hook at that stage I would take one of the senior ratings with me and we took part in a couple of the sailing races in Mombasa. I managed to win one and so it was quite good.
ADAMANT, built by Harland and Wolff in 1940 and had 8 four and a half inch guns and two multiple Pom Poms, 12,500 tons displacement, quite a handsome ship.
Yes a big ship and the armament was spot on too. I think it was all radar controlled gunnery. It was open shield stuff, but every thing was ranged apparently, the shells were all done automatically, the ranges.
She was a submarine ship and there were no submarines, she would been great, because she had accommodation for all the crews, the submarine crews no doubt and so there would be plenty of space ?
Yes plenty of space on her. They were using her as an accommodation ship too, so really all that was filled up, but probably the officer accommodation would have been pretty empty. We used to get various ships alongside. We had the ABDIEL and one other of those. Quite a few destroyers used to come alongside and so perhaps they gave some of the officers the opportunity to use the cabins. It was quite luxurious down below, all the flooring and all the decking down below was all done with deep blue cortisene and she was really well fitted out. She had full machinery capability to service the submarines.
Big machine shops ?
Did she carry a Flag Officer on board ?
I don’t think so.
She was just used as a depot ship ?
Yes probably Captain’s rank commanded her I imagine.
Did you spend time as a signalman on board ?
Flat out all the time, it was wonderful experience because we were transmitting and receiving the whole time, the whole watch you would be going. We would have sometimes four or five men in different positions all transmitting the same signal.
Well I suppose you would be almost used as a radio station, or a message centre ?
Yes because most of the stuff we handled was just routine day to day stuff. The cypher stuff or coding wouldn’t have had any thing to do with that.
It probably came into ADAMANT and you were transmitting it out to the ships in the harbour ?
Yes any thing that wasn’t secret. I imagine all the rest would go by hand. From her I went to BURMA and I spent a month or so on her. She was an old tramp steamer that had lost its tail shaft somewhere and they were using that as an accommodation ship for drafts coming in. It was the worst food that I have ever seen in my life on there, it was horrible food. They had Lascar cooks and they couldn’t even be bothered knocking the sprouts off the potatoes, they would cook every thing like that and didn’t peel any thing. They sent a crowd of Aussies on board at one stage and there was a riot virtually with this food and so things improved a bit after that. I managed to get myself a nice cabin for myself up below the bridge and I was quite comfortable on there. Then the draft to the HEEMSKERCK came along. At that stage I think Bluey must have been down in Madagascar around about then.
Yes because he took off for the Madagascar landings didn’t he ?
Yes he went on the ALBATROSS. I lost track of him at that stage. I was transferred to the JACOB VAN HEEMSKERCK and they had a British liaison staff aboard, a Lieutenant and I think about 8 or 10 coders and signalmen.
The HEEMSKERCK actually came into Mombassa did it ?
Yes she came up from South Africa and she had had a bit of trouble rounding the Cape. She had like a shelter deck that ran back from the focsle and in heavy seas there this thing cracked right across and they had to put an expansion joint somewhere there. She had work done down in Durban before she came up and she promptly got to Mombassa and so they sent all the crew on leave up to Nairobi. They went up by train and that was quite an experience.
Well the JACOB VAN HEEMSKERCK was laid down in 1938, but she was completed in Britain. I think somebody told me, may be it was you, that she was actually towed to England.
Yes that was what I was told. She was towed over to England without any armament and she was finished there with British armament and gunnery control.
She was eventually fitted with ten four inch and they look like in the photographs to be the sort of standard four inch mounting that the RN fitted in their ships.
A couple of the British cruisers were fitted out like that and they called them toothless tigers I think, some of the PHOEBE Class I think.
She had eight 40 millimetre Bofors and eight 20 millimetre Oerlikons.
Yes I think a lot of that must have come on after I left her because she took part in the Normandy Landings. I actually saw her in Liverpool when I got there later in the war. She was quite a comfortable ship to be on. She had a mixed crew of Dutch and Indonesian sailors.
Indonesian sailors ?
Yes quite a crowd of those on board.
We got a bottle of beer a day which was a standard ration. They had a cool store and they would open that up and you could buy as much beer as you wanted, they kept it open all the time once leave was piped. You could buy as much beer as you felt like.
I think the Continental Navy’s have always been more relaxed than our Navy’s regarding liquor.
I didn’t see any abuse of it, but it was there and you could just go and get it and pay for it at that stage, but otherwise there was a bottle a day at your lunch. The food was quite good. A lot of Indonesian and Dutch style food.
A bit of getting used to that ?
Yes a little bit. Some of the English chaps found it a bit hard at first I think.
Presumably a lack then of roast dinners ?
Yes nothing like that. They used to make a fabulous pea soup there. The cooking arrangements on the ship mainly were big steam aluminium copper type things, with steam jackets around them and a lot of the cooking was steam heated. We found it quite palatable.
Do they have different routines to the Royal Navy. I mean did they have a different watch-keeping routine or different habits ?
I didn’t notice any great difference and so I guess it was much the same. We had a Yeoman aboard as far as I can recall and he sorted things out for us.
Did you have to mess on your Mess deck or did they have a central dining room ?
Yes it was a general mess, much like the British, you would draw your food from the galley and eat it on your mess deck. We were messed forward and fairly low down from memory.
Reasonable washing facilities ?
Yes she was quite good in that respect. She had showers on her. I got down into the engine room on her on several occasions and it was quite a sight to see the way the turbines, she had twin turbines, cruising turbines mounted on the front. Very neatly done. The whole of the engine room had aluminium deck plating very highly polished. She was quite a ship to be on.
Did the Dutch crews speak much English ?
Yes quite a bit. In fact I used to go ashore in Fremantle quite often with one of the Dutch sailors, Tia Gloishman, and we used to get on a bus and go up to a little country pub and have dinner there and come back aboard at night.
I ask the question because in recent years the New Zealand Navy nearly bought Dutch ships. One of the attractions was that the Dutch Navy speak English as their first language in ships. All their handbooks are in English and all their commands and their patter is in English. It made it very easy to buy their ships, because you got good handbooks, you didn’t have to translate.
That is interesting.
We never noticed much about the Dutch language on board and so perhaps it was all English.
I don’t know how far this goes back, it may be something that emerged from the war or since the war, since NATO perhaps.
We operated pretty much within our own little group.
Did you sling hammocks, or did they have bunks ?
