Yeoman of Signals Wheldale – Oral History

This is an interview with retired Yeoman of Signals W.A.Wheldale at his residence at 2/92 Victoria Road, Devonport on the 12th May 1994.

To start the interview could you tell us a little bit about your background. I know that your father was very much involved with the Navy in the First World War and the 2nd World War and I wondered if you could just give us a bit of a picture of your family background and of your father’s career as you know it.

Yes certainly. I was born in Whakatane on the 4th December 1923. My father was then a baker in various towns in New Zealand and although we lived on the outskirts of Whakatane at the Heads I cannot remember anything of that. My first memory is at age 2 years when we were moving by train to Kaikohe and seeing the oxen towing the Kauri logs alongside the Northern Railway. My sister Kathleen was born in the north when I was 5. She was born on the side of the road on Turntable Hill at night in the middle of a storm; trying to get to Kawakawa Hospital, hence her nickname “The Pheasant”. I started school at Kaikohe and then when the Depression hit New Zealand my father was out of work, the family was split up and Dad was working in relief camps in various places in New Zealand. The family, my mother, my brother Arthur and my sister lived with my grandparents who were assisting with the running of the farm at Okoroire in the Waikato. I spent most of my primary school life at Okoroire School and assisting with the milking of 140 cows night and morning. When the Depression finished around about `35 or `36 we got back together again and shifted to Auckland and rented a place initially in Devonport. That’s where my association with activities on the harbour and with the sea commenced. Shortly after coming to Devonport I joined the Calliope Sea Scouts and that gave me a lot of satisfaction and I had a lot of fun, particularly as Dad had been a naval chap.

Starting off in the merchant service, his first ship was the OTAKI which was commanded by Captain Smith before the 14/18 War. Captain Smith was later to be decorated with the Victoria Cross and DSO as a mystery ship Captain in the 14/18 War. It was just before the 14/18 War that Dad was on the OTAKI and then he joined a ship which was operating along the coast of Australia, Sydney to Tweed Heads. From memory I gather that they were engaged in a lot of mysterious activity in smuggling Chinamen into the sugar fields of Queensland. He was actually at Tweed Heads when somebody told him that war had been declared, the First World War. He had also been the cook on a sheep station near Albury; the Manager of which had been the boy who was with the bank manager and his wife who were robbed and escorted the next day to church by Ned Kelly at Jerilderie.

He later on finished up on a ship; possibly the CORINTHIC; which was laying opposite the WAHINE in Dunedin at Port Chalmers. It was there that he heard that the WAHINE was going home to England to be converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser. He liked the look of the WAHINE and I think he was unhappy aboard whatever ship it was that he was on, Dad was the Chief Baker and there was some dissension between Dad and the Chief Steward. I gather he packed his bag and hammock and somebody else carried it on board the WAHINE and stowed it away while Dad wandered ashore as if he was just going for a run ashore. He returned onboard the WAHINE and in spite of a pretty intensive search for him he wasn’t discovered and the WAHINE put to sea. After they got to sea he gave himself up and was actually signed on the articles at sea as Chief Baker of the WAHINE. It was on that trip that she did quite a fast time from Port Chalmers to Portsmouth and in fact I think the time that she established on that voyage has not been broken yet, because not many vessels use that route any how via the Suez Canal. On arrival in England the WAHINE was converted into a minelayer and was used in that connection in various theatres of the war in Europe and in the Mediterranean.

She went to Gallipoli ?

Yes she was used in the first place as a dispatch vessel between Lemnos, Mudros and Gallipoli and was involved in shifting wounded at times. At one time I know that General Kitchener was aboard the WAHINE and Dad had told me of conversations that he had with Lord Kitchener. After Gallipoli she returned to activity in the North Sea and I believe she laid about 11,000 mines in that area, including quite a number which involved the blockade on Zeebrugge on the channel coast of Belgium. After the war he took his discharge in UK.

I remember a little incident there that each member of the ships company of the WAHINE donated sixpence, irrespective of their rank. This sixpence was used to buy a plate which was fastened above the main stairway in the WAHINE and I think is now in the Maritime Museum in Wellington. To put the record straight that was not presented by the Union Steam Ship Company, it was bought by the ships company of HMS WAHINE. Photographs of the WAHINE that Dad passed on to me are now in the Navy Museum and also a tot measure that was used aboard that ship.

He took his discharge in England and the last time that he wore his uniform was at the funeral of Nurse Edith Cavelle in Norwich. His aunty brought him up on the early death of his mother, his mother died when he was a little fellow; the Aunt lived in Norwich and of course that where’s Dad took his bits and pieces when he went home on his discharge. He attended the funeral of Nurse Edith Cavelle who is buried behind the Cathedral in Norwich.

Then he came out to Australia again and then on to New Zealand. Somewhere about 1920 he came ashore and commenced life as a baker in the Otorohanga area and it was there that he met my mother. There were two sons and one daughter, Arthur, myself and Kathleen.

He rejoined the Navy in World War II ?

Yes, while I was in the Training Division on HMS PHILOMEL. Following his baking career and our getting together in Devonport, when the Second World War was declared my father actually followed me into the Navy as a Killick Cook on the THOMAS CURRELL, HUMPHREY and one of the L L Magnetic Minesweepers, the RIMU and he spent the Second World War around the Coast of New Zealand and the Southern Pacific on Minesweeping duties.

Was he in for the whole War ?

Yes, Dad stayed right through from 1941 until the finish of the War. Do you recall any of his World War II stories or events that he got up to ? No of course I went away shortly after I joined myself and never had a lot to do with the minesweeping activities in the coast of New Zealand. I was home for a break in 1943 and I was on the Port War Signal Station and also at Combined Headquarters. I do recall that they were engaged in sweeping up the minefield around the vicinity of where the NIAGARA struck a mine and sunk. The THOMAS CURRELL and other sweepers had quite a convivial relationship with the crew on the CLAYMORE, which was the Diving Headquarter ship. They used to meet and have some happy times ashore in Whangarei that I heard about. I remember Dad saying to me once, don’t tell Mum about that. They must have been some pretty good days when they went ashore.

That was the time too wasn’t it when PURIRI was sunk wasn’t it I think ?

PURIRI was sunk just before that, it would be August or July 1941 that she was sunk because I happened to be Training Division and duty watch on PHILOMEL when they brought the wounded in. We had to take them to Hospital. Red watch always seemed to be duty when something like that happened. We turned to at very short notice to berth cruisers on arrival in port on both sides of the harbour or shift shift in and our of dock. Quite often Australian Units would arrive to be serviced. I can recall HMAS SYDNEY being alongside after sinking BATHOLEMEW COLLEONI and enjoying a night at the pictures on aboard her. That was my first initiation to enemy action was giving a hand to receive and outfit the fellows that had come back in from the PURIRI, the survivors. Shortly after PURIRI survivors had their leave, Training Division were ordered to “clear lower deck -muster on top”. We had to listen to a warrant being read out in respect of one of the PURIRI boys who had tried to take ashore half a pound of tobacco (Ticklers) and was discovered at the main gate. The poor chap lost his smokes and got 14 days in Mt Eden.

Now perhaps we will got back now and get how you joined the Navy. I was always interested in the Navy. My first contact with the Navy proper was when the ACHILLES arrived here in 1936 I think it was, her and the AWATEA arrived in the same year and the MATUA. But anyway at that time I was attending the Kowhai Intermediate High School and I remember our form teacher asking was anyone interested in the Navy and I told him that I would like to join the Navy when I grew up when I left school. The result of that was that I was one of the chosen to go down and be conducted over the ACHILLES at the Western Wharf when she arrived in New Zealand. When we came to Devonport I joined the Calliope Sea Scouts and of course became more closely associated with the Navy. In fact my friend Ron Smith and I concentrated our interests in signalling in the Sea Scouts and through talking to signalmen aboard the ACHILLES we had a knowledge of naval signals that probably was something that we shouldn’t have had. We did know the Naval Code, we knew the International Code and we knew the Morse Code and semaphore whilst we were still Sea Scouts. Then the night that war was declared, and I think it was that night, or just before it was declared, things were beginning to buzz down at the Base where we used to have our Sea Scout meetings. We took a very great interest in the movement of the ships.

You actually met in the Admiralty Reserve area itself ?

Yes we were where the gunnery huts are now.

The old green huts ?

Yes The night that the ACHILLES was put in dock for her bottom clean, all the Sea Scouts were down there to watch the activities under electric light, because they started working on her at night. This is just before she sailed ? It must have been just before she sailed for the South Atlantic. They had the boys on the pontoons going down the hull as the water receded from the dry dock and the Royal Marine Band playing on the dockside to keep them amused I suppose. We were interested spectators in the whole activity that went on right through the night.

Sometime after that we followed her activities with great interest and her return to New Zealand following the Battle of the River Plate. It was shortly after that or towards the end or middle of 1940 as a result of enemy activity in England, they suffered severe casualties in Plymouth. I think there was about 300 Petty Officers, some of them Communicators killed when the Barracks there suffered a direct hit and they were horribly short of men, particularly signalmen. A notice came out asking anybody who was interested was invited to apply to join the Navy.

How did this come out, in the press or in the local papers ?

I think it was a letter we got through Sea Scouts. We also had direct links with the Navy through a Commissioned Gunner at the time whose son was in the Sea Scouts and he used to give us lectures, his name was Commissioned Gunner Jarrard and Captain Jim Forbes who was an extra master in sail and steam, he was one of our Instructors too. I think it might have been a letter that conveyed this invitation to us and stated the ages. Well Ron Smith and myself were both a little bit under age, and eventually after doing the medical examination we were accepted from quite a crowd, I think it was about 30 or 40 who went in for a medical examination and there was only about 7 of us passed. They had to bring another draft in to complete our class. Ron Smith and Alan Wheldale were all of a sudden in the Navy.

You were what about 17 ?

Yes. We were accommodated on the boys mess deck of the old ship PHILOMEL. John Elworthy the Lieutenant Commander was the Captain, Robby Robson was the Padre and Commissioned Gunner Eddie Blakiston with Petty officer Dolly Harper and Jacky Crabe were our Instructors as far as basic training was concerned. Yeoman of Signals Robertshaw who had just come ashore from the ACHILLES, where he was controlling most of the action with the GRAF SPEE in the signal department as the Chief Yeoman Martinson had been wounded early in the piece and Robertshaw was our Instructor for signals. Fredrics was the Signal Bosun. Eddie Blakiston was a fine officer and the Boys had great respect for him. He had distinguished service in the Naval Brigade in World War 1.

Were you all signalmen ?

There was a group of telegraphists who were mainly P & T fellows and they made a name for themselves later on in the East Indies station. There were a class of stokers, who mainly seemed to come from the New Zealand Railways. Stoker Roskill was one of them that I remember and I think he was lost in the Battle of the Java Sea, we were altogether on the boys mess deck. Those who had passed above a certain mark were destined to go on loan to the Royal Navy and others were stationed in various places around New Zealand. Those that were going overseas were assigned duties in the signal office in PHILOMEL with the Signal Distribution Office, the SDO we used to call it and we were accommodated later on in the Harbour Board shed alongside the dock.

What was the instruction like, was it hard boys type training or was it a bit more relaxed than that ?

We had real tough training.

What was the days routine like, can you give us a picture of that ?

We would have PT early in the morning and we would be on the training jetty dancing up and down there. Following a very hungry breakfast and cleaning up the mess we were marched at the double across to the gunnery huts where we had prayers. From there to instructions which went for most of the day, until after about 4 o’clock. We had to wear duck suits and gaiters and gallop around in that gear. We had a cold swim in the Calliope Dock to pass our swimming test and that was in our full duck suits also. One chap, Ludlowe; said he could not swim, but still was ordered into the water. We had to drag him out.

He did survive the sinking of ELECTRA about 6 months later, but how, I don’t know. We had gas familiarization and all sorts of inoculations.

Mainly signal type instruction, did signalmen do a lot of seamanship ?

No, we did mainly signals, it was concentrated. Yeoman of Signals Robertshaw, it was practical signals on the field. There were lights at night that we could read morse from, there were signal exercises at night and semaphore during the day and very concentrated instruction from Robertshaw on the Visual Signalling Instructions, the Fleet Signal Book and the Conduct of the Fleet Code and Auxiliary Vessels Signal Book and MERSIGS, those books which I became very, very familiar with, very, very quickly and committed a lot of the books to memory. I could quote a lot of it. I could probably quote some of the stuff still. Signalmen are a fairly special breed aren’t’ they. They are the advisors to the Captain of the manoeuvres of the fleet and all that sort of thing ? Yes they have to know the limitations and execution of many, many manoeuvres and be able to advise their Captains.

You are a pretty key link in the command chain ?

That’s right. I didn’t realize quite then just how important a job I was to have to do later and we will go into that later on. When you have got the responsibility for 40 or 50 merchant ships in convoy and you are the Yeoman of a destroyer in the ship which contains the senior officer of the screen in the Atlantic, it was quite a responsibility that was placed on you.

Was the food good in those days ?

We had pretty good food on the PHILOMEL.

Did you have to cook your own ?

No they had a big galley on there, midships. It was the old broadside messing, you got a tray of food and took it back to your mess ?

Correct yes. Saturday of course was the day that we had Captain’s rounds on PHILOMEL and the ship reeked from stem to stern with Brasso. Quite often my job was polishing the battle honours on the quarter deck in PHILOMEL. Whenever I walk into the Chapel where those honours are, “Fear God and honour the King” and the Dogger Bank and all the rest of it, I look at them and are brought back to 17 when I was polishing those battle honours under the eye of John Elworthy and a few others that were around there, Sam Weeks the Master at Arms. My wife and I were later married in the Chapel of St Christopher and my mind went back to PHILOMEL Training Division as I surveyed the brass work. We did also conduct flag hoisting from the mast that was on the PHILOMEL ship itself,from the main mast there. Whenever when any of the cruiser happened to be in port, our Instructor took advantage of taking us aboard there and saying “This is a 10 inch signal lamp, this is an Aldis lamp, this is a 1038, this is a Heather lamp”, and these were pieces of equipment that were to become very familiar with later on. The Heather lamp was a very small light which was fitted to binoculars and used for night signalling. It had a diameter of an inch and the slide that went across the lens of that light was constructed so that would give varying intensities of blue light. That was the light that we used at night time in the manoeuvres of the fleet.

I don’t think that I have ever seen one of those ?

You had to read and transmit through the binoculars, there was a key on top, it was quite a thing. Once you touched the white light at night at sea, everybody knew that you were there and we were trained to use these blue lights. There were green, there were red and other types of lights of course in connection with the recognition signals, challenge of reply and things like that. We were shown all of this equipment, but it wasn’t until later on that we were granted the favour of using them individually. We had a big apprenticeship ahead of us following our training to act as day men on various ships that we went to. Our job then was taking coffee and lime juice up the flag deck and in between times making sure that all the flags were repaired and ready for action and scrubbing up night and morning, stuff like that.

Did you go to sea at all with the local ships before you went overseas ?

No I didn’t. One or two of the boys got a trip out on examination vessels. One or two might have done a trip on the old WAHINE which was then being used as a trooper occasionally to Fiji and to Australia. One or two might have done a trip on the MONOWAI which was just being commissioned as an AMC around about that time. It was while we were in training, in limbo more or less waiting to go away that PURIRI was sunk by a mine and we were involved in that. The hospital was just beginning to open and the wounded fellows were transported up the hill, assisted up the hill by the duty watch of the Training Division. Commodore Parry had come ashore and was in charge of the Base. As a trainee sometimes I found that I was detailed off to go and make reservations on the Limited Express for Commodore Parry to go down to Wellington and see that his accommodation and every thing was okay. To get me across to town, I was the envy of quite a lot of people because I was transported around in the Admiral’s Barge, and that was a bit of a flip I suppose.

What was your pay ?

Our pay was if I remember about one and threepence a day, one shilling and threepence a day. When we went overseas I think it was about one shilling and ten pence a day.

Did it go far ?

It never went very far. If you were over 20 you got something like three shillings a day, but we managed to get by. One run ashore and you had spent your money and you had to make sure that you had enough for soap to keep your uniform clean. You had to do your own washing. Tobacco was one and six per pound, if you smoked you had to make sure that was provided for. When we went overseas and joined the units of the Royal Navy, they made us make an allotment to our next of kin which brought us down to the same level of pay as RN ratings, I think that was the idea. Of course that money was held for us by our Next of Kin and as far as I was concerned by my mother and given to me when I returned. After we finished our training and passed out. Yeoman of Signals Robertshaw then took over another class and we were placed in the hands of a chap named Harrison, Chief Yeoman “Crash” Harrison. Crash was Chief Yeoman at one time, many years before this on a battleship called the THUNDERER and was a veteran of the First World War. He had served in many, many places around the world, which were of great interest to us and we had a lot of tales from Crash Harrison of his experiences on torpedo boat destroyers and battleships whilst we were waiting to go away. Although we never got much signals from him at all, I had a terrific admiration for Crash. He instructed us to make sure that when we got away we kept ourselves physically fit and went for long walks ashore and kept away from all those ……. ones, those were more or less his parting words to us. The day finally came for us to put our gas masks over our shoulder, lash up our hammocks and get across to the train and down to Wellington, we were heading overseas. A big draft of telegraphists, signalmen, stokers and cooks and supply ratings that had come in, boarded the train and went off to Wellington, the overnight train to Wellington. When we got to Wellington we were marched from the railway station to the RNVR Headquarters and on the march I could see the towering funnels of the AQUITANIA and one or two other ships. The AQUITANIA was to be our home for the next month approximately. After a run ashore that night in Wellington we were marched aboard the AQUITANIA. Just prior to marching away to the ship the Petty Officer in charge called out for those that got married last night to fall out. I thought that this was a bit of a joke, being a 17 year old. Low and behold two or three fellows fell out, they had got married. Of course it was necessary for them to change their next of kin, that was the purpose of the whole thing. Anyway we march onboard the AQUITANIA.

The AQUITANIA presumably would be full of soldiers ?

They were the soldiers that were going up to the desert.

The 2nd Echelon, the 3rd Echelon ?

They were the 4th Reinforcements I think they called them, the equivalent of the 4th Echelon. They were known as Reinforcement, they were the next draft that left after the 3rd Echelon.

Was there more than one ship taking them or was the AQUITANIA the only one ?

Yes we had two ships in Wellington. There was the JOHAN VAN OLDENBARNVELT, a two funnelled Dutch ship around about 25,000 tons. There was the AQUITANIA who was approximately 45,000 tons. All the New Zealand troops that came aboard were of course going to the desert as was the Petty Officer that was in charge of our draft, Doug Harvey. Doug had just come ashore off the LEANDER, after a sojourn on the LEANDER in the Indian Ocean, he was going away again to join the NEPTUNE. I think Doug was Captain of one of the turrets on the NEPTUNE and unfortunately was lost not long after that. We were mainly accommodated down on F Deck of the AQUITANIA. There of course the accommodation was in our hammocks, we slung our hammocks down there. Those of us that were signalmen were allotted watches on the bridge of the AQUITANIA. This was a great experience for me, my first real live ship as second or third hand of the watch on the AQUITANIA. We were elevated more ways than one and the Captain of the AQUITANIA was a character in himself whose name I have forgotten now. Captain Gibbons I think, was the Staff Captain, I have forgotten the Captain’s name, but he was a little short fellow and in order for him to see over the bridge either forward or aft on the AQUITANIA he balanced on his belly button. He used a megaphone occasionally to convey his orders to people on the focsle or to troops that he didn’t like lounging around with nurses on the boat deck abaft the bridge. He would get up and yell at these people balancing on the wind break of the bridge, it was quite interesting. The ACHILLES was in Wellington to escort us away. I think this was around about the 13th September 1941, Wellington being Wellington wind sprung up and the wind was so strong that we were held up a day because the tugs couldn’t pluck her off the wharf. When we finally sailed ACHILLES lead us out and the JOHAN VAN OLDENBARNVELT followed us away. The three ships headed away for Australia. As we were approaching Australia the ADELAIDE joined us with a ship that could have come from Sydney. She was a sister ship of the JOHAN called the MARIX VAN STADEN GONDE, and she had the Australian troops aboard. ADELAIDE took over from ACHILLES and ACHILLES came back to New Zealand and we pressed on down to the Bass Strait. When we got off in MELBOURNE, we were joined by the cruiser HMAS SYDNEY and another trooper called the SYBIJACK, with Australian troops on board. The ADELAIDE then returned to her base while SYDNEY took over. The trip across the Bight was very, very rough and the SYBIJACK lost one soldier, there was a death onboard and a burial at sea, my first. We kept going while SYBIJACK dropped astern and did the funeral service for this soldier and picked up again and we carried on into Fremantle.

You stopped at Fremantle ?

The other ships went alongside, but AQUITANIA was too large, we had to anchor out. So much to the disappointment of the troops in particular there was no leave allowed.The other ships got ashore and I believe had a pretty enjoyable time in Fremantle and Perth. Whilst we were loading stores from barges alongside I saw a most interesting thing, or an alarming thing happened. They were heaving up kegs of beer from a bargein rope nets and I was on the bridge watching the operation and I saw one of these nets catch under the flare of the bow, it caught on a piece of steel work on the bow. The winch-man kept heaving and I saw a strand or two go and I yelled out to this chap, but any how the strands started to part faster. There was only one thing to do and that was to yell out to all the Aussies that were on the barge down below and there were 40 or 50 of them down there I suppose. Any how my voice must have reached them moments or seconds before the kegs reached them that were hurtling down from this sling. I thought that somebody must be killed, but miraculously these guys managed to get under the protection of the barge deck just before these kegs hit and they came out in time to grab some of the beer and get a free drink. Whether it was done on purpose or not I don’t know, but it was a beauty. It was while I was on the bridge there that I saw some of the sharks that abound in the waters off West Australia. If any of the soldiers had any ideas of swimming ashore, the look of these animals in the water would have put them off. I saw one shark grab an orange box, which in those days was a box, it wasn’t a carton, and they were wired and I saw one of these sharks just go along and take one of these boxes, submerge with it and a few minutes later just pieces of the box came to the surface, about the size of a two bob bit. The tremendous power in those animals is terrific.

I suppose you would have been kept pretty busy as a signalman if you were keeping a watch up there. Lots of traffic going on I should think ?

