It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Telford. 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 ex Chief Yeoman of Signals E.R.T. Telford on the 20th March 2001 taking place at the RNZN Museum, Devonport, Auckland. The interviewer is Commodore G.F. Hopkins, OBE, RNZN (Rtd).
May I call you Eddie?
Good to have you with us.
Initially could you start off by telling us where you were brought up and who your parents were and what did they do and where you went to school and what led to you joining the Navy?
I was born in Fielding on the 21 October 1922 and then the family shifted to Palmerston North when I was 8 months old. I came from a family of six, three boys and three girls and I was number three. My father John Telford originally was a horse trainer, but he just finished training when I was a boy and then he worked for the Railways for a time. My mother was born in Awahuri, which is just out of Fielding and my father was born in Ballarat. His parents came out from Ireland in the 1800’s, but they left Ballarat when he was six and they shifted to Invercargill with my Uncle Harry and I had two other uncles and an aunt born in Invercargill and then they gradually shifted up to Palmerston North.
I went to St Patrick’s College School in Palmerston North. But a funny thing even in those years I was interested in the sea and I used to go down to Wellington to stay with a couple of uncles and aunts during the school holidays and I was always down at the waterfront, particularly if any warships were in. I remember the DUNEDIN being there once and the DIOMEDE. I remember when Aussie ships came over. I remember one was called the AUSTRALIA, the cruiser. Then at the same time the two English ships that were out here, the LEITH and the WELLINGTON and I went onboard those.
I left school at 14 and because I was too young to join the Navy I got a job with the Premier Drapery Company in Palmerston North, the PDC. I wasn’t very keen on that I had to wear a suit and a tie and I was in the furnishing department selling curtains. Then one day I had to go and pay a repair bill to a motor building firm and I went in there and I was looking for the boss and somebody said, “Who are you looking for?” and I said, “I am looking for the boss”. I said, “I wouldn’t mind working in a place like this”. He said, “Don’t you like the job you are in?” and I said, “No I am not very happy there”. He said, “Well I am looking for an apprentice, would you like to start here” and I said, “I would love to”. He said, “Right go and give notice at the PDC and when you are released you can come and start here when you feel like it”, which I did. I told Mr Duncan Davis who was the owner of the firm that I was also keen to join the Navy. He said, “I was wanting an apprentice”, but he kept me on. I did make application eventually to join the Navy. He said, “I can’t sign you on as an apprentice now, but I will keep you employed until you get into the Navy. If you don’t get into the Navy you can come back and if you are still keen to be a motorbike builder I will sign you on.”
Who did you have to go and see to get papers to join the Navy?
I went to the Army Headquarters in Palmerston North in Main Street. Major Jimmy Ryan who used to be our neighbour when we lived in North Street but of course he knew the family. The soldier Jimmy Ryan he was Captain of the All Blacks when they won the Kings Cup which the Navy competed for later on in the Inter Service Championships. I got my papers from Jimmy Ryan. He said to me, “You can’t join as a Boy” and I said, “Why?” and he said, “You are too old”. I said, “No I am not, I am 15 and as a matter of fact I am just over 15 and 3 months”. He said, “But you are in the Territorials”. He said, “ I have got you mistaken for one of your brothers because I had three brothers”. I said, “No I was a Territorial”. He said, “You couldn’t have been in the Territorials you have to be aged 17”. I said, “As a matter of fact I put my age up for the Field Artillery before I joined the Navy.” He closed his eyes to that and he said, “You shouldn’t have been, but nevertheless you can’t do anything about it now.”
We did our medicals down there and initial education test in Palmerston and I went before a Selection Board down there.
There was a naval person there, but there were Army personnel and I can’t remember who the naval person was. Then I got a call to come up to Auckland. I believe at the time there was 200 boys who were selected throughout New Zealand in the towns and when I arrived in Auckland here there were 60 of us to join PHILOMEL but they only wanted 22. I was one of the fortunate ones and I was selected.
The ones that didn’t get selected were sent home?
Yes they were sent home again the same day, the same night. If they lived in Auckland they were okay.
I will never forget when I was waiting at the Dockyard gate here there was a big boy who came along with a woman. He appeared to be twice the size of me and this woman said to me, “Are you joining the Navy?” and I said, “Well I hope to Madam”. “Look”, she said, “If you get in will you look after my nephew”. Her nephew had on a New Plymouth Boys High School cap on and he was quite a big fellow, bigger than I was at the time, Dick Wilcox”. I looked at him and I said, “By the size of him he will be looking after me”. In any case we became good friends and we were in the same class, 22 of us.
Who actually selected you, who ran their ruler over you in PHILOMEL?
There seemed to be about 10 or 12, but there were only 6 the Medical Officer, a schoolteacher, Lewis was the Training Officer.
Yes a Padre was there, Robson.
I don’t know why the clergy seemed to get into it, but they always seemed to have a big say in selecting?
Yes they did.
Yes Padre Robson was there and we had two schoolteachers, Holt and Taylor were the two schoolteachers.
What happened did you stay and join that day?
Yes we joined that day and the next day we were starting to get issued with our uniform, kit bag.
Of course in those days there was no barracks as we know today it was just the old ship PHILOMEL?
Yes just the ship PHILOMEL and the training huts, which were where the Promenade Parade now is. They took the overflow of the boys and we were put into huts.
Yes there were two huts and one had a billiard table in it and the other one just had a couple of card tables and they were just along from the Chapel. The Chapel, the Gunnery hut, the Seamanship hut, the two rec rooms and then communications.
What you just slung your hammocks there?
Yes they had hammock racks there in these rooms, but the boys slept on the PHILOMEL, the new boys. Our old boys were over in the huts because the Instructors wanted the boys in the PHILOMEL so they were handy.
I suppose the first few days you were thinking, “Why did I do it”?
Yes rather traumatic. It was all nice and rosy until we found out the next morning when things changed.
Some of the Instructors were good and a couple of them fair b’s, very handy with that whistle chain.
That was around your legs as you ran up?
Yes that companionway for the boys mess deck. Especially one fellow in particular, he was the Chief Boys Instructor.
Give us the names if you can remember them?
Oh yes Hallibal was the Chief. Bill Lambert was a GI, he was very good, he was very strict, but he was very fair. Barry Fitzgerald he was Seamanship Instructor, he was very good and there was another one Wooding who wasn’t too good, he was a bit cruel and viscous.
What sort of routine did they work you?
Oh we out of bed at half past six and then you would wash, lash up and stow. Then we would scrub the quarterdeck, hands to quarters and then breakfast. Then clean guns was between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock and then we went to divisions and then went away to our class instructions. The club swinger PTI Wooding, George Wooding, he was very good, he was quite firm, but he got the best out of us. I liked Wooding, he had a bit of patience too because most people had three left feet and kept falling off the wall, he was very good.
Who were some of the boys that you joined with?
There were two of the boys, Bobby Ashton and Raper, and these two boys went down on the NEPTUNE. There was Rolston who was killed on the LEANDER. There were four signal boys in my class, Noel Drabble, Dick Connell, Mike Allison and Alan Jolly. Then in my class there was Bob Olausen, who finished up Secretary of the River Plate Association, Bob Batt.
Didn’t Noel Drabble die recently?
Yes I did the eulogy at Noel’s funeral a few weeks ago, we were very good friends. He was a very efficient little Chief Yeoman Noel.
He finished up in Naval Stores didn’t he?
Yes he finished up as 2IC over in Naval Stores.
What sort of things did you get instructed in presumably seamanship?
Yes seamanship, gunnery, field drills, marching, sailing, a lot of boat pulling.
Yes I was very fortunate in those days they used to have what they called Boys obstacle whalers race and I was in the winning crew. It a funny this chief who was our coach for the team Bobby Ashton. In the crew there was Noel Hallam he was our coach, R.D. Bacon, Bobby Phalong, Eric Nimmings, Alan Raper and Shorty Able he was the cox. Well we had two boys crews, this is 1939, two crews from the LEANDER and two crews from the ACHILLES, we had to sail a mile, pull a mile with the whaler and we won it that year. I don’t know what ever happened to that trophy, it was a Kangaroo.
What was your daily uniform?
It was white shorts winter and summer and the only additional thing we had in the winter time we had the blue jersey.
Underneath the white top?
Yes underneath the white tops. No underwear for boys, which is an amazing thing, our mothers were horrified about that.
Any reason for that?
No I don’t know the reason the only who was one of the old boys who was a telegraphist or a Boy Tel was Gordon Wright. He was a big fellow and he used to sweat a lot and he used to get eczema and so he had permission to wear underclothes, he was the only one allowed to wear underclothes.
Even under shorts?
No under shorts. No pyjamas, all we had instead of pyjamas was an over sized flannel night-gown that was our pyjamas. Yes our mothers were horrified about it.
Yes the only time I have ever struck this I remember meeting an old Navy doctor and I remember him going on about underpants were disgusting things in the tropics because they caused cancer. Maybe it comes from that.
I don’t know why we had it in the Navy. When I first went home my mother said, “Where are your underclothes?” and I said, “We don’t wear underclothes”. She said, “What do you mean you don’t wear underclothes”. Yes she was disgusted.
The funny thing when we went to sea you could.
What was food like?
We survived naturally, the food was good, but there never seemed to be enough.
Did you have to prepare it yourself in the old canteen style?
No the boys didn’t it was all prepared in the galley.
But you still ate in your mess deck did you?
Yes you took the trays down. Four boys each week were detailed off to be the cooks of the mess and it was their job to set the tables out on the boys mess deck and bring the food down from the galley and serve it out. If you had a good friend that week in the mess you would get an extra spud or an extra chip whatever the occasions may be.
Pay was pretty basic wasn’t it?
Yes we got two shillings a week when we joined. Then when you were made a first class boy after about six months you got three shillings a week. I was a bit fortunate because I got an extra penny a day because I was made the leading boy. Apart from that, yes I did as cook of the mess every now and again you were in charge of the four boys, but you got a lot of other tasks because you were put in charge of them. When you were scrubbing the quarterdeck or the upper deck you weren’t at the end of a scrubber you were just in charge of the boys doing it.
Did you get leave at all in the early days?
Yes we got leave on Saturdays and Sundays, but you weren’t allowed to go to Auckland unless you had next of kin or a very close friend. That was for your first three months. But you would get leave in Devonport on Saturdays from after lunch after 7 o’clock.
Not much to do in Devonport in those days I would think?
Oh yes we climbed up Mount Victoria and North Head and walked around the race course that was there, there were no races. We would walk around to Cheltenham Beach. There wasn’t a great deal to do.
Two shillings I suppose didn’t go that far?
Well it did actually you would get into the movies, which was only sixpence to go to the movies and you would get a feed for that. I was wealthy I would get an extra penny a day for being leading boy.
When you became a first class boy I think you were allowed to go into Auckland
on the Saturdays and Sundays.
How long did you spend as a second class boy?
Only about six months.
How long was the whole training?
A full 12 months?
Yes a full 12 months and the communication boys they did 15 months. I dodged that extra three months by not being a signal boy then.
But as I say when I went to sea they deducted our pay, which went up to more than two shillings, the rest was saved.
That was compulsory savings.
Yes and it wasn’t deferred because your deferred pay didn’t start until you became an OD. I think our pay was about 7 shillings a week and what we got in our hand was 2 shillings.
When was your first leave back home?
After three months.
I suppose that would be a proud moment?
It was in your uniform going back to your hometown, swaggering along the street. People think you have been overseas and you have only been on the Devonport ferry.
What we did have was the VIKING a big sailing ketch, which is now in Auckland owned by Admiral Tait, it is still here, it is amazing. I found that out only a couple of years ago and I went over and had a look at it. It’s over in the Maritime Museum and you know Tait he owns it now and he took some of the ex submariners out on it one time. It is painted white now. We did fortnightly sail training on it. Lieutenant Commander Monckton who was a First Lieutenant of PHILOMEL, not the training officer but the First Lieutenant he was into deep-sea yachting and I used to volunteer for his crew on the weekends when he would go out. I always have been keen on yachting. I have very fond memories of the VIKING.
I thought it had just rotted away because I can recall her in the early fifties. Then when I came back from my training in England it had gone, it had been sold.
It went down to Wellington, I think someone in Wellington bought it and then it came back and Admiral Tait acquired it.
You had blue uniforms as well as white?
Were they specially made for you?
So they were tailored uniforms?
No we had them for straight out of slops those ones and then we had tailor made ones like your number ones.
They were issued to you, you didn’t have to pay for those?
No you didn’t pay for them they were issued as boys, they were issued to you. They were the ones for Sunday Divisions and going on leave.
I suppose you would soon grow out of those a bit wouldn’t you?
Oh yes we did grow.
They were hard days training on the PHILOMEL but I rather enjoyed it. There was sport in the afternoon and all the instruction in the morning until 12.30 and then we would have lunch at 12.30 and then 1 o’clock and 1.30 we would fall in and in winter time have rugby or soccer. I enjoyed that.
A whole year of that?
Yes one whole year.
I never profess to be much of a cricketer. But I remember once I was picked for the PHILOMEL Officer’s Team, I was a First Class boy then. They were short of a team to play against the English Old Boys, old ex English Reps that were out here on a tour or something. I top scored for the officer’s, nine, talk about a test match here at Eden Park, I think we made about 38, the officers and my top score was nine and that was just two fours and a one. I was a bit overawed with this I was playing for the officer’s and I never wound up in the wardroom afterwards I just went back to PHILOMEL.
You hadn’t at that stage thought of being a signalman?
No not on the PHILOMEL it wasn’t until I went to sea and I became SDO Messenger and I was a bit fascinated in all sorts of communications. I would go down to the W/T office every now and again and pick up signals. I put in my request and Lieutenant Commander Washbourn was my Divisional Officer.
Your first ship was ACHILLES?
Did your whole class go to ACHILLES?
No half went to LEANDER, the AC boys went to LEANDER and the GC boys went to ACHILLES.
You were a GC boy?
I was a GC boy yes. Of course that was another stumbling block because I was not an AC boy, I was a GC boy and they only take communication ratings from the AC boys.
ACHILLES would be fresh back from UK?
Yes she had just come back after her first commission. This was the start of her second commission when I joined in May 1939.
Was there a class of boys in ACHILLES ahead of you?