Hammocks as far as I can recall, perhaps she was fitted out by the English.
It could well be.
Yes as far as I can recall we used our hammocks there. There was certainly no flag deck to sling a hammock on. She was quite a pleasant ship to serve on.
You had an officer ?
Yes an Officer Yeoman and signalman and coders. We didn’t have a lot of work to do really with other ships at times. We operated on our own a lot.
Were you the only New Zealander ?
Yes, a lot of English ratings made friends in Perth and we had one family we used to visit, I have still got their address there, we often used to go there for a meal. One of the English chaps ended up marrying one of the nieces of these people.
What happened after you joined her. You joined her in Mombasa ?
I joined her in Mombassa and went up to Nairobi for a bit of leave and then virtually came straight down to Fremantle. We operated out of Fremantle all that time until the time the Australian 9th Division came back from the Middle East. For that particular time I was transferred to the TROMP. I can’t understand why and I can’t remember whether she had any English liaison staff in the TROMP. We had to go and pass a whole lot of the berthing and fuelling arrangements to the ships. It was quite a hairy trip because they were running at 25 knots with this convoy bringing the Australian 9th Division back. For that purpose I went out on the TROMP and I had had a bit of a runashore the previous night and I was feeling a bit seedy and we went out into quite rough conditions. I forget where I slept that night on board the TROMP, there wasn’t much space available. In the morning running in quite heavy seas we saw the QUEEN MARY I think it was, the ILL DE FRANCE, AQUITANIA, MONARCH OF BERMUDA and the 8 inch gun cruiser the NORFOLK and they were running into quite heavy seas. Of course we turned with them and the TROMP disappeared one moment and came flying in the air the next. It was quite rough running in 25 knots with the big ships.
RAMILLIES too ?
No she wasn’t with us, she wouldn’t have kept up at that speed, she was only an 18 knotter I think.
She certainly went part of the way with them I think ?
Yes she could have come down. Once they got past the Sunda Strait area they would probably think they are fairly safe.
That convoy is quite a dramatic political thing, Churchill wanted the Australian Division to go to India ?
He wanted them to go to Burma I think.
That’s right. I think they had to come to a halt at Addu Atoll for several days whilst he and the Australian Premier sorted themselves out.
Yes I heard afterwards that was a big bone of contention with that lot.
The New Zealand Division stayed over there and went eventually to Italy. It is quite a dramatic little point in history.
Prior to all that happening I think was the time we had a go with this German raider with the ADELAIDE.
Where were you in VAN TROMP ?
No I was in HEEMSKERCK.
How did that come about ?
We were on patrol to the north west of Australia as far as I can recall at this point.
Just on your own ?
With the ADELAIDE, which is unusual, because normally we were out doing solo more or less. Any rate I think one of our lookouts sighted this ship and they made the usual signals but it was evasive and everybody stood well back, because after the SYDNEY episode they weren’t taking any risks, it could have been a raider perhaps. Any way they made their signals and they did the evasion tactics and all of a sudden we saw the sign of an explosion on the ship and so both ships immediately opened fire at that stage. We could see that they were abandoning ship and the ADELAIDE made signals to cease fire, the Dutch didn’t take any notice, they kept going and they let them have it a bit.
What was the explosion on board, scuttling charges ?
Scuttling charges I think.
Prior to that when we sighted this ship and worked up to speed the HEEMSKERCK was leaving the ADELAIDE behind and they were frantically making signals to maintain station, they didn’t want to be beaten I think.
What was the name of the German ship ?
I think it was RAMSES.
So they took the sailors on board the ADELAIDE and also some of the captive seamen the ship had on board, she took the lot. Somebody said they didn’t trust the Dutch to get them back, they might have gone over the side in the night. There was a lot of ill feeling amongst the Dutch. You hear stories about the Dutch being collaborators with the Germans, but the crowd we were with certainly weren’t, they hated every thing about them.
They were looking for a pay back for all the nasty things that happened in Holland no doubt ?
Yes, we got them back and there was quite a heroes welcome when we arrived back in Fremantle. It was quite a good episode really on board her. After the ships had stopped at Fremantle with the convoy with the 9th Division we followed them around to Melbourne, detached a couple of ships in there and then went around to Sydney and at that stage they put the HEEMSKERCK into dry dock to fit a sonar dome in her and fit her out with that. At that stage the Lieutenant in charge of us, Lieutenant Laniece said, “Well you are close enough to home, you might as well go home from here”, and so he discharged me. Because he knew that we were all a bit concerned, even though the danger had passed of the Japanese invasion.
It was his decision that you came back to New Zealand ?
Yes I was quite surprised really I hadn’t really thought about it and so I was discharged to the Australian authorities.
They sent you home ?
Yes I came over on the ANDES to Wellington.
Just as a passenger ?
Yes as a passenger. She was a troop ship. So we came over to there.
(end of Tape 2)
(beginning of Tape 3)
Owen I think you would like to go backwards a little bit having re-read your diaries since I last spoke to you. Where would you like to start ?
Well if we go back perhaps to when I joined the EMERALD in Colombo.
The first duty the ship was involved in after we joined her was escorting the Royal Fleet Auxillary FAIRLEAF down to Diego Garcia. ENTERPRISE was in company for a while as she proceeded to the Seychelle Islands. The tanker unloaded the aircraft fuel in 44 gallon drums, we proceeded to the Seychelle Islands and the HERMES and REPULSE were both at anchor there when we arrived.
Getting about to the 10th November `41 we cleared the Seychelles for Mombassa and from there we proceeded down to Lindi. We did a bit of a show the flag cruise down the East African Coast. From Lindi we went to Dar-es-Salaam, where we had quite a job getting the ship in and out and ended up mooring the ship to the bank of the river and laying out a bow anchor, which was quite a manoeuvre. Up to Zanzibar a very interesting place and did quite a bit of sightseeing there and sailed for Tanga. From Tanga on the 20th November we were back at Mombasa and CERES and COLOMBO C Class Cruisers were both in the harbour. The next couple of days we sailed for Durban arriving there on the 22nd November. We cleared Durban on the 1st of December for Mombasa and at that time we heard of the loss of the Australian cruiser the SYDNEY.
On the 7th of December 1941 we heard that Japan had entered the war and we were at that time in Mombasa. From there we proceeded back to Durban and then back up to Mombasa. We were running up and down the coast there. We weren’t actually escorting any thing, but there must have been some scheme in their minds.
