It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Venus. 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.
Arthur Venus was born in London in 1928 and joined the Royal Navy in February 1946. He completed his general training at HMS Glendower, after which he entered HMS Scotia for signal training. Venus was drafted to HMS Actaeon which was destined for South Africa. Upon the return of the ship to England, he was demobilised and consequently applied for a position in the RNZN, which he consequently joined in 1949, sailing to New Zealand in May, onboard HMNZS Tutira. Whilst onboard Tutira, on an island cruise, the ship was called home, then immediately deployed to Korea with HMNZS Pukaki. While on patrol duty, one of the crew was injured when a mine exploded in Wonsan Harbour. Upon his return to New Zealand, Venus was sent to HMAS Flinders on a communication course, after which he was drafted to HMNZS Bellona. The Bellona sailed for the United Kingdom where it took part in a NATO exercise called MAINBRACE. A subsequent drafting saw Venus onboard the HMNZS Black Prince when it accidentally shelled Currarong in Australia. Venus transferred to Wellington to work in the signals’ office, after which he was drafted to HMNZS Pukaki which was due to sail for Christmas Island, and the nuclear weapon tests there. His next draft was HMNZS Tamaki as coxswain of a training division, followed by a draft to HMNZS Royalist and the Far East. Further courses in the United Kingdom and promotions followed after which he became part of the HMNZS Waikato commissioning party in Ireland. Venus then became the classified materiel custodian and an instructor at the signal school at HMNZS Philomel, his final naval posting. Venus retired in February 1977.
This is an interview taking place on the 2nd June 2004 with Mr Arthur Charles Venus at his residence 11A David Street, Belmont, Auckland. The interviewer is Kelly Ana Morey, Oral History Project Officer, Navy Museum.
Hi Arthur nice to meet you.
What we always start off with is a bit about your early life: where and when you were born, siblings, what your parents did etc.
I was born on the 16th September 1928 in Guys Hospital, London. We lived in a little street just off the Old Kent Road in South London. My parents: my mother didn’t work at that stage; my father was a printing press engineer in a company that almost solely made printing presses for the whole world. A company called Hoe. That was up to around about the beginning of the war. During the war most of the factory was converted to production of war material – mainly making pom-poms and Bofors A.A. guns.
School I started at the age of three because my only, elder, sister began school at the age of four and a half, and where she went I had to go too, because she wasn’t allowed to do anything by herself. So in effect I was a year and a half to two years early for school years. So my schooling began almost two years before most others. Then I went to secondary school, which was a grammar school, for which I got a scholarship in 1938. The school was St. Olave’s and St. Saviour’s Grammar School, which was just at the side of Tower Bridge. In 1939 when the war started they evacuated the school first of all to a place in Sussex and then they relocated to Torquay in Devon. After four months or so, when there was no particularly activity in terms of bombing and things like that, a lot of the people drifted back from the evacuation places. I was one and I just arrived back in London in time for the blitz. Our house in 1941 was demolished by a land mine. We were in the air raid shelter in the backyard and suffered no personal damage. We then relocated to south east London in a place called Lewisham. The school I went to was the Emergency Secondary School, which catered for secondary school pupils who had returned to London from the evacuation and because there were so many we only had school in the mornings or in the afternoons. Mine was in the mornings and so I had the afternoon off.
When I was about 12 I started my naval career by joining the Sea Cadets. The Sea Cadet units had a scheme at that time called the “Bounty Scheme”, which was a scheme whereby you were trained in Morse and semaphore at a speed, which was compatible with finishing your entry course in the navy at a standard speed. It was called the Bounty Scheme because the Sea Cadets were paid a bounty by the Admiralty for training the people. On enlisting in the Royal Navy we went to the barracks at Portsmouth, HMS Victory to be kitted out. Then we went to HMS Foudroyant and alongside that was Implacable, which was moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Here were two old wooden ships with a naval history dating back to Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. The Implacable was used for messing and the Foudroyant we used for classroom training. We were there for a couple of months for signal training to bring us up to scratch.
How old were you then?
Just on 17. I was still a signal boy.
I was going to join the navy earlier, but I played football, soccer that is, and was selected to play for the Sea Cadet area command and so they persuaded me not to enlist until later. In fact when I went into the service and after doing my initial bit there – I had a temporary bit in Portsmouth Barracks where they had a boys under 21 team, but that was only very brief.
Then I went to the general service training base in Wales which was HMS Glendower. Then after Glendower we went to the new entry signal school in Scotland, which was called Scotia to complete a signalmen’s course. After that I went back to Mercury the main Royal Navy signal school in the south of England, about 30 miles outside Portsmouth. I was only there a short spell and then I went to a ship called the Actaeon, which as a modified Black Swan sloop, which for a smallish vessel was very heavily armed: it had twin four inch guns in three turrets. It was in fact a major warship.
We were destined to go to South Africa. We did the normal work up in Portland and then we went to the Mediterranean to do further familiarisation and fleet training, because the Mediterranean was recognised as the fleet training place then. We did a very brief stint on the “Haifa Patrol”, which was for only a matter of days relieving a ship that had broken down. That was to stop illegal Jewish immigrants going into Palestine in 1946.
Then we went from there to South Africa. On the way down we called in at all the usual ports: Freetown – then one day out of Freetown we had a sudden call to go to Takoradi, where there was a riot, but by the time we got there the riot was all over. We landed a platoon and I was the signalman. I was issued with a pistol, but no ammunition. Everyone else in the platoon like the sailors had axe handles with steel tips on the top, entrenching tool handles they were called.
From there we went down to Simon’s Town [HMS Afrikander] which was the naval base just outside Cape Town but called in at various places on the way down. The main two I remember: Ascension Island, which is in the middle of the Atlantic and St. Helena where Bonaparte was and so we went ashore there. I think they spoke French on the island, but I couldn’t understand them anyway. The currency was almost non-existent, the currency was soap. We didn’t know that of course when we first went ashore with the official party, that when the ships company went ashore later they took bars of soap which they bartered with for fruit and souvenirs.
Was that for the whole Mediterranean area in general?
No it was just for St. Helena. It was very isolated and nothing called there, there were no aircraft or anything. I think it was more isolated because it wasn’t on the normal shipping route.
Why did you join the Navy?
I had two cousins who joined the services. One was a territorial man who was called into the army in 1939. He was a regimental sergeant major in the Royal Artillery at Singapore when it was captured and he disappeared for three or four years before we saw him again. His brother was a leading signalman and his brother used to tell me how good it was being a signalman. I thought that that was pretty good. When I joined the Sea Cadets I heard all about the Bounty Scheme and if you go there the unit gets money and they were all very keen for everyone to be signalmen, because that was the only “Bounty Scheme” that there was, because they were desperately short of them [signalmen]. To have people that were trained to a reasonable degree – the normal training time for a signalman was around about eight to nine months in those days. Our training was cut down to something like four months to being at sea.
With the war being on, did that influence you?
I think it did. You had it in the back of your head if you joined the navy you would avoid all the bombs.
The ship that I first went on was a new ship and I thought it was fairly luxurious, but in fact it wasn’t. It was the normal routine of mess decks and 14 people sitting around the table and sleeping in hammocks above it. The ship was actually very spacious in terms of upper deck, but the spacing the messing occupied was just the same as all the others you go to.
In South Africa we arrived in Simon’s Town and we were one of the station ships in Simon’s Town. At that time there was the cruiser Nigeria and there was another ship called the Nereide, which was the same class as us. The Nereide was rundown completely because the war had finished and they were cutting back on the navy and they were also demobilising people. They almost had no crew on the Nereide. Nigeria was a cruiser in name only and it never went to sea.
It was quite a lot of sea time because the South Atlantic Station went from Freetown on the west coast right round the bottom up to Beira on the other side. So it was a huge space to patrol. Then again there were no families to worry about and you knew you were away for however long and families never accompanied sailors and so you didn’t care whether you were ashore or afloat or at sea. I quite enjoyed it. We almost went to every major town on the east and west coast. One of the highlights, I thought, was we went up the Congo and that is quite a feat to go up the Congo because there is such a tidal race. You have to have a certain amount of power before you can go up and it is only certain ships that could go up there. But fortunately we were one of those. We went up to a couple of places and I think they have changed their names now: Boma and Matadi. One of the great things that happened was when we were lying alongside in Matadi we got a sudden influx of monkeys that were running up and down the halliards and along the mast and they became very tame, because obviously the only food they could get was what they could scrounge. When we left there we cleared off as many as we could and when we got to sea there were still some hanging around, but they kept disappearing each day. I think people caught them and threw them [the monkeys] over the side. Nevertheless by the time we arrived back in Cape Town we had no more. They were a bit of a pain because we used to do exercises like hoisting flags and things like that and as you would be hoisting flags the monkeys would be up chasing them up.