Yes, Sam Mercer was one of those, he was a leading boy too Sam in his class. The two leading boys in that class were Sam Mercer and Ray Parnell. In my class there was Bobby Ashton.
That would be an exciting event for you all?
Oh yes it was and it was funny because everyone wanted to go to the LEANDER and I don’t know why and of course we didn’t know where we were going to go until the draft chits came out. Then it was AC boys to the LEANDER and GC boys to the ACHILLES. That was very thrilling when you all get aboard there and you walk over the gangway with your bag and hammock.
Then we did an Island Cruise shortly after we joined a Governor General’s Cruise.
What did boys do, did you just work part of ship?
Yes worked part of ship, focsle, top.
Did you have separate instruction as well?
Oh yes you still had the gunnery instruction, the seamanship instruction and torpedo instruction. That’s why the Gunnery Officer Lieutenant Commander Washbourn didn’t want me to become a signalman because I topped the class in the boys gunnery exams and then I topped the class in the torpedo exams, no you are going to be a torpedoman. They wanted to stop me becoming a signalman.
Were you issued with a specific action station that stuck, you didn’t move around action stations?
No they did move some around but I was just 6 inch TS. Then what they call cruising stations I was in the 4 inch TS, but my main action station was the 6 inch TS. It was manned by marine bandsmen. Jim Turnbull my new boy was down and Eddie Buckler and Happy Hepburn.
I am a weapon and electrical engineer and I worked for many years in the Dockyard and Happy Hepburn was one of the foremen or chargeman in the Weapons Shop.
Of course he was QO wasn’t he?
Yes he was a great man Happy.
Yes he was a bit of a character too, he was well named.
Yes he was a real grump.
The other Happy we had was Happy Young the cook. He was different he was happy.
That was your action station for the time you were in ACHILLES?
Until I turned over to a signal boy.
Now where were you messed, what was the boys mess deck in ACHILLES, where was that?
Aft you come in from the canteen flat where the sick bay flat was the next step down was the boys mess deck and the Master of Arms mess deck was over the starboard side.
You were close to him?
Was that deliberate?
Yes all cruisers had the Master of Arms mess on the boys mess deck.
You would have had separate boys Instructors living with you?
No they didn’t live with us, but we had separate boys Instructors.
Because I know a lot of my knowledge in thinking some of the boys messes had a little alcove and that was the where the boys leading hands were.
Yes we had the Master of Arms in that little alcove.
Who were your Instructors?
Colin Frew was one, he was a GI, Paul Tasker Seamanship Instructor, Bradley Miles was another Seamanship Instructor.
Was ACHILLES general messing or canteen messing?
A general mess when I joined.
I think the ACHILLES first commission was when they changed to general messing. When they took over from the DUNEDIN and DIOMEDE, ACHILLES and LEANDER I think they were canteen messing, but they went to general messing when they commissioned.
Yes I have only had very short experience of canteen messing but I thought it was awful.
When I was down at the Port Signal Station we had a time with that down in Lyttelton it was like that. You took turns at being cook. You were allocated so much and you had to do the buying for that week and the cooking.
Then you ate variably according to the skill of the duty cook?
Yes of the duty cook. What it was they were trying to save money, the less you spent the more you saved and you could share that out. If you wanted to starve your shipmates you could get a bit more money.
It must have been shocking for the cooks in those days, every mess taking up something different.
Yes I don’t know how they did it. I suppose it is just one of those things that goes back to the days of Admiral Nelson.
You joined ACHILLES in May 1939 and of course this is only three months before the war started?
Yes we did that Island Cruise and came back from the Island Cruise and we were only in Auckland a week or 10 days and we were off and away before war broke out, August 28th I think. We took off out of the Dockyard and then a launch came screaming out with Dr Pittar and Dr Hunter.
They joined at the last second?
Yes the last second. Pittar he was in general practice, he was RNVR.
Doctor Pittar was the Navy’s eye specialist up until the early eighties or late seventies.
Doctor Hunter was a Gynaecologist.
What are your memories of that pre-war phase?
Oh good I enjoyed the Island Cruise up there.
When you left in August was there an air of expectation amongst the crew that this was serious stuff?
Yes we knew when we started of course it was destination unknown. You were allowed to send telegrams to your family you are, “Sailing, destination unknown.” Then the next day Captain Parry cleared lower deck and told them that war looks inevitable we should try and get through the Panama Canal to the West Indies to join up with the West Indies Squadron. Of course war broke out before we made Panama and so that is why we diverted to the West Coast of South America.
You had quite a time of the West Coast didn’t you chasing German merchant ships?
Chasing merchant ships yes. Yes we called in at Valparaiso and of course that was our first run ashore in Valparaiso, Lima, Peru, we went in there. They were the only two places we got ashore on the West Coast, Lima and Valparaiso.
You were still a boy and presumably again with limited leave?
Yes Valparaiso our leave was extended to 8 o’clock in the evening.
You couldn’t get into the trouble that the real lads got into?
No not really, we got into enough though, even as boys. Over there it was interesting being in a foreign country like South America. We were only there for the 24 hours and we got an extension for 48 hours at Valparaiso because both watches got a run ashore. Then to Lima, Peru.
We were responsible for delaying a few German ships. I remember going into Valparaiso once and we were just about to drop anchor, the German merchant ship sailed out. Then of course you can’t chase it for 24 hours.
We were going through the Magellan Straits and that was interesting, that was very good.
I have never been there and I would love to go there.
Yes majestic, beautiful.
I hadn’t been there before but I have been there since to the Milford Sound, yes it is like the Milford Sound in winter time with the snow.
I gather it’s now wall to wall oil rigs.
They must have been wonderful days?
Oh yes beautiful.
The Falklands was a great place, I loved the people in Falklands they were great people.
Stanley in the Falklands was quite a big base wasn’t it?
Ammunition and fuel?
Yes fuel. It was quite a big base.
We had Christmas in the Falkland Islands 1939.
The Battle of the River Plate is December 13th?
Yes the 13th and we went down after that.
What was the lead up to the River Plate action?
We were patrolling up on the East Coast of South America until the 11th December when Commodore Harwood got the three of us together.
Were you working together before?
No not before.
You were just on your own?
Yes until a couple of days before the battle. Then of course our two Captains went aboard AJAX. We didn’t know whether it was the ADMIRAL SCHEER or the GRAF SPEE and that’s when they worked out that she would probably concentrate on the shipping coming to the River Plate and they were dead right. That was the way he worked it all out the way she had been sinking ships and he thought every Tom, Dick and Harry and his dog is after him. So he will concentrate off South America, which was good thinking, because if we hadn’t been there he would have got a few ships around there.
What was your specific job in the TS, what did you do?
I was looking after our own speed, you had to calculate your own speed, you had like an indicator and you had to track that.
You just kept following the pointer?
Yes following the pointer, you had to concentrate on it because you were altering speed quite a bit.
I have actually served in a cruiser with those gunnery tables and they are wonderful pieces of machinery.
Yes they were reasonable computers.
The precision engineering in them was fabulous.
Now what are you memories of the battle, you didn’t see it of course?
No I didn’t see it, contrary to what Jack Harker who wrote a few articles for the `Navy News’ before the `Navy Today’, I remember one article when it came out about the River Plate. He mentioned where Eddie Telford on the flag deck read the signal from the EXETER, about the German pocket battle ship the GRAF SPEE. That is a bit of a malarky because I was in my hammock at the time because I had already been to action stations.
It was the excitement. First of all it was a bit annoying because we had already been to action stations and we had gone back apart from the morning watch. Then it was turn in to try and get a couple of hours sleep again for an hour and then would go the old alarm rattlers again, and then it was the real thing, but it was excitement. It wasn’t until we were chasing her in from Montevideo when it started to settle in and we knew we had lost someone, we had some wounded and then it started to settle in a bit. That was bad enough, but it was that waiting, is she going to come out or isn’t she. Then of course we were hearing all these broadcasts about the ARK ROYAL and the RENOWN and all these capital ships out there waiting for her, we couldn’t see them apart from the CUMBERLAND that came up, she arrived up on the Saturday.
You were very remote in the TS aren’t you because all you hear are the orders being given, could you hear those?
Because they were sound powered weren’t they?
You suddenly hear boom, boom and then a bit of a shake of the ship?
Oh there was a shake down there, boom, boom and the dust that came out of those air vents after a few salvoes, dear oh dear, we were all hot and spluttering and sneezing.
Yes you would wonder what would be next?
Eddie Buckler tells the story of changing the big roll of paper they had on the table. This had to be changed at some stage for a new roll of paper.
Yes we had run out.
The old roll was thrown to him and he was sent off to get the new one and it went through the door of the TS straight into the bucket that was being used as a urinal. In effect they lost the actual records of the action?
Another thing too after the battle from 9 o’clock onwards we used to go up in two’s and three’s to the toilet and then we got a bit of breakfast.
One thing about the canteen Ernie Jackson should have got a medal. Ernie Jackson dished out all that Nutty for nothing, amazing.
How did they feed you during the battle?
Sandwiches, Bully Beef sandwiches and tea.
People would come around with a bucket of this or a tray of this for you?
You sent for it from the galley and you got it brought back down. Then you went to the canteen and you offered to pay, but oh no. I think he did it to everyone gave away cigarettes. He was a good fellow Ernie.
Later on, he was a very good friend of my brother’s actually on the GAMBIA. When I was in SPEAKER Ernie Jackson came to our rescue there when we were out in the Pacific. We left Sydney and you would have thought they would have stocked up in Sydney. We ran out of toothpaste and shaving cream, razors, you name it. The Captain gave the order that anyone who wants to discontinue shaving don’t need to put in a request, there are no razor blades and you had to wash with old Pusser’s hard soap. I said to the Captain of SPEAKER who was Richard James and we ended up good friends. I found out his brother was the Archbishop of York. I said to him one I said, “Excuse me Sir, I said, that New Zealand Cruiser, I know the Canteen Manager of the GAMBIA over there.”
(end of Tape 1)
(beginning of Tape 2)
We are talking about the River Plate Battle and you had just finished up talking about Ernie Jackson the Canteen Manager and how generous he was.
There must have been quite a celebration after the battle amongst the crew?
Oh yes, particularly on the evening when she blew herself up. It was clear lower deck more or less. We got up and we yelled and shouted and giggled and hugged one another. Apart from the fact that we thought it was our victory, it wasn’t victory so much, it was relief.
Because you would have been fairly well down on ammunition?
Oh we were and that is why we were so pleased to see the CUMBERLAND, because she was fully stocked up with ammunition, we were well down and the AJAX as well. Of course the AJAX only had those two turrets. We had our four turrets, but a turret is no good if you have got no ammunition. It was amazing the joy.
You steamed by the wreck?
Oh yes right up close to it, that night and the next day. I have got a good photograph of those, you can see our ship’s company taken from the bridge looking right at the GRAF SPEE and that was when we came back later to Montevideo when she had finished burning. After Christmas we went back up to Montevideo. It was our second trip there.
You went into Montevideo?
Oh yes the people there are amazing, there are a lot of British people in Montevideo and they made us really welcome. They put on a big banquet that night ashore and a dance.
You go back to Stanley to the Falkland’s first?
To re-ammunition and refuel.
You had wounded too didn’t you?
Were they landed there?
Yes we put our wounded ashore there.
Of course one of the wounded was the ship’s Chief Yeoman?
Yes Bully Martinson.
Did you know him?
Oh yes because I was under him, I was working under him, I still hadn’t been made a signal boy, I was like an acting signal boy.
How did you become a signalman?
I became a signalman on the 2nd July 1940.
You were working as a signalman before that?
Yes as a signal boy before that. Instead of my part of ship, I was still SD messenger, but when I wasn’t running around chasing the Commander or the First Lieutenant with signals doing SD messenger duties, I was acting with the other boys. I swotted up the colours of flags, Semaphore and Morse.
Then they asked me if I would like to become a telegraphist. I thought about this and I thought that wouldn’t be too bad and I thought oh no this being down below, I am a fresh air boy.
A message came through from Navy Office that approved it.
You hadn’t learnt the Morse Code or flags or anything for this at all?
All seaman boys learnt Semaphore and MC.
You hadn’t done any real work?
No but I was doing it while I was Acting Signal Boy. Willy Rudd was one Leading Signalman at the time. He would teach me Semaphore and Morse Code and we used to go down to the WT office to learn a lot of Morse down there. Telegraphist Patchett was one of the Leading Tels down there and Benson, they were teaching me Morse Code. Then I was doing the light up top. It was interesting I was very pleased.
You must have had to do an awful lot of work on your own to achieve that I would have thought?
Oh yes I had to do a lot of swot on my own, I had to sit an exam. I had to do an Educational Exam.
What was the date when you got back to New Zealand?
We got back on the 22nd of February I think it was 1940.
That must have been quite a moment for everybody too, you would have been hailed as conquering heroes?
Yes we had that fantastic parade.
The America’s Cup Parade has only exceeded it. The welcome home to the ACHILLES was the biggest one they had had, up until the America’s Cup one.
Did you take part in the march?
Yes I was in the march and there was only a handful of people left onboard. We marched from Princess Wharf up to the Town Hall.
You were obviously still a boy?
Yes they invited your next of kin up to attend the banquet. My mother came up with a great friend of mine, one of my school chums, he joined the Army shortly after, Bill Sollitt, he finished up as President of the Palmerston North RSA up until a couple of years ago, he was President there for 10 years. He came up with Mum and they had a ticket. They were allowed in a special enclosure on Princess Wharf and they had a pass for that and then they had a pass for the Town Hall. I had a sister in Auckland and we went out there to stay and called in at the Butcher Shop in Newmarket on the way home and the butcher said, “What do you want?” all for free and so we had sirloin steak and what have you and you were made a fuss of, it was fantastic.
Did your mother take the train up one night and train back that night?
No my mother stayed for a couple of nights because she stayed with my married sister in Auckland. It was great.
The next time we were in Queen Street was for Michael Joseph Savage’s funeral, we lined the streets there for the funeral possession, the funeral possession went up Queen Street. That was funny because they had the Naval Guard of Honour, we lined Queen Street and then they whipped us into buses and out to the Savage Memorial. I didn’t go out there fortunately, but the guard were bussed out there.