We had Christmas Dinner in Mombasa and the cooks on the EMERALD did us very well if I remember rightly, we had a really excellent feed.
There was an American troop ship in port at the time, the USS MT VERNON and she was carrying British troops, apparently they had gone across to the East Coast of America for some reason and then had been transported by the MT VERNON to East Africa.
At Christmas I remember the British soldiery came down the wharf afterwards in the afternoon and they were all saying how hungry they were and so we emptied out the Mess deck lockers for their benefit of left overs from Christmas Dinner.
We set sail on the 29th for Mombasa with the MT VERNON under escort and we were told that we were going to Port T.
On the 30th December we met the ROYAL SOVEREIGN and a large convoy including the MT VERNON, the AORANGI, the SUSSEX with its 52 Hurricanes and AGUNDA and the ABBYKIRK arriving at Port T on the 4th January 1942.
We sailed with the EXETER, five ships and a destroyer escort and were informed we were destined for Singapore. HMS DURBIN joined on the 9th January and passed information regarding Singapore. On the 10th the DE RUYTER the Dutch cruiser joined also ENCOUNTER, JUPITER and VAMPIRE. DE RUYTER and three Dutch Destroyers protected our rear going through Sunda Strait. All night action stations, heavy rain, line ahead through Bangka Strait and poor visibility. EXETER reported radar contact, enemy planes turned towards Borneo out of the Strait at 1300 passed through there we met the DANAE. We arrived in Singapore in a heavy murky weather conditions on the 13th January a Tuesday. Japanese planes were overhead and air raid sirens sounding. We went straight to the oiling jetty and finished oiling and storing at 2145 and as the weather was raining harder we were supposed to leave midnight and go out but that was postponed until morning. At first light proceeded with EXETER, STRONGHOLD, ELECTRA through Riau Strait, which we found to be sown with floating mines and proceeded at 25 knots through Bangka Strait to Batavia. Arrived at Batavia on the 15th January at 1100 and berthed at Tanjon Priok. EXETER, DE RUYTER, JAVA, DRAGON, VAN TROMP, ELECTRA, STRONGHOLD, YARRA in port. I also ran into Signalmen Jaffey and Signalman Wagner ashore, they were off the EXETER. I wasn’t to see them again until Sydney in 1945 when they came out of a prisoner of war camp.
On the 16th January Vice Admiral Leyton and staff boarded for passage to Colombo sailing at 1630. We arrived on the 21st January and then went into the dockyard for overhaul to paint ship and fit a few Oerlikons leaving dock on the 25th. The ABDIEL arrived in at that particular time, a minelaying cruiser. CALADAN, FALMOUTH and BATHURST were in port at the time. We cleared Colombo at 1630 on the 25th of January for AA practice and we met a convoy from Bombay on the Monday. We met a Durban convoy on the Wednesday. Tuesday the 27th the Bombay convoy FALMOUTH, EMPRESS OF ASIA, DEVONSHIRE, PLUCIA and TROILUS. I don’t know what those ships were, but they were quite odd names.
On the 28th January the Durban convoy with the Armed Merchant Cruiser RANCHI escorting met up and they were the DUNERA, CITY OF CANTERBURY, CITY OF AUSTRALIA, CITY OF PRETORIA, FELIX ROUSELLE, MALANCHRIA, WARWICK CASTLE and we took over sole escort of that particular convoy.
On the 31st January the JAVA and the DANAE joined up and we left for Trincomalee arriving on the 3rd February. In port were the REVENGE, INDOMITABLE, ENTERPRISE, the Australian Destroyers NIZAM, NAPIER and NESTER and also the ABDIEL was in port.
On the 8th February we sailed for Madras arriving the next day and had a little bit of shore leave. Plenty of interest there to see. We were at sea again on the 9th February with a ship convoy for Rangoon. The Royal Indian Navy sloops SONAVATI and INDUS in company 5 Merchant ships in the convoy detached from convoy at entrance to Irrawadi River. We then proceeded west at high speed arriving Madras on the 15th February. We sailed again on the same day for Rangoon, heard that Singapore had fallen and we picked up the NEURALIA, and escorted them into the entrance to Rangoon. The INDUS joined up with the CHILKA and WINGER from Calcutta.
On Friday the 20th we were ordered to proceed to Calcutta and on the 23rd we passed through the Saugor Roads and entered the River Hugli at 2400, part of the Ganges Delta. We embarked a pilot at this point who lurked off the entrance in a very nice steam yacht.
At the 23rd February 0730 we tied up at the oiling jetty at Budge Budge, about 10 miles downstream from Calcutta. We went ashore at 1400 by bus to Calcutta, many imposing buildings. We got quite a lot of fruit from the market there which is a very well furnished sort of a place.
On Sunday the 1st March we sailed at 2115 with a convoy which we left at entrance to the Irrawady and we returned then to Madras which was full of ships, sailing at midnight on the 10th of March. On the 12th we picked up a party of Indians floating on a hatch-cover, eight survivors of a Japanese sub shelling. On the 13th we closed the Andaman Islands and picked up the NEURALIA which had evacuated personnel from Andaman Islands. On the 20th March we cleared Madras for Trinco arriving the next day. The RAMILLIES, EREBUS, DORSETSHIRE, VAMPIRE, HERMES, TEVIOTBANK, an armed Merchant cruiser, WARSPITE, ISAAC SWIRES, a Dutch destroyer and the GRIFFIN were in port. On Tuesday the 24th March we sailed from Trinco with the DORSETSHIRE returning to Trinco the next day. This is mostly for the purpose of exercise. The HEEMSKERCK was in harbour, also PALLADIN and HOTSPUR entered and escorted WARSPITE to sea.
On the 30th March we sailed from Trinco with HEEMSKERCK, HERMES, VAMPIRE and joined Force A, Eastern Fleet.
On the 30th of March we were at sea and joined WARSPITE, FORMIDABLE, CORNWELL, and later in the day RAMILLIES, RESOLUTION, REVENGE, ROYAL SOVEREIGN, INDOMITABLE and some unidentified cruisers and destroyers joined.
On the 4th April Force A entered Port T in the forenoon. On the 5th Colombo was raided by the Japanese Carrier planes and at that point Force B entered for re-oiling in Port T.