Another major event down there was the 1947 Royal Tour when the King and Queen came down on the Vanguard. Being a young fellow I used to get all the jobs that nobody else wanted. We were never very big on the ceremonial in the Communications Branch. I got detailed off to be the signalman for the “Beating the Retreat” everywhere we went. We followed the Vanguard all around the coast: Port Elizabeth, East London and Durban. Everywhere of course they would do the “Beating the Retreat” and the ships were dressed overall.
This was 1947 when Princess Elizabeth had her 21st birthday. I remember because we got invited to a party where they gave us tea and sandwiches after the “Beating the Retreat.” Prince Philip was a young officer on the Vanguard.
Then at the end `47 or the beginning of `48 I had a signal to go back home. While we were down there and while they were demobilising all these people, they took all the signalmen off the ship leaving me as the only signalman onboard. Normally we kept watches at sea; in fact watch-keeping was our only duty at sea. However being the only signalman onboard I obviously couldn’t stay on watch all the time, so I used to sleep in the captain’s sea cabin and anytime anything happened I used to be shaken and I would go up to the bridge and do my bit and then go back down to the sea cabin again. So I used to have quite a lot of restful nights. The sea cabin was large enough for sleeping. The sea cabins are only three foot by six foot with one bunk and so it was no big deal really. I think I had more space in my hammock.
Once again football and everywhere we went we played football. We had a station football team which went on tour and so I had a very pleasant time in South Africa.
Then I went back to the UK. I was discharged in February. Everyone was being demobilised and they offered me a job on a contract, where they were going to have me in the signal tower in Portsmouth Harbour, because they considered that was one of the jobs that anybody could do. I was going to start that in November 1948, but I saw advertisements in newspapers and they wanted volunteers for the Canadian Navy, the Australian Navy and the New Zealand Navy. The New Zealand Navy said it was urgent because they had ships waiting to take passage to New Zealand. The Australians just wanted people and so did the Canadians. So I volunteered for all three. The first interview I had was with the New Zealand people and within two days I had an acceptance from the New Zealand people. In January `49 I joined the New Zealand Navy.
Why did you want to come to New Zealand?
I wasn’t going to stay in Portsmouth during the winter.
Having done a couple of years in South Africa where it was a very pleasant climate and then suddenly having to go to England in the middle of winter. It wasn’t very hard to choose. I was free, single and young. It was three years after the war and England was still rationed quite severely. When we used to go on leave they would give us ration tickets. I was quite surprised when I arrived back in England to find rationing still going on. I just wanted to get out of the place and Australia and New Zealand sounded pretty good.
The New Zealand Navy was the first to come up with the job.
Were they all offering the same sort of conditions?
No. Another thing they advertised were rates of pay. My pay in the Royal Navy as a signalman was six shillings a day. My pay in the Royal New Zealand Navy from the day I joined was 19 shillings and sixpence, which was quite a substantial difference.
We had good food here?
I wasn’t so worried about that, it was mainly the climate, the sea and still signals, so no worries.
A new country with lots of opportunities?
Oh sure. In retrospect I am glad I went to the New Zealand Navy, because I didn’t think much of the Australian Navy from what I have seen. The Canadian Navy, talking of winters, not a place to be in.
Then we did a few bits of training just to familiarise ourselves with the New Zealand way of organisation with the Naval Board and the way it was organised in Wellington with Defence, Auckland and Philomel and so on. That took a couple of weeks.
Then we went to the signal school for a refresher and most of us didn’t need refreshing because we had recently come from the Royal Navy and everything was exactly the same. The only difference was in the period from the time I had left to the time I arrived in the New Zealand Navy, all the flags had changed. So where we had the old Naval Code of Signals, we now had the NATO Code and we were in those days all part of the NATO organisation, be it by default. All the books and everything we used were all NATO books. So we had to retrain with those things, but that was no big deal.
From there we went to Chatham, about two months after we had joined the New Zealand Navy, and there was a rusty old hulk of a Loch-class frigate, a reserve ship and that was the Loch Morlick which became the Tutira. So we cleaned all that up and got it all ship shape. We went to Portsmouth and then we went to Portland and then we came back to Portsmouth and fitted out and then sailed.
How many ships company did you bring down to New Zealand?
Were they all coming to stay?
There was about 20 New Zealanders that had taken some ships back: the Arbutus and the Arabis. They had done courses in England and so they were coming home. There was no excess number on there. The ships company was generally 150 to about 160 and that is what we had. We came via the Mediterranean, where we stayed for quite some time doing bits and pieces.
Were there many ships coming down at that time?
No. It was strange actually the Rotoiti was in UK at the same time. We never really met up on the way to New Zealand. I would have thought it was an ideal opportunity for two ships to come in company together, because it was an ideal exercise opportunity on the way down. We were both in Malta and yet we were never in Malta together, we were at Silema Creek. We sailed from Malta and we went to a Greek island called Kithera, while the Rotoiti went to Crete. In fact they had someone killed in Crete, because one of the lines severed and it wrapped around somebody. Whether it was a local person or somebody on the ship I don’t know. The island Kithera we went to, which we didn’t know much about and we didn’t even know why we were going there, because it was just one of the Greek Islands in the middle of the ocean and nothing close to it. It turned out that our captain was the captain of the ship that liberated the island during the war. They had named main street after him and he was feted as the local hero. No one knew about it until we actually got there and he told us the story afterwards.
Then we went through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, through the Barrier Reef.
Didn’t some of them come down via the States?
Now they do. We never ever used to go through the Panama Canal because there was a shortage of dollars therefore the hard currency had quite an effect on things. So we always came through Suez. When the Suez Crisis was on was when the Royalist was due to go through Suez, it turned and came back around South Africa. It was always Suez and I went through there and back on the Bellona.
How long did it take to get from Portsmouth to Auckland?
It must have been about June we left. We arrived in August, so that would be two to three months. But we spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean doing bits and pieces all around because it was a great training ground. All the Mediterranean fleet were there and so we used to do exercises, harbour exercises and so that was quite good. The trips were generally boring because you were all by yourself and trips by yourself you have to keep watches for 24 hours. I always preferred to be in company with other ships because there was always something to do. Generally speaking it was always boring when at sea by yourself.
Most people carry out practical exercises and we used to do practical exercises like your own flashing light, just to keep your skills up to date. But apart from that we couldn’t do much else. Whereas sailors they could do all sorts of things: lower boats, hoist boats and throw people over the side and pick them up again. To us [in signals] it was just boring.
We finally arrived in Auckland and I am sure it was August `49. From there we had some leave.
Where were you going to stay in Auckland?
On the ship.
You were going to live on the ship?
Yes. In fact when we arrived we had nowhere really to go on leave. But they insisted we had some leave and they organised a whole lot of places all around the country, mainly farms for some reason. I went with about half a dozen or ten others to Taranaki to a little place called Inglewood. We carried on spending our leave in Inglewood for a few years and we had a marvellous time. Towards the end we didn’t stay on the farm any more we went to the local hotel. It just saved us getting from the farm to the pub.
I suppose you caught a train down?
Yes we did catch a train, a night time train.
The leave in Inglewood was quite good. We had quite a relationship with the people in Inglewood by the time we finished. In fact when we went to Korea they used to send us all these parcels of goodies. The marching girls adopted us and when we came back we had to go and visit the marching girls. It was absolutely superb. The other people on their way around the coast met different people.
They had every Loch Class frigate named after a New Zealand lake. So at one stage and I think it was in 1949 they sent all the Loch Class frigates all around the country to visit their lakes. So we went to Napier because Tutira is a lake just outside Napier. The Pukaki went to the South Island and Rotoiti finished up in Tauranga because it was close to Lake Rotoiti. The people in those places had an affinity with the ship.
The same more recently with a ship like the Waikato, where the people of the Waikato adopted the ship and some lady down there knitted all those hats, the beanies for the boys.
I remember when we arrived from the UK on the Waikato we went to Tauranga, but we had a charter parade through Hamilton. A bit of rough stuff we went through.
Lots of washing and ironing?
Not in the Waikato, we had a very good laundry.
The previous ships, there were no such thing as laundries unless you went to the Far East and they had a couple of Chinese people onboard doing the laundry.
The time on the Tutira was well spent in terms of going to sea because we weren’t in harbour very much at all. We arrived here and we had our leave. We went to Campbell and Macquarie Islands, which are way down south, to service the weather stations. They had some sort of a station on there whether it was automatic or had people on the island; they were either re-supplied or checked the equipment. Macquarie I think was something to do with Australia, they were to the south. Then on the way back we called in at the Auckland Islands to see that everything was under control there. Then we came back and went to Bluff and ate oysters until I was sick of oysters. In Dunedin we had a good welcome and they were very hospitable people. Then we went up the coast to Lyttelton. So we did a big cruise up the coast. The first time we went to Napier was on the way back there. Then later on we went to Napier to do the lake bit.