A lot of the ACHILLES crew went around the cities of New Zealand didn’t they?
Were you in that?
Yes they took most of us down by train to Wellington when they had the Wellington Exhibition on and we went down there and we marched through Wellington. We were billeted that night on the ship the ANDES which had been turned into a troop ship. Then we came back the next night and we got off at Palmerston North, but I was excused from marching through Palmerston because I lived there and I was in amongst the crowd when they all marched around. Captain Parry got up and he named all the people who came from Palmerston. There were about six of us on the ACHILLES who came from Palmerston. He read our names out and there was a big cheer and what have you, hometown heroes. Then we came back to Auckland.
Then later on of course the ship was down in Wellington. We were in Wellington when the TURAKINO was sunk. I think we were in Auckland when the RANGITANE went down. We dashed out there and all we got were these cases of butter which popped out of the holds. One of the divers was Joe Quinn and he dived over the side with these cases of butter.
I have heard the cases of butter story, but I hadn’t realised that any were recovered.
Yes we recovered quite a few for the ship. There were a couple of us went over the side and had a good swim and we recovered these cases of butter.
Yes you would have been all of 16 or 17 I suppose at the River Plate?
Yes I had just turned seventeen, I was seventeen and six weeks. I was born on the 17th October.
I always thought there was some wartime rule that you couldn’t fight for your country until you were eighteen?
Yes it was amazing. The two youngest VC winners, one was only 14 and he got a VC many moons ago, in China I think it was.
Your early duties as a signalman were just manning the flag deck?
Yes and the halyards.
Was there a yeoman in charge of the watch?
Yes we had four Leading Signalmen, there was Willy Rudd, Johnny Fargo, Magnell and Stason.
Who was the Chief Yeoman?
Jack Robertshaw was the Yeoman, he took over as Chief when Martinson got wounded and Fred Pond, he became an officer. Willy Rudd became an officer and Johnny Fargo became an officer.
I think they were pleased to have me because we only had a Chief Yeoman, two Yeoman, four Leading Signals, five Signals and three boys counting me.
Bully Martinson had quite a time didn’t he, because his daughter died at the time of the River Plate Battle?
Yes at the time of the River Plate Battle yes and poor Captain Parry he had to go down and break the news to him, he was in the Sick Bay.
Because he never came back to the ship did he, he stayed ashore training?
Yes and he had his leg amputated later, it was badly wounded. Yes he was in PHILOMEL instructing after that.
Jack Robertshaw went ashore and he finished up in the Harbour Board. Fred Pond he was an officer he finished up over in Australia. Johnny Fargo he became an officer. Bill Williamson is an uncle of the MP Williamson, he is down in Wanganui.
You continue in ACHILLES and you get promoted to Ordinary Signalman in October 1940?
Now that would be quite a big step wouldn’t it from the point of view of perks and what have you?
Oh yes you go from the boys mess deck and your leave is different, all night leave. You had to wait a couple of years before you got your tot though.
What were the requirements for Ordinary Signalman just 18 years old?
Yes 18 years old. You went from boy to ordinary signalman and then you had to qualify for signalman.
That was by specialist exam to qualify for signalman?
Yes you did the course at sea for signalman. Then to be a trained operator for a signalman, I did a course for that in PHILOMEL. Then of course you do a course for Leading Signalman.
What other events occurred when you finished in ACHILLES in `41?
Well we escorted the 2nd Echelon from Wellington to Auckland over to Sydney and that was the ILLE DE FRANCE I think and we picked up the QUEEN MARY and the ACQUITANIA in Sydney and we went around as far as Fremantle. We didn’t go ashore in Fremantle we got ashore in Sydney and then we came back.
Then we went up to the Islands. The old MONTERAY and MARIPOSA even though America wasn’t in the war we were shadowing them and she would go to Suva, then we would take them halfway up the Equator or halfway up to Honolulu and then we would come back. We went to Tahiti and captured the ship there, and I can’t recall the name of it now.
Yes because it was Vichy French wasn’t it?
Yes and I think Bill Williamson was the signalman that went aboard her. We put a signalman and a sparker aboard her and they took her down to Sydney.
When we were there we had a parade and a march ashore in Tahiti to show our strength with France to try and get them on our side. We were in our white tropical rig in Tahiti.
We came back and I came ashore and I went to PHILOMEL for a course. Then I was sent down to Lyttelton to the examination service. My launch was called the FRIENDSHIP. I was on that for a couple of months or more and then I went out to the Port War Signal Station.
Yes at Godley Head before you come into the entrance to the harbour.
Is that where the coastal battery was?
No that was down below and we were up on Godley Head.
Is there a house there or something?
Yes there was a house there and another house actually on the point where we did the signal projector. We used to challenge any of the ships coming in.
What was there beforehand?
It was a farm.
They just took it over did they?
Yes and this farmhouse, that is where we lived. We were in touch with the Army battery and the examination vessel. That was quite good out there.
Yes I would have thought that would have been a neat job?
It was yes.
How many people would be based there?
We had six signalmen I think six “Sparkies”, with a Yeoman in charge. We were doing the cooking and looking after ourselves. You had to take turns being cook for a week.
We worked three watches I think it was. There must have been seven signalmen. You worked 24 on and 24 off. When you were 24 off you could go into Christchurch.
There was transport to get you there?
Army trucks, they had the Army up there as well, but they were well away from us. They would send a truck out and we would get the truck into Christchurch or Lyttelton if you preferred to go into Lyttelton.
Ripa Island was that manned then, activated?
No I don’t think it was.
Because they had the disappearing guns there like up at North Head. I have got a feeling there is a story, those guns were used once. They fired at a ghost echo they had some basic radar at Godley Head.
That may have been after I left, I don’t remember that.
But you had no signal communication with Ripa Island?
Yes that was quite enjoyable I was there from `41 to May `42.
Was there a Navy Headquarters in Christchurch or Lyttelton?
Oh yes they had a Navy Office in Lyttelton at the Harbourmaster’s building there and that was where Navy Office was. Lieutenant Commander Keay finished up as First Lieutenant in the Base here at the end of the war.
I have heard that name before.
Yes Dave Keay was the Chief of Civil Defence Takapuna or North Shore, he is not now, he is Resource Management, that is his son. His father was on the CURACOA during the war and then he finished up at Warwick Farm looking after Kiwis for drafting back home. When I left SPEAKER I went to Warwick Farm.
Which was GOLDEN HIND?
Yes I went there, because I came back on a ship called the DEVONSHIRE, but he was over there as the New Zealand Liaison Officer.
Yes I would have thought that would have been a great little job, you wouldn’t want to leave it?
Yes it was great, especially in the summer time, it wasn’t any good in the winter time, especially out at Godley Heads, it was a cold place out there, with those winds you get no protection.
It was funny on watch at night-time you had a dirty great Colt 45 Pistol, and so if the enemy invaded you had one revolver.
That was all?
Yes that was all we had and you kept that up at what we called the Signal Station, that is where we had the signal projectors and the radio set up there.
The call came for you to return?
Yes and I came back to PHILOMEL and did another course and then I went and joined the LEANDER and then we went up to the Pacific.
That was before or after Kolombangara?
That was before, I left her just before Kolombangara and Kolombangara was early `43 in July and I left her in January `43.
You were just there six months?
No actually 7 months I was there. I joined in June `42. Then I did the Leading Signals Course.
Okay tell us a bit about LEANDER. Did that have a different atmosphere to ACHILLES?
No not really.
I suppose half the crew had just moved on?
Yes and quite a few of the ACHILLES crowd joined LEANDER, and of course were a lot of my classmates, my old PHILOMEL boys. They used to split each class in two halves, the ACHILLES half and the LEANDER half and some of my class was still there apart from unfortunately Raper and Ashdown who had been drafted to the NEPTUNE, they were lost. I knew quite a few of them and I knew the signalman.
Most people have great memories of Commander Roskill the “Black Mamba”.
Yes it is funny how they get nicknames. On the ACHILLES we had Commander Neame, his name was “Nickabit”. He would look at his watch for stand easy at 10 o’clock and you will wait until 2 minutes past ten and then eight minutes past.
Why was the “Black Mamba” called the “Black Mamba”?
Because he was dark and he was vicious and he used to hiss when he spoke. His full name was Steven Wentworth Roskill. He finished up as the Official War Historian didn’t he. He went stone deaf.
People talk of him having very good ideas on damage control?
Oh he would be practising damage control, practise, practise, exercise during the dog watches he would normally have evolutions and you would exercise damage control. I think that was one reason why LEANDER was saved when she got torpedoed.
Yes I gather they ripped a lot of the woodwork and stuff out of the ship?
Yes when I was there.
They took up the Cortesene?
Yes all of that. He had a mania about damage control and it proved practise makes perfect. You had to admire Commander Roskill, he was an efficient officer. I am sure he was the First Lieutenant on there with Lieutenant Commander Mansell, his nickname was “Bulkhead”.
Why was he called “Bulkhead”?
I think because he was a bit thick.
I can’t think of his name, he was a bit of a hard case, a bit of a rebel this AB, he finished up in the dry-cleaning business in Palmerston North, but he was the bathroom sweeper one day there. It came Jimmy’s rounds about half past nine and the cooks of the mess had scrubbed the mess deck table and put everything away. The bathroom was spit and polished with all the taps shining and the deck dry and there was a knock on the bathroom door, and I can’t think of his name said, “Bugger off, you can’t come in”. He said, “Bugger off, Bulkhead will be here in a minute”. This voice said, “This is Bulkhead”. He was always in strife this fellow.
When you were there the ship was up in Pearl Harbour, did you go up to Honolulu?
No not on LEANDER I was there when we went up to Guadalcanal to land those marines. We could not get in the first day we were going in because this Japanese Task Force was coming around the top and so we took off. Then Admiral Halsey the Admiral in charge came up on the intercom system and said, “No matter what happens we will go in tomorrow, we have got to get into Guadalcanal.” We went in the next day.
You were escorting transports?
Yes marines and transports and supplies and spare aircraft, because they only had two suitable aircraft ashore in Henderson Airfield.
You went into Honiara?
Were they landed over the beach?
No they were landed over the beach on the lighters.
They didn’t storm the beach or anything?
The marines did, they went ashore in a landing craft to help out the poor buggers that were there.
But this aircraft they fuelled her up and she took off and we could see her take off from the palm trees off Henderson Airfield and she swerved around again to gain height. Then an American merchant ship opened fire and shot her out of the air.
A friendly one?
Yes and of course Admiral Halsey blew his top naturally, they were all trigger happy. There was a lot of tension especially we were going to go in the day before.
Did they actually land aircraft?
Yes they got aircraft ashore.
From a Carrier?
No there were no Carriers.
The funny thing was I went aboard the WASP one Sunday we were in Manus and the American ships were there. I went ashore on the Sunday for mass on the WASP. The WASP sailed that afternoon and that was when she went down. When I went aboard I went to their PX canteen and I was buying all these American Nutty’s and cigarettes, they had a lot of stuff that we didn’t have.
Yes that would be great eye opening stuff?
Oh yes a lot of Hershey bars and all these Yankee sweets, it was amazing.
Now looking at this photograph of my class here (shows photograph). Our class was COLLINGWOOD and a funny thing someone was asking me the other day, all the classes at TAMAKI were numbered, they didn’t have names. All the classes in the Navy here used to be numbered until 1936 and that was class 20 and halfway through that training they started naming them. They were classes JELLICOE, RODNEY, ST VINCENT, BENBOW was my old boys class, COLLINGWOOD was my class, DUNCAN the class after and then HAWK. Then after that I don’t know the name after that, that was 1940 and then `41 they went to TAMAKI, Motuihe and that was when they started numbering the classes.
The RN are very good at naming their things. I was in BENBOW Division when I was a Cadet and then I went to ST VINCENT Division.
Yes they had the different blocks down at TAMAKI, the Barracks. We had class names. We had two classes a year.
(end of Tape 2)
(beginning of Tape 3)
Now before we go on Eddie you mentioned last time about the fact that LEANDER escorted American Marines to land at Guadalcanal in September?
Yes that’s right September 18th 1942. The CUMMINGS was the destroyer and we were in company with the CUMMINGS quite a bit.
The CUMMINGS was?
The US destroyer. We went from Pago Pago to Noumea with the CUMMINGS in company. BOYCE was the cruiser the USS BOYCE and I know the USS MCCAULEY was the troop transport command ship and that was the one that shot down the Grumman Avenger which took off from Henderson Airfield at Guadalcanal.
Did you actually witness this for yourself, you actually saw this happen?
Yes I saw it happen. She was flying very low as a matter of fact. You could see it was a Yankee plane quite clearly because we had no air raid warning and of course everyone was at action stations expecting if we were going to expect anything it would be Japanese planes coming down, but there were no reports of any. You could see her take off above the coconut trees from Henderson Airfield and circle around very low and as she flew over come down like our port side and around and then some trigger happy person opened fire and brought her down, which caused a bit of a panic.
Yes she just crashed.
Because an Avenger is quite a unique aircraft you can’t really miss it can you?
No they are a stubby sort plane. I got to know the Grumman Avengers quite well later on when I was on this carrier.
What about other warships, I think you said the WASP was supposed to join you?
Yes she sailed from Noumea. We were in Noumea at the end of August/early September and the WASP sailed from Noumea in September. I went aboard the WASP on the Sunday and she went out. The next we heard of her she had been sunk. I think if my memory serves me correctly that was about three or four days before we went into Guadalcanal.
One day on the Thursday there was a report of a Japanese Task Force north of Guadalcanal coming down. We about turned and took off and that was when Admiral Halsey the Admiral in charge of the whole operation said, “No matter what happens tomorrow we will have to go in”, which we did. Amazingly we had no air attacks or anything. There was a Japanese Task Force up there, but for some unknown reason and I have read reports that the Japanese Admiral in charge got a wrap over the knuckles because there was information that we were there and for some unknown reason he didn’t come down.
Did you have to do a bombardment?
There was no ammunition fired?
No bombardment, we just went in. The Japanese ashore were dug in. We landed marines, supplies and stores and you name it and we more or less re-took Guadalcanal.
How many warships took part in it, do you recall, you mentioned the BOYCE and the CUMMINGS?
The BOYCE, the CUMMINGS, SALT LAKE CITY; there were about six warships.