Monday the 6th 1600 we heard that CORNWELL and DORSETSHIRE had been sunk and we actually sighted smoke over the horizon on that afternoon. The Japanese Force were reported as being 5 Carriers and two Battleships, plus Cruisers and Destroyers, apparently sighted by one of our aircraft 95 miles to the south east. We were at full action stations that night and we believe the intention was that there was to be a torpedo attack on the Japanese Fleet which was probably the only way we could have had some parity with them. At 2340 we did a 180 degree turn, reverse turn and proceeded back to the north west. We met Force B the next morning and we heard that the HERMES and the VAMPIRE had been lost in the Bay of Bengal.
On Wednesday the 8th the ENTERPRISE and PALLADIN and one other destroyer brought 1150 survivors into Port T. On the next day Thursday the 9th of April we sailed from Port T with Force A arriving in Bombay 4 days later.
On the 19th we left Bombay for Colombo and found that the AMC HECTOR was sunk in the middle of the harbour and the destroyer TENEDOS was there with her stern blown off.
We then proceeded to the Seychelle Islands and WARSPITE, HEEMSKERCK, ENTERPRISE were oiling there at the time we arrived on the 30th April.
On the 1st May we were covering the Madagascar Invasion and then I jump a bit there. On June the 3rd I left the EMERALD for the ADAMANT.
Jumping ahead a bit more on the 9th September I was drafted to the accommodation ship BURMA. On the 26th September I joined the HEEMSKERCK.
That is a good chronological history isn’t it ?
We are now with the HEEMSKERCK and I was going to ask you if you could give us as much detail as you can with the action with the German support vessel RAMSES ?
On the 24th November `42 we cleared Fremantle Harbour at 1700 in company with the ADELAIDE, the VAN GALLIN, the Dutch destroyer and three Merchant ships in convoy and we headed north. There was heavy following seas and the funnel fumes were giving us a lot of trouble on the bridge because she had rather a low funnel the HEEMSKERCK.
On Wednesday the 25th the VAN GALLIN left at 2100, everybody feeling better, even though the sea is just as rough. She was a very lively ship the HEEMSKERCK.
The next day Thursday the 26th November the seas had abated, the tanker GOLDMOUTH, Corvette CESSNOCK and TOWOOMBA joined up at 1700. The tanker developed engine problems, fell behind, we kept company and were able to increase speed rejoining just before dusk.
On Friday the 27th nothing to note, routine convoy, sea calm, clear weather. Our course virtually all that time was pretty well north. I am not too sure where we were heading, we hadn’t heard. On Saturday the 28th visibility had closed in again, visibility poor, horizon obscured and the ADELAIDE was out to port from us. I went on watch for the afternoon watch and at 1350 ADELAIDE made by light, “Attention drawn to bearing 335 degrees”, and out of the mist I could just make out a thin funnel and super structure showing over the horizon. Action stations sounded, all hands closed up. Lieutenant Laniece, Yeoman Mitchell and myself on compass platform and rest of signalmen on lights and flag deck. The HEEMSKERCK increased speed and turned north to intercept. The ADELAIDE headed north west. We worked up to 25 knots and as usual were omitting heavy clouds of greasy black smoke.
At 1435 suspect ship made an RR report to give us the impression that she was an allied ship. She named herself TARTYANG. The ADELAIDE broke radio silence and contacted Fremantle to test authenticity. At 1440 HEEMSKERCK originated message to say ship was suspect, she kept altering course. We had been flashing a group to the ship to hoist the signal letters but she ignored these. Now we started transmitting signal from international code, “Stop, do not lower boats, use wireless or attempt to scuttle or I will open fire”. As this was ignored a salvoe was fired across her bows by the HEEMSKERCK and just after boats were seen being prepared to be lowered. At this time we were quite some distance away. We were out to the starboard side of the ship to the east and the ADELAIDE was drawn out to the west. A shot was fired at 1503 and the boats were seen to be pulling away a few minutes later. We now turned 180 degrees and headed south. At this time an ensign resembling the Dutch flag was run up the signal hoist. At 1515 I observed smoke from ventilators and then the after hatches blew. ADELAIDE opened fire at once and kept up a fairly rapid broadside. HEEMSKERCK opened fire then with all armament. Both ships fire straddled the target, but from the apparent lack of casualties the fire must have been off target. More explosions were seen and the ship settled quickly by the stern sliding under at 1523. At 1525 ADELAIDE ordered HEEMSKERCK to return to convoy and went to pick up survivors. ADELAIDE signalled, the ship was RAMSES, 91 survivors including 10 Norwegians. RAMSES was said to be a blockade runner from Java, bound for Germany, cargo tin, rubber and silk.
I see so she really wasn’t really a direct support ship for the raider, she was running illicit cargo in effect ?
Yes she was just trying to make it home to Germany. I have quite a bit of newspaper stuff here. The surmise was perhaps she had been interned in Java and they thought that the Japanese were trying to take her over perhaps and they decided to make a run for it.
The crew in conjunction with the Japanese presumably decided to head west ?
Head west yes. According to the reports, I don’t know how factual they are, but there wasn’t much co-operation between the Germans and the Japanese. The Japanese were most unco-operative with them apparently. The interesting thing is that the radio officer is alleged to have made a transmitting device when he was interned in the Prisoner of War Camp and was able to communicate with Germany, but how true that is I don’t really know, but this is the story that went around.
I am just trying to think where you would have picked up the ship. It sounds to me as if you were north west of Fremantle and south west of Java ?
On the 29th I met the GAMBIA and KANIMBLA, the Australian armed Merchant cruiser at 1300. I went up on GAMBIA’s quarter to receive mail for Australia. I noted our rocket pistol nearly cleared the GAMBIA’s quarter deck. GAMBIA took over convoy, we turned south with KANIMBLA in company. We had a raider report at that stage and left KANIMBLA returning to Fremantle. We left KANIMBLA on the 30th of November. No sign of raiders. If I remember rightly we just did a bit of a sweep around or whatever.
On Tuesday the 1st December `42 weather deteriorating we joined ADELAIDE. On the 2nd December ADELAIDE entered Fremantle Harbour and we followed and berthed alongside. About eight vans on the quayside and Australian AIF guards there with Tommy guns lined up and they transported the Germans into captivity.
They would have been German Merchant Navy ?
Rather than sailors ?
It was quite an interesting little episode and it went well as far as we were concerned.
How far away was ADELAIDE and HEEMSKERCK when they opened fire ?