What was the idea? Just to show the flag?
I don’t know. I think the trip south to Macquarie and Campbell. I think they were specifically to do the weather station. Then of course on the way back we called in to all the ports. I think it was just to show the flag. Mainly in peace time, navy, apart from training exercises, every time they go to a port, it is to show the flag.
After that we went to Fitzroy on the Barrier, with the Bellona and other frigates and we had a bit of a work up in Fitzroy.
Then we went to Australia to the Melbourne Cup. Unfortunately through the Bass Strait, it was pretty rough the first time I ever went through there. It was the first time I had ever known a formation of naval ships being allowed to break formation. In terms of a storm it was quite bad. There was only one other instance that I had in terms of comparison of a storm. Basically the weather was very kind during my whole time in the navy. The other time was off the coast of South Africa when we were off Port Elizabeth going to East London. We were only a couple of miles off the coast and this huge storm blew up and we were steaming into the storm. We went to full power into the storm, but by the sights we were actually moving backwards. It got quite complicated. It was the first time in my time I had seen chiefs, we had a coxswain and we had a chief GI, and it was the first time I had seen the coxswain and the Chief GI at work on the wheel because they were more experienced with the feel of the ship when it was moving astern. That was a bit frightening. As I say the Bass Strait was the first time I had seen a naval formation being allowed to assume a loose formation. I had been through there a couple of other times and it was no bother. I went through there on the Black Prince before we shelled Australia.
Did you hear about us shelling Australia?
Yes. [On 4th March 1955 Black Prince on bombardment exercises off Jervis Bay, mislaid (a ranging error) a salvo of 5.25 inch shells into the outskirts of the small settlement of Currarong 15 miles SE of Nowra, a few miles north of Jervis Bay – refer page 17 interview and also DLA 0066, 0103, 0157].
We came back from Australia after the Melbourne Cup, the normal routine and exercises and all the rest. Then we had leave at Christmas and came back after Christmas leave.
In those days we used to do what they called “Island Cruises”, which were simply showing the flag around the Pacific islands. However, we were selected to go to the far north of the islands, to what were then called the Gilbert and Ellice. The one I remember going to was Ocean Island, which was the British Phosphate Company place where they extracted all the phosphate, besides Nauru. We went to Ocean Island and there is nothing, it is just a village. Then we went to islands which hadn’t been visited since the war. I think the idea was we went there just to see if there were any Japanese. So we went to all sorts of little places that were virtually a speck in the ocean with a coral reef around them. We used to lie off the reef and the boat used to go in. Generally we didn’t use the whaler. We had a very flamboyant captain, Peter J. Hoare. We had changed from Frederick J. Rand and we had a temporary captain J.O’C. Ross, but he was only the first lieutenant, temporarily in command. Then Peter J. Hoare came along, who was an RN officer on loan and he was very flamboyant. We used to go ashore to the islands and everyone was all dressed in their whites. He was a representative of our king and so he always used to talk about our king, when he used to make his speeches. I think they had a Tongan policeman who was the interpreter.
So we visited all these little islands and there were quite a few we went to. Ultimately we worked our way across the top to the Gilbert and Ellice and then to the northern Cooks. We had been to Samoa and Tonga also. So we did quite an elaborate sort of island hopping.
Then suddenly and no one knew much about it, we knew a little bit about it, because we knew some sort of a signal had arrived, it was all very hush, hush. Suddenly we were in Suva. We knew we were coming back that way, because being on watch you watch where the compass was. We arrived back in Suva and refuelled and arrived in Auckland on a Friday and before we got to Auckland they got us all down below decks and very hush, hush and on the threat of death we were told we weren’t to say a word. We were off to the Korean War on Monday.
They actually gave us leave on Friday if you wanted leave. They got a heap of people from ashore to store the ship and ammunition the ship and we were away. If you were onboard it was prudent to get off the ship even if you weren’t going to stay ashore all night. So we did that.
Then we sailed on the Monday. Once again the PUKAKI also sailed, but we didn’t sail in company. We stopped off at Port Moresby, Singapore and Hong Kong and then finally to Sasebo. We started the performance up there. Pukaki arrived in Sasebo two days before we did and so they were the older hands.
We used to go across the straits from Sasebo escorting ships basically. At that time the whole of the Korean Peninsula had been over run by the North Koreans and there was just a box around the harbour at Pusan, about 21 square miles.
Were Koreans clearing out at that stage?
They were yes.
One of the things that struck me there was we had read all the news reports and things about what was happening about this box around Pusan. The first time we entered the harbour we got dressed up in Number 10’s for entering harbour, which quite surprised me. However it was the only time we ever did it. I suppose the first time it made an impression.
After that we used to cross every other day bringing ships in and taking ships out.
We left here in June and got there in July. We did that for quite some time and then suddenly we found ourselves going further up the coast from Pusan and we didn’t know what we were going really. We finished up at Inchon, where the Allied Forces had invaded, to recapture it from the North Koreans. Along with Pukaki we became the harbour entrance to control vessels. We went backwards and forwards on patrol on what was a couple of miles long patrol line.
(End of Tape 1)
(Beginning of Tape 2)
Then the Pukaki went and we stayed there. We carried on for a few more months.
One of the things I remember very vividly was being on watch. It was I think, the forenoon watch and I saw on the radar a huge flotilla of ships coming up from the south to come into Inchon and they actually entered the harbour approaches when we saw them first of all. Of course being very efficient we flashed a challenge and got no reply, unlike we were supposed to. We did it again and nothing happened. By this time we could see there was a large formation of warships. The captain said, “Ask who they are? Also tell them if they don’t stop we will open fire.” So we did this and we got the reply saying, “This is the “Mighty Mo” with her 21 destroyer escort and we suggest that you don’t open fire.”
With the North Koreans, what did they have in terms of naval?
Almost nothing it was just infiltration. Someone said that they had submarines off the Chinese and we used to keep a watch all the time. I don’t think we struck a contact the whole time we were there.
Manpower was the thing with the North Koreans. They had an unending source of manpower and the South Koreans also had a lot. The North Koreans certainly over ran them.
Then after the Inchon invasion the allies were pushing north. They were going to cut across the whole peninsula and any North Koreans that were left on the peninsula would have been captured.
After Inchon we went around the bottom of Korea again with a whole lot of landing craft that were manned mainly by Japanese. We were going to Wonsan and before we got there the North Koreans were floating mines down the river and there quite a lot of mines floating around outside Wonsan Harbour. So they decided they wouldn’t go in and so we had to go alongside all these ships changing orders and it took forever. I suppose it took half an hour by the time you steamed up to the ship and passed her the change of orders by heaving line and then you would do the next on. So we took just about all day to clear all these ships.
We arrived off Wonsan and I had the morning watch and there were a couple of mines floating around and they shot at one with rifle shots and they must have pierced the shell because it just sank and so that was no problem. Then they fired at another one, but that wouldn’t sink and so they got off the rifles and they got onto an Oerlikon. The Oerlikon hit it and it exploded. Unfortunately apart from the fellow that died, that was the only naval casualty of the war. The Coxswain was standing on the bridge, he shouldn’t have been there, but he was standing there looking and seeing what happened and a piece of shrapnel came down through the peak of his cap and badly scarred his face.
Another thing I remember is the leading signalman who was on the bridge at the same time gave him a gentle kick in the ribs, saying, “What are you doing down there?” Because no one really knew what had happened, until of course he turned around and they saw the blood streaming down his face. That was about the only drama of the war.
Did you ever get to go ashore?
Where were you getting your stores from?
Sasebo. When we were on our five to six week patrol across the Inchon Straits, they sent up an RFA that refuelled and restored. It was just as well because we were running out of food after five weeks.
From there we went to Wonsan and back to Sasebo.
The British Commonwealth ships did the west coast and the Americans were east coast. On our side we had Australians, Indians and us doing all sorts of bits and pieces up the coast. We finished up controlling a couple of minesweepers sweeping a minefield. Our ship was anchored with plotting arrangements: radar and everything, telling them where to go and so they were going up and down the lines. That was fairly interesting because they put a signalman on each ship, because they couldn’t speak our language and we couldn’t speak their language, but if they had to ease the course to port a number of degrees or to starboard a number of degrees, they told us and we told them with almost a sign language which way to go and so that was good. The thing though, they were pretty grotty minesweepers.
We found the first couple of days we went we took no victuals. No food. We had no tea, no coffee. We had dry fish and raw fish and it was shocking. The minesweepers were very dirty inside and so we didn’t eat all day while we were on there. So when we went in future, we used to take our own cut lunches. Because we used to be on at eight in the morning and come off at four in the afternoon. Water was also another problem. I didn’t like drinking their water.