It occurred on just one day?
Yes just the one day we went in.
And out again?
Yes and late that evening as dusk started to fall we went back to Espirito Santo.
It would be a busy time for the flag deck no doubt?
Oh yes it was, it was quite interesting, it was rather tense and exciting having been up there the day before and having to high tail it out again. Of course there was a Task Force up there and she knew our whereabouts and they had the air power, the Carriers and the aircraft and we didn’t have any.
How did the signalmen watch-keep, did you do watch and watch about?
Yes just two watches.
Four hours on and four hours off?
Of course we had action stations all that day more or less we were closed up for action stations. Then we resorted to normal action stations at night-time, cruising stations.
What dress did you wear?
We had anti flash by then, we were issued with that.
I can’t remember when number eight’s came in?
No number eight’s were not in then.
What did you wear?
We just had our normal tropical rig, shorts.
Even though you still had anti flash gear you still wore shorts?
Yes and overalls.
Would you wear overalls on watch?
Yes during that time we wore them on watch and of course it was a bit warm, a bit hot up there. We had khaki issued then I think, I am not sure when khaki came in the Navy. I think it was later on the khaki. The number eight’s were a lot later.
Okay lets go forward again. When we spoke last time we had finished just as you were leaving LEANDER and I have got you down here as joining PHILOMEL in January `43. Then you were promoted to Acting leading Signalman on the 1st March `43. Then in May what is ACH?
Area Combined Headquarters at the Training College in Epsom, Signalmen and Women.
Going back to LEANDER before I left LEANDER I have just remembered the name of that fellow who told the Lieutenant Commander Mansell to bugger off was “Stripey” Bostock, Johnny Bostock, he was the mess deck bathroom sweeper at the time, “Bugger off, Bulkhead will be here in a minute”.
You say he was called “Stripey” was he a three badge man?
No he was a two badge, one of theses Jack my hardy’s, he knew everything they taught him. They called him “Stripey”, I don’t think he ever rose above an able seaman. Even if he had of only made able seaman he wouldn’t have held his rank for very long, not the way he behaved himself. He was a bit of a character, but he was a rebel, he didn’t seem to knuckle down to naval discipline very well. He finished up with a dry-cleaning business in Palmerston North.
Yes I was at Combined Headquarters for a short time. I enjoyed it over there because there was watch-keeping over there, we used to work watches.
It would be a busy time wouldn’t it?
Yes we did a lot of coding too over there.
That was all done manually?
It is not easy stuff is it?
Oh no the WRENS were very good.
Because it would be presumably before the days of punch tape teleprinters?
No we had teleprinters then.
There was a stage where you had punch tape Morse keying?
Yes like a Creed machine.
Yes I can recall the signalman and sparkers seemed to spend most of their time cutting paper tape and gluing them together and moving them to another machine.
Yes then you would read it off the machine, you would tape it to the table and feed it through the machine.
Of course we had the Typex and Codex machines then. The funny thing we would get these top secret signals come down and Junior Cipher Officer the American Officers and no disrespect but they were hopeless. They would always send for the duty Leading Signalman and we would go up to the cipher room and we would have to set up the machines for them. I remember one Yankee Officer one day, he said, “I don’t know much about this you had better work the machine, but don’t read what comes out”. I thought how bloody stupid can you be.
Yes that was the way it went. I remember when I was at sea in the fifties and sixties before the on line stuff came in I was a standby Cipher Officer. If it was an officer’s eyes only I always got the Chief Tel to set up the decoding system. I would say, “Look you do it and don’t watch”.
Yes it was tricky because I know they gave them a very short course on this whereas when did it at the Leading Signalman’s Course we spent a lot of time on Codex and Typex machines. It was a bit tricky with those inserts you had to put in to the cog. Then of course every four hours or every three and a half hour’s or so the setting up code would change and you would have to re-set them.
Yes it was like all these things if you are not doing it every day it takes you hours to do it, and so it is easier to get an expert to do it.
Yes this poor American Officer he was completely bushed, he came out and said, “You will have to do this, but don’t read what you are de-coding”.
I felt a bit sorry for them.
We had some New Zealand Naval Officers up there and I can’t remember their names now.
I wasn’t there for very long and from there I got the draft to England.
Did you ask for that or did that just happen?
That just happened.
Was there a reason for it?
No but I took a draft over and there was Tom King who was the Leading Tel, we took a draft and we had about 44 all together and they were Scheme B and Fleet Air Arm Officer Cadets.
I see and you were in charge of them?
Yes we were in charge of them and in charge of us again was Lieutenant Commander Lee Richards he was the Engineer Officer of the LEANDER, he was in the same draft and of course he was the Naval Officer in charge of it. Bruce Mason was the OD. There was Steddan, Kennedy, Vickers, Bradley, Simmonds he became a priest. Some of the poor devils though that got over there were those who didn’t qualify to enter the Fleet Air Arm or the Officers Scheme B, they finished up in the Army in Italy and some of them got killed the poor devils. They joined the Navy because they wanted to be in the Navy, but they got transferred to the Army.
Vickers was the pilot?
Yes he was a Fleet Air Arm pilot Colin Vickers, he took up taxi driving here in Auckland.
Yes I have spoken to him.
We went on the old RUAHINE and as a matter of fact we were in Colon the other side of the Panama Canal when we heard that the New Zealand Cruiser had been torpedoed the old 5th column. It didn’t come over the BBC either from Admiralty for a couple of months later really officially. I thought the New Zealand Cruiser being torpedoed in the Pacific had to be the LEANDER because the ACHILLES was in England at that time and the only other one we had was the LEANDER the that had just left before I went to Combined Headquarters.
Yes it was a good trip in the RUAHINE and we were supposed to be passengers. But as soon as he found out I was a Leading Signalman from the time we left Princes Wharf, it was called Central Wharf in those days, I am on the bridge helping with the degaussing range. Then once we left Panama I had to organise this draft of ordinary seamen to keep watch. Fair enough we were supposed to be passengers but we were servicemen.
Some of your skills would be sought after in Merchant ships I would think?
Yes especially after we left Colon we finished up in New York and when we left New York we were made Commodore of the convoy across to Greenwich. Of course some of our boys came in handy then as lookouts and watch-keeping.
Did you try and give some of these Scheme B and F people some instruction?
Yes every forenoon we had an instruction for them on elementary seamanship. They had been to Motuihe for about six weeks and they knew how to turn and salute. Yes we gave them a bit of instruction in elementary seamanship. They were good and they were very keen too, but some of them weren’t too keen on this watch-keeping. What made it worse too was we picked up a lot of Americans when we got to New York, mostly photographers and they took over the cabins. We were all in a cabin when we left New Zealand and the fare was paid, but once we got to New York, apart from Tom Kerr and I, they were put right down in the hold in their hammocks and these Yanks took over their cabins.
They wouldn’t think much of that?
Oh no and a complaint went in and Lee Richards he backed us up and a report was put into New Zealand House and then back to Navy Office. Yes it caused a bit of a panic that. I agreed with them and I saw the Captain and I got to know the Captain quite well, he was a great friend of my uncle who was a horse trainer at Trentham and he was mad on horses. When he found out my name was Telford he said, “Are you a relation to the horse trainer?” and I said, “Yes the whole family were”. Yes my Dad I mentioned he was a horse trainer. You know you couldn’t sway him, “These Americans they are paying big money”. As Lee Richards said, “Well these have been paid for by the New Zealand Government. It didn’t make any difference.
Then we had some free French people too that we picked up some of those from New York. They put them down the hold and these Yanks hadn’t seen a shot fired.
From New York to England was just a standard wartime convoy?
Yes a wartime convoy.
Were you attacked at all?
Yes we lost about five ships in the convoy. We arrived at Greenwich. Then the Fleet Air Arm boys went to Lee-on-Solent and then Tom King and I took the remainder of the Scheme B boys down to GANGES. We went to GANGES and a funny thing had Tom and I kept our mouths shut and we could have qualified as officers.
They thought you were Scheme B too?
Yes they thought we were Scheme B and it wasn’t until it came to the swimming test. We were there for about a week and we all sat at the back of the class.
I see you just joined in with the Scheme B trainers?
Yes we took these boys down and we were with them in the dormitory and we were in charge of them marching them to classes and we sat at the back of the classroom. They had this old retired or they had called him back he had finished his time Warrant Galler. “Right we will take a moment now to pass the swimming test”. It was still a bit nippy the weather and I said, “Gee it’s a bit cold in the pool”. He said, “No its not heated if you get sunk in the winter time the ocean doesn’t warm up for you”. “Oh fair enough point taken”. Over we go and some could swim and some couldn’t. Poor Kennedy they nearly drowned him, there was some punch drunk PTI there with a big long poling stick and instead of hooking him under his neck to keep his chin up he put it on the back of his neck to fish him out. We thought he was going to drown. Another kid got very bad cramp. The majority of them 98% of them passed. We sent them to get dried off and to get back into their rig of the day and to go back to their classroom. This old gunner said, “Well how did they do on their swimming test?” I said, “Most of them passed, they nearly drowned poor Kennedy, he got very severe cramp.” He said, “What about you two?” I said, “You didn’t get me diving into that, and in case I have passed all my swimming tests a long time ago, that was one of my favourite sports swimming”. “It makes no difference”, he said, “All Scheme B Candidates must pass the swimming test, whether you have passed before or not”. I said, “We are not Scheme B Candidates”. He said, “What! are you doing here”? I said, “We brought this Draft over from New Zealand.” He said, “Oh you shouldn’t be here”. I said, “I don’t know about that, we just do as we are told.” I said, “We got the draft here, we arrived at Greenwich, the Naval Authorities gave us the draft chits and put us on the train and brought us down here”. I tell you what in about an hour after that we were out of the place and on the train up to London and from London on a train down to Plymouth. We arrived down in Plymouth about half past six in the evening and got a taxi to the barracks, nobody knew anything about us, we arrived there and they put us in the old gymnasium. The next day we were sent to Signal School. If we had kept our mouth shut we would have passed that swimming test and we would have gone right through.
It happened to some other fellow, I think he was a Stores Assistant and he got tangled up there. He was in charge of the draft and he just kept his mouth shut and went right through and got his commission and then they found out he shouldn’t have been there. I can’t think of his name but I think he was a Leading Stores Assistant, he must have taken a draft there to get there.
What should have happened, we should have delivered them to GANGES and stayed overnight and then back down because all the Kiwis went down to Devonport.
What was the purpose of going to the Signal School for courses?
No that was a depot, a New Zealand depot at Devonport, a barracks. While we were there I was what they call an emergency party, you do 24 hours on and 24 hours off. You had sparkers and buntings. You would be in the Plymouth barracks and then any destroyers that came in or minesweepers and to give the crew time off or leave we would be on standby and if they had to get out we would hop aboard. Unfortunately I wasn’t called upon to do that. While we were there we had air raid shelter stations and my station was on top of the clock tower, the entrance to Devonport Barracks. Have you been to that clock tower there?
Right up the top there that was my air raid.
This was fire watching I suppose?
Yes fire watching and we could see down into the dockyard, the wharf, some of the ships down there and across to the Torpedo School in Devonport that barracks.
Over the other side of the river was RALEIGH was one of the establishments?
Yes but it was HMS the Torpedo School was over there.
In my time there were two schools over there, FIZGARD and RALEIGH. FIZGARD was the Apprentice Training School and RALEIGH was the new entry, mainly stokers I think.
Yes the Training Establishment, but they had the Torpedo School there.
DRAKE was Guzz barracks. I could see across to there, it was like fire watching.
Were there air raids occurring at that stage?
No they had stopped and just as well it was a bit shakey that clock tower. If you just sneezed up there it would shake. Up there you had a telephone communications down to the control centre.
From there I got the draft to HMS SPEAKER.
Where was SPEAKER?
That was in the States. First of all that was built in Portland, Oregon and it was the USS DELGADO and in the Falkland War they had a Cruiser with the same name. The CV40 it hadn’t been named then.
Did you go to the States to join her?
Yes I went over to the States to join her from Plymouth I went up and joined the ANDES, which we were billeted on board, a funny thing in Wellington when we came back in the ACHILLES we went down to Wellington in the train.
We left Liverpool and went across to New York and from New York we went to Ashbury Park or HMS ASHBURY they called it and while there was when I was sent up to St Hydens the Signal School in Canada. I came back and got the train for five to six days across the States.
That would have been quite a fascinating experience?
Oh it was, we stopped in Chicago Christmas Eve. Not over night though, we were there until just after midnight. We got a run ashore if you call it that from the train, we were there for about six hours in Chicago, very interesting. Especially going across Montana, it was that flat for hours and hours. I wrote the longest letter I have ever written to my mother to my family, there was nothing else to do. I wrote to them about how flat the country was and I said if you want to go next door and borrow a cup of sugar and a couple of eggs from the neighbours it would take you a long time between the ranch houses here. They were mostly in corn and crops up there, they would be about a couple of a hundred miles apart. You could see the Rockies, beautiful. It was a fantastic trip.
You got sleepers?
Oh yes we had these beautiful carriages in the day time and then they had like dining cars and sleepers to sleep in.
You were well fed?
Oh yes good, it was a very interesting trip.
It was a big draft?
Oh yes the train was full of RN people going over to join a couple of Carriers over there. The SPEAKER was one and I think the other one was STRIKER commissioned the same time we were there. We got there on the 30th December, we had Christmas Eve in Chicago and then we get over to Vancouver and New Years Eve in Vancouver. We were billeted on a carrier called the SEINE, she was sunk later on I believe. We used her like a depot ship until we commissioned the SPEAKER. Then we did working up periods there in Puget Sound.
Where was SPEAKER you say she had been built in Portland and Portland is quite a way up the river isn’t it?
It is down in the States, Portland, Oregon, just north of Seattle where she was built and we did a lot of working up, engine trials.
It was all done in the Vancouver area?
Yes the Vancouver area at Puget Sound and then at Seattle off Oregon there.
Then we went down through Panama and up to Norfolk Virginia and up to New York and that was when we picked up a lot of planes.
How big a crew in a ship like that?
We had about 700.
I know very little about those ships. We had one other person that I know of her served in one and I don’t think it was SPEAKER and he was the RNZNVR CO here and head of the old Auckland Regional Authority, Commander Schischka, he was the Gunnery Officer on one of these.