We were about 4 miles I suppose, we opened well out from her.
That is quite a distance in fact really, 4 miles is 8,000 yards for a 4 inch gun, it is quite a long way.
Yes they evidently weren’t going to chance coming in close after the other episodes.
Were you aware of the problems of those previous episodes of the SYDNEY and LEANDER ?
Only on the lower deck level from the talk that goes on. I imagine the officers had quite an opinion about it all I should think.
What was your precise action station ?
That particular time I was on the compass platform. The bridge was quite an open bridge more or less with the general run of RN ships. The Liaison Officer and the yeoman and myself were passing whatever was necessary to the flag deck.
Taking up messages and that sort of thing ?
Were you operating a lantern ?
No I was purely up there with the yeoman. There wasn’t a great deal of signalling going on. I always remember the ADELAIDE was flashing frantically at us when we originally started to investigate this ship. We worked up speed a bit quicker than ADELAIDE, he was making keep station, keep station.
You wouldn’t want to be exactly opposite each other as you were firing ?
Yes for a period we were travelling reasonably close together and then we would diverge as we went out as we got closer.
All messages I suppose with ADELAIDE were by light ?
All by light yes.
There was no TBS ?
No nothing like that at that stage.
How long did the action last altogether ?
1350 the first sighting report and it was all over by 1525.
Its not long really ?
No just over an hour or so, all gone.
Okay so where are we going to now, are we going back to New Zealand. Have you got any other points that you want to make ?
The only other thing was and we did mention about the big convoy that came back from the Middle East, that was on February the 10th. Two British ratings Signalman Watson, Signalman Pope and myself with the Lieutenant Laniece transferred to the TROMP on February the 10th. HEEMSKERCK was having some hull repair after a vessel came alongside of it with a bit of a thump. We are at sea on the 13th and we met this large convoy of the QUEEN MARY, AQUITANIA, ILLE DE FRANCE at 0800 on the 16th February and escorted them back to Fremantle, the big ships anchored in the roads outside and at that point I transferred back to the HEEMSKERCK.
You were in TROMP for a few days ?
Yes that’s all. HEEMSKERCK was ready for sea at that point and we joined the convoy and proceeded onto Melbourne. We detached with the NEW AMSTERDAM and took that one into Melbourne and then dashed through the Bass Strait and caught up with the rest of the convoy who had gone around the outside and went in with them to Sydney. At that point I was transferred to shore after a few days. HEEMSKERCK was going into dock to have a sonar dome fitted and Lieutenant Laniece said it was a good opportunity for you to go home. I went down to Melbourne actually and caught a ship from there to Wellington.
VAN TROMP there was nothing special about her, she was similar to HEEMSKERCK?
Yes except she had 5 inch guns and I think probably had torpedo tubes as well. We never got very far off the bridge or mess deck with her. Quite different inside, the mess decks seemed to be quite different on her and a different atmosphere of ship altogether really.
She was totally built in Holland and I suppose every thing was to their standards ?
Yes she was operational I think before the war the TROMP. I should imagine quite an effective ship. I think she was classed as a flotilla leader.
Okay now tell us what happens when you get back to New Zealand ?
I arrived back in March and by the 30th April I had been drafted to the Port Signal Station in Wellington and I spent time there until October when I went back to PHILOMEL for a VS3 Course. Chief Yeoman J.O’Meera, Yeoman Mowlem.
Where was the signal station actually ?
It was right at Baring Head, next door to the lighthouse. I have got a photograph of it here somewhere. It was quite good there. There was a Chief Yeoman and about eight signalmen and we kept 24 hour watches. Nothing much happened any time. We used to watch for the Inter Island Ferry coming up every morning. We generally got a warning from Cape Palliser, there was an Army or an Air Force radar station high up there and so they would notify us of a contact and we would check it out. I would have to crank up the diesel generator to get power.
Did you mess out there as well ?
Yes we had full messing facilities. Actually it was very pleasant.
How long would you spend out there at a time ?
All the time.
If you wanted to go on leave you went on leave from there ?
We had an armament of about eight 303 rifles and three Thompson sub machine guns and we used to take them down to the beach and have a bit of a burst every now and again.
Every night the Chief Yeoman used to order the 303’s to be loaded and in the morning of course they had to clear them. I remember one morning one rating went to do this and so he cleared them worked the old bolt and put it into the air and pulled the trigger and one had lodged up in the barrel, it went out through the roof. He must have missed the Baring Head light by a small distance. The Lighthouse Keeper there had a young bull and he had it tied up to the fence to de-horn this bull and of course the bull took fright and took off and took half the fence with it. After that we never loaded the 303’s again. I don’t think that anybody would have come up those cliffs at night.
How did you get out there, because even today it is only a bit of a dirt track isn’t it ?
That’s right. We used to go out through Wainuiomata, there was nothing there. A Navy truck, half tonner or whatever it was, there was a bridge across the river that flows out, the Wainuiomata River. I remember one time I had a poisoned hand, I got something in my hand and I was in a bit of a bad state and the river was in flood and we couldn’t get in or out and so I had to stay for two or three days and by the time we got into Wellington Hospital they were talking about taking my finger off. That was a little episode. It was a very pleasant interlude out there.
There was another signal station on Stephens Island and I think there was a few stories about that. The chaps went out there thinking it was for about one month and six months later they were still there.
We had nothing to complain about, plenty of supplies and we had a very efficient coke boiler there with endless hot water and so plenty of showers. I don’t know where all the water came from, but we were never short of water or any thing.
I did have a period of leave, I came up to Auckland for a fortnight I think and went back down there.
Okay so what after this ?
So did the VS3 Course and passed and the next thing on the 28th of November `43 I was told to get a bit of kit together and I was going to Sydney on the Wahine, the Inter Island Ferry Wahine loaded with about 150 civilian passengers and nipped across to Sydney, no problems, the ship was a bit lively, but every thing went well. We had to feed everybody so many at a time in sessions. From Sydney went up to Norfolk Island and embarked about 470 Army personnel. We arrived off Norfolk Island on the 6th of December.
You were you actually a signalman on board ?
Yes a signalman on board, but I had to sign on as an able seaman. Two of us went, there was a chap Sammy Ward and I think he was an RNVR signalman and we were signed on as deck hands on the WAHINE. I think that was in case the ship ran into any trouble. I suppose they thought if you were a prisoner of war it would be better to have down as a deck hand.