There has been suggestion that it didn’t happen, but I know it happened because I watched the charts while we were on watch. The obvious intention was to be a landing at Haeju, which is to the very north of Korea. There is a bight where there is a border between China and North Korea and we were to be the harbour control vessel and so we were up there. It was bitterly cold, it was winter, there were gales and the sea was rough and it was an absolute shocking time, snow, sleet, ice, everything. In fact the Museum has a photo of the ship where they were cleaning ice off the deck. The only cold weather clothing we had was duffle coats and once they got wet they weighed about five ton. You used to come off watch after four hours shattered. So they sent some long sheepskin coats, beautiful, except once again they were very heavy. After standing four hours in a sheepskin coat, which goes down to your ankles almost, is not very good. Just around that time the Chinese came across the border to give the North Koreans some assistance and so we didn’t stay around at Haeju, we came back.
Did the ship ever get fired upon?
No. We had a couple of aircraft scares once, but nothing ever happened. It was quite strange really you were always expecting something, but nothing ever happened.
No. We used to go up and down the coast and we used to see the activity, but our gun was stuffed. When we were coming back from Korea and we were coming back through the Formosa Straits.
It was also at the very beginning of the separation between the Chinese Republic and Taiwan and if you came through the Formosa Straits you had to be prepared. I remember being on watch and the officer of the watch had a contact ahead. It was a darkened ship that could have been a warship. We just showed steaming lights, but otherwise we closed down. I remember the officer of the watch saying and he was almost talking to himself saying, “I don’t know about this, a darkened ship. What can we do?” He was sort of reminiscing to himself and all of a sudden he came out of it and leapt across the voice pipe and then went on from there: “Captain Sir, darkened ship ahead – maybe a Chinese warship – four inch gun won’t train”, by which time the captain was on the bridge. The gun was actually seized up on the mounting and it couldn’t move around. I think it was mainly because of the weather. I think the bitterly cold weather buckled it and so it just wouldn’t work. That gun of course is the one outside the naval base in Philomel.
So we came back then.
How long were you there?
We were in Korea from July 1950 to June 1951. On the Tutira from March 1949 until our return from Korea, about two and a half years.
After I came back I went on leave and was recalled from leave, because while we were away we had been missing advancement promotion courses. At that time we had three signalmen on the ship and so we were recalled and went across to Australia.
Before the ship left from Japan to return to New Zealand, I had a bit of a drama. We went to Kure to have a tidy up and re-store before we went to sea again. While we were in Kure I got appendicitis. The ship was due to sail in five days. They took me ashore to this military hospital and of course military hospitals are full of people who had been wounded in Korea. I was lying in bed and they actually operated. It must have been quite a severe attack of appendicitis. Also of course it was a real cut and slash. It was a British military hospital in Japan with Australian nurses. The person who cut me up was a Canadian. So it was a real United Nations thing. The Canadian obviously, had no time to mess around because of all these wounded people, so I just got a big slash rather than a small nick.
Was that in Japan?
Yes it was in Kure.
Was that when you came back from Korea?
Yes. We had come from Sasebo through the Inland Sea to Kure. Kure was the British Commonwealth base at the time in Japan, rather than Sasebo, which was mainly controlled by the Americans. So we came back to Kure for a quick refit, stores and a bit of R and R before we sailed. I spent it in the hospital. It was fairly embarrassing really because you are lying in bed there and you have all these generals and colonels coming around seeing all their men. They would walk along the line and inspect them lying in their bed with their arm in plaster, spread eagled with plaster all down their body. They would say: “How are you this morning? How did it happen?” “Oh I was in a trench…” “How about you?” “Oh you are in the navy.” I said, “Yes.” “What are you here for then?” I would say, “I had appendicitis.” So that was a bit embarrassing. Then after five days I went back on the ship. I was on light duty, which didn’t please all the other signalmen because they had to go down to three watches instead of four. In fact we were only three signalmen at the time. The leading hand didn’t used to keep watch but he did and so they were one in three as opposed to one in four.
Then we finally got back here and they sent us on leave. Then of course we were recalled and went to Australia to Flinders Naval Depot and did the promotion course there. I went to Flinders twice and each time I happened to be there at the same time of the year, where they always had a big performance for Trafalgar Day. They have an open day where they shift all the people from Flinders down to Melbourne and they do a big celebration. I think the first time we went, we were doing marching manoeuvres with flags where you march and hoist flags and when the flags come down you turn. So we did that for the first time and that was all right.
Then we went back to Sydney. Once again every time we went back to Sydney it coincided with an exercise. So we joined the Sydney Maritime Headquarters and worked in the communications centre there. Finally we got back to Auckland just after Christmas `52.
Again a shortage of people and so I went to the Bellona.
By this stage were you starting to build a base in Auckland?
No. I am still onboard and still unmarried.
In Bellona `52 I was 23 coming on 24. By that time I was a leading hand and it didn’t make much difference on the Bellona, because the watch-keepers were the leading hands and the other people in the staff were the day duty-men, flag hoisting, carrying out training and keeping the department clean.
We did first of all, a New Zealand cruise showing the flag, which wasn’t my idea of fun; because they were breaking away from the wartime navy to the peacetime navy routine and we had to wear blue suits all the time, not good. Especially going on watch for the forenoon, dressed in full blues and night clothing, for night watches. Whereas before we used to throw on an overcoat and not worry too much about the dress of the day. So we had all the drama of a cruiser going back to “old navy”.
We went all around the coast of New Zealand in Bellona. Then later on in the year we went to the UK for this Exercise MAINBRACE, which was a very large exercise with NATO ships. There were quite a large number of ships from what I recollect. Once again we arrived in Portsmouth after going through the Suez Canal, not through Panama, because in 1952 it was still the hard currency problem with American dollars. We went to Australia through Darwin, Singapore, Colombo, Chittagong, which was a disaster. They had a monsoon and a flood there just before we arrived and the roads generally were pretty much under water and so it wasn’t a pleasant place. We came around the coast and went to Calcutta, which was an eye opener for a lot of people. People talk about poverty in New Zealand, but they have never seen poverty until they have been to Calcutta and Bombay. So we went around there and came down from Calcutta, Colombo and Bombay. Then we went to Karachi, Pakistan and once again that was another place that was even more depressing than Calcutta and Bombay. From there we travelled south of France and they let us go ashore to the Casino in Monte Carlo, Nice and those places on the French Riviera you hear about, so that was quite good.
Then of course to Gibraltar and then Portsmouth. Then Exercise MAINBRACE where we finished up in bitterly cold weather again in the north of Norway. I would say that would be September. Then back to Portsmouth again and stayed there for a while refitting, storing ship and getting anything we could from the RN that might be useful.
Then we sailed from Portsmouth back through the routine again: Gibraltar, Malta, Suez, Aden.
Then we went down the west side of Australia and so we probably came down to Fremantle and then came across the Bight to Melbourne and missed Sydney and came straight home.
What was MAINBRACE about?
MAINBRACE was just a big naval exercise for all the navies that worked in the NATO organisation, so it was quite huge. It was all the European countries of course and America. It was also for all the Commonwealth countries that used the NATO publications and so it was quite large. I think when we met up with the first lot of people they were in two opposing forces. The first lot we met up with there would be 20, but I think the final phase of the thing we all met up together and there was something like 70 odd ships. It was quite huge. Then they dispersed and some of the ships went, of course, to the Continent, but we had to get to Portsmouth and come home. It was all quite pleasant. It was a visit for me because my parents were still alive and so I saw my family there. Then we came back and I went off Bellona in January 1952.
I went to Philomel and did courses.
Then I went to Flinders and Cerebus again for a Petty Officers’ Course in 1953. Once again it was that time of the year we went in August and came back in December `53 and picked up the Trafalgar Day celebrations. This time it was one of the highlights of a naval career for signalmen, sending semaphore to a naval band. We had the naval band playing “Blaze Away”, while we sent a prepared text about Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar in time with the band and in unison. There were two classes doing this semaphore. A class of yeoman “qualifying” and a class of PO tels “qualifying”. So there would have been quite a number of us doing this semaphore together.
We came back in December and we went on leave and then came back for the royal tour. The royal tour was in late 1953/early 1954.
Where were you then?
I was in Philomel on the base.
I was in the Communications’ office. I was leading hand of the watch for communications between Wellington and Tamaki and anywhere else.
I didn’t take part in all the ceremonial that went with the royal tour – we arrived back from Australia too late. (I didn’t like ceremonial very much anyway), so I was detailed as a leading hand of the security patrol for rehearsals and the actual event. The guard and people that were going to divisions rehearsed their drill and marching. I used to stand at the top of the hospital hill in my security base and that was my contribution to the royal tour.
Where were you living when you were watch-keeping in Philomel?
In the base until I got married in `54. That was the first time I ever had a place off the base.
When you were at Philomel, you were just in the barracks?