Yes I can’t remember which one he was on. I remember him when I was stationed over at RNVR Headquarters after the war.
Yes it was a funny thing there was a lot of New Zealanders on it, but we were scattered. I put in a request and I can tell you some funny stories about after I was on this Carrier for a while. I was the only Kiwi on it. From the time I left DRAKE to come up to Liverpool and get on the ANDES and at Ashbury Park there were a few Kiwis. But they were going in different Yankee Destroyers, I was the only one going over to the SPEAKER.
As I mentioned before when I went up to St Ives at the Signal School I was the first New Zealander to get up there. The Canadians had never seen a Kiwi there before. I put in to see the Captain, Captain James after a while for a draft chit. He said, “What do you want a draft chit for?” I said, “I am the only New Zealander onboard and I am getting a bit homesick, not homesick in the weepy sort of way. I have got no one here onboard the ship who has been to New Zealand, I can’t converse to anyone about New Zealand. The English people are getting mail quite regularly and my mail when I get it has been written after the previous letters and they overlap one another”. He said, “No don’t you worry we will get you some New Zealanders aboard, we can promise you that. Well we get to New York and we join this convoy and we went to Liverpool. Then we go back to the States again. When we get to Liverpool we get a Kiwi onboard. Low and behold you wouldn’t believe this I am a signalman and who do we get onboard a stoker. I thought lovely on an aircraft carrier. I thought dear oh dear. As it happened though he was made catapults crewman and so I used to see quite a bit of him, because the catapult was just out on the port side and of course the bridge on the carrier is on the starboard side. I saw a lot of him. His name was John Ruamoana Twomey. I would like to check when he joined, he must have joined either `41 or `42.
Now I can tell you quite an old story about John. He joined originally as a cook in PHILOMEL and he didn’t last long as a cook because he nearly poisoned half the ships company. He used caustic soda in the cabbage instead of baking soda and so they thought he would make a good stoker and so they turned him into a stoker. How he came to join the SPEAKER on his own I don’t know. I got to know him quite well, but I never did get around to asking him how he came to be on his own to join the SPEAKER. He must have joined after that first convoy or the second one.
John fancied himself as a bit of a boxer. Well when we were going back to the States from England we were more or less empty of planes. On the lift on the flight deck they were like an ideal boxing ring and during the dog watches anyone keen on boxing we would get up and we would have spars. I used to get up there with John. I used to do a bit of boxing myself when we were boys in the ACHILLES around the Islands in Apia and Suva and we won a cup. Poor John fancied himself as a boxer and that is all very well. We do a couple of these convoys and then eventually when we came back after the last one before D Day we went around to Dundee and we were doing a bit of a refit there getting ready for D Day, but we weren’t required as it happened. That’s when I went down to MERCURY to do this Yeoman’s High Grade Course, and I was down there, nine weeks I think.
I knew John was going ashore in Dundee to a boxing gym and so when I came back from this Course at MERCURY, John comes to me one day and he says, “Oh Yeo, will you do me a favour?” I said, “Yes John, how can I help you”. He said, “You know I have been going ashore to the gym, I have turned pro”. I said, “You have done what John?” He said, “I have turned professional”. I said, “What do you mean professional!” I said, “When is your first fight?” He said, “It is this Saturday and the trainer said I have to have a manager”. He said, “Will you be kind enough to be my manager?” I said, “Oh I suppose so”. He says, “I tell you what the manager gets a third of my prize money”. “Oh I said, that’s good John”. He said, “The first fight is this Saturday”. I said, “Oh yes where is it?” “Oh”, he said “I am not sure, but we have to be outside this little pub on the corner not far from where we are berthed in Dundee”, because a lot of us used to drink in there. We must be outside there at 10.30 in the morning. I said, 10.30 in the morning, he said, “Yes”, Saturday morning we would go along there. We get outside this pub and there were about 40 or 50 people with broken noses, cauliflower ears you name it. Then two big trucks pull up like Army trucks and they jam us in the back of these Army trucks like prisoners of war and off we go out into the country. Now I don’t know the name of this place, but we come to this place in the country, a big sort of woolshed. It was like a general store and a pub, a little tiny village. We pile out of these Army trucks and in we go and they have got all these seats of tyres and this boxing ring. I get a programme and I look down and see where John is fighting about fifth or sixth. We sit there and they call out names and John is changing in a Mickey Mouse changing room there. He said they could only get about four or five of the managers in at the same time. Anyhow I watch these fights and I said to the fellow next to me looking around, I said, “Do you know anything about this fellow who is fighting John Twomey?” He said, “That fellow he is good he is about 40 years old, but he is good. He is a Sergeant in the Black Watch and he was a Champion in the Black Watch Boxing in India. He has been Champion here in the UK, he is good”. I thought poor old John.
Anyway two fights before John’s fight or just before that, two fights before your fight was due up you went out and to the changing room. I said, “Come on John” and out we go. John gets in the corner and he has got a Gladstone bag with his gear in. He opens up this Gladstone bag and he pulls out this beautiful purple dressing gown. On the bag in big white letters it has got “The Kiwi Kid”. I said, “Oh that’s my boy”. We had New Zealand flashes up, it was wintertime.
We get the call and out we go and we look at his opponent and oh dear oh dear, 40 all right, he must have been in 40,000 fights by the look of him. His nose was worse than mine. Of course the manager was allowed in the corner, they had standing seconds there and the trainer, but the manager was allowed in the corner as well. The bell goes for the first round and out they go and I could see in the first half, oh poor John. But any case he lost the first round, but he came back to the corner he said, “How do you think I am doing?” I said, “Just keep what you have been doing John, keep moving backwards but do it a little faster.” Any case this ex sergeant or he was still in the Army I think, I think he took pity on poor John. It was four rounds they fought and poor old John he was a very poor second. He wasn’t hurt.
We go back into the dressing room and John gets changed and comes back. I said, “Look John I am going over the road to the pub, now when this lot is over come over”. I go over to the pub and you can hear all the yells and shouts coming from this big woolshed. Eventually John comes over and he comes up to the bar and I am about to buy him a beer and he puts a pound note on the bar. I said, “No John its my shout”. “No that’s not for a beer” he said, “Its for you”. I said, “What do you mean its for me?” He said, “Oh that’s your share of the prize money”. I said, “What!” He said, “I got three pound”. He got three pounds for running second and I got a third. I said, “There you go John you put it in your pocket.”
I think I mentioned previously that he was the cleanest person that I have ever struck John Twomey. He would change his overall about twice a day and he changed his underwear every day he had clean underwear on. He was forever doing his dhobying. He had an iron somehow because I think he used to iron his overalls, he had creases in his overall. He was fantastic John.
The funny thing he left when we came out to the Pacific, I think he left when we got to Sydney the first time. The next time I saw John was on my honeymoon when my wife and I were going down to the Chateau at Tongariro. We are on the train and this person comes through with a purple shirt on and brown trousers and brown and white shoes which were the fashion in those days, with purple socks. I was pleased to see John and so I introduced him to my wife and John goes back to his seat where he was sitting. The next day or the day after I get the Dominion, which was always like a day later there when you get to the Chateau. I said to my wife, “Remember that fellow I introduced you to on the train when we were coming down the other night?” She says, “Yes why?” I said, “He was on his way down to commit this triple murder.
(End of Tape 3)
(Beginning of Tape 4)
It was some domestic dispute, I think his brother in-law, his sister and his cousin and someone else. He got rid of three of them. He went to jail naturally. He was at Mt Eden and I think he was given 25 years, I forget the sentence he got, but I know it was about three times more than they get now or twice as much, poor John. He became what was known as the birdman of Mt Eden for a long time. He would keep birds. I didn’t go up and visit him but I made enquiries, he was quite happy and that. I always thought there was something wrong with him and that was proven when he joined the Navy as a cook that episode with the caustic soda.
Then he was transferred to Paparoa in Christchurch and he was released, but he was only out I believe for about two months or so and he get up to his old tricks again and he went in for manslaughter poor John. I think he is dead now. I made enquiries once again later on, he was in prison and it was on his papers, “Never to be released”.
Let’s talk about SPEAKER for a minute, the standard of the accommodation, I presume it was all American as you see in the World War II American movies?
Yes with the SPEAKER when they brought her up from Portland to Vancouver what they did was change a lot of the accommodation around. Now originally the communication accommodation was below the flight deck and we had a WT Office there as well, there was one down below and then the bridge. You would just walk over the flight deck to the bridge, but no they got rid of that idea when they got to Canada and they spread out throughout the ship the accommodation and Stores Assistant, Seamen, Stokers, Sick Bay Tiffies, Bunting and Sparkers all mixed up.
I guess that was because if a shell came inboard or a bomb came inboard not everybody was killed.
Yes you wouldn’t wipe out a whole branch, which was a good idea really. The only thing was we were a bit cheesed off about this communication because it was the best accommodation in the ship really. It would be cool in the summer time and it would be a bit chilly in the winter-time, however they turned that into a ops room.
How did you mess, did you have a centralised cafeteria?
Yes cafeteria messing.
With a tray?
Yes like they have nowadays. We had separate rec space and actually on the mess decks it was bunks, they didn’t have hammocks.
Was she a steamship or a diesel engine?
A diesel engine.
How many aircraft would she carry?
When we were ferrying them.
You would just jam them up I suppose?
Yes on the flight deck and on the hangar deck we would have 150 or more, but they still left the lifts clear because now and again you would bring a plane down and do a bit of servicing on them. We always had one on the catapult, a plane that we could catapult off, that is where John used to work with the catapult.
I have some articles here, we carried this American War Correspondent a fellow by the name of Baldwin. I have some of these articles which he wrote which are rather interesting.
They were really a merchant hull weren’t they?
I think after the war they got converted back to merchant ships.
Yes now the VINDEX was one of those she was converted back to the Port Line.
Another one which I did a cruise when I was in Customs I did a trip on was the FAIRSEA, the Sitmar Line.
She was one of these?
She was one of those, she was sold to the Italians and they took her over and made her into a passenger ship.
Because she has only just been disposed of in the last half dozen years perhaps?
Yes the FAIRSEA and the FAIRSKY.
Yes “American bought guns and equipment played a new role amid traditions of centuries”, that is from the New York Times 1944.
Was the flight deck wood in the American tradition?
Yes wooden flight deck.
When the ship went up to Vancouver we extended the flight deck as I was saying they changed the accommodation around. The Signal Office was fortunately where our accommodation was going to be across the flight deck, just aft of the bridge there. One part was our accommodation and the other part was the WT Office and the Signal Office.
The flag deck was just there?
Yes the flag deck was just down there.
Behind the super structure?
Yes just in here the flag deck. We had our secondary action station, the conning position was here just by the pom-poms.
Were they air conditioned or just fresh air?
No just like the old Cruisers.
They built about 40 of those all together.
Yes they built a huge number, Woolworths Carriers they were called.
Yes the correspondent was amused at this “hands to tea” and then “hands to supper”. Of course he was amused at the rum rationing because you got no rum in the Yankee Navy they were dry ships. Call in the morning, “Rise and shine, wakey, wakey you have had your time”. He was amazed about that. It opened his eyes a bit Baldwin.
Yes that is an interesting article about comparing the different traditions isn’t it?
Yes it does compare the American Navy and the Royal Navy.
There were no hammocks onboard?
Yes we had our hammocks and of course you put your hammocks on your bunk.
Nobody swung hammocks?
No one swung hammocks.
Three bunks high?
Yes three bunks high.
Tell us more.
This is the Swordfish, I am in that plane taking off and landing with our Squadron Leader Lieutenant Commander Doyle an Irishman.
Did you just do the one trip?
No he used to take me up now and again.
How many Yeoman were there?
You would have a Chief Yeoman as well?
No we had a Chief when we first joined Chief Yeoman Matheson, but then the day before we were due to sail to come out to the Pacific he took ill and we came out without a Chief Yeoman to the Pacific.
Traditionally the Chief Yeoman looks after the Captain and is there when the Captain is there, who did that work?
Well I took over.
You were the senior one?
Yes I wasn’t senior but I was senior, he was a lower grade Yeoman.
You were better qualified?
Yes and then I had qualified. We used to share it. One would be on the bridge from 6 o’clock in the morning and then the other one would do the afternoon.
If the Captain was up on the bridge you were there?
Yes up on the bridge in the afternoon and then the next day we would swap, we just shared it, it was mutual between the two of us.
My memories of the Chief Yeoman is that he is almost the Captain’s adviser on manoeuvring and all that sort of thing?
Oh yes all signals he interprets.
The lights flashing over there you will do your own interpretation?
Yes and flag hoist you get to know them off by heart and can tell the Captain straight away before the duty signalman or the duty yeoman. On some ships you would have a yeoman as well.
I think you keep up the manoeuvring board don’t you?
Yes the old manoeuvring board, I used to like those fleet manoeuvres. The Yeoman or the Chief Yeoman was the Captain’s right hand man, because you see him first thing in the morning with all the signals and whenever he goes ashore and then comes aboard you see him. I knew our Captain James quite well. He said, “We will get some New Zealanders aboard”, that is how it happened on the carrier. We had four or five New Zealand pilots, one was a Sub Lieutenant Thompson from Mt Eden here in Auckland. We had two young signalman Clutterbuck from Gore and Signalman Aitken I think came from Christchurch, which was good. Of course John Ruamoana Twomey. There was an AB and I forget his name and a stores assistant. It finished up with about ten of us in the finish and we had a deck hockey team. I was in the PO’s deck hockey team, but we also had a New Zealand hockey team.
The New Zealand pilots sought out the crew members to get together and have a chat?