Yes there was no wireless. The AQUITANIA had a signalman on board who had a good job really. He had a cabin on the boat deck and this ginger headed fellow was an ex RN signalman and he was the Chief actually and we were his 2IC’s. He taught us a lot, it was our initiation to signalling of course. If I remember rightly AQUITANIA then didn’t have the incandescent 10 inch lamps, we were still on the carbon 10 inch lamps. It was interesting to see the carbons changed on these things and learn all about that, something that we hadn’t learn’t in PHILOMEL.

That was always a bit tricky wasn’t it ?

Yes you had to set them at the right distance from your reflecting mirror. Then we sailed from Fremantle with SYDNEY in command and between them and the time we hit the waters in the vicinity of the Sunda Straits, there was exercises carried out by the various ships and one of our exercises was to provide a smoke screen. Well with 4 funnels you can imagine the smoke screen that the AQUITANIA could lay, it was a beauty. She just belted out and was doing 25 knots, she could still do 25 knots plus in those days and she was an old ship. When we got up to the vicinity of the Sunda Straits we were met by the GLASGOW, a British cruiser who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean and I don’t think she had full speed available. I don’t think all props were operating when we met her. She took over the convoy from the SYDNEY. The SYDNEY went out about 6 or 7 miles ahead of us to hand over the convoy to the GLASGOW and the GLASGOW took station between the two columns a couple of miles ahead of us. Then the SYDNEY sprung around and she came down, she must have been doing about 30 knots and she had the Australian Band playing on the quarter deck and she shot down between the two columns with cheers from the soldiers echoing across the water.

She disappeared not long after that. She was hit by the raider ?

I think she would have got back to Western Australia, I think she would have got back there, but I don’t think she went back to the East after that. She came out and shortly after that she disappeared with all hands. I think the KORMORANT was the German raider that she was investigating and apparently she must have got too close. Although she sunk the KORMORANT in the action that followed, her damage was extensive. Survivors from the KORMORANT said that they last saw her disappearing over the horizon on fire. Well the last time I saw her I will never forget the columns of troops cheering her as she went away. Then we detached the MARIX VAN STADE GONDE and SYBIJACK through the Sunda Straits to Singapore and those Australian troops were the troops that were shortly to be engaged in the Malayan Campaign as it turned out. We went over with the GLASGOW to Colombo where we left the ship, all the New Zealand Naval personnel with the exception of Doug Harvey went ashore to HMS LANKA. Well when I say all of them, I think pretty well all of them and the troops went on up to Egypt. After settling down in LANKA we were then as far as the signalmen and telegraphists were concerned, taken down to the Signal Bosun’s office of the East Indies Fleet to a fellow named Mr Johns we called him. Mr Johns was a fine chap and he got us all in there just like a morning tea party. What he would do was to get us to pair off as cobbers and then he would tell us the ships that were available and we would go away like that. There was the EMERALD, ENTERPRISE, DAUNTLESS, DANAE and the DELHI. There was a signal station up in the Persian Gulf and various others. There was a Commodore Staff to go on the East Coast Convoys and things like that I can remember. A chap named Owen Slattery who happened to be much older, he had just had his 21st birthday, I regarded him as an old man, I was 17. Slattery said to me, “You and I will go together Blue”, and I said “Okay”. I just said that when a fellow named Dick Wagner from Onehunga said, “Would I go with him”. I said, “well I am sorry I have just said I would go with Slat and so I had better go with him”. He immediately turned around and Nathan Jaffe was another signalman there and he said, “Well you and I go together Nathan”. We used to call him Snozz, Nathan was a Jew boy he didn’t mind us calling him Snozz, but woe betide any stranger that called him Snozz there would be a fight, but we called him Snozz and got away with it. Dick and Snozz paired off and Slattery and myself and a fellow named Norton and Cyril O’Donnell joined the EMERALD that was in harbour, a 3 funnelled cruiser. Dick Wagner and Nathan Jaffe with several others, Shipman was one, Mortimer I think might have been another stayed in Colombo until Christmas of that year when the EXETER came through and they joined the EXETER to be sunk shortly after in the Java Sea Battle. Most of them became prisoners of war, and some died in the prisoner of war camp. Our job on the EMERALD was to try and get the Indian Ocean clear of any raiders that might be operating there and there were quite a few who had been operating around Cape Town. I think the ADMIRAL SCHEER had been in that area and several others. Any way what we had to do was to go down to the various Islands and there were many of them and establish petrol depots to refuel Catalina flying boats as an anti Raider measure. Some of the Islands we visited were Chagos Archipelago and the Maldives and Diego Garcia, Ile de Coin, the Seychelle Islands and such like. Addu Atoll was the fuelling and convoy points wasn’t it ? That’s correct at that time I hadn’t seen Addu Atoll. In fact the charts of Addu Atoll that I were to see towards the end of that year, showed that they had only been produced in 1941. I was to become pretty familiar with it in a few months time. At Diego Garcia my job was to go ashore with the motor cutter and an Aldis lamp and a battery and establish a little signal station so that the Officer in Charge of the dump could communicate with the ship. I used to enjoy those runs ashore, but never learnt to climb the coconut trees.

How long would you go ashore for at a time ?

You would be ashore for most of the day while they landed the fuel and then you would move off to another Island to another task. We were down in the Seychelles Islands one part of it with the REPULSE and she was on her way to Singapore. From the Seychelles Islands we moved over to East Africa to Mombasa and our first task there was to do a showing the flag cruise of the East African Coast taking in Tanganyika, Zanzibar and Lower Kenya. As a result of that we were told afterwards that 10,000 natives flocked to the colours. I think those natives were people that comprised the Kenyan African Rifles, a big part of them would have been taken into the 14th Army in Burma later on. We left Mombasa and we went down to a little place called Lindi and there of course the Captain’s job was to go ashore and shake the hand of the British resident and so forth. From there we went up to Dar es Salaam and as we went in on our starboard hand there was the wreck of the old German cruiser KONINGSBERG had been sunk at the entrance to that place in the 14/18 War. Dar es Salaam was quite a tight place to get into and this was the first time that I ever took part in the operation of mooring ship. My job as a signalman was out on the fo’c’sle with the cable flags, one anchor was dropped and you went ahead on it and you dropped another anchor and then you middled it. It was quite a complicated operation, but the idea was because of the lack of room you could swing around one point more or less. From Dar es Salaam we shot across to Zanzibar and greeting us as we arrived there was the bow of one of the British P Class cruisers, a sister ship of the PHILOMEL that was caught at anchor there by the KONINGSBERG and sunk in the 14/18 War with great loss of life. The KONINGSBERG snuck up on her and caught her with her pants down. Going into Zanzibar the Sultan asked us to fire a salute for him, but we had no saluting guns, so we weren’t able to do him the favour. The Captain didn’t feel like putting in sub calibres or something like that in the 6 inch and firing those, so the Sultan didn’t get his salute. We went ashore and were entertained by everybody in Zanzibar that mattered. I was in a group that were entertained by the Manager of the Bank of Southern Indian and taken to dinner there. We had a lot of fun, it was quite interesting looking through the ruins of the old palace of Zanzibar. We got down to the harem but all the girls had gone long ago and the smell of cloves and kapok was very prevalent. From there we went up to Tanga and went ashore there and some of the boys were playing soccer with the locals. The Marine Band that we had on board entertained the locals too and then from there we went back into Mombasa. As a result all those people flocked to the colours. Our job then was to get into the convoying of the convoys up the East Coast of Africa, from Durban to Mombasa. We did quite a few of those convoys.

How did you go about that, were you staying in close contact with a convoy or did you just shadow them ?

No we stayed with them all the time, we just took station ahead. The escorts in those days were few and far between. There weren’t any Corvettes on the East Indies Station and we had these cruisers, EMERALD, ENTERPRISE and the D Class and C Class, the CALEDON was there too and of course they were pretty thin on the ground. It was only the important ones that got an escort.

You had better tell us a little bit about the EMERALD, how old she was and what sort of an armament she had and what was she like to live in ?

She was launched in 1917, completed about 1918 or 1920. There were two of that Class, the EMERALD and ENTERPRISE. They were about 7,000 tons approximately and the main armament of the EMERALD and ENTERPRISE was sixteen 18 inch torpedo tubes. A lot of people didn’t realize that, but that was their main armament. Then the EMERALD of course had seven 6 inch single mountings.

They were open mountings ?

Yes Similar to the DIOMEDE and DUNEDIN ?

Yes that’s right. The ENTERPRISE had a turret forward, where we had A & B guns in single mountings. The ENTERPRISE had a turret forward and I understand that was the first 6 inch turret. The EFFINGHAM had been sunk earlier in the war at Norway and so I can’t give you any thing about her. I think EFFINGHAM had 7.5 inch mountings, FROBISHER and HAWKINS, they all had 7.5’s I think. Perhaps the EFFINGHAM wasn’t one of the E Class cruisers, it might have only been the EMERALD and the ENTERPRISE. I never saw her, Hitler saw her first.

Mess decks were good places or were they pretty ……… ?
Yes they had been designed for the East Indies Station and were out there most of their life, that is where they served. They were very spacious and they carried a Sea Fox aircraft aft on a catapult. That could have been substituted perhaps in some of them by a Walrus, but ours was a Sea Fox. They had three funnels and a very high turn of speed, they could do 33 knots, which was pretty good and she could still do that in 1941. The one thing she had was raking masts and those masts used to rake back over the funnels. Anybody that was a little bit scary about going aloft soon learnt not to be on the EMERALD. In the final stages the ladders were on the after part of the mast and you were climbing backwards on a raking mast over a funnel. With the ship at sea it was quite a thrill up there to recover a lost halyard or something like that if you had to go aloft. Not everybody could do it but it was done.

What about things like discipline was it real RN pusser stuff ?

Captain Flynn was our Captain and he was a fine fellow. Commander Gould was the Commander and he was an ex submariner and in exercises or anything like that, Gould was a very excitable person. When the real thing happened Commander Gould was as calm as a cucumber. I wasn’t on board the EMERALD when it happened, but one night in Malacca Straits the DAUNTLESS and the EMERALD came into a collision and at night time you trained your torpedo tubes outboard ready for instant action. The DAUNTLESS struck the EMERALD a glancing blow forward on the port side, forward of the forward set of torpedo tubes. It was night time in the tropics and you could imagine most of the fellows had deck billets in the tropics and they would sleep on the upper deck. Between the torpedo tubes was a very nice place to sleep, a wooden deck. The result was that the forward set of tubes were ripped off their mountings by the impact and as the ship slid along the side of the EMERALD she took the tubes with her and piled them all up into the after set of tubes and all the men that were in between went with them. Coupled with that the crane that was used to lift the aircraft on and off was mangled up in the wreckage so that the crane couldn’t be used to shift these tubes. The bodies had to be got out fairly quickly which was a most unpleasant job. Volunteers of course were called to do that because some of the bodies had to be dismembered to be got out and it wasn’t everybody that could cut up a fellow that they had breakfast with the the morning before. There was also a fire with this collision and there were warheads stowed on deck. Some of the warheads of those torpedo tubes were stowed on deck and the fire was around this lot. I understand that during one part of the excitement, Commander Gould was seen standing on these warheads directing the fire fighting operations. I had myself seen him tear up handkerchiefs one after the other just simply entering harbour because he was anxious that proper respects were paid to senior officers as we came and went.

What was food like in the RN ?

The food was quite good. A lot of it was ersatz potatoes, we had M & V’s, meat and vegetables, of course dehydrated, we did quite well really.

What sort of messing ?

It was general messing.

You didn’t have to pay a mess bill or anything like that ?

No general messing and we had a Killick of the Mess, Leading Signalman Thorpe who was a peace time sailor and he was a good fellow and he had everything under control. He had us under control any how.

You were all on a signalmen’s mess deck ?

Yes we were all on a signalmen’s mess deck.

You would be duty cooks and that sort of thing ?

Duty cooks. There was a tot of rum dished out to people in the Navy in those days, but me being my age then, 17, my quota was taken in lime juice. A pity I didn’t stick to lime juice but anyway I used to enjoy the drink of lime juice and we had plenty of that, there was copious supplies of that. Lime juice during the day and at night time we used to have cocoa, they called it Kye in the Navy. You could get endless supplies of that from the galley, there was a big vat of that cooking up all the time and you could go down from the bridge and supply your watch mates with a fanny full of Kye or cocoa as we call it. I will never forget as long as I live, the call of people going to and from the galley or moving around the various parts of the ships with fanny’s full of hot cocoa. You would hear them say, “hot Kye coming up”, “hot Kye coming down”, and these fellows creeping around in the black out.

Well after my 35 years in the Navy I only learn’t just the other day how you spell Kye ?

Yes I always thought it was Kai. Kye was the correct British way of spelling it. A dictionary of naval slang came out recently and it was in there. Our Paymaster Commander on the EMERALD was a fellow called Commander Thatcher, whether he was related to the Prime Minister Lady Thatcher or not I don’t know. He was a wonderful fellow and I had an association with him, quite a lot on the ship itself, because he was one of our top Cipher officers. If we got a “most secret” or anything like that I had to know where Commander Thatcher was sleeping so that I could wake him up at any time, especially if we got a “most immediate”. I would have to go and wake Thatcher up and as a boy I was a little bit nervous about shaking this Commander.

Did you do all your watches on the flag deck. Where was the main signal office ?

On the flag deck. The main signal office was right behind the chart room which was below the compass platform and the Navigating Officer of course happened to also be our Divisional Officer, so he had a pretty good eye on everybody.

How many signalmen would be on watch at any time ?

Your Leading Hand would be on a compass platform, this is at sea and probably a Yeoman wandering around. There would be a second hand up there with him and there would be two or three on the flag deck.

You had 4 Yeoman did you ?

We had two. We had a Chief who would be where the Captain was, always where the Captain was. This was entering or leaving harbour or when somebody had given him the wheeze that Captain wanders onto the bridge. Action stations he would be alongside him and a Yeoman would be on the flag deck and of course his job was to get up onto the compass platform if wanted or if something happened as in the ACHILLES case act as Chief Yeoman. You would have probably about six on watch all the time. You would be doing visual signals.

You would be distributing the signals as they came in and copying them off I suppose and typing them up ?

We had messengers for that, they were generally signal boys or ordinary signalmen and they had to rush the signals around to the various departments.

Did you have to type up the signals ?

Yes we had a typewriter, on cruisers yes, we had a typewriter there. On destroyers no we didn’t have a typewriter.

You just did it by hand ?

Yes. The only typewritten ones that we got on destroyers were the ones we got when we got back into harbour. You would take a copy of that signal and distribute it around and the various officers would initial it, that they had seen it. Of course if they wanted a copy of it they would ask for a copy of it or refer to the signal log later on. Of course other logs would contain “Generals” according to what station you were on. When you went to action stations of course everybody scattered in every direction. As soon as they were relieved those that were on watch on the bridge went to their action stations, which maybe as it was in my case another part of the ship. My action station on the EMERALD was with the Commander in the after action position which was midships and he had a fire control position there with mechanical signal arms either side and a search light. My purpose was to pass the ranges to the guns in the event of a breakdown of communications.

So you were at the ECP, the Emergency Control Position ?


Is that what you called it in those days ?

They called it damage control I think.

But it was on the upper deck ?

It was on the upper deck and I was above the Commander position. We were in direct communication through a hatch.

There would be a spare wheel ?

No the after steering position was another position further aft. The Commander would either by telephone or by messenger convey his orders or by voice pipe to whoever was conning. As far as Flags were concerned we had spare wallets of flags and in the event we lost a mast our plan was to use the mainmast or funnels. I think EXETER was almost reduced to this state at the Plate Battle.

You had the search lights there ?

Search lights and mechanical signal arms. One fellow would go by `A’ gun and he would pass the ranges that he got from me to the guns there. Then there were other guns either side of the catapult, there was another fellow right aft there by the catapult and he would pass the ranges there.

How were you getting your ranges ?

From the Commander.

From the Commander who had what ?

A range finder by the big search light.

There was no gun director as such like we know today ?

There was a Primary director up forward, but my position was midships to act as a second line of communication. If I was on watch I had to high tail it to that position after I was relieved. The first time that I went to action stations I had just come down from a middle watch and the alarm rattlers went. I was sleeping in the port waist where there was a cinema and a nice cushion there. I was dosing there when the alarm rattlers went and in my haste to get to my station I actually over took a fellow on a ladder and went through the hatch before him. He was getting up that ladder and I went over his back and through the hatch.

You didn’t sleep in your mess deck, you slept on the upper deck ?

I slept on the upper deck, either on a piece of canvas or in your hammock slung if you had a particular posy you could sling it. If you altered course you very often had to get out of your hammock and shift it because you might run into a squall or if you altered course you went into the wind or something like that. You made sure that the fellow who called the relief’s knew where you were sleeping.

The mess decks were too uncomfortable to sleep comfortably in a hammock ?

Very hot and of course blacked out. Sleeping spaces down there were at a premium, there was only the table and the stools on either side. If you slept in a hammock you were in a bowl of sweat. It was far more healthy to sleep up top and take your luck with the monsoons and squalls and things like that. Those East Coast convoys were very interesting. The time that we spent in Durban was very happy too, because the English people that were in Durban at the time were under some sort of pressure from what they call the the OB’s, the Dutch Afrikaners who had wanted to go into the war on the side of Germany at one part. We were warned particularly to keep our mouths shut with regard our movements or whatever we were doing as far as these Afrikaners were concerned. The English people and there were still a lot there who had actually taken part in the Boer War and were farming. Some of them had received land grants as a result of their service who were delighted to have sailors stay with them and they gave you a good time too. One incident comes to mind that may be of interest. It was when we arrived in Mombasa from Durban on one occasion and everybody was piped down bar the signalman and I happened to be the signalman that was on duty on the flag deck this day alongside in Mombasa. There was a working party of Swahilis storing ship under control of a very officious Kenya Naval Reserve Chief Petty Officer. This Chief Petty Officer was pretty smart and he could speak English and he could speak Swahili and he could speak Afrikaans and he wanted to let everybody know that he could do this. I was watching his antics from the flag deck, he was below me and nobody knew that I was there. He had this party and the storing of the ship was drawing to a close. Paymaster Commander Thatcher was there giving him instructions of what he would want on his return. We were going down to Durban again and he would want so many ton of potatoes and so many of this and that. Every time that Commander Thatcher gave this fellow some instructions, he would salute him and say, “Yes Sir”. The Swahilis finished their job and he ordered them ashore. These Swahili fellows sprung to attention, bare feet slapped together and they ran up a plank and fell in on the wharf. He barked a few more orders at them and then turned around to pay attention to the Commander. The Commander had realized he wanted a box of salmon or something like that and he said, “Yes Sir”. He finally got all these instructions and one of these Swahilis moved and screamed at him and the final lot came and just about saluted with both hands to Commander Thatcher and took his leave from Thatcher he stepped towards the plank that the Swahilis had run up and he missed it and he went straight over the side. Commander Thatcher turned about and I saw him high tailing it towards the wardroom of course to get out of it and I ducked behind the canvas screen on the flag deck and had a good laugh. Fortunately for the Petty Officer these Swahilis didn’t hold it against him and they sprang and just got his fingers as he disappeared. What a mess. You can imagine him in all his whites being dragged up the side of an oily wharf. There were bits of bark off his knees and oil all over his beautiful white uniform, it was amusing to me I suppose, but it wasn’t amusing for him. Then I think a couple of convoys after that it was Christmas.

This is Christmas `41 ?

Yes and I was sleeping on the flag deck and it was the 7th December and I remembered it was my cousin’s birthday. I was sleeping on the flag deck and a joker shook me and he said, “Quick wake up, feet on the deck, the Japs have declared war on us”. I said, “Oh hell”. That was the 7th December for me, they hit Pearl Harbour and we had declared we were at war with the Japs. We did another convoy to Durban and on the way down we got news that the PRINCE OF WALES and the REPULSE had been sunk. I thought hell this is getting serious. We got into Durban and I felt as if we shouldn’t be in Durban, I should be over at Singapore. Any way we took another convoy up to Mombasa and it was two big troopers, I have forgotten their names now. I think the MT VERNON was one and another big trooper and it was Christmas Day and I saw these soldiers coming ashore and going past us up into Mombasa and I thought to myself Oh well they are going ashore for Christmas dinner which had been arranged ashore for them. We had our big eats on board and a nice Christmas dinner and the soldiers started returning to their ship. They were talking to our fellows as they went along past the EMERALD and one of them must have said, “What did you have for Christmas dinner”, and these boys had had nothing. Their food had gone rotten on this MT VERNON and so they never had any thing and they never had any Christmas dinner at all. The word went out quick right through the EMERALD that these soldiers had had nothing to eat. Quick as a flash our boys opened up all the ports along the wharf and one fellow was buttering bread as quickly as he could and somebody else was slapping a bit of ham on it and somebody else was wrapping it up and throwing it out through the port. Somebody would throw lollies and before we knew where we were we had a wharf full of soldiers clambering for food, That was their Christmas dinner. Next day I think it was we sailed and we were heading for Singapore. We were the only ship on the escort at the moment when we left Mombasa and we were to pick up a convoy, a most important convoy and get them over to Singapore. Paddy Flynn the skipper was anxious to know about this. He said to the RDF man a fellow named Booth, known as General, I want to know as soon as you can contact that convoy, let me know, turn on all your magic wheels and let me know about it. We were waiting for the news from General Booth in the RDF and a mast appeared over the horizon and then another mast and another mast and the next minute we started to challenge one another and it was the EXETER with her convoy. We were senior officer and so we took over control of the lot, stationed the EXETER in her position and away we went and we were heading for Port T. Then the whistle sounded on the voice pipe from the RDF hut, General Booth had got a contract on his RDF set and it was so many miles ahead of us and of course by this time the convoy was astern of us. Paddy said “Thanks very much”, so that’s how efficient or deficient the RDF was in those days. We then finished up with the MT VERNON and this other ship the AORANGI, the NGAKUNDA, the SUSSEX and one other, it might have been the FELIX RUSSELL, I am not sure now. Any way our first port of call from Mombasa was Port T, which I saw for the first time. We went in there and we refuelled and sailed on from Port T.

Where was Port T ?