Yes. We didn’t have anything like a special routine because you had to pay for your food. You went into the dining hall and got your food with virtually no checks being made and slept in hammocks in the dormitories. You did your watches and if you wanted to go ashore off watch you went ashore and if you didn’t, you just stayed around the base.
I was married in February 1954. We met soon after the Bellona came back from England in January 1952 after I was drafted into Philomel.
Joan (Mrs Venus) was a wren wasn’t she?
Yes she was.
We married in `54 and I think two months after we married I sailed soon after on the Black Prince to the Far East.
Did Joan leave the navy when you got married?
No she was still in the navy in early `55. She was pregnant then with our son Garry and she was working as a leading cook at Elizabeth House.
We sailed for the Far East and did all the usual things. Once again it was great football playing time.
For the first time ever I went to the Philippines, Manila, on a very large exercise with the Americans.
Once again Colombo, it was just then the usual, Singapore, Hong Kong.
Was the Black Prince a nice ship?
Well the cruisers were generally very good because communicators on the cruisers, their job was watch-keeping. If you were watch-keeping you didn’t do much else except watch-keeping.
Who was the captain on the Black Prince?
The captain was a man called Whitfield. The captain on the Bellona was a man called Dolphin. I think he changed over to the Black Prince, but Whitfield came along afterwards. Whitfield was an old English gentleman, he was all right.
One instance on the Bellona when we were going into Singapore and the navigator made a slight blunder and instead of going up the normal shipping channel we went up another channel. I just happened to spot what appeared to be some water breaking over what looked like a sandbank, which of course is not supposed to be seen in shipping channels. I said, “Something doesn’t look quite right.” He came up to me, he said, “No it doesn’t does it?” We were in whites ready to go into Singapore. I was told to go up into the crows-nest in the foremast above the funnel, where all the soot comes out and if I saw breaking water I had to shout down the voice pipe, “breaking water ahead.” We were evidently in the wrong channel for entry to Singapore. Anyway we got through all that and finally reached Singapore with a ruined white suit, generously replaced by naval stores. So that was quite a performance.
In Black Prince there were no major dramas except the shelling of Australia.
I have only got anecdotal evidence from other people talking about it. If you were there can you tell us about that?
Just from what I remember, we were doing gunnery firings. They have got a firing range and it is in the south and it begins with “w”. All I can remember: we were doing these throw off firings where the target was the village, but the armament was “thrown off” on to the gunnery range. The “throw off” was applied in the T.S. When they fired there was a safety radio circuit from the range to the ship on the loudspeaker to the bridge and I remember hearing a loud voice saying, “Cease firing, cease firing, shells are falling in the main street.” This was a very small place and so we stopped firing. Then there were all the usual dramas of boards of enquiries and things like that. I think somewhere along the line the gunnery officer took the blame for this. Because he was the gunnery officer and so he became responsible for that and obviously someone hadn’t applied the correct amount of “throw off” or whatever. I distinctly remember this voice circuit saying: “Cease firing, cease, firing.”
That was the only thing apart from remembering we had a football game in Manila. There was a photo in the paper of Venus with a fellow called Jesus. I distinctly remember that.
All these things seem so routine, there was always something going on. Naval exercises where you exercise from other ships, jackstay transfers and all of those things. We used to have inter-ship competitions with signal books, to know your book and someone used to come up with a phrase to find in a book. You would have about 90 books to look through and so you know books by the time you’ve finished exercises like that.
By that time I had done the promotion course and I was ready to be promoted.
I finally came back from there and I went to Philomel again. I left the Black Prince in September `55 until January `56 and once again that was normal watch-keeping as leading hand of the watch.
You were on KIWI briefly?
Yes that was just for a period of an exercise. You back up their signal staff or their signal staff might not have had leading hand or something.
When I went to Wellington, one of the leading hands was due to be relieved in Wellington and one of the leading hands from PHILOMEL was due to go to Wellington. The wife was due to have a child, due to be born the day he was due to leave and so he didn’t leave. I went instead and I was only supposed to stay for not very long and I finished up staying there for a very long time.
I also got rated yeoman while I was in Wellington and we had a staff of 16 when I went there, but they introduced this magical new system while I was there, a thing nicknamed FRED, a forerunners of computers, which was an Automated Message Switching System AMSS. If you had a message and you were in Tamaki for instance, on Motuihe Island, if you had a message to go to Wellington, it came to Auckland first. Then they received it in Auckland and then they put it on another circuit and it goes down to Wellington. So it is a tape relay system. This automatic message system, you put a thing called a routeing indicator on the top of the signal when you transmitted it and it automatically went into this message machine and swirled around and the machine spat it out to the appropriate place. Unfortunately the machine used to swallow signals and instead of spitting them out. It either didn’t spit them out or it sent them to the wrong place. So you finished up manually checking every circuit you had, to see if all messages were sent and received. Of course checking became quite a problem and required extra staff, so from my staff of 16 watch-keepers going to be reduced with the advent of the AMSS, it actually increased to 32.
I started off in Wellington as the leading hand of the watch and doing a day shift and night shift whatever.
They promoted me to yeoman of signals relieving the yeoman that was there, who was drafted to the Pukaki. I took over the office and used to see the admiral with his signals every day. You developed quite a rapport with all the naval staff.
You used to get visiting dignitaries. There were no other naval personnel around and so it used to fall upon the communicators to do all the ceremonial bits. One we had was Lord Louis Mountbatten; I think he was the First Sea Lord at the time when I was in navy office. Of course all the troops got recalled from their leave and we had to tidy ourselves up. It was very relaxed in navy office at that time. We used to wear “civvies” most of the time. You had to wear uniform on Friday, I think just to show that you were actually in the navy. As I say, we had those things where we had to get dressed up. Very rarely were we dressed in No.1’s.
Did the navy supply housing?
No. Joan’s mother fortunately was here in Wellington and so we stayed with her mother. Apart from that, until she came down, I was at Fort Dorset and that was with the army. They have got a weird system of hierarchy at Fort Dorset. They call officers “Sir”, nobody else. If you go to an army sergeant’s mess the RSM is not just “Sir” he is “Sir God” and acted like that. We got on with them, but we didn’t like it very much.
On one occasion there was some scaffolding collapsed in Lambton Quay around a shop. We were not far from there so I had to send the troops away to assist the police and rescuers with mainly crowd control. I know I lost all but two of my staff from the office.
From Wellington I was drafted to the Pukaki. On leaving, when my relief arrived I took him around and introduced him to the admiral. I am not sure whether it was McBeath or Villiers. I remember him saying, “Where are you going?” I said, “I am going to Pukaki.” He said, “Oh, you are going to Christmas Island.” I didn’t know where it was going but I did know that it had been there twice before. But he said, “Don’t worry about it; you won’t be within 200 miles of the bomb.”
Did you know what was going on at Christmas Island?
I had no idea. You are very isolated in Wellington and also you don’t hear anything apart from signal traffic to the Naval Board. I knew there was H bomb testing but no details. When I got to Pukaki I started hearing stories about the bombs and things.
Were people worried about it then, just generally?
As I say, we were so naïve as the admiral said, and he also made a press statement saying the same thing: “The ships wouldn’t be within 200 miles.” We were told the bombs were clean. The monitoring teams on the ships up to that point had almost discovered no radiation, so the story goes, but I think they were looking for the wrong stuff. However we have found out since, it was the gamma rays they were looking for, but they didn’t take into account things called beta rays. As I say we were so naïve and this admiral says, and he also made a press statement saying the same thing: “The ships wouldn’t be within 200 miles.”
So I gladly went to Pukaki and we did our short work up and exercises before we went to Christmas Island.
Did you have any kind of special work up for that?
No. On the way up there we practised closing down the ship and going down to what they called “shelter stations”, which was rather stupid I felt, because if you go down below the water line you feel the water holds a lot of radio activity, which is probably the reason for a serious rate of illness amongst the engine room as opposed to the people on the upper decks. However as I say we were rather naïve. On the Loch class frigates you were always short of water. So along comes some rain, so we showered on the upper deck. Not always a good thing to do in a place that had had a nuclear explosion.
(End of Tape 2)
(Beginning of Tape 3)
On the way up there we did all the usual things and exercises for shelter stations, pre-wetting the ship and pre-wetting salt water around every where. Once salt water has drained away and the sun has dried it all out you wash down with fresh water so that the paintwork doesn’t deteriorate.
Then we arrived at Christmas Island and then did our bit at Christmas Island. That was the first nuclear bomb for me, I think about April.
How often were they letting off bombs?