Oh yes I will tell you another funny thing about Ruamoana Twomey one day after divisions as a matter of fact. I went to see the Captain in his cabin with the latest lot of signals after divisions one Sunday on the flight deck. The Captain said, “Tell me Twomey he knew his name, Twomey that stoker he had a medal ribbon up and he said, “I have never seen it before”. Of course most of us had the 1939/45 Star and some other medal ribbon we had up. He said, “I have never seen it before, funny colours” he said, “It is orange and yellow and green wavy and I asked him what medal?” and he said, “King Koki Koki”. I said, “Oh you mean Koroki”. He said, “Oh is that his name?” and I said, “Yes King Koroki”. “Oh” he said, “I thought he said King Koki Koki”. He said, It’s a King Koroki’s War Medal”. I said, “I am afraid I don’t know anything about that”. I asked Twomey about it and he said that all Maoris can wear this King Korokis War Medal. “Oh I don’t know anything about that Sir”. I went down and I saw John and I said, “Hey John what’s this?” it was Sunday and he still had this and it looked like a bit of curtain material like technicolour. I said, “What’s that medal John?” “Oh he said, “That’s King Korokis War Medal”. I said, “I have never heard of it”. He said, “Oh yes all us Maoris can wear this medal”. But it was all a lot of malarky, John had designed his own medal.
The SPEAKER just run through again her programme. You did several convoys?
Yes ferrying aircraft. On the last one we did we brought back some of the wives from the States. We came back in December as a convoy, we couldn’t fly off, we weren’t operational to that extent, but we had the RN escort. We came back and then the Captain’s wife Findola was her name, she took passage on the last one. Then we came to Greenwich and soon after that we came around to Dundee for this unit, waiting in case we were required at D Day which we weren’t. Then we came up around the North of Scotland and hopped into Scapa Flow and had a look there and I was pleased I was never stationed up there or had anything to do with it, a God forsaken place. Back to Liverpool and picked up stores and picked up some more crew and then we took off and came out through the Med and called at Gibraltar, Alexandria, through the Red Sea and Colombo.
You had an operational squadron?
Yes we were operational then, there were three of us, SPEAKER, STRIKER and one other and I can’t remember the name of the other one, there were only three of us with a Destroyer escort. The WOLVERINE came up and she escorted us for a time when Blue Wheldale was on, she came up from Freetown and she escorted us from Gibraltar part way down the Mediterranean. Then we called into Aden, Colombo and Sydney and then we joined up with the British Pacific Fleet. We were up there and we were what they called the fleet train.
You went in the front line squadrons?
No we were just ferrying aircraft up and we would fly them off and we would replenish the other.
I see if somebody wanted a new aircraft you would provide support and crew as well?
Yes and the pilots we would fly them up.
Would you also fly planes for defence?
Yes we had our own, we were operational, but we were also in the fleet train as support. With the fleet train we were operational if they needed air protection we had them.
Were you attacked up there at all?
No we weren’t fortunately we were lucky.
I think Colin Vickers was in FORMIDABLE one of the fleet carriers.
Yes she went up there and the INVINCIBLE was up there.
Yes and one or two other pilots we have spoken to I remember one talks of being shipped back to one of the smaller aircraft carriers to pick up a new aircraft?
Yes we did quite a bit of that.
I think a destroyer ferried him back.
I left here before the last trip up there and she finished up in the Philippines. The second to last trip we came back to Sydney and this was when I was telling you about the GAMBIA and the Canteen Manager. I think that was in Manila when we had run out of razor blades and toothpaste, toothbrushes. I said to the Captain I know the Canteen Manager and I am sure he is well stocked up, which he was, so we sent our motorboat over and came back with a tea chest full of all the goodies.
When we got back to Sydney the GAMBIA happened to be there again too and we were in company with the GAMBIA a couple of times, that is where I saw my brother again there.
Then I left it there and went to GOLDEN HIND and that was when the war finished.
SPEAKER went off again without you?
Yes without me and I came back.
I think I mentioned before how one time we were in Sydney I had a chance of flying back with the Air Force to New Zealand but the Captain wouldn’t let me go, he said they were too unreliable. That was when I went down, I said, “Can I have leave to go down to Melbourne to see my Uncle, he was a horse trainer in Melbourne”. I went down there for about seven days to Uncle Harry.
On this last trip the SPEAKER did up there she was in Manila and she brought the first lot of prisoners of war out of Japan, they came over from another ship to the SPEAKER. They used the flight deck as the hospital because they were in such bad shape and they brought them back to Sydney. The SPEAKER’s ships company had a march through the streets of Sydney.
You missed that?
Yes I missed that I had come back to New Zealand on the DEVONSHIRE, which was a pity because that was the end of the war and so I missed that final part.
Tell us a bit more about operating with the British Pacific Fleet. It must have been very busy time?
Large fleets no doubt?
Yes and with the Yanks in Manus and up in the Philippines of course. Unfortunately we weren’t in the main line with British Commander Bruce Fraser, we were under his command overall.
There were no ports to drop anchor, you just operated at sea?
At sea and apart from Manus we transferred stores and fuel.
Would you fuel at sea?
No we never fuelled at sea.
I suppose you would have long legs anyway being a diesel?
No we never fuelled at sea we always fuelled in port.
Being a diesel engine you could go for miles?
Another thing about carrying fuel though if anyone smoked when you were fuelling aircraft, no smoking throughout the ship. I used to smoke then and it never used to bother me, but some of the fellows who smoked a lot they would be screaming, “I will get a draft chit off this ship”, they always seemed to be fuelling aircraft.
Food must have been getting a bit repetitive?
Oh yes and we had Spam. We had cold Spam with salad and then we would have fried Spam and then you would have the Spam done in batter like in a fish batter. You would have Spam sandwiches.
Of course a lot of supplies we were getting out in the Pacific and of course when we were doing convoys we were picking up supplies in the States, we had a lot of Yankee supplies onboard, a lot of our supplies were American.
Canned milk becomes horrific doesn’t it after a while?
Yes and we were pleased when we got to Sydney, it was the only that you managed to get fresh milk. It was lovely once you got some of that fresh milk. We would go ashore and buy bottles of milk.
What were the ships that you were in company with, mainly store ships and tankers?
Yes tankers and store ships.
Did you meet up with the other New Zealand ship up there at the time that everybody forgets about ARBUTUS did you meet up with her?
No never met up with her she was up there.
She was a radar repair ship she ferried around a team of radar mechanics.
No we never met up with her. I knew she was up there because a funny thing I went aboard a ship one day, I went over to pick up some hand signals. I can’t remember the name of the ship, but it is mentioned in the book written about it “Mutiny in Force K” I think it is called and Nick Ryan a great friend of mine a telegraphist he was on it. But he was taken ashore in Manus I think with appendicitis or pneumatic fever, I know he was pretty ill, they had this mutiny on it.
No the mutiny on the ship, they had two mutinies they had a small mutiny more or less in England. The ship was picked up in the States and it was like a Merchant ship and it was turned over as a Naval Communications ship she was bristling with aerials. She left England and came out and joined the Fleet, the Yanks didn’t want her, the BPF more or less didn’t want her and she was just on her own. The conditions on her were just shocking with a number of crew and they had a mutiny on it. It was hushed up a lot, but the book has been out now for quite a few years.
What was the ships name?
I am trying to think of the name of it. The name of the book is “Mutiny in Force K” I think it is called. I went over to her and I got the shock of my life when I get onboard. I go down to the Wireless Office to get the signals and there is Micky Ryan and so I duly went up and drank his tot. That was when I heard the ARBUTUS mentioned because he mentioned the ARBUTUS and I said, “I had come across the GAMBIA”. He mentioned other ships that had Kiwis on them.
It was amazing and I remember another time Alan Jolly who was a classmate of mine, he was on the submarine depot ship in Alexandria and I can’t recall the name of that one now. I was reading Semaphore one day and I thought I know that fellow and it was Alan Jolly. It is amazing how you run across people. Kiwis were scattered all across the place in ones and two’s and three’s. It was like being in the SPEAKER the only Kiwi there.
How long were your deployments up to the British Pacific Fleet from Sydney, did you go up for a month or two months?
Oh a couple of months.
Yes then back.
You did two of these trips?
Yes I did two of them and then back and then I came back to New Zealand.
Then after coming back I went on leave and came back from leave and I was drafted down to Motuihe. I went down there and took over the 7th Boys.
(end of Tape 4)
(Beginning of Tape 5)
Last time we were chatting I think we had left SPEAKER and you must be heading back to New Zealand at the end of the war?
Yes I was drafted from the SPEAKER to the GOLDEN HIND in Sydney out at Warwick Farm Racecourse and I lived there for a fortnight or three weeks and I joined the DEVONSHIRE and came back to Auckland. I went on leave, I had quite a bit of leave and then came back to PHILOMEL and then was drafted down to TAMAKI to relieve Yeoman Les Sims, ex LEANDER. Les had finished his time during the war and Bob McIntosh was another Instructor down there, they had finished their time. When the war finished they were discharged and I took over the task they had down there.
Were you just a general instructor or specifically for the signalman?
I was for the Signal Boys, but also I was a Divisional Instructor for the Boys Class.
Because they actually split the Seaman Boys didn’t they into Signalman and Telegraphists?
Then the rest were Seaman?
Yes Seaman Boys.
Out of every class they would take four for Signal Boys and the next class four Telegraphists and the rest were Seaman Boys.
I was like a Divisional PO or Yeoman in charge of the Division, there were two of us. There were other Instructors down there, GI or Seamanship Instructor and the PTI’s and I took over that task.
I enjoyed my time at TAMAKI I wasn’t married and had a .22 rifle and there were plenty of rabbits down there and the oysters.
You lived on the Island did you?
Yes I lived on the Island.
It was a bit tough for the married men because they only got leave, one week they would have two nights off and a weekend and then the next week three nights off, a bit tough. I had a weekend off when my brother came up to Auckland. We had tons of sport down there, we had the gym.
There was a good Senior Rates Mess there?
Oh yes there was, there was no bar at that stage. I was President of the Mess when we got a grog licence. Paddy Burke was the Commanding Officer down there, Captain Burke. We had to get our beer from the wardroom. I think we had two bottles a day.
Did you have cabins to yourselves?
Yes we had cabins to ourselves, some of them were two berth cabins and some of them were single berth cabins.
How many senior rates lived down there?
Oh we had couple in the ships company, a Stoker PO and of course PO Cook and Officers Cooks. I suppose when I was there we had 12 to 14 Instructors down there and a couple of GI’s and a Seamanship Instructor.
You had plenty of company in the evenings too?
Oh yes plenty. We had the canteen over there. There was a billiard table in the Senior Rates Canteen and the Junior Rates, we had a ships company down there, they had a canteen and a billiard table.
I enjoyed TAMAKI with these kids.
I suppose you had to go off on various expeditions in the boats?
Oh yes sailing in the Whalers and Cutters. We had Whaler races out there and the Stokers Class of Ordinary Seaman’s Class, Miscellaneous Classes and they all had boats crews. Twice a year we would have Regatta down there, which was very good.
I went there in `45 and I came back up in early `48.
That is a good period of time?
Yes I wanted to go to sea, because a couple of Yeoman who were married they were at sea and I thought they would like to get ashore, but no the powers to be wouldn’t allow that, they wanted me to stay down there as an Instructor.
I guess you would be taking endless flag hoists and Semaphore drills?
Oh we had all that. I was down there when we erected two big masts, one at what we called Cemetery Point on Motuihe and one up at the farm.
Was that so you could signal between each other?
Yes we worked on it like two ships.
The Signal Boys we would be like one ship and the Ordinary Signalman would have the one up at the farm. We had our Aldis lamps and made it as realistic as possible. I took charge of the Signalmen and we took them to the BELLONA just for a couple of weeks out in the Gulf and give them a bit of sea time experience.
Did you have other instructional duties?
Yes I was taken on as a PTI. For one part of it down there we didn’t have a PTI and so I was PTI because I had a bit of time on my hands. Taking the class of Signal Boys it wasn’t signals all the time, because they are also doing seamanship and gunnery and the old parade drill. I would take the other classes the ordinary seaman classes and the gym for the PTI.
Who were some of the notable people you remember there, you talk about Paddy Burke being the CO?
Yes Paddy Burke was the Commanding Officer there and Tom Cox was the Warrant officer. Billy Rudd came down later down there and Schoolmaster Schoolie Hoggs and Taylor were there for a while.
He hadn’t been commissioned then?
No he hadn’t been commissioned then Joe.
Dave McCurry, he was one of the GI’s down there. Hank Howland was one of the GI’s. John Cole, he came down for a short period when I was there. Joe Harmon was one of the Seamanship Instructors. Sam Leckie a Seamanship Instructor, Lance Jones, Bruce McIntosh, one of the McIntosh boys. The chap I relieved, his time had expired when I went down there, Bob was his Uncle. There was Bruce and then there was Jack and there were two McIntoshs, Bob and Vic and they were very good seamen, and so was their nephew Ken.
Yes it was good fun down there. I was sorry in some ways that I had to leave. I was getting a bit fed up though.
Yes it would be pretty isolated wouldn’t it?
Yes visitors came down on the weekends, they weren’t allowed up in the Naval Base. Of course naval personnel were allowed visitors on the weekends. The general public would come down and use the beaches down there. They had a shop down there.
How often could you actually get off the Island, you would get away for the leave periods no doubt?
The leave periods. One week the Instructor would go ashore the Monday and the Wednesday and then the Friday and the Saturday, Sunday. Then the following week you were duty from the Monday, the Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. As I say it was a bit tough on the married men. I only used to bother coming up more or less on the weekend.
What boat service did TAMAKI have during that post war period?
We had to use the old BAROONA was one that used to come down there.
The HMDL’s were they running?
Yes we got them, they started to run, they took over and were we pleased to get those. The old BAROONA would take about an hour or so to get down there. The HDMLs when they took over they were really good.
Then they had a couple of Fairmiles too didn’t they?
Yes a couple of Fairmiles, we didn’t actually have any attached, they were all attached to PHILOMEL.
What was the standard of the recruits like then, were they full of keenness?
Oh they were still keen to join. The class I took over that was the last class that joined before the war finished they were the 7th Boys.
A funny thing when TAMAKI opened, Motuihe opened as a Training Establishment they stopped giving classes names because when I joined we had names. I have got a list of the names. 1936 Class 20, well halfway through the class through training they changed the name and they started giving them names. There was a JELLICOE, RODNEY, ST VINCENT, BENBOW, COLLINGWOOD my class and DUNCAN and HAWK. When MOTUIHE opened I went down there the class of boys was up to Class 7.
They are the traditional names for classes aren’t they?
Yes we had down there Drake Division and Nelson Division and Jellicoe Division, like Divisions but not classes, the classes were by numbers, which I thought was a pity that they did away with the class names.