Port T was Addu Atoll. Port T was called Port T and you weren’t allowed ashore, there was no cameras allowed, the natives were frightened of white men and all the rest of it. The charts that I saw of this place were dated I think 1941, early in 1941. We sailed from there for Singapore and on the way one of the signals that we made was to all the ships to indicate what troops they had on board and what important stores they had. The SUSSEX had 52 or 53 Hurricanes aboard, so she was given, or one of the ships that was given preference as far as protection from the surface vessels were concerned. She was stationed so that everybody could cover her and we moved to Singapore. When we got in the vicinity of the Sunda Straits of course we closed up to action stations. We went to action stations one day and I was in my damage control position watching the flags go up and up went able pennant three zebra and of course I knew what that meant, it was “enemy aircraft detected by RDF directly overhead”. I thought “My God we are going to get clobbered”. I put my tin hat on and I was looking up waiting for the stuff to come down. Nothing came down. The Navigating Officer of the MT VERNON went on the bridge and he solved the problem pretty quickly, it was VENUS, the fleet had gone to action stations on VENUS in broad daylight. It was shining like a blimp way up there in broad daylight. Any how we secured from that but shortly after that we went to action stations and remained at action stations for about three days and did the passage through the Sunda Strait up Lanka Strait into Singapore. At the entrance to Sunda Strait we were met by Admiral Karl Dorman, a Dutchman with his flag ship the DE RUYTER and SUMATRA and the VAN ESS and the VAN TROMP and so forth and they reinforced the convoy. We had about 15 warships there. But in challenging the DE RUYTER when she came over the horizon she looked like a pocket battleship, there was some delay in her coming clean with the correct reply and the first and second challenge had been made with no satisfaction and we were going into action. Captain Flynn had sent the convoy away from us and the EXETER was astern of us and a couple of other vessels and we were heading actually for the DE RUYTER and the deploy signal was flying which meant deploy on a certain course to bring all guns to bear. When all guns were bearing you opened fire. This signal was actually flying when the correct signal came back and it was DE RUYTER with Admiral Dorman on board who had nearly got a broadside from EXETER and EMERALD and a D Class cruiser I think it was. He came aboard us to give Paddy Flynn the latest that he knew of the war with the Japs and particularly in relation to submarines. He came over by motor boat, he came up on the flag deck and saluted all the signalmen and went up on the compass platform and I remember him coming backwards down the ladders which we used to fly up and down no trouble at all, but Admiral Dorman was more sedate about the thing. Anyway that was that and we got on our way to Singapore. Going up Bangka Strait we got a message from Singapore that we were being approached by 27 Japanese bombers and of course the thing was then to ask for help. A “HELP” message was sent out which was HELP and the answer to that was two Brewster Buffalo fighters came over the top which were useless really, very brave. What we did was stagger the line of merchant ships either side with warships to protect them with an umbrella barrage and there is a photograph in the Battle of the Java Sea showing the EXETER in action in Bangka Strait on that particular convoy. Fortunately for us the raid didn’t eventuate to any thing, the Japs went down the wrong side of Bangka Island and missed us. They returned and were apparently refuelled and sent after us again as we got closer to Singapore, we were a most vital convoy. They came at us again in the vicinity of Riau Strait, but fortunately for us our arrival in the Riau Strait area coincided with the terrific downpours of rain that you get in that area and they couldn’t see us. They bombed but it was a waste of bombs as far as they were concerned, we were quite happy about it and we got the convoy in. The convoy got in thanks to the rain and the fellow that makes it. Some of the ships went into Singapore Harbour and the EXETER and EMERALD went up into the Naval Base to refuel. We got to the Naval Base and passed the King George V floating dock and we went up right into the causeway with the Japs still raiding. It was an aircraft red, but of course the rain made it impossible to identify us. We went alongside a ship called the RUTHENIA {ed note previously called lake Champlain] which was a tanker moored right in close alongside the land itself on the southern end of the causeway and we were refuelling from her. As we had been closed up for action stations for several days the boys were piped down by our quarter masters.I happened to be one of the signalmen that was on the flag deck, there was one in the SDO, but I was on the flag deck and of course on either side of the flag deck we had quadruple .5 Machine Guns with the stanchions, rails and wires down for instant action. During that day I heard a roar coming up the river and I hopped onto the .5 and disengaged it so I could operate it myself. I could hear this aircraft coming up the river below the rain mist which was probably only a couple of hundred feet at the most above the water and underneath this lot came this aircraft. I was ready to open fire, although nobody told me to. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the pilot and I could see his eyes and for a fleeting moment I thought hell its one of our Wiriways and I came off the firing handle and he was gone. I have often wondered since whether it was a Zero or not, it doesn’t matter now, but its coincidental that during that day they mined the river up which we had come. The river was full of floating mines and we went out somewhere between midnight and 1 o’clock with the EXETER, the ELECTRA and the STRONGHOLD and fortunately got out without striking any mines.

They were actually floating contact mines ?

Yes and I think the aircraft that I saw could have been a plane sorting out the ships that were in there for the Japs. I don’t know, it could have been, you would have to get that from the Japanese Air Force, but any way that was that. The Jap Army was about 30 miles away from Singapore at the time and the troop trains were coming across the causeway loaded with allied wounded. Although I didn’t know it across the river in the Johore Hospital an uncle of mine had just had his appendicitis out. He was a New Zealander with the RNZAF construction unit there. We took off from there that night, that would be January the 13th/14th or 15th, somewhere around about there, it was the heaviest raid that Singapore had experienced. We were ordered to go down to Tanjongpriok and our purpose in going down there was to join up with the Dutch Forces again and I think they called it the ABDA Force, the American, British and Dutch Force which was concentrating in the area at the time or hoping to concentrate and I think even New Zealand cruisers had been warned to come up and join us. Interestingly enough there was that much rain when I was rigging the VCVF lights that night before leaving Singapore, I was up in the fighting top above the compass platform and one of the scuppers had blocked and there was about 18 inches of water up in the mast itself. We went down at high speed to Tangjongpriok and here we handed EXETER over and we saw some of the boys Dick Wagner, Snozz Jaffe an so forth that we had last seen in Colombo, they had joined the EXETER and some of the boys had a run ashore with them. We also met some of the survivors from the PRINCE OF WALES and the REPLUSE. One of the boys that were standing on the flag deck was telling one of the chaps there who had a brother on the PRINCE OF WALES whom he had last seeing going down the side of the PRINCE OF WALES, he went back inside one of the torpedo holes which was a very sad moment alright for him. A lot of them slid down the side of the PRINCE OF WALES when she was going down and fortunately she had been docked and I believe the bottom was fairly clean, but there were quite a few holes in it and some of the fellows unfortunately went back inside the ship. We got orders then to take Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton and his staff on board and evacuate them. Sir Geoffrey Layton was C in C Eastern Fleet and had taken over from Admiral Sir Tom Phillips who had gone down on the PRINCE OF WALES. Sir Geoffrey Layton came aboard with all his staff and he was accommodated right aft in the Captain’s day cabin and the wardroom. We sailed from a berth, where the TROMP was right opposite us and the EXETER. I think this must have been somewhere around about the 18th January. Sir Geoffrey Layton shifted out of Batavia and as we pulled out below us was the YARRA and I was actually looking down on the YARRA at how small she was. HMAS YARRA was a sloop, a river class sloop, Australian, and we headed off for Colombo with the Admiral on board at 28 knots. We hadn’t been going too long when the Admiral sent a messenger forward to the Captain asking him how long he intended to keep up this ridiculous speed. To please the Admiral, Paddy Flynn knocked her back a bit. Apparently the vibration was upsetting the Admiral right aft because he was accommodated right over the props. It was dark when we were going through Sunda Straits and the DCO, the Senior Officer of the Watch got a report from the port lookout that there was a submarine on the surface. He left the compass platform and he went to the look out positions and he said, “Give us a look”, He had a look through his glasses and said, “You are seeing things” and that was that and we went on. We got to Colombo eventually, safely. But 8 hours after we passed through that position where this lookout had reported the sub on the surface, I think it was a Norwegian tanker that was hit and Commander Thew in the JUPITER happened to be in the area. He had gone over with us with the EXETER as a matter of fact and we had left him in Tanjongpriok. Commander Thew came along about 8 hours after we had gone through this position. I spoke to Thew later on, after he had come out of the prison camp and he told me that when he got the report of the Japanese torpedoing this other ship, he looked at the seabed in that area and he surmised that this Jap would be lying on a bank that was there. He decided to search and got a contact. The next thing was I got an enemy report from JUPITER that he had got a submarine contact and was engaging an enemy submarine. The action went on for quite a while and we received several reports from Thew, one of which was that he had lost one of his forward mountings. I think it might have been B gun mounting was blown away by this Japanese submarine who must have been disabled by the depth charge attack and it developed into a surface action and they fought for sometime. Eventually the JUPITER got the upper hand of the submarine and I think that the skipper of the Japanese submarine collapsed on the quarter deck of the JUPITER with his entrails on his arm and gave Commander Thew his sword. The JUPITER was disabled actually before she got into the Battle of the Java Sea.

This is Pug Thew of Biss and Thew ?

Yes We went over to Colombo and we discharged Sir Geoffrey and he went ashore to establish his base in Colombo. Improvisation I should say was rife in those days. One of the first things they had to do when they got to Colombo was to get out of the bloody white uniforms that they had been walking around with in Raffles Hotel. What they did was dish out a lot of Condy’s Crystals and that’s what they used as a dye. All of a sudden the boys white uniforms didn’t have to be white any longer they could be khaki, that’s how they did it. We had a quick dry docking and we shot back to Singapore with another convoy which included two big Empress boats, EMPRESS OF ASIA and it could have been EMPRESS OF JAPAN or EMPRESS OF RUSSIA, but there were two big ones and other vessels, the names of which I am sure Owen Slattery would probably have in his diary. Slattery lives at Dairy Flat. We headed for Singapore. We got inside Sunda Straits and we handed the convoy over to some of the D Class Cruisers, I think there were two of them and the VAN ESS and the VAN ECK, Dutch Destroyers and we turned then and had orders to go to the assistance of Rangoon. That particular convoy had on board a big contingent of the Norfolk Regiment and they were actually sunk as they arrived at Singapore Roads and those boys went ashore from the ships more or less into the Japanese Prisoner of War Camps, just after we had handed them over. Unfortunate for them and fortunate for us. We then headed towards the Bay of Bengal and commenced operations in connection with Rangoon, Akyab and the Andaman Islands.

I think before we go onto your story you want to tell us a little bit more about your father ?

I did forget to tell you that when we mentioned the mine-sweeping cruise rendezvousing with the salvage cruise from the NIAGARA ashore in Whangarei that Dad was actually the Chief Baker of the NIAGARA at the start of the 14/18 War when she was on the New Zealand/Canadian run. I can recall him mentioning some of the VIP’s that he had as passengers. One was Dame Nellie Melba and I think it might have been on the NIAGARA that they produced that desert which was named after her or in her honour. That was one point that I forgot about. The other one was that between the time that the 14/18 War was declared Dad was on the East Coast of Australia, before he went on board the WAHINE in Port Chalmers. He did do a trip to UK and I am not sure of the name of the ship that he was on, but he was baker on a vessel that sailed from New Zealand with the main body and an escort of the main body was HMAS SYDNEY. It was on that particular trip that SYDNEY was detached. He saw her go away and she pounced on the EMDEN which was knocking hell out of the WT Station at Cocos Islands and she sunk the EMDEN and returned and joined the convoy. I remember him mentioning that, but I can’t say what ship he was on. It may have been CORINTHIC.

I think we left off at that part of the campaign in the east where we had handed over convoy to the D Class Cruisers to take on up through Banka Straits to Singapore and we were ordered then to go into the bay of Bengal and our mission there was to support convoys from Madras and Calcutta to Rangoon, which we did. We went to Madras and picked up convoys there and took them to Rangoon and this lasted a couple of months during which time we also escorted ships evacuating the people from Rangoon and evacuating the convict colony that had been established on the Andaman Islands. We received a signal from C in C, probably originating from the authorities in Singapore that the EMPIRE STAR had been taken over by a thousand Australian soldiers and they had sailed from Singapore and mutinied, they had taken this thing over at the point of Tommy guns and they had shot an officer who I believe was the Captain of the Dockyard or the Kings Harbour Master in Singapore. I think his name was Captain Atkinson but I wouldn’t be sure about that. Ernie Hay was down there trying to do his best to get people aboard that were entitled to get aboard the EMPIRE STAR and he was mobbed by these people that wanted to get out of the place and back to Australia. Our instructions were to intercept if possible, what we were going to do with them I don’t know, but of course we never spotted them, they headed straight back to Australia. It was during this time that I heard Tokyo Rose telling the world that we for one had gone down in a mass of flames. I think she must have been getting us mixed up with the EXETER or the PERTH, but she announced that the EMERALD had gone down. At that particular time we were doing about 28 knots after just having sent a convoy up the Irrawaddy to Rangoon. I also at that time got a report from the YARRA which I had seen when we sailed from Batavia, an enemy report. The first part of it was the self evident enemy reporting code, three enemy cruisers in sight and the next one was that she was engaging the enemy and that was the last that we heard of her. I thought what a terrific task she undertook. The reports have said since that she went down with her colours flying and there weren’t many survivors from the YARRA. That was the report, “Three enemy cruisers in sight,” followed by “engaging the enemy”. We used to do a convoy from Madras to Rangoon which would last us about a week. We would sail on the Sunday and we would return on a Sunday. What they used to do was give the boys a bit of leave and we would go to action stations alongside the wharf where we were and sail from there. As soon as you got outside the mole in Madras you were at sea, there was no gradual approach to it like there is to the Waitemata Harbour. You can imagine the happy state some of these fellows were in on the guns exercising action stations, having just returned from a quick run ashore from the Connematra Hotel. It was on one of those trips that we picked up I think it was 7 Laskar seamen who we had sighted floating on a hatch and they had been floating for some days in the burning sun of the Bay of Bengal on this hatch. Sometimes on the water and sometimes waist deep in the water and sometimes a little bit above it. It was the hatch of a dhow or some type of sailing vessel that had been shelled by a Japanese submarine and these survivors were floating about on this thing for days. When we sighted them and were making our way to them, between the time we picked them up a shark came inboard and took one. In spite of the fact that some of them were wounded, they had bits of shrapnel in them and they had been out for so long, when the whaler came alongside, these survivors didn’t wait for ladders or use the nets or anything, they came up like monkeys up the man ropes of where the whaler had been detached from. They spent their time on board us in a little gun shelter in quite rough conditions after the surgeons had finished taking the bits and pieces that they could from them. Anyway we settled them safely back in Madras. Our next move from there was up the Gulf of Bengal to Calcutta to Sanshead and then up the river to the Ganges to Budgibudg to oil and to pick up ships that were carrying troops down to Akyab to try and intercept and stop the Japanese advance there. Rangoon had fallen and Akyab was the next place to try and halt them. Well we sailed from Sanshead for Akyab with a troop ship and a few hours ahead of us was a paddle steamer. This was to be used to land troops on the beach at Akyab and would probably have been one of the first combined operations if it had come to finality. On the way up from Sanshead towards Akyab we passed a Norwegian tanker inward bound and she hadn’t long disappeared over the horizon when we got a submarine report. It was just a submarine report, a SSSG report, the torpedo report was a TTTT. It was a submarine report and she apparently scampered out of it. But we got orders to return with our paddle steamer and troops to Sandshead, which we did fairly smartly and the landing never eventuated. We sent them back up the river and then we were detailed off to get back down to Madras. This was getting towards the end of March and from Madras we got orders to proceed to Trincomalee and we went down there at full speed. Probably we were the last cruiser that was in the Bay of Bengal. We arrived in Trincomalee and after oiling we were laying at the telephone buoy. Myself as an ordinary signalman was detailed off as SDO messenger. I was on watch on the flag deck and telephone rang and I answered it and it was the Duty Cipher Officer ashore. I think he was probably in Admiralty House or somewhere like that which we used as a residential area in those days. Our Duty Cipher Officer wishes to speak to our Cipher Officer. I said, “Yes Sir”, our wardroom was right aft on that ship and I had to go right aft to get him and I did that. When I came forward out of courtesy I left him with the telephone in the flat to the Signal Distributing Office and I went out onto the flag deck to get out of ear shot. Actually I was standing by the .5 inch quadruple mounting on the starboard side and unintentionally I was standing right underneath the black out air vent. It kept the light from coming out alright but I could hear everything that was being said through this hole and I could have been a fifth columnist, it could have been an enemy agent of any sort that was standing there. I was standing there and our Duty Cipher Officer exchanged identities with this chap who was ashore and the next thing I heard him say was, “Is it in plain language or is it in cipher ?” The chap at the other end must have said, “I have got both”. Our chap said, “Okay give me the plain language and I will repeat it back to you”. That was done and at the end of the reception of the message our fellow said “Very well, will repeat this back just to make sure I have got it correct”. In plain language he gave a message which went something like this. It was to the EMERALD, it was most immediate, top secret to the EMERALD, (INFO) “HERMES” and VAMPIRE from C in C EF. It went on to say information had been received that a Japanese battle fleet was approaching Ceylon and that there was going to be high jinks, it was thought that there was going to be an invasion of Ceylon and that the EMERALD was to take the HERMES and VAMPIRE under her orders and proceed with the utmost despatch to rendezvous with C in C EF who was Admiral Sir James Somerville in the WARSPITE in a position which was southeast of Dondra Heads the southern point of Ceylon. All hell was let loose and my hair what there was of it was standing on end. It also gave a composition of the enemy force which was approaching and amongst them was five aircraft carriers. I thought this was going to be rather exciting. Anyhow there was hustle and bustle around the ship and the HONGSIANG was the supply ship which was in Trincomalee and of course we having just arrived from the Bay of Bengal had to get our stores on board. A motor boat with the crew was called away and the stores party to go to the HONGSIANG and get the stores. When they got there the Chinese crew that were on the HONGSIANG rebelled. They refused to give us our stores. Whether they were too tired or whether it was the result of enemy agents and they were pretty prevalent around India at that time, they were hoping that we were going to go down. The motor boat returned to the EMERALD and reported and without any further a do, a marine boarding party was called away with fixed bayonets. They came back with our stores. As soon as we got settled down and everything we sailed from Trinco to carry out this rendezvous. Here we met on a calm sea the composition of what was to be the ships that were to compose Force A and Force B of the Eastern Fleet under Sir James Somerville. EMERALD with our sister ship was on the starboard wing of the screen to give heavier support to the destroyers and the ENTERPRISE our sister ship went on the port wing of the screen. That was our station for the whole of the series of operations that involved Easter 1942 in the Indian Ocean.The Fleet had never been together before and it comprised 5 battleships, the WARSPITE and 4 R Class battleships the INDOMITABLE and the FORMIDABLE and the HERMES. Our aircraft were Albacore with one or two Fulmars amongst them and some Martlets, but there weren’t many of them.

HERMES was the only carrier ?

No FORMIDABLE, INDOMITABLE and HERMES. HERMES was the old one, she had Swordfish aircraft on board and the INDOMITABLE had the more modern by-plane which was the Albacore and they used them as torpedo bombers. Naturally we had to get to know one another like a football team and Admiral Somerville commenced exercises and manoeuvres so that the fleet would get used to doing these manoeuvres. At the same time finally getting himself into a position to intercept the Japanese Forces that were approaching from the Sunda Strait area. He had no knowledge at this stage just exactly where they were. The R Class Battleships started to run out of fuel and water. Being built before the 14/18 War they were designed for short forays across the North Sea for the German fleet and they were never designed for the tropics. In addition to that they could only do 18 knots, whereas the WARSPITE I think could do 24 knots. He split the Fleet into two Forces, fast and slow, A & B. Force B had to go back into Port T which was used as our supply base, Addu Atoll in other words. They preceded Force A into Port T somewhere around about the 4th of April to refuel and reprovision and so forth. Admiral Somerville decided also that as they were being replenished that he would replenish Force A. We went in after Force B and commenced refuelling. It was around about that time that Admiral Somerville for the first time was to meet his Captain’s of the various units and discuss the situation and plans. He was actually involved in talking to these Captains of the various ships and he received a report, the first report from a Catalina that was operating from China Bay in Trincomalee, that a large concentration of enemy ships were approaching Ceylon some 3 or 400 miles from Dondra Head. He decided to get out of there as quick as he could and close with the enemy. This was done, the ship that I was on and our sister ship were last to refuel and as soon as we completed fuelling we took off. That was quite exciting, we were going into action, I just can’t say exactly when it was, but I had the middle watch the next night I think it was. He had detached the DORSETSHIRE and CORNWALL when we came into Port T to proceed to Colombo to refuel and he had also detached the HERMES and VAMPIRE an Australian destroyer to go up to Trincomalee and wait up there. The reason that he did this was that he thought, because of the lack of reports that the Japanese Fleet had changed their minds and returned to Java. All of a sudden he got this report from the Catalina. We left Port T to engage the enemy if he could. The next night the Japanese had gone through and attacked Colombo. The CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE got out of there in a hurry, they had got orders also from Admiral Somerville to rejoin the Fleet and they were belting from the Colombo area in our direction, on a south westerly course. At the time we were making an approach to the Japanese Fleet and Admiral Nagumo, his Japanese aircraft were knocking hell out of Colombo. During that afternoon I was on watch on the starboard side of the flag deck and we got a report from the CORNWALL,”1 Shad”, which meant 1 enemy aircraft was shadowing me. Not long after that, and there were no further reports from either DORSETSHIRE or CORNWALL, I reported smoke on our starboard bow and shortly after that there was an alteration of course away from that smoke. On reflection that would have been the smoke from the CORNWALL which burnt, both ships went down very quickly. Admiral Somerville had obviously altered course away and fortunately for us and I don’t know how but someone must have been looking after us. The Japanese aircraft didn’t sight the major part of the Eastern Fleet. He turned away and it would have been that night when I was on the middle watch on the compass platform, I went on the middle watch and took over the watch as second hand of the watch. Signalman Woods was handing over to me, gave me the course and speed of the Fleet, position of the Admiral, the cruising disposition and the zig zag diagram we were doing, the first and second challenges in reply and so forth. He finished up by saying we are going into action at dawn. “The Japanese Fleet is 15 miles on our starboard beam and we are going into action at dawn and I am going to have a sleep.” That was that and we were settled down and we were going into action at dawn and around about 2 o’clock in the morning signals came through from the WARSPITE which caused us to throw the screen back. We changed our night screening diagram from one back to another, which simply meant that our lateral line of advance was reduced. After he had done that his next manoeuvre was to do a White One Eight,which altered the course of the Fleet 180 degrees to starboard in succession, completely away from where he was going. I thought to myself he has changed his mind we are not going into action and I was a little bit annoyed about that, fancy turning away, hell after all that we had been through. Any way that was in fact what did happen and we then went back down into Port T, the Japanese Fleet went back through in a south easterly direction and then went up into the Bay of Bengal and caught the HERMES and VAMPIRE which had been sent out to disperse more or less in the Bay of Bengal. They caught them off the coast there some how and sank them both very quickly. Admiral Somerville dispatched our sister ship the ENTERPRISE and the two destroyers PALADIN and PANTHER the next day to proceed to a position where the CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE had gone down. They recovered the survivors who had been floating for 24 hours or more under the blazing sun in fuel oil and brought them back. Captain Agar VC, DSO, RN, was amongst them, he was the Captain of the DORSETSHIRE. We went back into Port T and a decision was made then to disperse.The units that Admiral Nagumo and Admiral Ozawa had went around the top of the Bay of Bengal knocking hell out of what shipping there was about in Madras and Sandshead. They went back down through the Malacca Straits to their Bases to be patched up and serviced in Japan. They never ever returned into the Indian Ocean, they never ever returned. We weren’t to know that then, Admiral Somerville then decided to send some ships to East Africa to establish a Base, which he had to have and he decided to take his Force A to Bombay and act as deterrent in case the Japs tried to get through to Egypt again or attack ships that were taking our troops to Egypt. We proceeded to Bombay and we were there a couple of days during which time Admiral Somerville came aboard all the ships and apologized for not engaging the enemy and telling us the reason why. I will never forget on the focsle of the EMERALD where he spoke to us, he had alongside him Captain Agar wrapped up in bandages from various bits and pieces that had been knocked off him in the sinking of the DORSETSHIRE. Admiral Somerville said that he was going to get more units as they became available from other Fleet areas and he was going to work up an Eastern Fleet which he would be very proud of and he would not leave the station until his flag was flying in Singapore again. There was three cheers for the Admiral and he said, “If any of you bastards see me coming along the street in Bombay and if you turn away from me I will kick you right in the backside”, that was it, we had met the Admiral. Quite a man he was. The next day while we were in Bombay myself and the other three New Zealand signalmen went aboard the WARSPITE to pass for signalmen and I am happy to say that we were successful. In Bombay aboard the old WARSPITE I became a signalman, a fully blown signalman. During these operations in the Bay of Bengal how were you closed up, you were at defence watch or were you at action stations most of the time.