On the first two trips there were four: three off Malden Island, one off Christmas Island in 1957. Then the first one that I went to was in April 1958. That quite surprised me because it was the one called “Grapple Yankee”, and that turned out to be a bit of a mistake and a “dirty” bomb. What really surprised me was the way it all happened. We were at special sea duty stations, but also there was nobody below decks except the damage control party and monitoring parties and the engine room staff. Everybody was sitting on the upper deck with their backs to where the blast was supposed to come from, this is on the port side of the ship facing outboard and the starboard side facing towards the detonation. My place of duty was on the bridge with my signalman, the captain, officer of the watch and the first lieutenant. There was a loud speaker system on the radio circuit that counted down to detonation, 5, 4,3,2,1. Then once the bomb has gone off they count 1,2,3,4, and when they got to 10 seconds we could turn around and look at the mushroom, which of course according to the admiral, was going to be at least 200 miles away, which of course is away down on the horizon. So I turned around and I looked up and there was this fireball. In fact the “official” distance given was 80 miles, but we reckon it was only about 25 miles away.
That is not 200 miles.
That was the “official” statement of the Chief of Naval Staff. When of course we turned around and I saw my first bomb. There was this huge fire ball and you could see all these flames. Then of course you gradually saw the mushroom cloud develop and then the mushroom got a bit dirty because it was sucking up water. It is not supposed to do that, because it was supposed to be much higher. I had doubts at that time about what was going on. The amazing thing was, there was a helicopter taking samples from the air and I thought, oh that is serious. Then later on we turned and went under the mushroom cloud and took water samples on our way back to Christmas Island. When we got back to Christmas Island, the first thing I remember the captain saying: “That must have been very close to here, all the vegetation is burned.” It was too. When we went ashore the following day and we were in the mess and of course people came up and they told us they took cover under their lorries up on the airfield and the lorries had got blown over. So it obviously was much closer and that is why we reckoned it was a mistake, because no way in the world was it that far away.
In Malden and Christmas Island had the locals just been moved off?
Yes they had moved them off. I think they were well compensated. Some of them must have gone somewhere because once again a lot of them had been affected when they returned, but it is probably residual stuff that was there that never got cleaned. There was nothing there. It was just an island. There it was, just another typical Pacific island. The British MOD built an airfield and they had messing accommodation with tents. I think the only building on the island would be a little hut they put up for the communications person by the port where the boats used to land. Apart from that it was very primitive. Of course once again we were very naïve, we used to go ashore the day after the bomb explosion and go into Christmas Island and anchor off the lagoon and there was a tidal rip through the fairway. When you are at anchor you couldn’t go for a swim because of the rip, so we got the motor boat and went ashore to the island for a swim in the lagoon. Of course it was all so stupid – if you stayed on the ship it was so easy to throw a fishing line over the side and catch fish and have the chef cook it. It was those things that we were so naive about but that’s the way it was.
The Nuclear Veterans’ Association combined with the British Nuclear Veterans and they have had searches of papers and bits and pieces and they have discovered all these things. The British Defence department intended to see the effects of nuclear weapons on personnel and equipment etc. So they got what they wanted, but it’s been a terrible drama looking through the lists and the number of people who have died. [Shows the complete list of Christmas Island bombs and distances.] They were fairly well spaced apart. These ones were almost every 10 to 12 days.
It was an RN initiative?
Were the Australians involved?
Not at all, they had enough of their own with Woomera.
As I say it was not what you did, you didn’t have a lot of choice. I suppose if you felt strongly enough about it you could have done something else. No one knew what was going on.
In terms of the damage to people, it wasn’t known for a long, long time that people were affected. People left the navy and they may have done eight or ten years and some stayed a lot longer and they never compared [notes] “I have had this or that” and so no one knew. It wasn’t until 1994 that they formed an Association of New Zealand Nuclear Veterans and people then joined the association and they were saying for example, “Old Charlie down the road, he is dead, and this one is dead.” So when we started compiling the data it got to be a bit of a disaster because we couldn’t get any assistance from anybody. Ruth McKenzie who is the wife of Padre McKenzie, she was a nurse and he died and she always maintained it was something to do with Christmas Island. She also had a son that was in a wheelchair. She also had a daughter who had a massive hole in her heart and things like that. In fact we had two boys, one born in `55 and one born in `57 before I went. I had a daughter born in 1960 and she only lived for five days, she only had a two chamber heart. Once again you don’t know whether it was a natural thing. Joan, my wife, of course is very adamant that it was caused by my service at the tests.
We went through all the drama: about 1996 the School of Nuclear Medicine in Wellington started getting some figures together about Christmas Island in particular. They asked us to fill in a form and state everything in terms of what illnesses and things we had since we left the service, because the service record just shows what you had while you were in service. So I wrote down all these things. Then they went to the Veterans’ Association because they didn’t have Veterans’ Affairs then. It was through WINS that they managed the war pensions. They finished up there and there were some amazing things that came about. I had a cataract done and of course that was one of the things I put down and it cost me $3,000. Then they sent me a letter to go to an eye specialist to have a look at this cataract. So I rang them and told them I had already been and had an implant and the doctor they were sending me to, was the doctor that carried out the operation. They said, “So it is not a disablement then?” I said, “No, it’s not, it’s been fixed”. So they said, “Oh you can’t claim for that,” and they crossed it out. I said, “What about the $3000?” And they said, “No you have got to get approvals and everything else and if you have already had it done, that is tough.” That was all right and then the next eye went and this time I thought, I will start from scratch. So I went to them and they told me I would have to go through the public health system and go and see this man first and he would tell me how serious it is. So I went and saw this man and he said, “Go and see your surgeon”. I wrote away about the cost of repair but it had to be done in the public health system and if the waiting period was too long then it would be done privately. Within three weeks I had my other eye fixed. So that was the situation.
I had a doctor who came to see me because I had all sorts of other things and he said, “What about this daughter dying?” So I told him all about that and he said, “no that is just one of those unfortunate things and I don’t think it is anything to do with nuclear [contamination].” The attitude in those days was if they could say it didn’t apply then it didn’t apply, which is different to what the attitude is now, because if it is possible that it might have been the cause then you get a disablement pension.
How many months out of your long navy career did you spend in the test zone?
It was very short, about four months. The only reason it sticks in my mind now is I keep a data base, but people don’t always tell me when people die.
When certain things crop up with certain people I can tell you the dates they died. [Shows data base] There are still a lot of people who we don’t know where they are. We assume that at least 50% of those of whom we have no trace have died. Every page shows at least 30% who we know have died and the others we don’t know.
What does that prove to us about nuclear bombs?
To my mind absolutely nothing, because the only thing it proved was it very dangerous testing airborne nuclear weapons and they took the bomb tests underground like the second one at Mururoa. They weren’t good and so they didn’t do any more. They were very secret.
Then according to your record sheet you went to Tamaki as an instructor?
Yes I went down there initially as a coxswain of a training division. They have the trainees divided into a couple of divisions and the coxswain is the disciplinarian. Also they had communication trainees and so I taught them the basics of semaphore and Morse, so by the time they left TAMAKI they were conversant with the Morse code and the semaphore alphabet.
My main aim down there was the disciplinary part of the division. While I was down there they lost, for some reason or other, the training chief and I was the acting training chief.
Was it down at the island?
Yes it was.
What was that like?
Rubbish. I lived in naval housing in Auckland and travelled down daily except when I had to keep a duty down there. When you were duty you had a cabin. It was an hour or so up and down on the boat and we used to play cards or read the paper. No stress you didn’t have to drive. It was quite reasonable except now and again it used to get a bit rough and you had a bit of discomfort leaving the island to come home. Because the island jetty was on the lee side of the island from the prevailing wind it was easy for the ML’s to berth at the jetty. If the wind was strong from the other direction we had to be rowed out by whalers, which wasn’t very pleasant. It was all right for the instructors they were rowed out by the trainees. I disliked my time on the island because I was employed out of my branch and I was very much a communications rating.
Everyone moans about the food at Tamaki.
Oh I was different. I was victualled in the PO’s mess.
While I was there we did a couple of major things like the guard for the Governor General when he opened the harbour bridge and things like that.
They also opened a bridge down at Huntly and we took a group down there to be the guard. Then we sent them all back while we stayed in Huntly and celebrated with the local population.
I enjoyed the time at Tamaki. The juniors arrived aged 15 to 16 and adult trainees over 18 as all young men of the time looked. After 14 weeks training the adult trainees left the island as very smart young lads and proud of themselves and it did make a world of difference. From that time on I was always very interested in the training environment of the navy. Generally the bad instructors are soon weeded out. The good ones stay and the others go back to doing their branch job.
I dealt mainly with communication boys for training and adult entries of other branches for administration and discipline. The seaman boys were in the other division and I didn’t have much to do with them.
Unfortunately my next draft was to the Royalist.
Where were you going?
To the Far East, then we did go around the Islands and we took the Governor General around the Islands and all his entourage.
The Royalist was particularly suited for it. The Royalist had a beautiful flag deck. It was also painted in green which looked like a lawn. It wasn’t smooth; it was the type of paint they used, non skid paint. So this was the pride and joy of especially, the captain, who like it for his exercise in the mornings. He used to walk around and around his lawn.