You were really acting as the ships signal office ?
Yes the two of us. There wasn’t much to do, but any rate we shot across there and embarked all these troops, no problems getting them aboard, it was pretty rough if I remember rightly. We arrived back in Auckland on the 8th of December `43.
On the 5th February `44 I was drafted onto HMS SCARBA, the coal burning minesweeper, a Scottish Isle Minesweeper and our job was to escort four Fairmiles up to New Caledonia. The Fairmiles used to run for 24 hours on one engine and then change over to the other engine for the next 24 hours. There was always the worry are they going to blow up in the initial firing up period because they are running on that 100 octane fuel. We stopped at Norfolk Island on the 10th of February and the Fairmiles promptly started rolling their propellers out, anchored out in the roadstead there, there was quite a bit roll coming in and so they were most uncomfortable. We were able to get ashore there and have a good look around. We left two days later on February the 12th making about 10 knots and we arrived off Noumea a couple of days later. The funny thing was we got to Noumea, it was all American controlled there and they made us signal your fuel and store requirements. The skipper said send off, “Where is the coaling jetty”, the Americans all fell about laughing about coal. They said, “God damn, what’s that coal stuff, we haven’t got any of that”. We asked for meat, no we haven’t got any meat, we have got plenty of frozen turkeys. They sent aboard about I don’t know how many cases of these frozen turkeys. We had no refrigeration on the SCARBA and so the cook promptly set to work cooking turkeys. On the way back we were eating turkey until we got sick of the stuff and threw it over finally.
Coming down the coast here was a toss up as to whether we would have to call in some where and get some coal. Anyway they swept all the bunkers clean.
You didn’t go beyond Noumea ?
No they proceeded from there independently I imagine.
Who was the Captain of Scarba ?
It was either a Lieutenant Commander Finch or a Lieutenant Commander Smith and I can’t remember at this stage. I think he was an RNVR Lieutenant from memory. Yes it was quite an experience on that, the smallest ship I was on in the Navy virtually, except the examination vessel.
What sort of crew did she have, mainly VR people or mixtures ?
I can’t be sure at this stage, I think it was a mixture, they were HO’s and RNVR, all sorts. I don’t think that there were any T124’s on her, they wouldn’t have gone up there I should think.
Was she a happy ship ?
Our rum ration was not watered down on her to keep the troops happy. She was a dirty little ship really because when you had a following wind the funnel wasn’t much above the bridge and we were covered in smuts and funnel fumes.
Yes and you never really get rid of the coal even though you wash down after coaling ship and all the rest of it, I don’t think that you ever get rid of it do you.
How many signalmen on board her, there would be presumably a couple, two or three I suppose ?
I don’t know, I haven’t made any note about that. A couple of us, probably watch and watch. Not much room in her of course, we didn’t have room for many people.
Those Fairmiles are uncomfortble ships, they must have had a hell of a time in transit up to the Islands ?
Oh yes. All right if the weather was good, but laying at anchor or any thing like that. Probably if they could have travelled closer to their cruising speed at 15 knots or so, they would have been better. Nine knots was about the best for the old SCARBA.
(end of Tape 3)
(begining of Tape 4)
There is nothing much else I have got a note of until I got a draft overseas to the UK on the 11th May `44. There were 160 Naval personnel and 30 Air Force who went on the Shaw Savill Liner AKAROA on draft to UK which was quite good. I had a single berth cabin all the way to the UK. The conditions were fairly spartan but more than adequate after being on the troop ships. We went through Panama and then up to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and then in a convoy of 14 ships to New York. On the 7th of June we started off for New York. We were the Commodore and we were working on the bridge and we provided the signal staff for the ship on the AKAROA which was quite good. We arrived in New York anchoring in the narrows on the 15th June, the same day the QUEEN ELIZABETH entered. We were ashore the next day after berthing at the Cunard Pier. We did all the usual things in New York, Empire State Building and made a record at the Forces Centre, the ANZAC Club. Had a home visit and visited Radio City, dinner at the Russian Casino Restaurant and it was all very good. I met quite a few of the Naval personnel that I had been with before and so we were able to get ashore and enjoy ourselves.
We were at sea again on the 19th and joined up north of New York. There was fairly heavy fog all that time, but finally we ended up with a convoy of 70 ships. We saw the coast of Ireland on the 2nd July entering Liverpool Harbour in the forenoon of the 3rd July. Just of interest there the HEEMSKERCK was in port at Liverpool when we arrived and so she had made her way back to Europe. We were transferred to the Glen Holt Signal School outside Plymouth. That was quite a place, it had been a Nudist camp pre-war and a lot of chalets dotted around amongst trees and things. Food and messing conditions were pretty spartan there, but we survived alright. As soon as we got there we went on leave and so we went up through Bristol, Crewe, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Loch Lomond and saw quite a bit of that area. Back to London by the 15th July. A lot of buzz bomb activity going on and then we were back to Devonport. We did a Fire Fighting Course, Power of Command. There were a lot of New Zealand personnel in there at the time and we were expecting to get shoved over more towards Europe or somewhere like that, but it never happened.
August 17th I found myself on draft to the NILE with Bluey Wheldale on the STRATHMORE. We left from Greenoch.
So you met up with Bluey again ?
Yes we left Greenoch. We disembarked near Port Said or Alexandria and we were transferred and were under canvas at Sidi Bish Naval Camp.
NILE was the shore base there ?
Yes, they called this camp HMS SPHINX, but I think NILE was the name.
Yes we got confused there, because we have a list of all the ships and shore bases and NILE seems to be the shore base in Alexandria. Written down in your drafting card as SPHINX which has been crossed out and NILE(SPHINX) and then SPHINX has been crossed out.
We were domiciled at SPHINX I suppose. NILE was perhaps the Naval Command I don’t know.
It is a shore base, there is an HMS NILE and it was the shore barracks there.
On the 19th October I was drafted to HMS DART, a River Class frigate and I will have to rely on my memory from then on. From there we worked our way back to Malta, called at Bizerta or one or two other places and I think we were in convoy with EVENLODE one of the sloops, a name like that. We did a refit in Malta and from there we moved up to Gibraltar and finally back to the UK at which point they decided to do some more work on the DART. She must have been having a few problems and quite a few of the ship’s company were paid off.
Were there any incidents that you encountered in that ship ?