How did they manage the watch-keeping in a wartime situation ?

Prior to us joining up with the Eastern Fleet our routine being an independent vessel, we used to go to dawn and evening action stations apart from our normal watch-keeping. We used to work three west country watches, so you had the middle, forenoon and first I think it was. The dog watchmen were responsible for getting the afternoon tea and that sort of thing, I remember that much about it. With dawn action stations if you had the middle watch which is from 12 to 4 midnight am and in the morning you went to dawn action stations and you had the forenoon, it is quite likely that you would be on watch for 12 hours, from 12 until 12, because if anything was in sight which had to be investigated it prolonged you getting down below to have a shower and have a bit of a kip before you went on to the forenoon watch again. When we joined up with the Eastern Fleet we for the first time were in company with vessels who had really efficient radar and for the first time for us we didn’t have to go to dawn stations.

That was really just the cessation of dawn and evening action stations ?

For us it was. Once you had a ship there with radar you were okay. FORMIDABLE and INDOMITABLE and these others of course had an efficient radar.

They presumably would be sending out early morning aircraft I suppose ?

Yes As far as I was concerned personally it became a little easier or we were getting into the hair raising stuff, we were getting into fleet action. I remember one day when the main body was in line ahead, both forces were together. It must have been just after we pulled out of Port T to go out and presumably engage. Sid Browning who was an Acting Yeoman on the EMERALD was looking at the line of ships already astern of us or on our port quarter and he sort of mumbled to himself “I didn’t think I would ever see those ships in action again”. I said, “What ships Yeoman ?”, and he said “Those battlers there”. said, “Where were you in action with them before ?”, and he said, “The Battle of Jutland”. I said “They weren’t at the Battle of Jutland were they ?”, and he said “Yes they were”. I thought holy mackerel, and I then realized just how old they were. Of course I also realized what the fellows had to put up with in those ships, especially the R Class Battleships with a following wind, the exhaust fumes from the one funnel went back right up into the fighting top and director towers where quite a heap of men were stationed in terrific heat. I believe it was that damn hot up there that these fellows had to wear asbestos clothes to get in and out of the compartments up on those tops and they had a very rough time. I had a chap with me in Mombasa who had a complete mental breakdown in the hut one night and it took about six Marines to hold him down and get him away. Joe Pay was his name, from London, and he was one of the chaps that was up in that fighting top. It was no wonder he had been under a hell of a strain for such a long, long time.

How did you eat at defence station, because a lot of the cooks had been on watch in the magazines. Did you have to eat on your job, or how was it all arranged ?

No we never had to because we never actually went into a prolonged action, but provision was made for that in various places on the ship. There were boxes which contained bully beef and biscuits and the cooks, part of their job was to make sandwiches and have that ready for you when you had a break. Although we were closed up at action stations at various times we always seemed to be able to get down to our own mess and have something to eat there. If you had of been called to action stations well you dropped whatever you were eating pretty quick smart and got to where you should have been.

What clothing did you wear ?

Mainly just sandals and white shorts and no shirt. When you were going into what was going to be an action station, one was the occasion when we were approaching the Japanese Fleet your requirement was to make sure that you were clean bodily and that you had clean underwear on and you had your anti flash gear on, you wore that.

Long number eights or overalls or something ?

No 8’s were not issued then but we did wear clean overalls.

You wore anti flash and overalls ?

Yes thats right, gloves, head cap and tin hat and that was it. It was funny after we got into Bombay the Whalers were put into the water and sank.Whilst we were with the fleet down off the Maldive Islands south of Ceylon, quite a few umbrella barrages had been put up. I used to see the expended stuff coming down but didn’t realize the effectiveness or the danger of it until we put these Whalers in the water and they submerged. The stuff that was coming down, our own stuff had put holes in our own life saving equipment, it was full of holes. After being aboard the WARSPITE we sailed from Bombay at night. General Wavell came aboard the WARSPITE and we took him down to Colombo during a terrific monsoon. He had been in Batavia and had evacuated from there and was up in Bombay and was to go down and take overall command in Ceylon. It was a convenient way for him to travel and Sir James Sommerville took him down on the WARSPITE. When we got into Colombo of course here was the effects of the Japanese air attacks right before us. The HECTOR the AMC which had been in New Zealand early in the war had been hit and she was sitting on the bottom still burning a bit. The TENEDOS which had been actually in Walkers Dry Dock had been hit in the Dock, she was a mess and several other ships. Our next move then was to do something of course the rank and file didn’t know anything about, but it had been decided by the War Cabinet to invade Madagascar and forestall any opportunity that the Japs might take or the Jerries might take of invading Madagascar and thus closing our convoy routes to the Army in Egypt. Madagascar of course was Vichy

French ?

Yes and apparently it had been used, and Intelligence had information that it was being used by Japanese submarines and German submarines. We went down to the Seychelle Islands, mainly Force A and another couple of cruisers joined us, one was the NEWCASTLE. I remember NEWCASTLE in particular, there could have been another one, we had a fairly fast force. From the Seychelles we headed towards Diego Suarez and our job there was to patrol to the north east of Diego Suarez and act as a covering force while another force was landed from the other side of Diego Suarez. Actually it was to be an attack which came overland to the port of Diego Suarez and captured from an overland attack from Units of the Fifth Commandos, South Africans and I think there might have been the Kings East African Rifles. The Fifth Commandos and all these other troops comprised the Brigade which carried out Operation “Iron-Clad“. This I think was somewhere around about the beginning of May 1942. By this time the attack went in and we listened at long distance to the reports and there was a hold up in one part of it when some French Colonial troops were holding up the advance to the port. With us was a destroyer called the ANTONY. The ANTONY was ordered alongside a ship to take a detachment of Marines and then ANTONY entered the harbour at high speed and the skipper put her in stern first on to the pier at Diego Suarez and landed these Royal Marines. They came up from the rear of these French Colonial troops that were holding things up and they were quickly subdued and of course Diego Suarez was ours. Just as a matter of interest the Gunnery Officer of ANTONY was a New Zealander, Commander Lennox King. We have his story of that at some length. Any way they did a great job. It was in our hands and from there we went up to Mombasa and established a Fleet Base there, from which operations in the future took place. Signalmen were taken off various ships to establish a base ashore and I was one that was taken from the EMERALD and put ashore to help establish a signal office at HMS TANA I think it was. Every thing that went into and out from the shore authorities for the full Eastern Fleet, 5 Battleships plus 2 carriers and many, many others went through our office, you can imagine how busy we were. It came from the Fleet which was scattered all around Kilindini Harbour and up into the upper reaches which were called Port Reitz, through the ADAMANT, who was a submarine depot ship that was moored off the point there at TANA and she was used as the shore signal station. Communication from then on was by telephone to us to the various shore authorities.The ADAMANT transmitted all outgoing traffic and received all incoming traffic to and from the Fleet by visual signals. It was a very, very busy time. Following that I went aboard the ADAMANT as one of the Signalmen on the ADAMANT itself. For the whole of our watches we would be up semaphoring all the time, continually passing out messages and receiving them when we were on watch, to the Fleet in harbour.

Was the ADAMANT a specialist depot ship or was it just a merchant ship takenover ?

ADAMANT was a brand new submarine depot ship and she was coming out to do that job and I think they were going to put her over in the Ceylon area. She also might have been going up to replace the MEDWAY which had been sunk off Alexandria. A ship called the HECLA was coming out to act as destroyer depot ship for the Eastern Fleet and unfortunately she struck a mine coming into Simonstown and so she was disabled and the ADAMANT was ordered to replace her. She was a brand new ship and very comfortable and we had great quarters on her, all the submarine mess decks were our mess decks and she did a great job as the destroyer depot ship. We used to have the odd submarine alongside us.

Were there many British submarines there ?

No we had a couple of Dutch submarines which managed to get away. They used to come and also one particular visit that we had there at one time was the CROMARTY, CROMER and ROMNEY. CROMARTY was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Palmer, one of our New Zealand RNVR’s, and he was alongside us. Also the 7th Destroyer Flotilla which was the NORMAN, NIZAM, NEPAL and NESTOR, an Australian Flotilla, they made their home alongside us when they were in harbour. The New Zealanders and the Australians used to have some very happy times together when we were on leave and I was quite often involved in organizing a rugby team to go ashore. Of course when a Kiwi rugby team went ashore, we had the full support of the Australian 7th Destroyer Flotilla. Mainly our opposition was from the R Class Battleships. The lower deck ratings didn’t seem to play much rugby and so we were often battling the Commander from the REVENGE or something like that.

It would be pretty good fun too I suppose ?

Oh we used to have a lot of fun yes, it was good. Sailing in the leisure hours, when we could we spent sailing and we had great success there because Owen Slattery one of our signalmen was an excellent sailor from Northcote, peace-time, having started off in the Z Class, and he was most popular with the Chief Yeoman. He used to take the Chief Yeoman as his forward hand and they quite often won. I don’t think that they were beaten in the sailing dinghy races that were around the fleet in those days. Well the EMERALD was returned to England about that time and I lost her.

What dates are we at now ?

June, July, August 1942. It was May 1942 when the Fleet came in and established itself in Mombasa. It was during that time also that I went aboard the REVENGE and sat an examination for a trained operator and we had a little star above our flags if we were good enough to do that. With all the experience that I had had, and pressure cooker experience it was that I had on the ADAMANT I had no difficulty in being passed on the REVENGE as a trained operator and I was very proud of my first little star. We had Zwahili signalmen with us there too and we used to get on very well with the Zwahilis, they were very good signalmen. But there was one draw back, sometimes when you were reading or writing down for them reading a signal they would go off in Zwahili and so the trick was to put a Zwahili with a Zwahili and a Kiwi with a Kiwi, otherwise you had some difficulty in that. While I was on the ADAMANT there at colours one morning a chap said to me, “Your Aussie friend has just gone over the side”. I looked over the side and in the bottom of a stretcher was a chap from Morrinsville, he wasn’t an Aussie he was a Kiwi, Happy Ensor, Heaton Ensor. What had happened to Ensor, was that he had been stowing the hammocks apparently about this time. We were accommodated on the submarine mess decks which were situated above an armoured deck and the hammock stowage was down through one of these heavy armoured hatches. They were a good two if not two and a half inches thick of solid steel. They were lifted and lowered by means of a western purchase or a chain block. Apparently Happy Ensor had been stowing these hammocks or helping to stow the hammocks down this hatch and some fellow was halfway up the hatch and Ensor had taken the clip off it to close the hatch. The clip of the hook that was on to the eye of the hatch became detached and all of a sudden he realized that he was getting the full weight of this armoured hatch when it got beyond a certain point. He sung out to the fellow who was coming up through the hatch “Quick,get out of there”, and this fellow came out with a jump alright, Ensor let the hatch go and stepped back, but he left his right foot inside the combing. The result was that Happy Ensor was minus all his toes, the fore part of his right foot was gone. It was in one corner and he was in the other corner of this sling and he was on his way across to the VITA, I think was the Hospital Ship that we had attached to the Fleet, either the VITA orthe VASNA, she was in harbour there and he was sent over there and later repatriated to New Zealand. That was one of the incidents then and this would probably take us up to around about June.

On your history sheet here it has you leaving EMERALD on the 4th June, but whatis TANA, did you mention TANA ?

Yes TANA was the Base Station, HMS TANA.

So you joined there on the 5th June and you were there until November `42.

I might have been there on their books, but I was shifted around. From TANA I was sent to be Signalman on the ADAMANT, the Submarine Depot ship which was the shore signal station and then during that time I went to REVENGE and did my examination. From the ADAMANT, Cyril O’Donnell and I were sent across to a ship called the BURMA, the SS BURMA, which was being used as a personnel depot ship. She was one of the old British India Steamship Company vessels and they accommodated the people that were coming out from England down in the hold of this ship and from there drafted them to various units of the Eastern Fleet. She was anchored fore and aft on the other side of the river off Palalisa and Signalman O’Donnell and I were sent there to communicate with the Fleet and arrange for any drafts in andout of the place and worked under the direction of a Merchant Navy Captain. We were quite comfortable on there, we had a cabin, the food wasn’t too good, but we were quite comfortable. For the weeks that we were there it was most enjoyable. The thing that came to me in regard to that was we had a bit of a mutiny on board there. As well as Navy fellows coming in and out of the ship we had a lot of Merchant Navy and of course they weren’t used to the skimpy food that we had, they were getting bacon and eggs for breakfast and all sorts of things like that and they objected to the accommodation and the food. Because of the objections of the Merchant Navy chaps and they refused duty and all the rest of it, this Captain cleared lower deck. He had the Navy boys on the hatch with the Merchant Navy and he gave them a real telling off. He told them that if they didn’t do what they were told he would let the Navy deal with it, words to that effect and they looked around upon us in a very sour sort of way. However it smoothed over and we got on with the war. Then one afternoon there was a vessel alongside the wharf called the ALBATROSS, HMS ALBATROSS built in Australia, she was a sea plane carrier. I got a call from her and upon answering it, it was an emergency actually, an indication of priority never ever used, except when there was more or less a national emergency. The signalman on there came up with this indication of priority in the call and it was to the BURMA from the ALBATROSS and concerned Signalman O’Donnell and myself. We were to pack our bags and report aboard the ALBATROSS immediately. This was news to me, and I didn’t know what was going on, but any how we packed our bags and immediately hopped on board the ALBATROSS.

You said it was a seaplane Carrier ?

She was a seaplane carrier which had been built in Australia and had been involved in using Walrus. She could carry 9 Walrus aircraft and she was involved in Freetown prior to this using her Walrus aircraft on anti submarine patrols. She appeared over here in Mombasa. I must just mention it was at the time I was on the ADAMANT that I met a lot of New Zealand radar fellows who had come over there, there was Scantlebury from Nelson and others that arrived over from New Zealand. Malcolm Bond who died last week and several others. One of the fellows that I met on the ADAMANT and said goodbye to, was Bruce Alexander. Bruce was going to England and I said, “Oh thats good”, and I wished him farewell, good luck and all the rest of it and he joined the EMPRESS OF CANADA and they sailed from Mombasa. Unfortunately she was torpedoed off Freetown or in that area and there weren’t many survivors. Bruce was not a survivor. The sharks got in amongst the people in the water and it was quite a shocking scene that the rescue vessels came upon, little did he know his fate. We reported aboard on the quarter deck of the ALBATROSS and we were met by a Lieutenant, “Wheldale and O’Donnell”, “Yes Sir” and saluted this officer. He introduced himself and I have forgotten what his name was now but he was quite a nice chap. He said, “Do you know where you are going ?”, and I said “No, no idea”, “Well” he said, “You are with me now”, he said, “You are in combined operations and we are going down to invade Madagascar and you are not allowed ashore, we are sailing tonight, this is top secret, go and find yourself some accommodation in the hangar and you will be messing with the ships signalman down below, but you are in the staff of the Combined Operations, this is a Combined Operations Headquarters ship”. I had a look around and got my bearings and I find some VIP’s on board, one was Major General Sturgess, a Royal Marine Commando and Captain Garnons-Williams, who was our Senior Naval Officer of Landings and a lot of VIP’s. We sailed as darkness came down and set course for Majunga on the West Coast of Madagascar. There was quite a convoy of us and we met up with others in the vicinity of Mozambique Channel and commenced an approach, this would have been very early September, commenced an approach to the Port of Majunga, this was our landing point, we were landing very early in the morning. This was something that I hadn’t expected and it was quite exciting to be lead into a hostile beach at midnight.

You were a signalman as part of the landing team ?

No I was actually second hand of the watch, I didn’t go ashore in the landing craft, I was second hand of the watch on the Headquarters ship, a very important position. We were lead in by CROMARTY, CROMER, and a couple of other sweepers. For the first time all of sudden I myself spotting out blue lights that had been lit in the water for us to feel our way in by. We got in, we anchored, we sent the troops ashore. EMPIRE PRIDE was one of the ships that had the Fifth commandos and Royal Welsh Fusiliers on board. We landed these fellows somewhere around about 2 o’clock in the water and they were supported close into the beach by a couple of Hunt Class Destroyers, one of which was the BLACKMORE so it was quite exciting. As dawn started to break I was on watch and I saw a pine tree making a signal at me, most unusual. I answered this pine tree and Major General Sturgess was standing alongside me and he said “What’s he saying Signalman ?”. The guts of the signal was the boys had caught the French Commander Martin in bed and he had surrendered unconditionally, who wouldn’t. I was able to pass the signal to the Senior Officer of the troops like the Major General from this pine tree. I often say I took the surrender of Majunga. There wasn’t much of a battle there at all. The biggest battle I think was getting the corks out of the wine ashore that the Commandos found. The result of this was one of our Signalman Taffy Robins shot himself through the penis and he thought somebody else had done it. What had happened was he had his .45 Revolver which the signalman carried laying across his lap and they were in a crouch position making an approach to this French Commandant’s house and a shot rang out. Taffy tensed and everybody else tensed and then Taffy felt the pain. He put a .45 in the top of his penis and it had come out the end, but he was intact. We captured the French Hospital run by French Nuns and Taffy was attended to by these French Nuns. He found it a bit tough early in the morning I think when he was abit piss proud and the stitches stretched on him. However we got him back after a couple of days and the Fleet weighed anchor. One of the interesting things that happened during the landing was that I got a signal from an R Boat, which was one of the fast Landing Craft saying that they couldn’t start their motors. The Fleet Engineer Officer who I later had the pleasure of taking across the harbour from Stanley Bay when I was a Skipper on the Stanley Bay Ferry was standing on the bridge there and he said to me, “Tell them to tow them”, which I did. The Landing Craft burst into action and completed their mission. The problem was that on the way out from England the people hadn’t maintained the batteries and the batteries on some of these Landing Craft were found to be flat. We very quickly learn’t that if you tow something that has got a big throw of a propeller you can use that in the same manner that you can use a push on a car and that is exactly what we did. Fortunately this fellow was standing right alongside and there was no delay, but it could have been pretty serious. Majunga was over and done with and the troops were advancing towards the capital Taranarive from Diego Suarez and from Majunga. The whole Fleet at Majunga up anchored and took off around the top to Tamatave which is on the eastern side and we were to do the same thing there. We made an approach into Tamatave in the early hours of the morning in September, about the 10th I think it might have been. To get into Tamatave we had to get past an Island and make an alteration of course and then take the Fleet along parallel to the beach which was to the north of the little port of Tamatave and that was going to be our landing spot. In order to guide the Fleet in that were following us we had to make this turn and of course the way we used to do it in those days was the break F method. You made that preamble and the meaning of that break F, break F, break F was, do not answer, do not answer. The transmitting station would make that through six times, the break F part of it, give the text of the message and finishthat was it. You never got any receipt for it, but the idea was that you never disclosed the position if somebody might have been ahead of you. I did this I gave them a break F message and what did I get, I got a roger from the big white light from the fool who was astern of me. It apparently didn’t give the show away and we sneaked in undetected and anchored right alongside the beach. We had closed up into our anti flash action gear at that stage, somewhere around about midnight, which was our anti flash gear, tin hats, clean underwear and all the rest of it and got at anchor alongside the beach. Then we were in communication with the shore station, the Vichy French chap that was ashore in Tamatave, we asked him to surrender unconditionally. Garnons-Williams was the Senior Naval Officer of Landings and he was on board ALBATROSS, and he didn’t want to open fire on the French and we had anchored within probably 200 yards of the beach cruisers and destroyers and we had 6 inch guns, I think 6 inch was about the heaviest and down to .5’s and Lewis guns covering this stretch of beach. The WARSPITE and 1 Fleet Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS (it could have been) were in support about 20 miles to the east. The Merchant ships that carried the troops were anchored behind us on these award side waiting to get the word to come in. I think it was somewhere around about 5 o’clock Garnons-Williams got a message to the French chap ashore and he asked for time to consider surrendering unconditionally so nobody would get hurt. Captain Garnons-Williams agreed to this, he gave him an hour or so more to think about it. In the meantime the boys were getting a bit scratchy the sun was starting to come up and we were covered in this anti flash gear and sweating a bit, understandably. Behind us we got news that the troops had been put in the boats ready to land they were getting seasick and helpless, there was quite a surge there and things were getting serious and so they took the troops back on board. When the time was up Captain Garnons-Williams still didn’t want to open fire and he didn’t want to land the troops. He said, “Send an Officer in white rig and two ratings with a white flag on one of the R Boats to parley with them.” They very quickly got an officer and two ratings onto an R Boat with a white flag and he pulled out from behind us to head into the direction of the wharf. He had only got away from us about a 100 yards or so in the direction of the wharf when somebody opened up a machine gun on them. At this particular time Garnons-Williams was on the flag deck of the ALBATROSS where I was and I had flag 5 bent on, which was the signal for open fire. As soon as this machine gun opened up, Garnons-Williams said to me “open fire”, and flag 5 hit the yard arm pretty smartly. Of course as soon as it appeared over the platform of the flag deck all hell broke loose as 6 inch to 4.7’s and . 5’s hit this beach for about 10 minutes. Coconut trees and sand and all sorts of things went sky high. There was special ammunition used and the guns of course were depressed, but there must have been a certain amount of ricochet and some of it went into the town and I think several of the inhabitants were killed, I think about 7 were killed. The troops were very quickly brought from behind us in the R Boats and they hit the beach without any opposition and started their advance up towards Taranarive. We discovered that while this Frenchman had been asking for time to consider things, what he had been doing was putting his family and friends and plenty of wine on the train and had cleared out and was on the way by train up to the capital inland. Any way very quickly some of our Walrus aircraft went into the air and they were able to co-operate with the Army and report and pass their observations to them. About 3 days later I think it was our boys had reached the capital too and in a very short time the whole of Madagascar capitulated, I think about a fortnight after Tamatave we had the whole Island in our possession and it wasn’t too soon. In between the time of Deigo Suarez and Majunga the RESOLUTION was laying in Diego Suarez and she was torpedoed along with one of the British tankers which was laying alongside her and sunk by I think a Japanese submarine. They had been using the place with the knowledge of the Vichyits.It was just as well Winston Churchill made the decision to capture the place. From then on we had more or less a solid front behind us for future operations across the Indian Ocean up into the Bay of Bengal as and when the ships became available and were ready to go. When Tamatave was over, the Lieutenant that had met us on the quarter deck of the ALBATROSS in Mombasa, promptly shouted Signalman O’Donnell and I a beer, it was a lovely beer and he wanted us to join Combined Ops and stay with him. I always had a liking for destroyer work, I wanted to get on a destroyer. I said, “Well I think I would sooner return to Fleet work”. The result was that the Combined Operations Team that was involved went back up to Bombay and prepared themselves for the next operation which was in the Mediterranean and on into Sicily and I went back to the Fleet for awhile.