I was the yeoman of the flag deck, of the instructional yeoman at the time and was responsible for keeping the flag deck, clean etc. During the Vice Regal tour they used that as their main recreational space during the day and so we used to clean it up before six o’clock in the morning and six o’clock at night.
Quite often the Governor General’s entourage had his wife…
Yes he had his wife and his children.
I did two Vice Regal tours, one on Black Prince with Lord Cobham.
(End of Tape 3)
(Beginning of Tape 4)
We actually had a great time because the signalmen worked watch-keeping on the main bridge and that was their main function. They had nowhere else to go during the day except on the flag deck. So we couldn’t use the flag deck during the day because it was a Vice Regal thing and we had to get it cleaned up by six o’clock at night and we could use it after six in the evening unless they had some sort of a party. Generally we just used to loaf around the ship, we couldn’t do any work and it was accepted our work was before six o’clock and after six o’clock. We would swan around on the quarter deck while everyone else was working.
Then we did the Far East, Singapore and Hong Kong. We went to Japan also on that trip: Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokosuka and various other places. As always you get involved in exercises, which are always a pretty traumatic time for communicators because you have double up on watches and things like that. Always you need more hands than you have actually got. I also had a chief yeoman who was prone to sickness and at one stage he broke his leg and so I had to do his job for quite some time. All in all I quite enjoyed the Royalist it was quite a reasonable ship. There was nothing spectacular while I was on it.
What does CY stand for?
Originally we were yeoman of signals and then we became communication yeoman, exactly the same thing, just a change of title. Then they changed it to a chief radio supervisor (tactical). Then CVI was a chief visual signalling instructor and then it was a chief signal instructor.
Then off the Royalist and then back to Philomel as the captain’s chief yeoman. In charge of the MSO, the main signal office they called it at that time. I used to see the captain every day and give him his messages. There were no duties or anything attached to the job, because sometimes you did have to work unusual hours.
It would have been nice to go home every night?
Yes it was.
I went to the UK for an instructor’s course to Maori, New Zealand House in London in December 1962. Then I went to Mercury in January.
Where is Mercury?
HMS Mercury is the signal school outside Petersfield about 30 miles from Portsmouth at the top of the South Downs. In winter you get snowed in and I was there in winter. We had two weeks and we couldn’t do a thing because we were snowed in and no transport could come in and none could go out. The army got a bulldozer and tried to blast its way up the road, but it took out a farmer’s hedges and so that had to stop and so we just stayed there. We had special stores of food and it snowed on the weekend so most people were ashore and only limited staff onboard. I was there for the weekend and we had sufficient food for many months. The chiefs’ mess never ran out of booze and so we were quite happy. I did the course there and nothing particular happened during the course.
They had a minesweeping flotilla in Portsmouth that they used to use for officer of the watch manoeuvres and things and part of our job was to know about manoeuvring rules for ships. So we used to go out on these minesweepers with the junior officers from the school who were training as communication officers and do these officer of the watch manoeuvres with them, just to keep them up to date.
Then we finished the course and fortunately I passed. It was quite a comprehensive course. It was probably one of the most comprehensive I have ever seen.
After the course had finished they introduced into Mercury and it was the first time ever for any navy, a fleet work trainer, which was a series of cubicles, which represented a ship. It had a screen and each cubicle had a little blip on the screen and you used to drive your ship around, make your signals and all of that and it was quite interesting.
At that time I had just qualified as a chief instructor and they asked me if the New Zealand Navy would let me stay for a while and be the chief yeoman in charge of the tactical training. The navy said, “Yes”. I stayed there for about another two months, which was excellent because it gave you the forerunning of things like the Solatron at North Head. Generally speaking before that, training midshipmen on manoeuvring ships was done on ancient ARL tables where they used to have a young lad plotting where the ship was and where the other ships were and this changed to winding the handles and moving this thing around and so it was quite good. So it gave me the forerunner for all that. But this was quite a swept up thing where you stood and you used to wind your handles for the course and wind your handles for the speed and keep station here and there. They used to have the communication officers coming around doing refresher courses for officers’ and captains’. You were in charge all the time.
Then I came back from there and I went to the signal school in Philomel July `63 and that was a big disappointment.
Why was it a disappointment?
I have my service certificate which gives the efficiency rating for each year. In 1951, I got a rating of superior for each year from 1951 to 1962. In 1963 after qualifying as an instructor, and while at Mercury with a rating of superior, because I wasn’t in Philomel for the required amount of time I got a satisfactory. So with a superior from there (in 1951) [indicates looking at original papers] to there (in 1976) with the exception of one satisfactory got a set of papers which give you efficiency ratings. In 1951 I got a superior and I got a superior from `51 to 1962. In 1963 I qualified as an instructor and I did very well on the course and I came back. Because I wasn’t in Philomel for the required amount of time I got a satisfactory. So from there with superior starting up here [indicates looking at original papers] to there (in 1976) with the exception of one satisfactory in 1963 it looked as though something bad had happened. I complained bitterly about it because in fact I had improved my efficiency rating by qualifying for the instructor rating. All the complaints were to no avail and the satisfactory rating remains on my documents. This annoyed me and in subsequent years I complained about all that I didn’t agree with to the highest authorities. Most of these complaints were upheld but to me not the most important one. I stayed at the signal school until 1966.
Then I went to Waikato which was in Ireland at the time, being built.
You were part of the commissioning party bringing it back?
Yes I got there in June and the ship commissioned in September and so I got there a few months before the main body arrived.
We were billeted with an old Irish lady and we had potatoes for breakfast, morning tea and afternoon tea, lunch and evening. All she could talk about was potato-cake; you must eat the potato-cake. She was one of a hard core of old landladies who lived around the Harland and Woolf dockyard and they got paid rather handsomely. It wasn’t a boarding-house it was just a private house with a spare room. From what she said it was quite a substantial sum for her and so I was quite happy with that. They were also very Protestant and anti-Catholic and things like that. I don’t know what would happen if a person was a Catholic and went there. She had a son who used to come and visit sometimes. One day the son said to me on the Saturday afternoon when I was doing nothing but reading a book, he said, “Would you like to come for a beer?” So we went out on this Saturday afternoon at lunchtime and walked down the road to the pub and he said, “Oh no, don’t go to that one”, and so we went into the next one and everything was all very happy. I got a few strange looks until he explained who I was, which I think is part of Ireland. We found out that the other pub was the Catholic pub. So that was the introduction I got to those people: Irish politics it was just purely that.
It was just as we were leaving Ireland in September `66 that his fellow called Paisley was coming to the fore and stirring things up and they started having a few problems. But all those things didn’t happen while we were there. We had a marvellous rapport with the Irish people, not just the dockyard, it was building the ship, they literally bent over backwards to give us everything and anything.
I had one particular instance with my dressing lines which were used for special occasions where you dress ship and haul the flags up. When I arrived I said to the stores’ chief, “Have you seen my dressing lines, have they arrived yet?” He said, “Yes”. I said, “Okay, where are they?” He said, “You won’t like it when you see them.” He said, “Come with me.” And so I went with him and he showed me the dressing line and there’s the flags in another pile so I have to sew the flags on the dressing line. Of course they have all got to be in a particular order. I put that off for a while and about two days later I supposed I had better make a start on these. I only had one boy at that time, the others hadn’t arrived, because the others were only there just before we commissioned the rest of the staff and they wouldn’t have been there for any more than two weeks. We never saw them until the actual commissioning day. So I was getting a bit worried about putting these flags on the dressing lines and I just happened to mention to one of the workers: I said, “bloody, flags, I have got to put these on, have you got a long run on the jetty where I can go without anything running over them?” He said, “Don’t do that, come with me”. So I went with him and he took me to the sail loft and I spoke to the fellow in the sail loft and he spoke to a couple of his ladies who were up there sewing flags on the machine. He said to these ladies, “Would you mind sewing these flags on these dressing lines for the Waikato?” And they said, “No”. Then before we sailed he came down to the ship with another lot that they had made as a spare. So it was that type of thing that happened in the dockyard in Belfast. A lot of it of course relied on a rum tot. We had our wooden gratings and heaps of other bits and pieces made as improvements to specifications. Quite honestly the Waikato would not have been so nicely fitted out if it hadn’t of been for rum.
Then we left Ireland and came down to Portland and did a run over the degaussing range and then went back up and did the run across where they have a speed range, so we did a power trial. Then they did their proof firing of the guns and lastly they pointed the gun directly at the bridge, and raised the elevation over the foremast and fired it. It was not very nice, at all. We were told to turn our backs. We never had ear defenders or anything like that in those days. So we covered our ears and faced away from it and this big flash came before our eyes. It was quite scary.
From there we went down to Portsmouth where you do the actual tuning and testing of all the equipment. We used to go out every day and it was after Christmas and it was cold, miserable and gales in the channel.