No at that point it was all pretty quiet in the Med, other than a few contacts which we used to chase up.
How did you find DART ?
Excellent it was really a good ship to be on.
A nice size ship I would have thought ?
Yes about 1500 ton and plenty of room on it and nobody lived aft at all in those days, there were no mess decks aft they were all forward or amidships. There was always the worry of acoustic torpedoes in those days too and so we were quite happy that we were living forward.
The Captain, the Commanding Officer was an RNR Commander, Treasure Jones and the First Lieutenant, I can’t remember his name. The Skipper was a Cunard man, a Curnard Officer and after the war I believe he became Commodore of the Cunard Company and took the QUEEN MARY out to Long Beach finally, it was probably his last job. He was a great skipper. Only a very short man. He never got on very well with the First Lieutenant, the Gunnery Officer. Everybody reckoned that he came off a banana boat or something like that, a tramp steamer. The friction was terrible at times if we were having gunnery practice and the First Lieutenant was a Gunnery Officer and he would say one thing and the Skipper would say another. One time the Gunnery Officer said, “Well if you don’t want my opinion I might as well leave the bridge.” The Skipper said, “Well get off the bridge”.
Signalmen see it all, don’t they ?
He used to make our life hell a bit, the First Lieutenant. It was the only time I got in the rattle in the Navy. We were entering the Clyde in the dawn and he looked over and he said, “There is a ship there standing into danger over to the right”. I forget, there were rocks or something over there. He said, “Get on to the search light and flash a message to him.” I said, “He will never read it if I use that, I will use an Aldis, he will read that perfectly well.” “Do as I say”, he said and things deteriorated at that stage and I think I sent the message and complained and grizzled and he said, “Now you can get off the bridge.” At that point the Skipper came on the bridge and he heard something going on, and I said, “I am not leaving the bridge if the Captain is on it”, because I was the Senior Rating in the Signal Department. I said, “Permission to leave the bridge Sir ?”, and he said, “Yes go below”, and I was in the rattle for that. There was a full Captain’s report and this sort of thing. I fronted up there and they all said their piece. The Captain said, “Caution”. I don’t think the First Lieutenant was very pleased with that he thought I would get disrated at the least.
Did you gain further qualifications in England ?
No I didn’t go any higher than VS3.
You weren’t a qualified Yeoman or any thing like that ?
No I was Acting Yeoman of the frigate. Bluey was the only one that really went as far as he did. It was just the circumstances that you find yourself in I suppose.
Most of our time while I was in the DART was spent, we were convoying mainly between Greenoch or the Clyde and down to Gibraltar and back, meeting various convoys in the western approaches. The ship at one stage had to do a bit of a refit, lost half the crew and when we took the new crew on we went up to Tobermory, the working up place for the frigates and spent a bit of time up there which was quite interesting, it was quite good.
That is supposed to be quite tough ?
Yes it was, very tough. You never knew what you were going to get told to do in the middle of the night and all this went on, it was quite good. Virtually our last job at the end of the war, by the time the war finished in Europe we were up off one of the Scottish Lochs there on the west and we were taking the surrender of German submarines, the U Boats and we used to loaf around off there.
What were you still in DART then ?
Yes and we used to fly a big black flag I think was to signal U Boats and they would come up out of the water and we would escort them. I can’t remember the Loch, whether it was Loch Elg or Loch Alsh.
What in Ireland ?
No in Scotland, Loch Elg. The only Loch we did much with in Ireland was Loch Foyle on the way up to Londonderry. We used to use that quite a bit, they always had a tanker in there an oil tanker.
Now I have got you down here as serving in FERRAT from Londonderry from the 1st February 1945, but that is not so ?
Who was FERRAT ?
She was a shore base too, may be that was for your pay documents. Were you operating out of Londonderry ?
Another interesting thing going up the river there, a couple of times we went up and there used to be a lady on the banks there waving a great Union flag and it was General Montgomery’s mother.
Yes I think Bluey talks about that.
Yes so he must have been up there in WOLVERINE.
The other episode was in Londonderry we were alongside there and all the crew are expecting shore leave in the afternoon and then word came that we were going to sea and so half the crew vanished over the side and there was quite a cawfuffle over that. When they got them back aboard again the skipper cleared lower decks and read the KR’s and I’s to them and stirred the tripe out of them.
What they were deliberately trying not to go back to sea ?
No I think they just wanted to get ashore and have a run I think.
My days in the DART came to an end.
Talking about these convoys to Gibraltar and back, what sort of ships were you taking down there ?
Just general Merchant ships. We spent quite a bit of time in Gibraltar off and on. We would do patrols perhaps out from there. I got time to do a bit of whaler sailing. We used to take the whaler away. There were a lot of ships anchored in the bay there at that time. Apparently the Italians had a ship there and they had converted it for the one man submarines. They were able to operate these things from one of the ship’s anchored there.
Did you have any U Boat encounters ?
Nothing definite, nothing we could prove.
Would you just go literally straight there or would you go to the middle of the Atlantic?
Sometimes we did, we would go well out. Other times they seemed to creep right down through the Bay of Biscay. We used to have all sorts of trouble with the Sardine fishing fleet, the Spanish Sardine fishing fleet out there at night.
Yes because the Bay of Biscay would have been the transiting area for the U Boats ?
Yes perhaps as it got later in the war perhaps we didn’t need to go out so far. You don’t take notice really as a signalman, they don’t make it available to you where you are generally.
As the senior signalman in DART you would have been every time the Captain was on deck you were on deck, you were the Captain’s shadow presumably ?
Yes we only carried a small staff. I was trying to think the other day, I doubt whether we had more than about four signalman on the ship.
Would the convoys have many escorts. Were you operating with a frigate group ?
We were operating with the 24th escort group and that contained the four frigates that came out to New Zealand. The LOCH FOYLE, we finally joined up with them.
At the end of the war in Europe they brought quite a few together and the idea was we were to move out east. The Commanding Officer Treasure Jones, he left the ship at that stage and an RN Lieutenant Commander took over. I was having all sorts of problems with one of my eyes at that stage and we happened to be in CHATHAM for some reason and I got myself an appointment with the eye doctor and I was classed unfit for sea at that point. I have still got the paper work. I only just got in the Navy, I had astigmatism in one eye. I was border line whether I got in at all. I found reading the lights became more and more difficult and I knew that if we went out in the bright sunshine again I was going to have real problems.