Before you go back to the Fleet, tell us a little bit about how the ALBATROSS operated its aircraft and about the Walruses ?

She carried 9 Walruses in a hangar forward and of course their wings were folded and they were compacted in the hangar and they were lifted on a lift. They were lifted to the upper deck on a lift and put on a catapult and catapulted into the air.

Just one catapult ?

I think we had two, one either side forward. She was very high forward and of course the hangar was used for the accommodation of the Army WT sets. They could also be lifted by crane over the side and fly off the water themselves, but that is how they were recovered, by crane, back on board.

Were all the same fitted on the cruisers ACHILLES, LEANDER or had they some new equipment in them ?

No they were just plain old pusser ducks I think we called them with a pusher propeller.

With a pilot and one observer ?

Yes and the Sea Fox that we had on the EMERALD was a similar sort of plane really only it had big floats. The trick with recovering aircraft at sea, once they had been catapulted off, which was quite a simple operation, you more or less steamed into the wind or just slightly off the wind and fired them into the air. To get them back on board was a little tricky, especially if it was rough. What we used to do was to prepare to take on an aircraft, this is if we were at sea underway, prepare to take on an aircraft by what they call the slick method. The slick method was that we would get up to a high speed and go hard to starboard and smooth all the sea out. While we were smoothing it out the aircraft would come down wind and across wind and land in the calm water and we would coincide our arrival alongside the aircraft while the water was still smooth, hook on the crane and recover. That’s how we did it, as far as the Sea Fox was concerned. But one of the incidents that I saw at Diego Suarez which will always stay in mind and the NEWCASTLE was involved. There was a Martlet coming back to land on the FORMIDABLE I think it was, either FORMIDABLE or INDOMITABLE and as she came back to join the Fleet went in over us on the starboard screen as we always were. She had her undercarriage down and she seemed to be in some sort of trouble. I was watching this particular aircraft and as he went across wind and down more or less onhis final approach to the aircraft carrier they fired off two very lights which meant the deck was fouled and it was a no landing signal. This poor devil was committed to land and was told he couldn’t land, there was something seriously wrong with him and he was losing height. He simply peeled off to the right and flew up the line and as he flew up the line getting lower and lower and lower he had reached the WARSPITE directly under Somerville’s bridge, the Admiral’s bridge when he hit the water. The NEWCASTLE was three or four ships back in the line had been watching this lot apparently and the seaboats crew had been manned. Without much ado at all she simply pulled out of the line to starboard, dropped the sea boats crew, grabbed the pilot, got him in the whaler, the whaler was alongside and she was back in station without hardly even losing her station.That was one of the first times that I saw a Duff George go up and that was from Admiral Somerville to the NEWCASTLE which meant manoeuvre well executed and it was, it was beauty, it was perfect. Back in Mombasa it was more or less a relaxing time for a little while, played football and stuff like that. I met up with Stoker Petty Officer Paton who had come from Milford andhad also been evacuated from Singapore and he was one of our five eighths in the teamof New Zealanders that used to play football whenever we could ashore in Mombasa. We hadn’t been back too long the end of October when all of a sudden Signalman O’Donnell and I were ordered to join a ship called the MENDOZA and we were going home for service requirements. Actually what had happened I think was the New Zealand Government made some inquiries about the losses that had been sustained by the New Zealand Navy at Singapore and perhaps next of kin had been bringing some pressure to bear on the Prime Minister. Any way O’Donnell and I were sent to join the MENDOZA to be sent home for service requirements. When we got down to the wharf who should also be on the wharf to join the ship but Stoker Petty Officer Paton, who was a Petty Officer Stoker aboard a boom defence vessel called the BARRICADE. We joined the MENDOZA to sail to Durban and onward to New Zealand. The MENDOZA had been a French ship which the CORNWALL captured off South America and they were using her for trooping up and down the East Coast of Africa. We sailed from Mombasa somewhere around about the 27th or 26th October 1942 for Durban, unescorted. As we sailed down the harbour they exercised boat stations and us three New Zealanders had been allocated number 2 boat. Signalman O’Donnell and I were on the after end of the file, when the Mate came along, he said to us, “Can you handle a boat ?”, I said “Yes Sir”. He said, “Right well in future you will be the boat lowerer of number 2 boat and you will fall in up by the davits, the next deck up. If you get boat stations at all during the voyage that’s your job”. Otherwise the voyage was quite a leisurely one down the east coast of Africa and on board I met in civilian clothes Paymaster Commander Thatcher who had been the Paymaster Commander on the EMERALD. He said “Hello Wheldale, where have you been and what have you been up to ?”. We three used to have some quite happy little chats together. Two days before we were due into Durban, Signalman O’Donnell and I were sitting on the focsle and I thought I saw what was a bad omen and it was a sea bird sitting on the foremast and pointed this out. The next day was to be our last day and Commander Thatcher was to crack his whip for us two New Zealanders and had invited us to be at the canteen at around about 4 o’clock, it was going to be on him, so this was nice. We had been sleeping in the afternoon, went aft and we were by the canteen Signalman O’Donnell went into the canteen just forward of the main mast aft and I said, “You go and get a couple of cans of beer before Thatcher gets here and I will go and grab a seat on the hatch”. He went into the canteen and I heard him click a coin down and I was facing aft in full sight of the gun and the main mast and I was heading in that direction and with the click of the coin an explosion erupted aft, the gun went up in the air, the guns crew with it and the rattlers went for boat stations. We never had our beer. I had left the mess deck without my life belt and going forward to number 2 boat on the port side I lifted up the first life belt locker and there was nothing in it. Then I came on a young girl, a 16 or 17 year old, Daphne who was taking passage with her mother and father and she was running around excited and calling out for Mummy. The next locker I went into there were 3 life belts, one I fitted Daphne with and one I gave to Signalman O’Donnell and the other one I took for myself. They were Board of Trade life jackets, the old Kapok ones. I went to my boat station and we quickly lowered number 2 boat to A deck and the crew got in and we lowered it to the water. This time the ship was sinking slowly and blowing steam. As soon as they got in the water they left the ship, we were left on the ship and we weren’t particularly worried because it seemed to be no great haste and we had some stuff down below that we would like to get. The Captain saw that we didn’t get this. He came out from the bridge, we were right abaft the bridge on the port side and he said,”What were you two boys doing ?”. We said “We are the boat lowerers of number 2 boat Sir”, he said “Get into your boat”. Captain Batho, was this fellow’s name. He said, “Get into your boat”, and I said “Well there she is out there”, she was a couple of hundred yards off the ship floating on the ocean, it was quite calm. He looked over the side and he said number 6 is alongside you are to go into number 6. Orders are orders and down we went. I was hanging onto the Jacobs ladder that they rolled down the side of the ship, Signalman O’Donnell was holding onto the falls, when low and behold there is an almighty explosion and every thing went black and I am just floating through the air uncontrollably up and up and down and down down. My first thought was that the Captain had blown the ship up after he told us to get into number 6 boat. Eventually I settled, my right leg was gone and I thought it had been cut off. I hit something coming down and I couldn’t see. I thought I was inside the ship this time, I could hear her burning and you could hear the metal moving. I hope they are thinking of me at home and that was the first thing I thought and I thought by gee I am not dead yet I will get out of this. I started to swim and I thought it was a hole in the ship’s side, it was a hole in the smoke and I went through that and I started to swim away and then I thought of Hank O’Donnell and so I went back and there was a hell of a mess, she was on fire. A head came out and I said “Is that you Hank ? “, and he said “That’s me Megs”. I had a look at his head and he had been smacked on the back of the head. I said, “You are okay there is nothing broken” and I pushed the flap of flesh down, and I said “Come with me”, and so I took him. I assisted several others that were there, there was Curly Mitchell a Newfoundlander who had been sunk on the CORNWALL, he was in pain, and so I gave him some bits and pieces to float on. A Dutch Chief Petty Officer in his excitement was screaming out in Dutch and that wasn’t much use. I went on towards the boats with Hank O’Donnell and I got to another boat which was number 5 boat and this boat hadsome women aboard and Daphne was in this boat with her mother and father. I told O’Donnell to “Hang on to this life line” and I was watching the ship and by this time she was going down fast and on fire, stern first and she started to slip. Then I saw what was left of the bow of our number 6 boat and it was still attached by the bow lines to the ship and started racing through the water then she went. Then a fellow came along, he was yelling out as if quite badly hurt, he was a Lieutenant Commander so I pushed him into the boat and I thought if it was good enough for him it was good enough for my mate andI pushed Hank O’Donnell up. When we got into the boat it wasn’t too soon, because all around us doing their morbid work were the sharks. I couldn’t see them in the oil but I could see them all quite plainly outside the oil. I had miraculously been spared on several occasions. Then we started patching up the wounded and broke the first aid kit open and were actually binding up Cyril O’Donnell’s head when the boats were coming alongside one another to see what was what and to see who was badly injured or hurt. I saw Tommy Paton looking for us because he couldn’t recognize us. I whistled out and he beckoned us to go into his boat, number 2 boat which was the boat we had launched initially and I signified that I couldn’t and I pointed to Hank’s head. He understood and more or less waved as much as to to say “Okay Blue see you later”. Number 2 boat was never seen again and Petty officer Paton was lost. At sea, along with about 200 others altogether, one of our greatest loses in this area up to this time. Any way just after that a South African Ventura aircraft flew over and I read a signal from them, may be an Aldis lamp, it said, “Help coming”, and I told the people in the boat. Then one of our fellows went from our boat to tend a chap dying in a boat alongside us, he was pretty bad, his head was all bashed in, he died later that night. Hank O’Donnell went forward to look out for any lights and I was right aft to assist sailing and signals etc. Eventually it started to blow and boy did it blow, it came up very rough from the east. We hoisted the sail and I gave a hand with the sailing. I tended a bearing-out-spar on the clew of the fore and aft sail. I had finished up in the boat alongside this young lady Daphne who was all of a sudden a sailor and I had to look after her. She and the other women were very brave and showed up well. There was a Lieutenant Commander RNR, an older chap sitting in the stern sheets, he never said a word, but he had control. He didn’t wave his arms around, he knew what he was doing and early on took control of water rations. There was about 30 or 40 people I suppose. The fellow on the tiller was a young AB from the Orkney Islands and so he was safe, we were lucky, we had a crowd that could sail a boat. The only thing was we didn’t have a toilet on board, buckets sufficed. Several Chinamen up forward filled their pants much to the annoyance of those up forward. During the night we were trying to make signals out of lights, which were mainly lights from Carley floats which had gone into the water and turned right side up and were making morse because of the action of passing waves. Ships passed us the next day and they couldn’t see us, we could see them. We had a giant yellow flag flying as well as a very bright red sail. At one stage I saw the back of a giant sea creature a couple of yards off our starboard quarter. It was brownish in colour and shell encrusted. I did not tell anyone of my sighting, but made a silent and sincere request that whatever it was -it would stay deep and keep going, it did. Any way early in the afternoon or mid afternoon the next day a whale chaser came over the waves at us and I saw the joker on the harpoon gun give a startled backward step, as he thought he had a whale to take in tow, because our red sail was similar to a whale marker buoy. Of course when the rest of the wave cleared he had a boat full of people and he got a hell of a shock. Any how some how or other we got aboard this whaler and took the boat on tow. As soon as we got onthe deck of the whaler you could see Durban as plain as you can see Auckland from Rangitoto. The Captain was lost. He was badly burnt as he was above me when I went up into the air on the two torpedo explosions, where as I was among unburnt gases above me was ignition. That evening he called to us over the water and said “See that red star, steer by that and you will be alright”, (It was Antares), he was lost the next day. The Staff Captain died of his burns in the Springfield Hospital in Durban. We were landed off this whale chaser on the Whaling Station, on the bluff at Durban and the boat with the Staff Captain in it was alongside, still being processed over at Point Docks. We were the only two boats that got in as far as I know. From there of course we went to Hospital and later on leave. We went across to the Docks where they took a list of names and numbers of the survivors. Commander Thatcher who had been with us was also in this boat, he and I were standing together and Commander Thatcher had on a ladies hat and a greasy oily blanket over what was left of his uniform, shirt and epaulettes. A very officious officer from the South African Naval Forces was taking the list of survivors and I gave him my name and number etc and then he said, “Right oh you, what’s your name?”. This fellow said “Thatcher”, “Whats your rating ?”, “Paymaster Commander”, which he had to repeat. I said “He doesn’t believe you”. Hank O’Donnell went to Hospital of course and he was in Hospital for some time with his wounds. I spent a couple of nights in Hospital adjacent to Clarewood Camp and then went on some leave down to Cedarville via Petermaritzburg. I came back to Durban and continued my interrupted journey to Australia and New Zealand on a ship called the ENGADINE.

Before you go on, did you find out what hit the ship ?

Three Torpedoes, the first ones blew the prop right aft and killed the guns crew. The second two hit the side of the ship right underneath the boat that I was in. Its a miracle that I am able to relate it. Do you know what submarine it was ?

Yes U178 or U179 (the Captain was H.Ibeken I believe).

What was that a German one ?

Yes You have got all the details of that ?

Yes I think the first German torpedo was a GNAT, a German Naval Acoustic Torpedo, because it hit us right on the hub of the propeller more or less. What was the name of your ship again ?

MENDOZA. This is a copy of some pages out of Captain Roskill’s book “Merchant Fleet at Sea”. It tells you about the MENDOZA here and there. You can’t blame these people writing like this, because they are getting it off people that weren’t in the position that I was in. “On the 1st November the MENDOZA was within some 70 miles of her destiny, when at4.30pm”, I think it was earlier than that, when she was struck by a torpedo aft on her port side.” She was hit right on the propeller. Because where I was right by the main mast, the gun was aft. The torpedo had come from the port side alright. “The next thing two boats were destroyed by the explosion, but the other 10 got away safely”. Those boats hadn’t been destroyed by the first explosion, they were destroyed by the second two torpedoes that hit the side of the ship at one foul swoop underneath us and were blown to bits. “Crossley saw another torpedo approaching which struck amidships on the port side, probably in the oil fuel tanks. It produced a double explosion”. It was two torpedoes I think. But the sad part about it was the Captain, they were still there where I had just left them. “Smoke and flames shot up just after where they were standing and wreckage of all kinds rained down on us. We could only see a foot or two in the smoke,the ship healed heavily to port and we could do nothing but hold on to the stanchion. am afraid we are finished”, said the Captain, and Crossley said “he couldn’t but agree with him.” The sad part of it, the next day this fellow who was badly wounded and burnt was picked up by an American ship the CAPE PALAVA and everybody got out of the boat alongside and it was rough as hell and the Captain was last to come aboard.”There was now a considerable sea running, but Captain Batho manoeuvred his boat alongside, sent up the injured men above him and finally only he and the Midshipman were left in the boat. The Midshipman helped the Master onto the jumping ladder, but before Captain Batho could get his balance the boat rose on a swell, crushed him against the ship’s side, he fell into the water and as they drifted aft, three American sailors climbed down the scrabbling net and tried to get a line around him and Captain Batho could apparently do nothing or little to help himself and may even have been unconscious as the ship gathered way his body disappeared. The Staff Captain Barclay was badly burnt and he was in the boat that was still alongside when we arrived at the Whaling Station and he died in the Springfield Hospital in Durban.”

That is what you have been telling me more or less ?

Yes I joined the ENGADINE in Durban and we were to head for Fremantle. Some of the survivors of the NESTOR the Australian Destroyer that had been sunk in the Malta Convoys were with us and some of the other N Boats, I was the only other New Zealander. Hank O’Donnell was still in Hospital and Stoker Petty Officer Paton at that time had still not been found and was never found. We went right down south, well down to the south of St Paul’s Island to get away from the submarine menace and strike Fremantle. On arrival at Fremantle I read a signal as we entered harbour, that we were to leave the ENGADINE and go into HMAS LEEUWIN and rejoin ENGADINE for passage to Sydney. I informed my Australian mates. They didn’t like the idea because they had us working and we weren’t feeling too much like work after some of the experiences that the boys had had. The interesting part on that ENGADINE I was keeping watches with Signalman Minifie. This Signalman was famous, I had heard about him when I was a boy. He was the Signalman that had given the Mediterranean Fleet a make and mend on his own. He was the Signalman that had hoisted the dress of the day in Hong Kong using his kit instead of the dress signal table. He was the Signalman that hid in a suit of armour at the Castile Signal Station and blew off when the Admiral went past to visit them on Christmas Day. I was pleased I met the guy because the Chief Yeoman of the ENGADINE told me that was him alright. He said, “I used to be second hand of his watch”, well he was the Chief Yeoman and this fellow was still a no badge Signalman. He was a good Signalman, however. We went ashore to HMAS LEEUWIN and the Aussies let their hair down and I sort of went along with them. The result was that the ENGADINE sailed with only half our crowd on board. The Jaunty saw me walking around amongst the gum trees and told me that all the Australians had gone. I said, “No they haven’t, there is a lot of us here in such and such a hut”. He said “Oh dear, I will have to send you across by train next Monday”. I reported to my Aussie mates again and we went over the fence again into Perth to the Shaftesbury Hotel until the following Monday and we just made the train. We went across by steam train, two in a bunk and I think it took us about 5 days. It would have been better if we had gone in the ENGADINE. We got to Melbourne and from Melbourne they had to send me back by train to Adelaide, where I was for some reason interviewed by an Intelligence Officer of the Australian Navy. I don’t know what it was in connection with, it must have been in connection with Combined Ops, or they might have been looking for somebody to go up to Timor at that time. He must have deduced that I could do with a rest, sent me to the Pay Office and to the Kitting Office and sent me up to Port Pirie to join a ship called the PORT JACKSON. I took passage on her very shortly after and I went from Port Pirie to Napier and it wasn’t until I got to Napier that I was able to get in touch and send a telegram to my folks and tell them that I would be home the following morning.

Now that was somewhere around about January or February 1943. I have got you down here as joining PHILOMEL on the 14th January.

That would be right. There I was back in PHILOMEL and it was shortly after that that I saw Stoker Petty Officer Tommy Paton had been reported missing through enemy action and presumed killed. At the request of Padre Robson I had the unfortunate task of seeing his family. I mentioned that in the ENGADINE that I took passage on from Durban to Fremantle was a famous or infamous signalman. His name was Signalman Minifie and he was talked about all around the world for the feats that he did. As I said he gave the Mediterranean Fleet a Make and Mend. He destroyed the signal of course that he made by semaphore around the Fleet. When the Admiral came on deck and saw that no hands were working on the other ships, he made an inquiry and got a reply back, “In accordance with your so and so Sir”, and he was quite puzzled. Signalman Minifie had put it in the waste paper basket.

Was Minifie Royal Navy ?

Yes he was Royal Navy, he was a real character.

I think you said that he was a 40 year old no badge Signalman ?