I notice now that they seem to have brought it back. I notice lads and lasses doubling around the place with BLACK PRINCE or BELLONA on their chests, ACHILLES and LEANDER.
Oh that’s good they have brought the names back, they have named them after ships then. Of course those ones were named after Admirals.
Perhaps they have turned circle.
When I was a cadet I was in St Vincent Division and Drake Division at one stage exactly the same thing.
No that was good that, I hope the Divisions over there and whether that ships name carries on to the next class.
I don’t know.
You mentioned shooting rabbits and I suppose fishing would be good off Motuihe?
Oh yes we got a Whaler and we would get Snapper and rock oysters which were forbidden.
Some of the boys whom I have interviewed who went through TAMAKI not necessarily this time, report on some of the pranks that used to go on. One said that one of the internal punishments was lowering the lad tied in his hammock down the gash chute?
I suppose there was plenty of that, were you aware of those sorts of things going on?
There was no lowering any kids down that, but they used to get up to things like that.
They would try and find trees around the back of the dormitories there and string kids up there. It was open to abuse.
A lot of them reported their efforts to smoke being punished?
A funny thing and of course boys were forbidden to smoke, I never put a boy in the rattle for smoking. I knew they smoked because a funny thing I was smoking at the time and I used to leave my tobacco up at the signal tower, there was a classroom and we called it the signal tower. At stand easy I would take off back to the mess for a cup of tea and I would leave my tin of tobacco there. I would come back and there would be two or three missing. I know one fellow Dave Park, I said you know what, “I am allowed half a pound of tobacco a month or whatever the ration was, I should start putting your name down for some”.
The reason I didn’t was because when I was on the PHILOMEL I was the Leading Boy and I think I mentioned before Chief Petty Officer Hallam and he was a sad bastard was Hallam, he put me in the rattle for smoking. Admittedly I was up at the heads up at PHILOMEL with two classmates of mine, Olausen and Bacon and they were smoking and so he put the three of us in. He saw the officer of the day and went to see the Training Officer. The Training Officer Lieutenant Commander Lewis, he gave Olausen and Bacon their punishment, 7 days tens or whatever it was and because I was a Leading Boy I had to see the Captain as I denied it because I didn’t smoke. I get up before the Captain and I said, “Sir I don’t smoke”. He asked Hallam and he said, “Yes Sir I saw him smoke”. I said, “I beg to differ, I don’t smoke, you can ask anyone”. They all get in a corner and hush, hush and then they come back and they had to get me on something. Of course Hallam he was determined to get me and so then I was charged not with smoking, but failing to carry out my duties as a Leading Boy. I thought, dear oh dear, I am going to be disrated and lose my penny a day for being a Leading Boy. I was failing duty as a Leading Boy and all I got was cautioned. I think the Captain was on my side. They had to make an example of you or something.
From then on I thought the hell with it, I didn’t actually turn a blind eye to it, but I meted out my own punishment and did a kit muster which we could.
You mention the signal tower, was that actually manned as a signal tower?
No it was just a big water tower on the top.
I can recall that TAMAKI used to pipe ships coming up through the channel to ammunition. If you had a Frigate or something coming to the ammunition buoy there you would pipe the ship going past?
No not from Motuihe, the signal tower was a classroom with windows around it. It could have been but unfortunately the side where the ships anchor to de-ammunition that was the break wall you wouldn’t have been able to, but you could look out. One side had windows, you could look out towards Motutapu.
When I left Motuihe I came back up to Auckland and was drafted to KANIERE. That was interesting the period I had on KANIERE, there were three Captains while I was on KANIERE and I was only on here for twelve months and I had three Captains.
Who were they?
Brian Turner was on here when we did the New Zealand Cruise. From Dunedin we around to Greymouth and Westport, because our Loch Class Frigates all went to the ports, the TAUPO, the TUTIRA, the ROTOITI, the HAWEA and the KANIERE.
They had just come back from UK?
Yes and went around to Greymouth and Westport, we had Brian Turner as Captain. Then he went off and the First Lieutenant Tom Stocker, he was a very good skipper Tom Stocker.
I have met Tom Stocker?
Yes a nice fellow.
He died years ago.
Yes I heard he was very ill, I didn’t know he had died.
They brought him down to be the master of the Frigate CANTERBURY and he took her out on trials.
Well he was great ship handler.
Yes he was a lovely man.
Yes I will tell you a story about Tom, he took over and no disrespect to Brian Turner, but he wasn’t much of a ship handler. When we were berthing at Dunedin in company with the HAWEA, we were the senior ship, the HAWEA berthed astern of us, alongside. Tom Stocker was the First Lieutenant at the time of the KANIERE. We drew alongside and they had an appointment with the Mayor at 10 o’clock. We were supposed to be alongside at 9 o’clock. We were there on time, but by the time we got secured alongside it was quarter to 10. Tom Stocker he came up to the bridge and he stood at the back of the bridge and he used to stutter and he said, “Chief I have never seen anything like it”.
Yes because he was good ship handler?
Oh yes they should have handed over to him, but Brian didn’t want to do that. By the time we get alongside, Tony Blomfield who was Captain of the HAWEA he was already ashore on the jetty waiting for us to get secured, banging his sword on the deck saying, “For Christ’s sake hurry up”.
Tom Stocker he was Captain when we did the Islands, he was a great ship handler and a nice fellow.
Talking about his stammer there are a lot of signals as you know in the Navy, but the answer is self evident, you know them off by heart. When you have been a signaller for a while you would go down to the Captain at breakfast time if any signal came through during the night. If there were any replies to be made, you would know the answer and as I am writing I am about three words ahead of him. Then he reached up and he grabbed my signal pad on the clip pad and he said, “Chief I have travelled 12,000 miles to come out here to avoid this stammer. For God’s sake let me finish”. The more he got excited the more he stammered.
He was sent out to New Zealand not only to bring a Frigate but for medical reasons they said a change of environment completely from the North Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere might cure his stammer. Well when he left here he hardly had a stammer when he went back to the UK.
I don’t recall him having a stammer.
Yes he did, he had quite a bad stammer.
CANTERBURY first went to sea at 2am in the morning and he drove her down the Clyde River and we were way up the Clyde, right up near Glasgow Town. The first thing he did was to sack the quartermaster. He said, “Is that McTaffish on the helm?” “Yes Sir”, “You are sacked”. I had never heard anyone say anything like this before. They had a civilian crew of old Navy guys.
Yes I liked Tom Stocker. When we came back he was the second captain. Then when we went back over to Australia to do some manoeuvres, we had the six Frigates then, the ROTOITI and the TUTIRA had arrived out and we went over with the BELLONA. Ruck Keene took over while we were over in Australia, we went over there for manoeuvres. That was good Clinton Stevens was Captain of the KANIERE then.
He wasn’t a very good ship handler though was he?
Oh no. We went to Hobart but before that we went to Melbourne, which I was very pleased with for the Melbourne Cup. I had an uncle who was still training then in Melbourne, he was Harry Telford my Uncle. The ship’s Captain said, “Oh I see your Uncle is training?” I said, “Yes”. He said, “Oh have you got a horse?” and I said, “No I haven’t seen him yet”. He did have a horse racing a horse called “Minnywheel”, which was in a race before the Cup. I told everyone to back this and we all did and it ran fourth. It had a leading Australian Jockey on at the time, Neville Sword. Of course they gave me hell over that. “Your Uncle couldn’t train a goat”. I said, “You asked me and I didn’t tell you to back it”. He told me in good faith.
When we went to Hobart and we berthed at the new berth they had in Hobart and I think they had only just finished it the day before and the concrete hadn’t hardened or nowhere near it. We came in and he didn’t stop in time, it didn’t hurt our bow but it made a dent in the concrete.
Were those Loch Class happy ships when they first came in?
They were pretty basic ships weren’t they?
Yes they were.
The Senior Rates accommodation was okay?
Oh yes we were lucky on the KANIERE funnily there were only two Chiefs, the Chief Stoker and myself and that caused a bit of a panic later on.
You had a mess to yourself?
Yes two of us in the mess, it could take six. The funny thing there I had to stand on the deck when we first joined. I think it was Brian Turner who said when we were coming back from the New Zealand Cruise he said, “When we get back to Auckland you will be getting another messmate and I said, “Oh yes good, who will that be?” He said, “An RPO” and I said, “Well he won’t be in our mess”. He said, “Oh yes he will”. I said, RPO’s don’t come in the Chief’s Mess”. He said, “Why not?” “Well if he is going to go in any mess, they normally have a separate mess, but I said, “If he has to go into a mess, he has to go into the PO’s Mess”. I said, “Why what’s happening?” In those days we had the coxswain, which was Jim Murray who was very efficient. He said, “Oh they doing away with coxswains now, they are going to put RPO’s on all the ships”. I said, “If it was a Master of Arms it would be different, but he is entitled to a mess on his own the Master of Arms”. I said, “This RPO doesn’t come into the Chief’s Mess”. We had a right up and downer Brian and I. I said, “Well excuse me Sir, I will have to put in an official complaint, he does not come into the Chiefs Mess.” I said, “If he is a Chief Petty Officer yes, but a PO.” He said, “Well where am I going to put him?” I said, “It is of no concern of mine”. What happened in the finish was Bob Paul who was an Engineer Officer his cabin was just opposite the Chiefs Mess, it had a sliding door and you went in there and there was only one on that level, there was a spare cabin up top. Bob Paul went up to the Officer’s cabin up top and they put the RPO in a cabin of his own. He had his meals in what was the so called Regulating Office and the Supply Office, they turned the Supply Office into the Regulating Office. He said, “On the other ships the RPO is in the Chief’s mess” I said, “He shouldn’t be in the Chief’s Mess.”
Did you do a lot of exercises?
With the Aussies yes.
Lots of ships no doubt?
Not like today when you have a fleet of about three or four?
There were 7 if us went over and there at least 12 or 14 Aussies.
A Yeoman would be pretty busy?
Oh yes off Jervis Bay and unfortunately the poor signalman, they were never off the bridge. Half the time we would be having aircraft exercises and officer of the watch manoeuvres or evolutions during the dogwatches. Night-time would be night exercises and other times the exercises which the Captain wouldn’t be involved in, but you still had to do them every time the Captain was on the bridge like the Yeoman was on the bridge. If you were a Yeoman or a Chief Yeoman you got very little sleep, he was on the bridge all the time. There were exercises some times just for the Officer of the Watch or the Gunnery Officer or the Torpedo Officer or whatever. I enjoyed it and I could have done with a bit more sleep.
You eventually went up to the Islands, they were quite fun trips too in those days?
Oh yes we went around. We had Lieutenant Commander Cheyney, who was in Intelligence in Wellington joined us and we went to a couple of Islands up there. There was copra smuggling and we found evidence of people being ashore there.
One Island we went to and I found out during the war they were coast-watching at the Island. I picked up a telescope and I have still got it, the leather had all been eaten away, but it was brass. When you screw in the lens the flange has come away, but only a little bit of soldering needs doing, I must take it to a fellow, apart from that it wobbles a bit. I forget the Island we got on, we went ashore there, I had permission to go ashore and we had a look around and saw where they had been taking copra. Cheyney was a nice fellow, him and Tom Stocker they got on very well together
We went to Canton Island and it had an American Airways Base at the time and they treated us royally there. They took us ashore and they put on like a race meeting for the ships company. I enjoyed my time on the KANIERE.
Then I left her and came back into PHILOMEL and then back into rugby again. When I came up from TAMAKI I was in the rugby. That was another thing I really liked about the Navy was the sport. I used to do a bit of boxing and I won a few fights. When I was in the ACHILLES as a boy we went around the Islands and I won a cup up there for boxing in Fiji in a fight in the Fiji Lightweight Championships with the Fiji Defence Force. Then I was lucky enough to be in the Inter Service Team, the Navy was playing in Palmerston North and we won that in 1948 and then `49 I was on the KANIERE all the time. Then in `50 we won in Christchurch, which was very good. I was the only Kiwi in a Soccer Team before we went to England in `43 it must have been June `43 they had trials at PHILOMEL here for a Soccer Team to play Auckland for the Drummond Cup. We used to play a lot of Soccer in the Navy, the Kiwis would make up a team and play anything. I was the only Kiwi in the Team when we played Auckland for the Drummond Cup, we were well and truly beaten. That is the beauty of the Navy and it is still today sport.
I think in those days there were a lot of very good players in the Rugby Team who achieved International status. The Navy Rugby was really quite a prestige thing.
We had people who made the Auckland Team.
If I have it correct I think there were a few stop drafts weren’t there during the winter months?
Oh yes that was the reason I came off the KANIERE was to come back to PHILOMEL. Yes you just didn’t go to sea they stopped you.
It is a pity it doesn’t apply today because there were enough ships around there were two games a fortnight ago where they won one and got beaten in the other one. I feel very sorry for the Navy now, of course we had a bigger complement in the Navy. To make the Services Team they brought fellows up from Wellington from Navy Office, Waiouru, the ships in Auckland when they had the trials here at PHILOMEL to make that `48 Team and the 50 Team. Telegraphist Gibbons the Telegraphist from Waiouru he was a brilliant player, he played for the Wanganui Reps.
You just had a few months in PHILOMEL and then you went off to Christchurch?
No to NGAPONA I was at NGAPONA when of course I was coming over to PHILOMEL for the training for the rugby. Then from there I went down to Christchurch to PEGASUS down to the RNVR Headquarters.
How long did you have at NGAPONA?
I was at NGAPONA for some 12 months.
Who was the CO of NGAPONA in those days?
They had the nail factory two brothers, Cyril and Jack Hillyard. Jack had more or less retired and Cyril had taken over as CO and the fellow who took over from him was Fergie Schischka he was there. Eddie Blakiston was the resident.
Another one whom I interviewed and I don’t know if he was ever the CO was Dufty Wilson, but he was a Commander in the local VR.
No when I was there Eddie Blakiston was the Resident Naval Officer there. Charlie Norris was the Chief Mechanician the Stokers Instructor. Dave McCurry was the Gunnery Instructor and I was the Communications Instructor. The Seamanship Instructors George Lacey and Graham Cameron, Cameron was a Seamanship Instructor. Hillyard, Schischka and a tall fellow Hope, he was a fine fellow too.