Going back to the surrender, you mention escorting German submarines ?
How many of those ?
I think four or five altogether we were involved with.
You brought them in as a group or individually ?
The surrender flag was a black flag ?
I can’t remember whether it was them or us flying it ?
I have just finished interviewing a German U Boat Captain who lives up in Whangarei and they were off Greenland or somewhere when the war ended and they ran back to Bergen in Norway with a black flag.
We were flying a signal too, but it escapes me at the moment. It sticks in my brain that it was a black flag, but whether it is right or not I don’t know.
Black flags were normally the signal I understood for in contact with a submarine.
Yes you get a bit hazy after a few years.
I think the black flag was, “I am in contact with an enemy submarine”, or something of that nature.
Yes I know we were ordered to fly a particular flag for the purpose of intercepting.
So you would bring a submarine in and then you would go out to a designated spot ?
Yes we were just loafing off this one spot.
What the submarines would come into you ?
Yes we would be loafing along and they would come up in our beam, they would come up alongside virtually. It was quite a sight to see these things coming up.
Another interesting job we had for a while there. I just can’t think which base we were working out of, but the RN must have got hold of one of those hydrogen peroxide fuelled submarines from somewhere, one of the German ones and for a while we were acting as escort while it was doing trials. I can’t think of the name of it now, but it had a particular name that we called it. Apparently they abandoned that, it was too dangerous if it blew up.
They did develop two of their own later on I think from that design. They were I gather not pleasant boats to serve in ?
Yes I believe that to handle the fuel that had to be done in absolute sterile conditions.
We had a quite a bit of leave while I was on the DART, for there was always something happening or going wrong and they would give you a few days leave and we got up to London quite often and did all the sights there and saw all the usual tourist things in London. At one point I was out at the end of Picadilly line, staying with one of the ship’s company at his place. Very pleasant suburbs out there, but that was in range of the V2’s. A couple of them came down while we were there and you would hear this almighty crash and then the scream of the thing coming through the atmosphere. The devastation they were causing was terrible. The old Buzz bombs. I remember somebody said, “You have got to go and see the Elephant and Castle pub down the East End”. I went down there one night and they had the old Pearly Kings doing singing and dancing and a Buzz bomb came down quite close. The whole ceiling seemed to go up and down, the lights went out and came on again and the old Pearly Kings stopped singing for a moment and the things picked up and away they went again. London was fabulous I thought during the war. I think I came closer to getting exterminated in London than I did at sea.
You were in effect discharged from the Navy in England ?
No I came back in the OTRANTO to Sydney from Southampton I think and went into the Naval Barracks in Sydney.
I see you are in GOLDEN HIND from August to October `45 ?
Yes at that point I met up with Nathan Jaffe, Dick Wagner and Owen Ludlow who had come out of the Prisoner of War Camp in Sumatra and they were in very poor condition, spindly legs and swollen stomachs, they looked in real bad order. I don’t know why we loafed around there for so long, perhaps they were waiting for a troop ship. I think we came back on the ANDES if I remember rightly. Called in at Lyttelton. We ended up arriving back on Labour Weekend in October and the ship loafed around the Tasman for about three days. The word went around the ship that the wharfies didn’t want their Labour Day holiday disrupted on the Monday. We had a lot of Army personnel on board and so we finally berthed I think on a Tuesday morning the ship got into Lyttelton and there was a band on the wharf, an Army Band and the Minister of Defence or somebody was there in his black Homburg and black overcoat standing on the wharf in front of it all. Unfortunately they had served hard boiled eggs for breakfast and nobody was very keen on eating these but they came in handy for ammunition. The poor old Parliamentary representative was standing there and there was a hail of eggs going down around him. The troops weren’t very happy about loafing around in the Tasman. It was then back to PHILOMEL and I think I was finally demobbed somewhere around about December or November.
I can’t quite read the writing here, we have got you joined PHILOMEL in October `45 and then it says, “PHILOMEL brackets something – October `45 to March `46.”
I was finally discharged in March `46 but I effectively left the Navy by Christmas.
I suppose that was leave, the end of your Long Service Leave or Overseas Leave ?
Yes. I think that would roughly be right.
Just to finish off Owen, give us a few minutes of what you have done since you left the Navy ?
Yes I came out of the Navy and foolishly enough I went back to my work I was doing before the war which is really in horticulture. I decided to go back and do that. I spent a couple of years in Newmarket working in the outfit over there, plant and florist business and then a relation asked me to go and run their shop in Devonport, Morris’s in Devonport and so I was there for a little while.
I got a bit sick of shop work. By this time `49 I had bought a property out in Albany, 5 acres in Albany. I used my gratuity which amounted to 580 pounds I think from memory to buy this 5 acres of run-down orchard and an old shack at Albany. We gradually built that over the years. We lived there for 35 years and did alterations to the house and raised the family there.
In 1960 Bluey rang me up, by this time he was working for the Harbour Bridge, he said, “There is a good job going down here if you are interested”. He knew I was having a little bit of a struggle with this horticulture business, it wasn’t going as well as it could of. The main trouble was that the whole business of floral work had changed. I had gone out there to grow a particular line of flower product for Morris’s. The whole business of floral work changed with cremation becoming popular there was no demand for wreath work and we were all geared up for producing masses of stuff for wreath work and so things were a little bit quiet. I decided to take up the job on the Auckland Harbour Bridge as Bluey said this job was available and I started there early in 1960, about April I think it was, perhaps a bit earlier, joined the Harbour Bridge and worked as a Bridge Officer, which meant toll collector and breakdown man. I stayed there until I retired, but in the meantime I moved from that particular section into the traffic office and I worked as a Traffic Officer on the bridge for about three years and then I had about three years as supervisor of the control room, which meant for the eight hours that you were there you ran the bridge and had the full responsibility for the bridge operations in your 8 hour shift and responsibility for see that the toll was properly collected and secured and any accidents or mishaps on the bridge you detailed the staff necessary to deal with those. I finally was working the night shift by the time I reached the age of 61, I thought I am a bit of a fool doing this working night shift at my age and so I typed my resignation out and put it in. I had about 4 years I suppose at Albany in retirement and then the developers started coming around us and we thought it was time to move on. We sold our property at Albany for quite a good profit compared with what we paid for it and bought this 12 acres up here which we have had from `85, about 10 or 11 years we have been up here.
That is a great story Owen, thank you very much.
(end of interview)