Yes when I met him. I had heard his fame, I think we had been told about him when we were doing our training and it was quite a thing to meet the man. The other thing was at Tamatave our close support in on the beach, the heaviest support was from the GAMBIA. She was on the left of the line of ships that were anchored about no more than 200 yards off the beach and with 6 inch guns, plus all the other stuff that was along the beach in the other ships and the N Class Destroyers. GAMBIA was then RN and not as I have seen mistakenly reported RNZN, she was an RN ship. She didn’t become RNZN until about `43 I think. There is a book on the GAMBIA and it mentions that she was RNZN and she was taking part in the bombardment at Majunga I think it was. Well that is not correct. Supporting us on the horizon in that operation and clearly in sight was the WARSPITE and the carrier which of course wasn’t called on. The other thing was that when we left Tamatave to go back through Diego Suarez to Mombasa, I took passage on the MANXMAN which was a cruiser minelayer. Also it took the recently appointed NOIC Tamatave with us, he had had a breakdown which I was familiar with. I think I probably saw cause to suspect it. There was something wrong during the few days we were shifting into Tamatave. One day up went a Flag Charlie on the shore signal station or mast that was outside the house that we were using at the NOIC’s Headquarters. Flag Charlie in those days meant enemy aircraft detected by RDF are approaching the Fleet. There was no RDF there and it puzzled me a bit and I made an inquiry and sought confirmation. One of the signalman ashore said that it was just a local signal that we had produced which means, “we want the car”, a recall as we had boat recalls in the Fleet. This car recall signal had been developed because he said NOIC used to lend his car to the signalman and if he wanted it back he would hoist this Flag Charlie. That was the start of it. There were other very strange happenings which required explanation. Shortly after that Medical Officers went ashore to inspect the sanitary arrangements of the township of Tamatave in company with the NOIC. They came back with him and he obviously had too much war, the strain had told, and he was taken back with us on the MANXMAN. The MANXMAN was a very fast ship, she was capable of 48 knots and with a cruising speed of 26 knots. Well we were in fact between 26 and 30 knots to Diego Suarez on this ship and then transferred to the EMPIRE PRIDE to go on to Mombasa at about 15 knots. They were quite amazing ships weren’t they, there was about three of them wasn’t there, I can’t think of the other ones of the class. Yes there was the MANXMAN, WELSHMAN, ARIADNE, LATONA and ABDIEL. They were cruiser minelayers and only two survived the war, the MANXMAN and the ARIADNE I think. They virtually had a cruiser set of machinery in a destroyer hull and they really went. Yes it was like being in a railway train. Her appearance for speed was rather deceptive because looking at her 3 vertical funnels didn’t seem to associate itself with speed. There was no rake on the funnels at all, but she could certainly move. Actually the crew were just receiving their notification of the decorations that had been awarded to them in respect to the raid on Toranto while I was aboard. The EMPIRE PRIDE that we took passage back of course had been one of the troop ships, she carried the LCI’s and R Boats from which the Fifth Commandoes and Royal Welsh Fusiliers and part of the 51st Highland Division landed and were accommodated in her and some other ships of course. The other thing that I missed out on was the CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE, the sinking of the CORNWALL and DORSETSHIRE and I haven’t seen that ever recorded any where, but when the PALADIN and PANTHER and ENTERPRISE went away to pick up survivors and brought them back to the Fleet there was terrific activity right throughout the Fleet very smartly. We then learned that one of the first things that the Japanese aircraft did on their attacks was drop their arrestor hooks and come in and sweep away the aerials and that is why we only got one report which was “one SHAD”from those ships which meant “One enemy aircraft is shadowing me” and I thought it originated from the CORNWALL. It might have been relayed through COLOMBO, but I think it originated through CORNWALL. After that there was nothing and apparently this was the reason because they had been divested of their aerials. The Fleet was instructed to rig secondary aerials below the level of deck houses and funnels and things like that.

I returned to New Zealand and landed in Napier and of course sent up by train home. I joined PHILOMEL and took some leave.

You must have found the New Zealand Navy a fairly quiet and different affair to your front line experiences in the Indian Ocean ?

Yes things had changed quite a bit back here as regards to the Navy. PHILOMEL had taken on a different colour and a different coat of paint and I think she was being used as an HDML mother ship more than any thing. The barracks were fully operative. They weren’t built when I left.

Had the Hospital been built by then ?

Yes we took the wounded from the PURIRI up to the Hospital.

That was before you left ?

Yes that was just before I left, it was operational. I was away I think when MONOWAI had a delayed burning in one of the 6 inch guns and there were quite a few casualties there. I was out of the country when that happened. The thing I noticed of course that there was a very smart looking crew on the Captain’s Motor Launch which was a new thing to me. It was a smart crew WRENS, we didn’t even have WRENS around the Eastern Fleet of course at that time, but they did come out later. Seeing the females in action doing a job that we used to do was interesting. In fact we had signal WRENS, they were in the SDO. Shortly after my return home I sat a VS3 Higher Course with an Instructor “Bully” Martinson, DSM, Chief Yeoman and qualified for Leading rank. Very shortly after that I found myself in charge of a watch of WRENS at Combined Headquarters, the Senior Naval Officer was Commodore Dowling RN.

Tell us about Bully Martinson, because we have interviewed him. In his oral history he comes over as a very competent signalman and obviously a very, very competent Chief Petty Officer and Chief Yeoman, was that your experience of him ?

Oh yes as far as Bully was concerned. I saw him before I went away, very briefly and he frightened hell out of me and I will never forget what he said to me. The first thing he said to me, was when I had to take a Fleet Signal book or something into the room where he was instructing and he swung his walking stick and his stiff leg around in my direction; I was around about 16 or 17 years old; brand new from the Sea Scouts and he roared at me, “What’s your tally. “HMS PHILOMEL Sir, Chief”. He roared again, it was my name he wanted. He knew my name, I knew that because I had known him and his family, the girls and my parents were on talking terms with the Martinsons. It didn’t cut any ice with him, he made me spring to attention. I had the utmost respect for Bully Martinson and always will.

He wouldn’t suffer fools gladly would he ?

No when Bully spoke you had to jump, if you didn’t look out.

I think his Bible was the signal manual or that is the impression I get ?

Yes he was a fine fellow, a good football player and a fine Chief Petty Officer, there is no doubt about it. He received a DSM for the River Plate Battle, but I think he earn’t it long before all that happened. I can imagine him chasing the likes of Signalman Minifie around ST ANGELO Signal School in Malta. No he was a great fellow. I was in a class of trained operators to go through as Leading Signalmen under Bully Martinson and I made it and I think I was the first HO they put through for Leading Signalman. He was as delighted as I was I think.

From there I went up to ACHQ and found I had a watch of WRENS to look after or rather they had to look after me. ACHQ was at the Teachers Training College and my Leading WREN was a WREN Sanderson, she was a very fine woman. Another one was “Dizzy” Daff, Daphne Thomas and two or three others that I just can’t recall now. I was on duty the night that the Battle of Kolombangara casualties were coming through on the Creed machine, that was July 13th 1943 I think. The operator that I had on, the WREN that was operating the Creed machine her name escapes me at the moment, she slumped.When we went and had a look her brother in law was one of the casualties, and I think he was one of the 4 inch guns crew that went over the side. That was a great shock to the system. One of the things that I remember there was the communications that we had from outlying stations, one of which was Tiri. The links that we had with them of course were by telephone and there was a secondary line of communication we would go onto Port Wave and get traffic in through there. Of course this information was needed to tie up visual reports with loop crossing reports and boom defence vessels coupled with examination vessel reports. Normally we used the telephone, but we would go onto Port Wave if need be. Thirdly if neither of those were available we would go back to a visual signal link. This had to be exercised occasionally. The routine was that when we were exercising a complete breakdown or an attack of some sort at Tiri a WREN and one of the signalmen would dash out on the football field at the Combined Headquarters. Another runner and another WREN or two would leap up to Mt Eden and then we would receive what signals had been originated, for exercise, from Tiri. It went by light from Tiri to the top of Rangitoto and by light from the top of Rangitoto to Mt Eden and then by semaphore down onto the football field at ACHQ and then by a Fleet footed WREN into the hands of the operations room at Combined Headquarters. If I remember rightly we could get an enemy report in from Tiri in 3 minutes which was not too bad. It wouldn’t do in these days of course, but that was about our time then.

You mentioned having a Creed machine, was this a teleprinter or was it just an automatic morse receiver ?

It was a paper tape Creed machine which was connected to Navy Office and Waiouru. It produced a punched tape which then produced a typed plain language or cipher.

So you would then feed the tape into another machine ?

Yes and put the strips onto a signal form of plain language or whatever it may be. That second machine only produced the tape of plain language ?

Yes or cipher and if it was the cipher then that was a different procedure. We had to handle that as you handle cipher and it involved placing it in envelopes and delivering it to the cipher officer or to the person who was entitled to decipher or encipher the signal. I was there for a while and from there I was sent out to Tiri (P.W.S.S.). I was at Tiri as Leading Hand there for four months.

You seemed to be about 8 months at the Headquarters ?

That would be right. You were there from June `43 until February `44 and you must have gone out to Tiri in September `43. That would be right it just went out in time for the fishing season, because I found that when I got out there fishing was not in full swing because of the war. I was able to catch crayfish down by the wharf there on snapper lines. As we were on canteen messing at Tiri this was a real boon. There were about 13 of us out there under Chief Yeoman Matthews and a Yeoman named Ray Magnall, myself Leading Hand and a bunch of Signalmen, there were about 10 or 11 Signalmen. Frank Canny from Invercargill, Johnny Croft from Wellington to name some of the boys that were there, Keith Lines from Wellington, “Curly” Brunton from Northcote, Ray Cox from Auckland and we were one big happy family in the signal station over looking the western passage.

Was it World War II type hut accommodation ?

No it was one big building that we had and it was split up into a kitchen, in which we had a coal range. There was a big dining hall and a slide between the kitchen and the dining hall to allow us to pass the food through. Then running parallel I suppose divided to about a third of the floor space of the full width of the building, running parallel with the dining room was a dormitory which had double bunks in it and that’s where the boys slept. There was of course a bathroom and tank water supplied. Up top we had the flagdeck and access through a stairway in the main building itself, it was all contained in one building. Outside in a smaller building we had a diesel generator which provided us with battery power and from which we ran our lights for the house itself and our 10 inch signal projector and so forth on the flag deck.

You were on watch all the time. What sort of watch-keeping routine did you do ?

We did two watches while we were out there. We had leave about once a fortnight I suppose it was, a couple of days ashore. While we were out there also any spells when we took 24 hours duty as cook. All of a sudden you had to make sure that you were able to cook. Some of course were more proficient in this culinary art than others. I had a fellow there named George Haines, I hope Haines can’t hear me now, but I never ate the porridge when Haines was there because he was always scratching himself and his beard and then tasting the porridge. When the patrol launches brought our meat down we had to make sure that it didn’t go bad and it was cooked fairly quickly. George Haines was the cook one particular day and we had a roast and the roast was dished up and we were sitting down having our meal and upon inquiry as to where he got the fat to roast this meat. George said, “the same place where we got the other, there is nothing wrong with it”. Any how it did taste a little bit peculiar and so we said, “Lets have a littlelook at this fat you used George”, and we went out and he said “That fat there, thats the stuff I used”. We took it down and it was the pusser’s floor polish that they used in the Hospital on the cortisone and George had got a tin of this and scooped it out and put iton the roast and smacked it in the oven. No wonder it tasted of turps. He was a character.

All fellows up there, there was no WRENS up there ?

No there were no WRENS. We had a lady still on the Island, not a WREN a Mrs McTaggart, she was the Light House Keeper’s wife, they were still living on the far side of the Island. Also on the far side of the Island were the Army chaps who ran a director control link with Motutapu. Mrs McTaggart was a dear old soul and she used to play the Navy boys against the Army boys. She told the Army boys that she loved them and she didn’t love rough sailors. When we were talking to her she would say I love you boys and I don’t like Army boys. The reason that she really did this was to get us to let her husband milk our cow which a Mr Hobbs from Whangaparaoa had given us to supply us with milk. Of course the rationing extended itself even out there. If she could get the milk from our cow, because we were using pussers milk on the other side of the Island, she was able to send cream to her sister or relations in town you see. That was what she was after. Any how we had a lot of fun out there. We had a horse to bring the stores up from the wharf and Mrs McTaggart’s meat hadn’t arrived one time and she was in a bit of a dither. The boys got together and said we will invite her over for dinner to the Navy Mess. Mrs McTaggart and old Mac himself came across from the lighthouse, on a seat which we set up on the horse drawn Koneke suitably draped with flags and the dining room was suitably decked out with a bit of ponga. She had a lovely time. What with the fishing and so forth and a smoke house I had built out there, we were ableto smoke fish and also able to get a few oysters and the boys used to take them into town and raffle them at the Waverley Hotel. We could accumulate a months mess savings and were able to get through using our provisions carefully and also could gather from the sea and had either fresh fish or smoked fish to augment our supplies. That gave the fellows, especially those from the South Island who probably only went ashore once a month a good run ashore on the mess savings without having to touch their wages at all. They would raffle a bit of fish and some oysters and they would go up and stay at the Victoria Hotel and you could stay there for a couple of bob a night and they had a good run ashore without having to use their wages at all. It all came to an end around about March `44. I had volunteered to go away again and we were suddenly called in to do the drafting routine again and we were sent across to pick up a ship which was heading, we thought for England, well we didn’t really know where we were going then. When we left PHILOMEL we were going overseas, some said to HMS ASSEGAI, which was South Africa and some said to England. We joined a ship called the MORMAC WREN, she was one of the American Victory ships. She was fitted out to carry troops in the holds and she had 500 war neurosis American soldiers and sailors and 5 American women on board that were being repatriated for health reasons. Our draft of sailors and there was a Fleet Air Arm draft there too, I think they were going to Pensacola in the States, actually became nursemaids for these psychoneurosis cases and war neurosis cases and sort of baby-sat them on the long voyage through to San Francisco.

There was no threat to post you to a New Zealand ship operating out of NewZealand ?

It was during that time that LEANDER had got wholloped at Kolombangara, went away for major repairs.

She headed back to Boston for repairs ?

Thats right.

ACHILLES was in UK to be refitted.

Thats right and I think GAMBIA was getting close to coming out here. Yes the ACHILLES blew up in dry dock and her crew transferred to GAMBIA and I suppose the only other vessels around would be the Fairmiles.

What other vessels would have been around ?

The Scottish Isle Mine-sweepers were here, that was the INCHKEITH, SCARBOROUGH
and KILLEGRAY. As a matter of fact I had a week or a fortnight or so on the KILLEGRAY and Lieutenant Commander Alan Bell was the Skipper, a very fine RNVR Officer, he had brought the KILLEGRAY back from England. Any how I went with him and that was my first trip as a Leading Signalman on the KILLEGRAY to screen the PRESIDENT HAYS, ADAMS and JACKSON, who were doing a landing exercise in the Orewa/Motuora area, just to the north of Whangaparaoa. KILLEGRAY and SCARBOROUGH and there might have been another one were sent up there to screen these people from the sea to prevent submarine attack whilst they carried out their landing operations and exercises preparatory to the Russell or Treasury Island Invasions. Those three big troopers went up there to sharpen up their skills. There must have been New Zealand troops in that operation.

It was US Marines and New Zealand Army ?

Thats right but this was all American Units that we were screening up there and I think it was either on Motuora or the mainland, it was in that area any how. One day one of the Landing vehicles, a duck probably, turned over on the beach and there were some Americans killed on the beach, three soldiers I think. There were Fairmiles, they had been around and HDML’s.

There was no capital ships as such or large ships operating out of Auckland ?

No all the ships that were buzzing in and out of here were those that were running supplies up to the Islands. The USS PINKNEY and another, it might have been the USS TELEMANCA. They were two regulars that used to come down and they were dispatch vessels for between New Zealand and the Islands and they used to take the fresh vegetables from Pukekohe back to supply the troops. All shipping came into the Auckland Harbour through the Whangaparaoa passage. The rest of the Hauraki Gulf was closed by loops or controlled minefields. I was actually still on Tiri Island when LEANDER sailed to Boston because I was the last one to be in touch with her visually and I was talking to her when she was way up in the Colville Passage from Tiri, a distance of 22 miles, which wasn’t bad for a 10 inch. We had a heliograph on Tiri and of course a heliograph was normally just used between 2 stations, static stations that is, because a moving sun just simply won’t allow you to direct the light very successfully. I decided to do an experiment one day and as the swept channels brought ships from Cape Brett when they hit the New Zealand Coast from Cape Brett down close into the coast, they always appeared to the signalman on Tiri at Cape Rodney. If you kept your eye on Cape Rodney you could spot these fellows. I set the heliograph one day on Cape Rodney and I knew one of these fellows was coming down the coast the PINKNEY I think. I challenged him as soon as I saw his bow with the heliograph and he had no difficulty in answering my signal immediately. That reminds me of something that happened pre-war which may be of interest and that was a communication between the ACHILLES and the LEANDER by visual signal. The ACHILLES or one of them was in Russell and the other one was alongside the wharf in Devonport. In those days the signalmen even alongside had to keep a watch and the fellow that was on watch on the flag deck on the cruiser alongside in Devonport, suddenly saw his pennant, his call sign being made on a cloud. This was quite a surprise, but any how he answered on the cloud and it was the cruiser in Russell calling him up on this cloud. Visibility and cloud height and everything just happened to make it that they could communicate with one another at that distance, it was rather amazing.

We went into Fort Mason, San Francisco after a long voyage in this MORMAC WREN and discharged these people to the American authorities and then we were taken over to Treasure Island, which was the big American Base in the middle of the harbour. We spent a couple of days in San Francisco, had a look around, a haircut etc. I well remember it cost us a dollar for that haircut and the New Zealand Government gave us $5 pocket money to go across the States, rather generous of them. We had our railway warrants of course but $1 out of your $5 was quite a chunk. It was a most enjoyable trip across the States by train, being attended to by the Negro waiters and so forth, whom we had to tip, that was another thing that we weren’t used to and there was not much tipping. On that trip we passed through a small town called North Platte, in Nebraska, which had the “Greatest Forces Canteen in the world”. Dozens and dozens of young ladies from around the Prairies met the train; in fact every troop train, and acted as hostesses for refreshment breaks and obtained servicemens’ addresses of next-of-kin to whom they wrote. It was a wonderful community effort by a town with a 20,000 population. We arrived in New York several days later, 4 or 5 days later I think it was and were billeted on Pier 91, either 91 or 92. We had a few days to look around New York and had the pleasure of going to hear Kate Smith sing at the Colombia Studios.Saw the Ringling Bros Circus in Madison Square Gardens and had a dance with Heddie Lamar in the Stage Door Canteen and all these things quite exciting for a young fellow.Then on the Pier adjacent to us was the QUEEN MARY. After several days we were marched off from where we were billeted and went aboard the QUEEN MARY which very quickly filled up with troops and American sailors. There was a lot of tears on the wharf I could see, of course we got ours over and done with back here, but I felt sorry for some of the young American sailors that were coming up the gangway having a lot of difficulties, because they had a lot of heavy gear to carry and it took them all their time to carry their gear on board. With all the tears and so forth it wasn’t a very happy scene.We got them all aboard and I was detailed to look after the cells on the QUEEN MARY, down on F Deck. I had about a dozen prisoners and they were all RN Ratings, fellows who had gone adrift on ships that were under repair in the Dockyards in America. They had had a bad war in the Mediterranean a lot of these fellows and when they tasted the hospitality of the American girls they couldn’t resist the temptation to stay a little longer, and they did. One fellow had been so fortunate that his girlfriend was putting him through University and he was a Stoker and he was on the way to being qualified to be a doctor, it was rather amazing. Any how these boys were the chaps I had to look after in the cells. Once we sailed of course and got to sea they were free to roam, the cell doors were open and they would wander around the ship, the length of F deck. If there was any excitement of course they came back. They were all good fellows and they were no problem there and we went on our way. It was the last voyage that the QUEEN MARY did before D Day and according to my records it was Voyage number 35E and on that voyage we had 13,000 people on board. Commodore Bisset was the Skipper and we left on the 10th April and we got over there to Gouroch on the 16th April 1944. There were 13,000 souls aboard. The other interesting thing about that voyage was that it took us the longest time of any of her voyages to get across the Atlantic. This was not because of our speed, because the average speed was 26.57 knots, but because of the distance she travelled to avoid the U Boat attacks. She was able to do this because of the HFDF network that had been set up either side of the Atlantic. The mileage that we actually took to get across was nearly 4,000 miles and a passage time of 6 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes was the longest that she had ever done. The other interesting thing about that particular voyage was we lost a doctor on the way over. This young doctor had a heart attack while he was being seasick and we buried him at sea doing about 28 knots. The other one was the day before we got into Gouroch, I was on the upper deck in the vicinity of the mainmast. I heard an explosion and then the Tannoy system came on and said all hands off the upper deck with the exception of guns crews. The fans went up and I went of course down to my station on F deck where the prisoners were and I understood that a submarine had a go at us and that is confirmed in Bissets Book. So that was the only time that the QUEEN MARY did see any thing like enemy action during the war to my knowledge. I was interviewing an airman the other day who was operating in the Irish Sea who actually warned the QUEEN MARY that there was a floating mine in the way as they were steaming down. He was the observer and he recalled grabbing an Aldis light in the aircraft and flashing up the QUEEN MARY and telling them that there was afloating mine ahead of them and they moved out of the way. She was a magnificent ship. We went through unscathed into Gouroch. Then big ferry boats came alongside and we disembarked.

You would be anchored out wouldn’t you ?

Yes we were anchored out. We disembarked and went ashore and picked up a train. It was interesting then, of course England and Scotland was an armed camp. There was a little boy at one part of it and we asked him where we were. He had been well drilled and he said, “He didn’t know”, he wasn’t going to tell us anyway. They had taken all the signs off railway stations and thinks like that you see. This young fellow wasn’t even going to tell his cobbers where they were. Then we went on down by train into Plymouth which was the depot for New Zealanders, excepting those who were doing specialized courses.We went into HMS DRAKE and our particular crowd, the signalmen went out to GLENHOLT the Signal School on the outskirts of Plymouth. GLENHOLT had been a nudist camp and was fitted up with swimming pool, Nissan huts and things like that and the Navy had taken it over following the bashing about that Plymouth had taken during the blitz. We were all expecting to be assigned to duties in connection with the second front. Lieutenant Commander Smith was in charge of the camp, he was a real old mother, I think he was a Flag Lieutenant at Jutland, a fine fellow, he used to fuss about and did the best that he could for everybody and of course part of that was to call all the New Zealanders up when we joined the establishment to say hello and tell us what he wanted. I remember him saying, “don’t throw your `atch handles around while you are `ere, this is your `ome while you are `ere”. He also went along the crowd and asked them their names and what they had been up to and so forth and when he came to me he said, “You are a Leading Signalman, would you go for advancement ?”. I said, “Well I felt I should have some more sea time Sir”. He said “I don’t think so, I think you should go for VS2 Higher”. I thought well if he thinks so I suppose I had better. I said “Yes Sir”, so he said “alright”. I was very quickly on the train to Portsmouth, myself and a fellow named Frank Stoddard. Frank Stoddard was an Auckland Rockie who had done the Killick’s Course with us with Bully Martinson. Frank Stoddard and I were on our way to Portsmouth and said goodbye to the other New Zealanders. We went to the barracks first and then we went out to a place near Petersfield, which was behind Portsmouth and that was HMS MERCURY, also known as Laydene which was the name of the original house.

That was in the grand old house ?