How did you get a posting to Christchurch was that just part of the game?
Yes part of the game to the RNVR Headquarters down there. I think the fellow down there, I don’t know whether his time had expired or not. No I didn’t relieve anyone down there, I don’t think they had a Communications Instructor. They had like the RNVR, a Yeoman, but they didn’t have a permanent.
It was at St Asaphs Street wasn’t it?
Yes there was a Brewery there, above the Brewery you could smell hops.
I can just vaguely remember the building. I am from Christchurch and I became a Sea Cadet in the early fifties and I know when we went down there to collect our uniforms and then they built PEGASUS.
Yes I have been there a few years ago I was down there.
That was about `53 or 4.
I can still recall TASMAN was still in being?
Oh yes that was down there.
It just had a care and maintenance crew?
Yes just a care and maintenance crew down there. We used to go down there and do a bit of a tidy up at times down there, because there were a couple of Whalers down there too at Lyttelton.
On Saturdays the instruction Saturday mornings the RNVRs used to come down on the Saturday.
They had a lot of Asdic equipment down there didn’t they?
Yes there was a Training School down there at Lyttelton.
I can recall classrooms with all the equipment and the hull outfits there the domes there?
Yes the domes they used to use those during operations during the war.
Yes I liked it down there.
How long did you have down there?
Not very long, only about six months.
Were you married?
Oh yes I was married. Once you get married you get sent to sea because a funny thing I got married when I came up to TAMAKI and I had only been married a few months and then I went to KANIERE.
Of course when I went to NGAPONA I thought this is good, it will be ideal for a married man and then I was sent off to Christchurch.
Without your wife?
Yes without my wife. They said they couldn’t tell me how long, but they said you won’t be there for too long. A funny thing a Yeoman came out from England and relieved me.
What happened then, did you actually leave the Navy from there?
No I came back to PHILOMEL here, what’s the date?
Yes I left in `52, but I came back from PEGASUS in `51.
(End of Tape 5)
(Beginning of Tape 6)
So back to PHILOMEL until discharge?
I just remained in PHILOMEL.
What point was that in your career was that 20 years?
No 14 and a half I didn’t sign on.
You didn’t want to sign on?
No well in some ways I did and in other ways I didn’t, my wife wasn’t very keen on me to sign on, she didn’t like the idea.
A funny thing they were wanting me to go to England to do a course in England, which meant signing on for four years on completion of course. I was going to be away for over 12 months course and they said, “You can take your wife with you”. I thought that would be good because my wife’s people at that time were in Germany because he was in the Army occupation he was a Kiwi. They were re-building Hamburg and he was a surveyor by trade and they needed engineers. But no we thought it over and she said, “Oh no it would be very good to go over and see them, but you would be at your course all the time. Then after that coming back another four years, you will be spending all your time at sea”, so she said, “No”.
Give us a quick burst on what you have done since leaving the Navy. I have got memories of you as a Customs Officer?
Yes well after I left the Navy yes a funny thing I had a funny idea I wanted to be a Vet and so I went to see the Chief Vet in New Zealand at the time was Mr Guy Ring. So I went to see him, I was going to do it under the Rehab Scheme. He did his utmost to talk me out of it, he said, “No you are a bloody fool”, he said. You have got to go to Australia and you will be living on an oily rag, they pay you nothing. If you do qualify it means when you come back you are committed to Government for about four years and they will tell you where to go and you go. You are at the beck and call of every farmer in that district, you will never be out of gum boots. You will be getting farmers ringing you up at 4 o’clock in the morning because the have got a sick rooster or a sick cat and what have you. I convinced him I was really keen on this and I had to go back and see him again. He said, “I will put a recommendation in, but he said I tell you if you can stick it when you finish qualify in racehorses. You come from a racing family”, he knew my Dad and my Uncles and he was a great racing man himself. He said qualify in race horses or in one thing and stick to that and you will be right, he but he said, “I can tell you, you will be at the beck and call of these farmers because they are paying for you to be subsidised. He said, “I don’t know how you are going to live”. He said, “Are you married?” I said, “Yes”. I said, “My wife is a registered nurse, a nursing sister”. He said, “Oh well you are lucky there, she will have no problem getting a job in Australia as a nursing sister.” I am about to get all the forms and what have you to fill them in at the rehab and what have you and then my wife is pregnant and then that of course put a stop to that.
For the first 12 months after I left the Navy I bought a knitting machine and I was making cardigans and jumpers, made to measure and I was doing it at home. I had at least three shops, one in Devonport they were Men’s Outfitters, they were taking orders for me, made to measure, a shop in Takapuna and a shop in Milford Men’s Outfitters and so the business was starting to progress. I did a lot work with the Navy fellows, every second bloke had a Telford made cardigan, they picked their own colours. Then I said, “I will have to expand, I will have to get another machine”. Well that’s when the problems came in. I put in to the Labour Department, and they said, “You can’t have it at home you will have to get a factory”. I said, “I have a big shed at home” and I had that walled off to an area about this size where I had the machine, it would take two machines, perfect, that part was okay. They said, “You will have to have a separate toilet and a separate changing room”. I said, “Well what is wrong with using the one inside like I do”. “No”, they said, “If you employ anyone you have to come under the Factory Act and that is what is required”. I gave that away, of course I couldn’t make enough. I had to think about something else to do.
That is when I thought I wonder if I can make it into Customs. I put in for Customs, I heard there were vacancies coming up. In the meantime I went and worked for Wright Stevensons over at the Wool Store and I got to know a fellow over there, Jack Lord. He said, “Ever thought of becoming a Wool Classer?” I said, “No it never entered my head. He said, “They get extra good pay”. I said, “I will give that a bit of thought. As a matter of fact I am trying to get into Customs”.
While I waited he put me in charge of a gang over there and I had about six working for me and some of them were no good. It was all casual labour mostly, but I managed to get six fellows around me and we worked well as a team.
Then I had to go down and have my interview at Customs and so I was accepted and joined Customs and I had 28 years in Customs.
My memory of you is in the sixties. That was a period when you couldn’t buy golf balls and outboard motors and there were all sorts of things you couldn’t buy. You couldn’t get any decent electronics. Of course when we were overseas we used to spend up big on these things.
I can tell you some stories about that. I did a lot of the Navy work, apart from coming out when the ships returned, I was the Navy delegate for the wine and spirit books, cigarettes and tobacco and rum over in the Naval Stores.
I remember about these golf balls. On one occasion and it was on one of the frigates and I can’t remember which one. This young kid an ordinary seaman came back and he had about four dozen golf balls declared. As you were saying you couldn’t get golf balls. Under the Act everyone is allowed a reasonable amount of sporting equipment for their own use and the golf balls I think you were allowed six or a dozen duty free, but this kid had four dozen. I said, “It is obvious they are all not for himself”. So I said to him, “These golf balls, are they all for your self?” He said, “Yes”. I said, “You must be a pretty keen golfer” and he said, “Oh yes” and he looked a bit embarrassed. I said, “What’s your handicap?” He said, “I beg your pardon?” I said, “Well what’s your handicap?” He said, “I haven’t got one now, but I had one as a kid”. I said, “Oh yes what was that?” and he said, “Oh I used to stammer”. I charged him the duty on them.
There was another fellow there and he came in and he had this set of golf clubs that were supposed to have been used. Well he could hardly use them on a ship and you accept that if they buy them they can’t use them on a ship, maybe a bit of putting in the mess. We were in the mess and I said, “Where are they?” “They are over there” and I look at these and I thought, these are left handed golf clubs. I said, “Are you a bit keen on golf”, “How do you hold your putters?” He grabbed it and he was right handed. I said, “What about your drivers, your number fours”. He said, “I grip them like this” and he gripped them like gripping an axe and it was obvious he had never played golf in his life. I said, “That’s funny you must have a bit of a problem when you are playing with those clubs?” He said, “Why?” I said, “Well they are left handed clubs, who have you bought them for?” “Oh I bought them for my Aunty”, and his Aunty happened to be left-handed and they were women’s clubs too. You charged them duty on it.
The outboard motors I remember ROYALIST went up to the States and up to Canada, Vancouver. A funny thing Canadian outboard motors were duty free and American outboard motors if I remember correctly they were 20%. There were Evinrudes and Johnsons. Evinrudes are Canadian made and also Johnson I think were Canadian made. Other fellows had made enquiries before they went away to bring back outboard motors. Of course they always make enquiries the day before they sail.
What we did we got a signal sent away to them before they came back that an Import Licence is required for outboard motors. Instead of waiting for individuals to send the forms it was accepted that if they applied, like the application was in it would be granted automatically when they arrived here. Well a lot of them took advantage of this and they were pleasantly surprised when they were duty free.
There was one particular person there a chippy and he bought back and he had this beautiful big radiogram cabinet that he had made, it was a beautiful job, he must have put some hours work in it. The only unfortunate part of it was when you switched it on it took off at about 40 knots, inside he had this whacking great 40 horse power outboard motor. Well we confiscated this to start with and then he got it back. To make matters worse it was an American one and he had to pay duty. The fact that it was 40 horsepower instead of being 20% it went up 33 and a third percent or something. He picked the worse one of the lot to bring back, he should have picked one at 20%. I am pretty sure it was an American one he brought back.
They were funny days weren’t they with those sort of restrictions?
Oh they were a nuisance too at times.
Another time it was a TV set, they were a problem. It is hard to realise how stupid people can get. On one mess deck and sitting at the end of this mess deck table like alongside the bulkhead there was a whacking great cardboard carton underneath and it had TV written on it. A lot of them had TV and they were all declared and they had the duty and sales tax on them. I looked down and on it, it had Leading Seaman Anderson, but that is not his name. We go through this and I thought there must be something amiss here. We used to get all the forms together and we give one form as you know back to the person and we keep the other one and they were filed and for some unknown reason they were taken up by the quartermaster, on the quarter deck. I go along later and no one came up for one by the name of Anderson. I said to the quartermaster, “Will you find Leading Seaman Anderson”. He said, “Oh that’s me”. I said, “I have got a wee query, I haven’t got your declaration”. He said, “Oh I haven’t done Customs yet”. “I said, “Oh well can you get a relief and I will finish it up.” He said, “What’s the problem?” I grabbed his declaration and I said, “Are you Leading Seaman Anderson?” and he said, “Yes”. I said, “There is a matter of a TV on that mess deck table, are there two Anderson’s board”. “Oh” he says, “I thought I would get away with it”. I said, “You bloody fool you might have if you hadn’t put your name on it in big letters, Leading Seaman J.T. Anderson”. He was slugged duty and sales tax, no concessions on that lot, which was a pity.
I tell you what used to annoy me with the Navy though is not the Navy itself, but the naval personnel, some of their neighbours or so called friends at times. You would be amazed at the number of people through their jealousy would ring up and put them through to me. They would say, “I have got a complaint?” and I would say, “Oh yes”. They would say, “You know the WAIKATO,” I use the WAIKATO as an example, “The WAIKATO came back yesterday from overseas. My neighbour brought back all sorts of stuff, they’ve got radios, toys and so and so and they haven’t paid any duty”. I said, “Oh is that right, what’s the name of the person”. They would give the name and I would say, “Just a moment” and I grabbed the file and I said, “For your information every item you have mentioned has all been declared.” “Well they didn’t pay any duty”. I said, “In some cases things are duty free and at that time you were allowed a transistor radio, a camera, a pair of binoculars, a bottle of grog, cigarettes and then on top of that they might pay 20 pounds duty or a hundred pounds duty. I would say, “For your information the same person you are just talking about has also paid duty, and I would say, that is between me and the person concerned, it is no concern of yours”. Talk about the Official Secrets Act. I am just letting you know they have paid duty on it and all that other stuff they would be entitled to. It was amazing that people were like that.
Did you stay doing the Navy work the whole time?
Oh no not all the time. I suppose I did it for about six or seven years, I was in charge of it.
Another thing we used to get people from the clerical section come out, because in the Waterfront Division there wasn’t enough of us to handle the ship and so we would take them out. At times there were a couple of complaints went through the Collector about me. The Collector said to me, “I have had a couple of complaints about the way you are dealing with the Navy”. I said, “In what way?’ He said, “Well you have been a bit lenient”. I said, “Rubbish what do you mean lenient, where have you got all this nonsense from?” He said, “We have had a couple of complaints from a couple of our own fellows”. I found out who they were by the sly remarks they used to make at times. I said, “Look you can go down and check any of the forms that I have done, they are all down there, check all of those and get an independent assessor to go through them.
My memory of you is as long as you declared everything and were honest you got an honest deal.
Another thing we all know that people declare less than what they paid for it, but we accept that. We also cut off another third of the value. $12 we would declare it at $8, when you had 12 dollars call it eight and then add it up and then take off the allowance of $25 or pounds. No it was amazing. They said, “Oh you know everyone over there”. I said, “For God’s sake I was in the Navy for 14 and a half years, I said, some of these people I joined with, that didn’t make any difference. I have got to know them because I am over there about once a week I am over at the Naval Base. One week I go and do all the ML’s and the next week I will do the Frigates and the next week I might do the BELLONA or the BLACK PRINCE or whatever the ship is. Then at the same token go through the Dockyard for the tobacco and rum and also stuff sent back from overseas would finish up in the Naval Stores.
Another thing he said the Admiral came up and made a great fuss of me and that was Neil Anderson, because Neil was in the rugby team with me and then he went to Christchurch. He came out, he was a Rear Admiral down in Wellington at the time. He used to go up and meet the ships. He came out and as soon as he came aboard we were in the recreation space or the dining area and I used to sit at the back and the other Customs Officer is in front of you at the table and I would sit at the back table. He came up and he said, “Hello Eddie” and we would spin a yarn and they thought oh what is going on here. I said we played rugby together, I have known him for a long time. When I was a Chief Yeoman he was a Lieutenant at the time when we were in the Navy together at Christchurch.
You had 28 years in Customs. You have done a lot of work with the Achilles Association?
Yes the River Plate Association.
I am now tied up with Civil Defence for 15 years. I got away from the communications side, I arrange billets for the evacuees.
You have had a long and valued career?
Yes and I am still doing voluntary work for the Hospice, I work there two days a week looking after the gardens at the North Shore Hospice.
Okay thank you very much indeed.
(End of Interview)