In fact the captain had a bit of a breakdown while we were there. I am sure it was the sheer drama of leaving harbour and coming into harbour as the waves and wind used to blow you off and on to the jetty and I think he worried about it. So he had a breakdown and he left the ship and the first lieutenant took over for a while. Then Captain Thorne came and I knew him from way back on the Bellona in 1952, he was my divisional officer then. So we had a good rapport which, a chief yeoman on the ship should have with the captain and if you don’t then you are in real trouble. So I got on quite well with Captain Thorne. He had a favourite saying if anything used to go wrong. He used to look at me and say, “There are not many of us left are there?” He always made you feel good.
Then we did all the Portland work up, which by any stretch of the imagination is simply a trial by exhaustion and it really is. They usually start on a Monday morning at eight o’clock and arrive back in harbour from anything from 10 o’clock at night to one or two o’clock in the morning. At five o’clock in the morning you prepare to leave again and you leave at seven in the morning and you go out. In the meantime you have got to get all the operational orders for the day and the exercise orders for the day and get them all sorted out and all the corrections made. You do a Monday to Friday and you have a weekend off if you are lucky, if you don’t do a harbour exercise on the weekend, which they used to do sometimes. Then of course when you were in harbour at night time they used to do stupid things like have an exercise with a frogman coming alongside. As I say we were in Portland for quite a lengthy period. We did quite well in Portland. They don’t dish out passes in orders of good, bad, indifferent or anything, you either pass or you fail. If you fail you stay a little while longer and if you fail that, you go away and come back later and do the whole thing again. But we passed. I remember the flag officer training saying we would be in one of the top three that had passed through Portland in his time as a flag officer. I thought that was very good. We did do very well.
We had our moments where we had arguments with the training people, but it wasn’t until after the first week when I realised that the arguments were set up by the training people to see whether we coped. They had an Irish commander as the commander sea training and he deliberately used to niggle me and niggle the captain and I used to say on sighting a ship that it was a Leander – he would say, “Do you know which one?” I would say, “Yes it’s the Ulster” as that was the Leander with us at Portland at the time. He would say, “Are you sure?” (His favourite phrase:) “Yes”. He then said, “How do you know?” Knowing he was Irish, I said, “It has the red hand of Ulster on its funnel.” He looked at me strangely and for ever after that he was always niggling, but we survived well.
We used to do officer of the watch manoeuvres going out and take charge of the ship going out and of course he used to read the signals to the captain where the ship was supposed to be and if they weren’t he would tell them to get to the right place. A few times there you would say the line of bearing was such and such and you would hear his voice in the background saying, “Are you sure?” I used to look at the board where you used to do the plotting and say, “Yes I am sure.” He used to say to the captain, “Are you sure?” The captain would say, “If he says it’s all right, it’s all right. “So it was good having reasonable back up. We did have a hostile environment, but it worked all right. I still think it was deliberate. It wasn’t until after a few days I realised what he was trying to do and I used to ignore him after that. That went by all right and that was our Portland exercise. It was quite exhausting and I really think that if we hadn’t of had Captain Thorne we probably wouldn’t have done as well as we did because the captain that left he couldn’t have coped.
I was due to retire in `67 and the captain said, “Are you sure?” I was reasonably sure at that stage and then suddenly a position came up in the signal school for a classified materiel custodian and they wanted a chief yeoman. So the captain said, “Why not apply for this?” Then on the way back we were about two days out of Auckland and suddenly there was a signal saying applicants for the job of custodian will be interviewed in Philomel. I think it was the day before we were due to arrive in Tauranga and the applicants were to contact the signal school for times etc when they could see the Officer in Charge. So that was all right and the captain said to me, “What are you going to do about that?” I said, “What can I do, I am down in Tauranga?” He said, “I will fix it.” So he sent a signal saying: I will be off loaded at Sandspit, could they have transport at Sandspit and bring me down to Philomel and I could pick them up at Tauranga. The commodore said, “No”. Anyway I don’t know what happened but I know there was a telephone call and I got off the boat at Sandspit and I came down to Philomel and they laid on transport from Sandspit to Philomel. I went to the selection board and did my interview and then the next morning I got on a bus with all the wives and went to Tauranga to meet the ship. So that was all right because it was unfortunate the day before Joan had left for Tauranga and she didn’t know anything about this either. Just before the ship arrived I walked down the jetty and met her. Nevertheless it worked out well and I got the job. So I became the CB custodian. Then I realised after that it wasn’t because they just wanted a custodian, they wanted an instructor at the school because there were no other signal instructors in the navy and the only other one was the training chief in Philomel who had virtually left the branch. So I went to the signal school and I became the fleet-work instructor for the operations school and the cryptography instructor for the communications school because all the classified material was in the vault at North Head and alongside was the crypto classroom and all the associated gear. So in addition to those duties I also instructed classes in the care and custody of classified material. Once again it was a very pleasant 10 years. It was virtually like a schoolmaster job, going to school every day in a uniform. All the ceremonial and all those things didn’t worry me unduly. I just didn’t go, because I was responsible for security at North Head.
I also had an interesting time – it was when I was at the signal school, after I came back from the UK, as an instructor where they had all the reserve boats, plus a couple of the fishery boats mustered together at Christmas time doing exercises. So I used to go as the staff directing chief yeoman. The boats used to go up to Tutukaka, spend the night there and return to Auckland and then come back to Auckland and get a fresh crew and go back to Tutukaka and spend New Years’ Eve in Mansion House and it was a very enjoyable few years doing that.
Then also when I was at the signal school being a spare chief doing not very much and they thought I knew something about security so I got detailed to go to the Waitangi celebrations, which in those days were very good. I went as the security and transport officer. I did this for several years up to 1976, which meant going up a week before with the ground staff and preparing the grounds for the ceremony and looking after a couple of cars here and there and drivers to go everywhere. Organising all the people, doing the security, walking around and seeing everything is okay. I lived in the Treaty House for a while with a camp stretcher on the floor. That was also an interesting time.
You have got Tasman down on your record?
Tasman became the training establishment. They still had Tamaki, Philomel, but Tasman was the administrative centre. I don’t think it lasted for very long.
You have got manning margin?
Everyone went to the manning margin before they got discharged.
I got a BEM in 1970 and it coincided with the year the Queen arrived here and so I got my medal presented by the Queen.
Thank you very much.
End of Interview
Ascension Island 2
Auckland Islands 8
Australia 8, 13. 14, 15, 16-17
Automated Message Switching System 17-18
Bellona 6, 8, 13-15, 16
Black Prince 8, 16-17, 24
Blitz, The 1
Bounty Scheme 1, 3
Campbell Island 8
Cape Town 2, 4
Christmas Island 18-21
classified materiel custodian 28
Currarong 8, 16-17
dirty bomb 20
Elizabeth House 16
Emergency Secondary School 1
Exercise MAINBRACE 14-15
Fort Dorset 18
Flinders 13, 15
Gilbert and Ellice Islands 9
GRAPPLE YANKEE 20
“Haifa Patrol” 2
Hoare, Captain Peter J. 9
Hong Kong 16
Jervis Bay 8
Korean War 9-13
Leave 7, 8, 12, 13
Loch Morlick 5
London 1, 25
Macquarie Island 8
Malden Island 19, 20
Mediterranean 2, 6
Mercury 2, 25, 26
Morse 1, 22
NATO 5, 14-15
Naval Code of Signals 5
New Zealand 5, 7-8, 9
North Head 25
Nuclear Veterans’ Association 21
Patrol 10, 11, 12
Philomel 5, 12, 15-16, 17, 24-25, 26, 28-29
Promotion 12, 17, 25
Pukaki 9, 10, 18-20
Rotoiti 6, 7
Royalist 6, 23-24
Royal Navy 1-4, 5, 15
Royal New Zealand Navy 4-30
Royal Tour 4
Sasebo 9, 11
School of Nuclear Medicine 21
Shelter stations 19
Sea cadets 1-2, 3
Semaphore 1, 22
Simonstown 2, 3
South Africa 2, 3
Sri Lanka 14, 16
St. Helena 2
Tamaki 15, 18, 22-23, 29
Thorne, Captain 27, 28
Trafalgar Day 1 5
– Communications 13
– General 2, 6
– Instructor 25
– Nuclear 19
– Petty officer 15
– Refresher 26
– Sea cadet 1
– Signalman 2, 3, 5, 29
– Tactical 25
United Kingdom 1-2, 4, 14, 25-28
Veterans’ Affairs 21
Veterans’ Association 21
Victory 1, 2
Vice Regal Tour 24
Waikato 7, 26-28
Waitangi Day 29
Whitfield, Captain 16
Wife 16, 17, 21
WINZ 21, 22
Workup 27, 28
World War II 1-4
Wonsan Harbour 10-11