Yes the mansion was the Officer’s quarters I think and some of the WRENS, and it was the mansion that belonged to the Countess of Peel, who was Beatrice Lily, the actress. Her son got killed at Dunkirk I think, he was a signalman, I think he was lost at Dunkirk, it was either at Dunkirk or it was later. Some said that he was with Admiral Mountbatten and was lost there, but no he was lost at Dunkirk. Her sad loss was no doubt instrumental in her giving this property to the Navy for that purpose. There was this beautiful big mansion and it was surrounded by Nissan huts located in the cherry trees and there were beautiful green fields that we used to practice our fleet manoeuvres on and things like that. Well this was all very interesting and all of a sudden I found myself exercising in a real RN Signal School and I enjoyed it. The bombers going out used to go out right over the top of us and there was thousand bomber raids that we got quite used to. Occasionally you would see a plane come away from a formation that had developed a fault or a fire on its way out, but the vapour trails and things like that were just part of the scene all the time. We all knew it was getting close to invasion time, we could see the Mulberry Harbour Units down in Portsmouth and I was hoping in a way that this course would get over and done with before they took off for the second front. One night there was quite an unusual amount of noise, so much so that I went outside and it was on. There were thousands, it looked like thousands, the sky was absolutely full of Sterling bombers, Lancasters, DC3’s towing gliders. Some of them I think had two in tow, but they were going over the top of us, only about 300 feet above us, heading for France. It was obvious that the second front had opened up. I wished them well in my thoughts and carried on with the course. The casualties were reported to be light and that the landings had been successful and that looked as if any how those of us that might have been needed as the strategic battle reserve were not going to be required.That was that, so we got on with our course. Shortly after the landings something unusual started to happen and it was the start of the V1’s, they started coming over the top of us on their way to London and further inland. They were about as high as the gliders were going out over top of us, there was fairly high land there. We saw a fair number of those V1’s coming in. In the early stages it was quite alarming really because we didn’t really know what was going to happen with these things. Of course the evacuation of London had started again and we saw some of the people coming away from there, they were terrified. I remember one day when I was exercising the Fleet. The Fleet would be made up of men marching on that big green field. I had them in a certain cruising diagram doing a zig zag and there was an alteration of course coming up and I was really involved in what I was going to do with this Fleet and which side of the main body the destroyers were going to go down to take up their new positions on the new screening diagram and all the rest of it, fairly involved. I heard the Chief Yeoman say something to me, but I didn’t take any notice of what he was saying and the next minute there was a God almighty crash. I hoisted flag one which was take individual avoiding action and I said “What the hell was that ?”. He said, “I was trying to tell you, that was a flying bomb”. Apparently a Typhoon was flying over the top of us chasing this flying bomb and I suppose I could hear it unconsciously, but wasn’t taking any notice of it because of what I was involved in. She got up alongside of it and flipped it and of course brought it in to the fields near us, it was open country, but there was still a shattering crash. Quite a few of them came down fairly close to MERCURY, to the camp itself. Quite often there would an air raid warning red. You could see them approaching the coast and being handed at over at night time from one searchlight and anti aircraft gun to another, but they never ever seemed to have any success in sending these things down. The stuff used to hit them and then ricochet off. The boys that were flying these low altitude Spitfires and Typhoons certainly had my admiration, they had guts, because they didn’t know what was going to happen I don’t think with those things. They would fly up alongside and have a look at them andsay “Will I, will I, will I”, and they would hop in then and they would just give them a flip and away they would go. That was worth a DSC. An interesting thing happened there in Laydene. The boys came back from the shore one night and there was a bit of act being put on and one fellow said, “Who wants to be hypnotised?”. I was an interested spectator through all this lot and there was a stoker who was hypnotised by a fellow named Peter Cassin and the things that this joker did amazed me. Our particular Nissan hut was never late for breakfast, we always got to the front of the queue because he hypnotised this fellow to wake up at a certain time and go around and wake everybody in the hut and then yell out yippee. This happened every morning, nobody knew how we could be so early in the queue but that’s how it was, Peter Cassin, more about him later. The other thing was I had a top bunk in the Nissan hut and I came to one night with the Tannoy system yelling out, “air raid warning red take cover in the woods”. I was just surfacing from a deep sleep when this row is going on, air raid warning red. Any how before I got fully conscious the subject of the air raid red was a flying bomb and it came down close to the camp. There was a shattering roar and I have never got such a fright in all my life as coming out of this sleep and getting this crash. My stomach went hot and cold and I froze to the top bunk, but that was all there was to it. We passed out of Laydene as VS2 Higher and unfortunately Frank Stoddard didn’t make it, but I made it and I think I was their first HO VS2 Higher or the first one through the school there any way.

Did that qualify you for being a Petty Officer, that was the Yeoman qualification ?

Yes and so I was quite pleased, although I was sorry in a way, but perhaps it is just as well that I missed out on the actual landings across the channel which we had gone for. It was while I was in England that I was able to go and see relations of my fathers and it was there that I found some of the stuff that is now in the Museum from the WAHINE. The WAHINE tot measure I found in a sea chest that he had left in Norwich after the 14/18 War and various other bits and pieces that I found in this sea chest. However next move was that I was drafted with one of my original class mates Owen Slattery to pick up the STRATHMORE and sail for Egypt. Slattery and I renewed acquaintances back in GLENHOLT and we went up and we picked up the STRATHMORE in Gouroch. Walking around the stern sheets of this vessel who should be coming round the other side but the hypnotist that I met in the Nissan hut at Laydene, Peter Cassin. Here we were on an entertaining trip to Egypt. As the Mediterranean was more or less in our command as far as Italy was concerned, ships were proceeding to Egypt straight across the Mediterranean instead of having to go around the Cape of Good Hope. One of the persons that we had on board was a lady that was going to be parachuted into Yugoslavia, I can’t tell you her name, but she gave us a lecture on her activities one day there, a very brave woman. Many other things happened. Peter Cassin in his hypnotising was in a mess adjacent to a mess that I was in and there was a fellow in there who stuttered very badly when we left Scotland and by the time we got to Egypt this fellow was talking quite normally, it was very interesting. Any way when we got to Port Said we then shot through Cairo and Alexandria by train and finished up in HMS SPHINX, which was on the south side of Alexandria and was a big camp under canvas where the Navy had a big pool of people that were coming and going all the time and there were port parties assembling there that were involved in all the Mediterranean,the South of France and so forth. Owen Slattery and I spent a few weeks under canvas there and Slats was given the job as OC of transport. I was shifted from there to HMS NILE. My job there was instructing people that were landing or going to land in the various operations around the Aegean and the Dodecanese. I remember giving them a lot of instruction on the Type 48 sets which we used as a portable communication instead of an Aldis lamp.

These are radio sets ?

Yes they were the early mobile sets and more or less replaced the Aldis lamp which we had used. That was my job in NILE and I wasn’t there very long when I was ordered aboard the “AJAX” one day in a very quick shift. Upon inquiry I was told that I was to attach myself and report to Vice Admiral, Sir Bernard Rawlings, he was a Vice then or a Rear Admiral, and was Flag Officer Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean. Incidentally I had picked up my Yeoman’s rate in HMS SPHNIX before I went to the NILE.

Did you change into fore and aft rig ?


You had to stay as Acting PO for a year I suppose ?

Yes I didn’t stay a year actually. It would be after that I had to go to a destroyer in the Atlantic, and what with the problems with kitting and so forth I went in fore and aft rig, sooner than you normally do, but you had to have special permission to do that. When I got on board and met the the Admiral and acquainted myself with the rest of the communications staff and found out where everything was, we set sail very quickly for Greece, for Piraeus. The invasion force had gone on ahead of us and hit Piraeus just ahead of us actually. Admiral Rawlings had brought some of his cipher WRENS with him, so this day and age when they are talking about putting WRENS to sea its nothing new. We had them with us for that operation and they were in many operations during the Second World War. In fact they were at sea in man-of-war in the early days and I think thats where the old saying “show a leg” came from and “son of a gun” and that sort of stuff. We arrived in the vicinity of Piraeus, there was a hive of activity ahead of us and the main problem there was to dodge the floating mines. There were several ships there that struck mines and their damage was quite clear on some of them. One had its bows blown off. Alongside they had settled the GEORGIOS AVEROFF which was a Greek Battleship that the Greeks got from Turkey somewhere before the 14/18 War as reparations for the damage that Turkey had done to Greece in some shimosle that they had prior to that. The GEORGIOS AVEROFF had escaped from Greece when Greece fell to the Germans and she spent all the war either in Bombay or in Alexandria. She wasn’t much use as unit to work with our Fleet. The Greek sailors concentrated their energies on water polo and I think they were the champion water polo players of the Mediterranean Fleet. Any how GEORGIOS AVEROFF had been stocked up with all sorts of provisions prior to leaving Alexandria and she had a great gutful of corn beef down below. They put her alongside the Mole there and after the sailors had their food they would invite the local populace to come down and have a meal. They were very quick to do this because they were most emaciated the kids and the people you could feel them looking at you. I felt a little bit guilty in having a little bit of extra flesh on the bones. We were there a few days and I didn’t go out of the Port of Piraeus, I went ashore and had a look at the place the German troops had just vacated. They had ripped up all sorts of money and stuff and thrown it around the streets. The wreckage of ships was still blocking the inner harbour of Piraeus. Whilst there I got a signal from a German Commander in Chief I think it was in the Thessaloniki area. This was something that must have come to us on 500kcs or something like that in plain language. It was to the Flag Officer, Admiral Rawlings who was the Chief, from this fellow asking for HELP in the name of humanity and for some assistance for the starving troops, I think it was 80,000 troops he had that were starving in that particular area in Thessaloniki. When I took it to Sir Bernard Rawlings and he read it, he’s only comment to me was, “Too bad”, that was that, it was too bad. Admiral Rawlings had been involved in some pretty rough encounters in the Mediterranean and he wasn’t ready for any soft stuff in any way by any means at that time.

Did Admiral Rawlings just have command of the sea going units or did he also command the troops ashore ?

He had control of the whole of the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean, that was his title, Flag Officer Levant and Eastern Mediterranean at that time.

Did that include the troops ?

No he controlled the Naval Units.

How big a staff did he have ?

Well there was if I remember rightly there was 6 of us on the communications side of it, apart from his Cipher Officers which were WRENS. I didn’t see a lot of them.

Did he have a Chief Yeoman as well ?

No I was it. I was his visual man for that operation and as such anything of interest that concerned anything that would have interested him I had to make sure that he saw it.

Did he have a Flag Lieutenant presumably ?


Was he a communicator ?

Yes, but we were travelling independently and of course it was quite a simple job really, there was nothing complicated about it and he was a very nice man to deal with.

You would be using the ships normal transmitters and signal staff to initiate the traffic where ever it came from ?

Yes as a matter of fact I did. I remember now on one occasion going aboard the landing craft, the LSI’s and so forth were on the beach just ahead of us and I had to go on board one of them one day for some reason, I just forget what it was now. It might have been something to do with Anthony Eden he was coming out at that time, and he followed in pretty swiftly on the occupying forces to try and tie something up politically in Greece. Any how I had to appear aboard this LSI for some reason and damn me if I didn’t run into Signalman “Slinger” Woods, who had been a signalman on the EMERALD with me. Here was Woods in Combined Operations in khaki with shorts down to his knees and about a fortnight growth on, working in the communication office of this LSI. We had a little bit of a reunion. It was during that time that I learn’t there was something happening between what they later came out and called the ELAS and ELAM, two opposing political forces. I was in a tavern `Estaminet’ I think they called these small watering holes, one day and I was talking to a Greek who I think had had some time in America. At a table on the far side of this Estaminet there was something going on that sort of puzzled me and he knew it, and he told me. He said there is going to be trouble and he pointed to those Greeks. Any way before we left Piraeus we had instructions to send staff ashore to establish a British Naval Headquarters in Piraeus and I could have gone I suppose if I had so desired to be in charge of the communications side of it in this Headquarters, but any how I sent somebody else, I wanted to get back to Alex and over to the Atlantic. Just as well because in the December of that year these political people really came up against one another and they opened up with a 25 pounder on the British Naval Headquarters and some of the staff were killed. I just forget when it was, we were probably in there a week or so and we took off back to Alexandria. Shortly after leaving Piraeus I became aware of some activity on the port bow off one of the Islands and there were gun flashes and aircraft bombing. I reported to Admiral Rawlings that this was going on and he said, “I will come up and have a look”. He came up, there was an Aircraft Carrier, I have forgotten whom now and a Destroyer bombarding a position on Milos Island and we asked them what they were up to. What they were trying to do was put a German radar station at the top of Milos Island out of action, and they had been bombing and shelling most of the day, or for several hours any how unsuccessfully. Admiral Rawlings said to me, “Ask them if I can have a go ?”. I did and the reply came back to the effect “Be my guest”, he was the boss any how. Admiral Rawlings gave instructions to go in and have a go and we had an Army Bombardment Officer on board. We went in fairly close to the shore, the cipher WRENS were called onto the quarterdeck to see a little bit of action and we stopped the ship. We lined up B turret and the fourth salvo demolished the target. The first two shells landed this side on the ridge to the right, the second two disappeared and went over the ridge, the third pair were still to the right a little bit, but right on the ridge and the fourth hit it. That was the shooting that this AJAX could do, she was good. The Admiral lifted his hat, doffed his hat and we went on our way, we had done their job for them and he was quite delighted, but he knew what AJAX could do, because he had done a hell of a lot with her earlier in the war. When I got back to Alexandria I went back in to the Signal School and some of the parties were still being sent to the Dodecanese and one crowd was for this Milos Island. I asked the boys to have a look at that radar station and they confirmed that it had been gutted when I next saw them. Following that lot I must have mentioned the fact that I would like to serve on a Destroyer and I was dispatched one morning on a Flower Class Corvette from Alexandria to Gibraltar. I took off as a passenger on this flower class corvette, well I have never ever been in such a violent sea as we experienced on that trip. That Corvette, whatever its name was, I can’t recall that, but it did every thing but shake its propellers right off. It was a terrific trip I have never had any thing like it. They were reputed to be absolutely appalling sea boats. Great sea boats but they had an appalling motion. Yes this was a hell of a trip. It was one of the biggest storms that they had ever had in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is regarded as a bit of a mill pond, but boy oh boy believe you me this wasn’t. We arrived in Gibraltar and I went ashore to Little Bay camp. From there I had to see the Signal Bosun who had his Headquarters in a tunnel in the rock. I went in and saw this chap and he greeted me and asked me what I would like to do and I said “I would like to have a go at a destroyer now”. He said “Alright I have got the WOLVERINE. The Yeoman thats on her he has had enough he has been down in Freetown for some time, would you like to go on the WOLVERINE, she is an old V and W Class Destroyer”, so I said “Yes I would like to have a go at her”, she was in the 13th Destroyer Flotilla. Actually the office that he had, was the office that Eisenhower used during the North African Invasion. I have been into it. There is a little commemorative plate on the desk. He said you had better go down and tell the fellow on board there that you are his relief and he can pack his kit and get ready to go back to UK. I went down and he was on the breakwater there and I said he was going back to UK and he was that delighted that he gave me several of his tots. I joined the ship the next day and he went out. I think he had leave in England and then joined one of the O Class Destroyers which might have been lost in the Russian Convoys shortly after. My job from then on was to look after the Captain of the WOLVERINE, who was Lieutenant Commander Ian Clegg and he and I had a pretty good tie up. I had four signalmen and myself and they were all signalmen. She was completely VS, she had no T.B.S. that the newer boats had and neither was she equipped with “Foxers”; the counter for the German Naval acoustic torpedo. All our communications along the screen in convoys that we did, the whole lot was visual signals. The ships were coming out with equipment which made the job a hell of a lot more easy, or signals life more easy, but not so the WOLVERINE. We did many many convoys from about 7 west roughly. Our maximum endurance was 7 days and that was with our “peace” tanks filled up. If we filled our “peace” tanks up it would take us from Gibraltar down to the vicinity of the Canary Islands and back. We would go out and reinforce convoys that were coming up from South America and England down as they approached the Straits of Gibraltar, reinforce the escorts there and see them safely through into the Mediterranean. This was late `44 and the German U Boats were making another attempt to get into the Mediterranean and so we had plenty of activity. There were quite a few ships being sunk and every time that we went out you would have two or three submarine contacts to investigate. While I was on her, we never actually brought anything up that would confirm a kill. I remember one particular time that we were coming back, we just handed over a convoy and a tanker was hit in the Straits and the Captain said to me I think we will go inside Spanish territorial waters on the southside of the Straits on the way back. I had to make a signal to FOGMA who was Flag Officer Gibraltar and Mediterranean Approaches re our intentions. To get where he wanted to go we had to go over German minefields. That meant that I had to get up my confidential books, ciphers and so forth and have them all ready in an eyelet weighted bag in case we did sit on one of these mines. The tanker was pretty close to Gibraltar but was still afloat if only just and she was being attended by an American Destroyer. Lieutenant Commander Clegg got in on the south side of the Straits there and we commenced to search. I suppose we were doing roughly 20 knots searching and I said to the Captain, “we are inside territorial waters”, and he said, “Yes I know”. Then he looked at me and he said “But we are out of control”, and so I said “Okay”. We smacked up two black balls, we were out of control, but we were doing just what we wanted. When we got off Tangier we got a contact and by this time of course the people on the breakwater at Tangier were almost visible to you with the naked eye, and I could see them running around there taking bearings on us probably to make some sort of a protest. This coincided with the contact we had got, Lieutenant Commander Clegg speeded up and carried out several depth charge attacks on this and nearly lifted Tangiers off the map. Well out in the middle of the Straits this American destroyer was going around this tanker and he obviously thought he had a contact too, and he was blowing hell out of the tanker, with the result that he sunk the tanker, or she sunk. For along time after her bows were sticking above the water I think on a rock called Pear Rock. But the trouble was that the Tankers cargo filled the Bay of Gibraltar with petrol for a long time and that was another hazard. We didn’t go in to Gib for it must have been 24 or 36 hours, because that was the start of one of the most prolonged depth charging attacks I saw and we carried on with all the ships and escorts that were operating from Gibraltar plus what came along over the whole of the Straits that night. One ship that belonged to Gibraltar I don’t know if it was the ENCHANTRESS or a ship like her, an Admiralty yacht type of thing, she alone fired 500 depth charges. We fired almost everything that we had on board, there were hedgehogs and everything on various contacts. We didn’t fire the two ton depth charge fired from the torpedo tubes, because you had to be doing a certain speed and have a certain amount of water underneath before you let it go. This was the weapon that the WOLVERINE had used in her attack on Captain Von Prien when she sunk him earlier in the war. You can imagine what itwas like during the night, the whole of the Straits every time a depth charge goes off at night, you get a flash right through the water. Well it seemed to me that the Straits of Gibraltar that night were one continual flash almost, it was white. The result of it all was they didn’t get through, they didn’t get us. About three weeks later there were three fleet sweepers coming down from England to go out east. They came on a submarine disabled on the surface and it was the submarine that was in the Straits that we were having a go at and that everybody else was having a go at. Anyway she was sunk by shell fire after they took the crew off by these fleet sweepers. They got a portion of it accredited to them and the ship that fired the 500 depth charges got a bit too, so we were all quite pleased with the nights work.

What was WOLVERINE, when would she have been built ?

1917 I think.

She was pretty old ?

Yes she was.

Was she a comfortable ship or getting a bit tatty around the edges ?

Oh she wasn’t that comfortable, but she was a happy ship, she was one of the happiest ships that I ever served on I think. We had canteen messing and of course as a Petty Officer we had our own messman who prepared our food and sent it up so that I didn’t have anything to do with that. The old Stripey that looked after us had done time on the China Station and he knew how to make a plumb duff and all the rest of it, he was good.

You had to put your own money in of course to supplement canteen messing ?

Yes we did, he was pretty careful with it and in those days of course my job as you would know was on the bridge all the time and on destroyers you could get your rum issue which I had just become entitled to draw around about that time. I never drank it at sea, because I was on the bridge all the time that the skipper was there and he was almost there all the time and so it was bottled. We used to have a little party when we got back into harbour when we got the back generals and every thing up to date and telephone watches set and so forth. Then of course we would uncork the bottle of rum and talk over the latest escort we had with our ships that were in the screen with us.

How big a crew, about 100 I suppose ?

There would be about 120 I suppose on the WOLVERINE.

Where was the Petty Officer’s Mess ?

The Petty Officer’s Mess was right in the break focsle on the starboard side. We had a Chief Stoker, a Chief ERA who lived with the Seamen Petty Officers, Yeoman and so forth.

How many senior rates would there be ?

PO Tel, myself, TASI, there would be about 8 plus the Chief Stoker and the Chief ERA.

You mentioned that they had been fitted with hedgehogs ?

She had her A forward gun mounting taken off and a hedgehog fitted and this was the new attack method, where in the earlier stages of the war they used to do an attack on a submarine contact and of course when they threw a pattern of depth charges over the stern they would temporarily lose contact. At this time they had developed a creeping attack, where you would have two ships creeping up on a contact and they could throw forward over their own bows. From that they developed the big Squid which was thrownfrom the quarter deck over the bows in later ships.

Was she fitted with radar ?

Yes, I forget the number of it, but the radar set that they used, the night that they sunk an Italian submarine on the surface by ramming, it was a radar contact that they got. They steered by radar and increased speed and they reached 28 knots when they hit her, it was an Italian submarine and it was the night of the day that the EAGLE was sunk on that Malta Convoy. It badly bent the bows of the WOLVERINE and you could stand on the stocks in the dock and you could see the whole of the focsle. The only casualty of the WOLVERINE that night was the Chief Stoker. He not only got the DSM, but he was thrown off the lockers where he was sleeping and he got broken ribs. The Officer of the Watch got the Bosun’s Mate down in time to clear the forward mess decks, “stand by to ram” and “clear the forward mess deck” and they managed to get everyone away from there before she hit and so they must have moved fairly fast.

If you were always on the bridge did you have a little cubby hole you could go and have a bit of a sleep while the Captain was off the bridge ?

No the Captain had a sea cabin on the bridge and I had the use of that sea cabin as my office, in harbour.

When he wasn’t there ?

When he wasn’t there, this was when we were in harbour. Well I used to keep my signal logs in there and I would sleep in there myself in harbour.

Did you have any where to sleep ?

I would go down below and of course everybody had to make sure that everybody knew where you were. The Bosun’s Mate would come and say, “Captain on the bridge”

and off you would trot ?

Yes you would know when he was coming up, if something unusual happened. He really was up there most of the time. He would stay there until you got out of sight off Cape Trafalgar when you were outward bound. Going out of course, it was my job to watch for signals which indicated that the booms were opened and closed and things like that. We were going out one night and we had just started to go into the Straits and there was something approaching us on the port bow. The Captain said to me “challenge him”, and so I challenged him and, “no reply Sir”. “Challenge him again”, “no reply Sir”. “Use a brighter light Yeoman”, “no reply”. Looking at this thing I began to think this is not quite right, he should be on his toes and Lieutenant Commander Clegg said to me, “What do you think it is ?”, and I said “Its not unlike a submarine on the surface Sir”, he became quite alarmed. We were getting ready to put something into him when he woke up and identified himself. Actually it was a trawler sweeper like the THOMAS CURRELL, low down at night, it wasn’t unlike a submarine on the surface. The difficulty was they only carried one signalman and he had been right up forward and cook had to go and wake him or something like that to answer the light you see, but he was damn lucky that he didn’t get a brick into the focsle. We never ever lost a ship, never lost a ship and we were very proud of that. We had quite a few attacks and there were ships lost around us, but none were lost that we had control of. Well it was good luck I think and good management to a certain extent there, she was a lucky ship. Some of the ships we took through there, the KING GEORGE V, THE DUKE OF YORK, all the Carriers that were going out to the east to reinforce the Eastern Fleet, I saw a lot of them going through and I wish to hell that we had had them out there in Easter 1942. Any how they went out there and of course they made a difference to the whole thing. IMPLACABLE we took her through and in fact it was the IMPLACABLE that we were escorting around about 17 knots one day and she was coming along nice and no trouble at all and she was flying off 13 aircraft, there were 11 Seafires to be followed by 2Avengers. We were on the starboard wing of the screen and there was a new destroyer on the port wing of the screen and the Seafires went off, we didn’t increase speed to do it, they went off and they dipped a little bit when they went. The the Captain and myself were watching the flying off operations very closely and whether it went through his mind or not, I don’t know, but the first Avenger went off and she was number 12 plane and she sunk a bit when she left the flight deck and then gathered way and became fully airborne. The thought occurred to me that this was number 13, is she going to make it and she didn’t, she hit the water and he must of been thinking the same thing because straight away he said, “hard to port, full ahead”. We got there before it had gone into the waves and grabbed two or three people out of it and got them aboard. The pilot was from Mt Eden, a New Zealander, I have forgotten his name, but he was mighty pleased to get on board. The WOLVERINE had such an acceleration and a good turn of speed and a good boats crew and so forth that we got there before that new destroyer and picked these fellows up, and so that was a feather in our cap. We reported to the IMPLACABLE that we had them and that they were none the worse for their dip and the Commander flying on IMPLACABLE said they won’t be like that when they get back on board there. Whether they had gone before they should have or they had done something wrong I don’t know, but he wasn’t at all pleased about it. Shortly after that a storm came up and we reduced speed, we had to reduce speed because we were hitting the waves. The waves were coming over the top of us and crashing down so much so that they were bending the stanchions in the forward messdecks, there was so much weight. We had to reduce speed and this didn’t worry the IMPLACABLE, she carried on and I think we went down to about 7 knots. Any way we came in about a day behind the IMPLACABLE and handed the air crew over. My friend Owen Slattery by this time had joined the DART and I quite often used to see him on our runs ashore, after bringing a convoy down from Ireland and those sort of places. We had quite a bit of fun ashore there, happy days. It finally came one day we were duty destroyer, and if you were duty destroyer you had to be outside the boom and at anchor or sort of patrolling off Europa Point and off the Little Bay camp area. This particular day we were at anchor as duty destroyer and I had been down to see the Captain, that was aft, the boys were swimming, they had been given permission to swim, “hands to bathe”.There was a whaler in the water attending to them but the whaler had been caught by a tide rip and it was 2-300 yards astern of the ship. As I came on deck in my white uniform and so forth from the Captain’s quarters, I was watching these chaps swimming and one of them was drowning. The Stoker’s were sitting on the engine room coaming and I told them, “you had better get in and grab him, he has had it”, and they didn’t move. I dropped my signal board that I had and I went over the side and I got this guy and turned him over on his back and supported him until the whaler came up from astern, he was out. They took him aboard and the doctor was there to grab him as soon as the whaler got alongside. I went away and dried myself and changed and so forth and later on the doctor came and told me that I had done the a good job, that I had saved this fellow’s life. The next day at rum time, I think it was 11 o’clock, there was a call to our mess hatch, “Is the Yeoman there ?”, “Yes”. Here was the fellow that nearly drowned, he paid me for his life with his tot of rum, and so I thought that was nice of him. We carried on escorting until the war finished and peace was declared. Submarines were given instructions from Admiral Doenitz to proceed to certain positions and hoist the black flag of surrender, and they would be met there by various ships. Two of them surrendered to us in the Straits area and we took them into Gibraltar and I wasn’t surprised when I found out that they had our name at the top of their list, to sink us. How lucky we were, because the WOLVERINE had sunk Captain Von Prien who was their German ace. She had also sunk this other Italian Sub by ramming, she had sunk U42 and she had had we don’t know what dealings with other submarines in that patrol area. She was a much sort after prize for the U Boats and they would have been quite happy to have got us if they could have. How the hell they never I don’t know because we never even had Foxers. The Foxer was a device that was invented to combat the German naval acoustic torpedo, the WOLVERINE never carried them and yet plenty of these were flying around and some how or other we had evaded them. Well these fellows came into the pens at Gibraltar and berthed alongside us and I watched theCaptain and the crews of these U Boats go across onto the jetty to be taken prisoner and marched away to a prison camp. They were still very proud and rightly so. One of the members of the crew of U42 wrote to me in recent years to thank the WOLVERINE for saving him and his shipmates before she sank U42. That letter has a photo and is in the Museum records. Its amazing the number of U Boats that were still at sea at the end of the war, awesome. Yes but the bearing of the U Boats crews following their surrender quite impressed me, they were proud of what they had tried to do any how for Germany I suppose. I think they had almost done it, but they missed out because of Captain Walker and a few of the others who managed to just keep ahead of them, but only just. Our move then was to take those U Boats from Gibraltar to Lisahally, which was up in Northern Ireland. We put some of our fellows aboard with the Germans and took the pistols out of the torpedoes and away we went. I think the U Boats were 451 and 541, the digits were the same any how, but I think that was the number of the two U Boats that we got there. We took them up to Lisahally, up the River Foyle and as we went in through the boom there on your starboard hand is the Irish free state and on the porthand is Northern Ireland which seems a little bit odd, but thats it. As we went through the boom on your starboard hand there is a place called Moville and there was a big whitehouse just by the boom. I had my telescope and I am looking at this house and there is a woman at the front door waving a big Union Jack as we came in with these two UBoats behind us. I thought that’s rather strange waving a Union Jack in the Free State. When we got up to Lisahally and had tied them all up, I was ashore in the Port of Lisahally and there was a canteen ashore there in a Nissan hut, I saw an Irish Docky. I said, “What’s going on in the Free State there”, I said “As we came in through the boom there is a lady with the Union Jack there waving to us”. He said, “Oh yes, she waves to all the sailors”, he said “Thats “Liddy Montgomery”, and I said “Who ?”, and he said “Monty’s mother, she waves to all the matelots”, and apparently she never missed a ship during the war. On the way out I made sure that I had a white ensign on the stave to wave to her as we sailed and that of course was done. We had a South African subby on board, he was the Officer of the Watch that night and as I went down to get permission to, “carry on ashore Sir”, he said “Yes”, and he said “By the way the war’s over have a drink on me”. Lieutenant Commander Clegg used to turn them on quite a bit after we were in harbour, but I never forget the South African and myself celebrating the Victory in Europe. Our job was then to go down and pay the WOLVERINE off in Plymouth. We dumped all the ready use ammunition in a big trough over towards the French Coast, including the two ton depth charge. Then we took the ship up to Barrow and Furness, and that was where we tied her up and left her and went ashore, including a dog who had adopted us in Gibraltar. They were going to destroy all dogs in Gibraltar by a certain time on a certain day and this dog must have known that the WOLVERINE was sailing that day at a certain time. We were actually on the compass platform shortening up ready for sea when I saw this dog coming over the end of Main Street and go like hell down the breakwater in our direction. The Captain was looking to and he saw this dog and as soon as he got down to the pier that we were laying at he went hard to port and the sailors had the lanyards of the gangway ready to throw aboard. As soon as the dog got down between these two sailors he went hard to starboard and up onto the deck and sat his bum down by the torpedo tubes and had a breather, as if to say, “by Christ I just made that”. The skipper laughed and he said, “Okay let her all go, half a stern together”. That dog stayed with us for the rest of the war, and he went home with somebody from Barrow and Furness, so that was that.  Just as a little matter of interest as regards that hypnotist that I mentioned to you Peter Cassin who I first met at Laydene and then went out on the STRATHMORE to Egypt. The camp that we finished up in was HMS SPHINX and it was adjacent to the New Zealand Army Rest Home at Sidi Bish and adjoining that was The Bath Club that was patronized by sailors and soldiers with a beer garden, swimming pool etc. We were reunited with New Zealanders again and fellows who were taking a rest period at the New Zealand Rest Home. Amongst the crowd was a New Zealand soldier who hadn’t spoken for approximately 18 months. He was the sole survivor of a dramatic event, I think it was the destruction of a tank. He was the sole survivor and although there was nothing wrong with him physically his voice had been shocked away from him. One day when his mates were telling me about this Peter Cassin walked into the Bath Club andso I introduced him to these chaps and the state of this fellow was mentioned. Any how it resulted in Peter being introduced to the New Zealand Medical Officer at the home and within about a fortnight I spoke to that New Zealand soldier. He answered me a little hesitantly but he got his speech back completely, as the result of the efforts of Peter Cassin the hypnotist and the New Zealand Medical man who initially had to give him some assistance as far as being hypnotized was concerned. I think he had to give him a sedative or a tranquilizer to help him on his way, but any way he very quickly recovered.

I don’t think I put on record anything that happened after taking the WOLVERINE up to Barrow and Furness and paying her off there and everybody went away on leave. I went back down to Plymouth after having a bit of leave in the Stoke-on-Trent area with thefamily of a Lancaster pilot, who was lost in August `43, my cousin was his observer. The whole crew went of course in August `43 when I think we lost 98 Lancasters on onenight. I went and spent some leave with the pilot’s family, mother and father and sister. Back down to Glen Holt outside of Plymouth. During the time that we were there at Glen Holt we made use of the swimming pool and had swimming events. The New Zealanders being there in fairly large numbers wanted to make our presence felt, so those that could swim any how, most of us could, had a go at the sports. I entered many events and showed the flag and finished up winning the greasy pole novelty vent which was quite a thrill for myself and everybody else that was watching. We had two Olympic swimmers from Britain giving us demonstrations in swimming and diving and I think one of them was Helen Jacobs, she had taken part in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.One morning I was shaken fairly early by someone and told that I had to get everything ready to go up to Portsmouth and I said, “Whats going on ?”, and this fellow said “I don’t know but I heard somebody mention Fleet Air Arm”. I had sat a Fleet Air Arm board on a carrier in Gibraltar getting on to 12 months earlier and passed. I suddenly remembered about all of this and realized that they were going to make use of me. I was sent up to Portsmouth and commenced basic training for a Fleet Air Arm pilot. I wasn’t really happy being on this course knowing what was still going on out east and knowing that I started out east and a lot of my classmates were still behind the wire. I wanted to go and join a ship and get out there and get it over and done with. After about a week I withdrew my candidature for the Fleet Air Arm Commission or whatever it was and after showing me my recommends and so forth the CW Officer said that he couldn’t understand my thinking. He destroyed the papers and I went back to Plymouth to Glen Holt. From there I was almost immediately drafted to HMS JAMAICA who with HMS GLASGOW and RENOWN and a flotilla of destroyers was in Plymouth Sound getting ready to go out to the Far East. I joined the JAMAICA and met my Captain, Captain John Hughes-Hallett of SCHARNHORST fame, he was quite a prominent man and he did the Saint Nazaire raid, or over saw the Saint Nazaire raid in an aircraft over the top of Saint Nazaire. It had something to do with the diversionary air raid that took place at the same time. He put the finishing touches to the SCHARNHORST as the skipper of JAMAICA and he also was the man that was behind the PLUTO scheme a pipe line under the ocean to the Normandy beach head and the Mulberry Harbour set up. He was quite a man really. met John Hughes-Hallett and he was obviously a most efficient officer and didn’t suffer fools lightly. One of his favourite tricks being an Electrical Officer was to go and do something to a circuit on the ship, I found out later on, and then stand back and watch and see how quick it would take the electrical team to track down whatever was wrong with the circuit and get the thing back into action. I remember one day in particular one of the port 10 inch lights wasn’t working. He had asked for a signal to be made which involved that light and so we sent for the repair party and after dashing around with the junction boxes and so forth the Captain produced the fuse that he had plucked out of the box from his pocket. He kept the fellows on their toes. The day that we were to leave Plymouth Sound, they dropped the first atomic bomb.The result was that we stayed there until the second bomb went off and peace was declared. I have recollections then of our job with the RENOWN illuminating Plymouth Harbour and the HOE, and taking a spectacular part in the Fue de Joie that went on that night. It almost I forgot to mention the Fue de Joie that I witnessed as duty destroyer from outside the breakwater from Gibraltar when Victory in Europe was declared. It didn’t quite parallel the sight of the Rock of Gibraltar erupting in fireworks with two twinbeam search lights at either peak stabbing the night in V for victory signs, but it was quite a sight nevertheless. When that was done we departed for the Far East with the GLASGOW. I don’t think the destroyers came with us, it was just the GLASGOW. We went out through the Mediterranean, stopping at Malta and doing some exercises in that area at Marsa Xlokk. We got down to the Suez Canal, passing through the Suez Canal and giving priority to several ships that were homeward bound with released prisoners of war, they took priority and we geared up and let them through. I forget the names of the ships now. But they would be the first Japanese ex prisoners of war homeward bound. While in Malta we carried out various gunnery exercises and quite often had some of the VIP’s from ashore in Malta on board with us enjoying a little bit of sea time and the interesting antics the ships got up to when they were firing at targets. I remember one time there when we had a shoot on a target being towed by an aircraft, for some reason or other the boys got locked on to the towing plane and he very quickly got rid of the target he was towing and went home and left us to it, he wasn’t going to have any of that. One of the spectators there on our flag deck was the daughter of the Governor of Malta, Lady Dalrymple-Hamilton. We then went through the Suez and then on to Trincomalee to pick up mails for the Far East. From Trinco down through the Malacca Straits to Singapore. On the way down through the Malacca Straits I remember we came on barnacle encrusted mines that were still floating around there. On one occasion the Captain decided to sink one and got fairly close to it and gave the pom poms a real good target, but for some reason or other it neither exploded or sunk and in the finish Captain John Hughes-Hallett said, “leave the bloody thing there, lets get out of it”, and so we did. We went down into Singapore and this was good news for me and a lovely sight for me to be getting back into Singapore that we had shot away from so rapidly early in `42.

Singapore had been re-taken a month or so before you got there ?

Yes this was September `45 and the surrender documents had just been signed. The Japanese occupation forces of course were still very much in evidence. The ships that were around there had to fly a black flag. One of the things that they had to do was pay their respects to the white ensign. One of my jobs to keep an eye on this sort of thing and I am afraid I didn’t return any salutes, they saluted alright, but I didn’t feel inclined to instruct anybody to return any salutes. Sorry. We knew of the massacre of the Australian Nurses on Bangka Island and other misdeeds.

Were you the Senior Yeoman on board ?

Yes and nobody demanded that I did. It was around about there that we got a signal from Admiralty that all New Zealanders on loan to the Royal Navy were to be released and sent to various locations for repatriation to New Zealand. Captain John Hughes-Hallett said to me “I want you to stay with me”. He had said to me when I first met him, “You are a very young Petty Officer”. Anyway he wanted me to stay with him and I at that time was quite happy to. We sailed from Singapore to Trincomalee back via the Malacca Straits and 24 hours ahead of us the LOCH KATRINE had sailed and a fellow named Bob Leach was the Yeoman of the LOCH KATRINE, he was an RNVR signalman from Auckland. After we got around the top of Sumatra steaming along, because speeds had been reduced, you weren’t allowed to exceed I think it was 15 knots unless you had pretty good reason for doing it. One of them was if you were repatriating prisoners of war. They already were conserving fuel and of course the lights had come on when the hostilities had finished which was one of the great things that I noticed. All of a sudden you could see where you were going at night and see where others were going when the lights came on again. Early one morning after we had rounded the top of Sumatra, I spotted the upper works of a vessel way out more or less on the starboard beam. It was the LOCH KATRINE and we were steaming for Trincomalee and she was heading for Colombo, and so we were on slightly converging courses. Well as the day progressed the LOCH KATRINE got closer and closer and closer to the mighty cruiser JAMAICA and Captain John Hughes-Hallett, DSO and so forth. Well about 6 o’clock that night LOCH KATRINE was right on our starboard bow. I was on the bridge and Captain John Hughes-Hallett was getting redder and redder and redder and all of a sudden he exploded and I think he said, “Tell them to get the bloody hell out of it”, something like that and so I did and I could see Bob Leach on his 10 inch taking my little message and recoiling with each bang of the shutters. All of a sudden the Captain of the frigate who was a Lieutenant Commander went hard to starboard and went around our stern and crept off to the south west. John Hughes-Hallett stormed off the bridge to his sea cabin and I heard the door bang. Not long after that I went down to see him and he was in his cabin absolutely exhausted laying on his sofa there and he said “Well” puffing and blowing, he said “Well Yeoman, what did he do that for, who was wrong”. I said “Well Sir as a matter of fact you were”. Well the deck head nearly lifted off his cabin. I must admit that he apologized shortly after that, when I was able to show him a little asterisk that was in the conduct of the fleet concerning the giving way of ships, light ships to heavy ships and formations of ships and ships proceeding independently etc. Now that was the Navy rule. Ships in formation of course had right of way over ships that weren’t in formation and light ships gave way to heavy ships. In addition to that there was a little asterisk and in the fine print underneath it all was the asterisk which referred to a little note in very fine print which said, “If you do not intend to abide by the International Rules and Regulations for the prevention of collisions at sea you must indicate your intentions”, Sir you did not do that, I had to tell Captain John Hughes-Hallett”. I don’t know what he did about the Captain of the LOCH KATRINE but I think he would be man enough to write him a letter and apologize.

What was the mood of the ships company at this time, there you were, the war was over and here were all these crews steaming out to the Far East, most would be HO people presumably ?

The second Gunnery Officer on the JAMAICA was a New Zealander named Bill Armstrong. I think I was the only other New Zealander on the JAMAICA. The RN ratings didn’t want to go east, and they were being drafted out to the east in big heaps and they weren’t very keen to go, but as far as I was concerned I was getting nearer home and finishing the war and I wanted to get it over and done with. I remember quite an uproar in the shed in Glen Holt. They used to clear lower deck of everybody and read out the list of drafts that was to go overseas. I remember one occasion there Lieutenant Commander Smith got quite irate when he could hear the mumblings going on down amongst the crowd as the names were being called out and he finished up insulting them. He lost his cool a bit, but he was quite annoyed at the attitude that was obviously being signalled by the rumblings that were going on amongst the crowd as the names were read out. A ship deploying to the Far East would have gone there for 18 months and the guys wouldn’t have a chance to be demobbed in that sort of time frame. Yes they had started demobbing people that were very high on points and these were Chief Petty Officers probably that had stayed in the Bases for most of the war and probably had been at sea during the 14/18 War. I remember one old Chief when told that he had to go home broke down, he was horribly upset over this. As he came out I heard him say “You know God what will Martha say”, he wasn’t too keen about it at all, because they loved the Navy, the loved the life. In fact our stripey that was on the WOLVERINE when we got into Devonport, he came back aboard the night after he had arrived in and I didn’t know him he had shaved off. I think he had 6 children and he had never been home for the birth of any of them, he had been out on commissions in Hong Kong and places like that pre war. As the GLASGOW and JAMAICA were leaving Plymouth there were about 40 aircraft doing an attack on us. I was on the flag deck and a Mosquito came in over our foremast very low and cleared us by about 6 inches it seemed and then banked and then went around out on the port bow to come in for another dummy run. The pilot must have blacked out in that turn as he spun into the water. I reported this and we went over and put the whaler away and picked up what was left. There wasn’t much left of the pilot,there was nothing left of the plane but the wheels and we had a little burial service later that evening with what the boys picked up from the whaler in a little canvas bag. We got back to Trincomalee from that trip to Singapore being interrupted only by a mine and the LOCH KATRINE. The LONDON was in there and she had a large paying off pennant with a pigs bladder floated on the end of it and it was heading back that night for Colombo. There was some New Zealanders going aboard, I don’t know whether Bill Armstrong went on board, but I suddenly got the feeling that perhaps I should sign off here now and go back to New Zealand. I went down and saw the Captain and he wasn’t very pleased that I wanted to come back early, but he agreed to let me go but only when I got a relief. I had to wait for a relief before I could come back. My next move then was by train from Trincomalee to Colombo to a Naval Camp which was just outside Colombo called HMS MAYINA. I then met a whole lot of New Zealanders that had been collecting in HMS MAYINA off landing craft, submarines and various other units of the Far East Fleet. We didn’t have much to do, but the best thing to do was to organize a football team and I finished up a skipper of a New Zealand rugby team that used to go and play most days on the race course at Colombo. We were unbeaten, we beat the champions of the Island the year before and they had a good little team and we played South Africans and we played Australians and we finished up with nobody else to play but the North Island versus the South Island. For the record the South Island won. Then it was time to come home. Chiefs and Petty Officers went away on the PERSEUS which was an aircraft carrier, it was a Fleet Carrier that was mainly used for transporting aircraft.

They called them a maintenance ship didn’t they for transport and maintenance ?

Yes they had some buildings on the flight deck which could quite easily be removed and she could be brought into commission as a fleet carrier pretty quickly. She had mail onboard and we had to go via Singapore to Fremantle to Sydney and a big draft of us hopped aboard, she had plenty of room and that was the track that we took. Coming through the Sunda Straits on the way home the anchor gratings had been left rigged when they left Singapore and it was very rough when we came out into the Indian Ocean and of course those gratings had to be unrigged and brought in. In the process of doing this the Petty Officer told a chap to hop out and take some pins out of these gratings and he said, “Not on your life, not without a life line”. The Petty Officer sent him away to one of the lockers to get a life line and then go out. In his absence a young seaman volunteered to go out without one, he said, “I will do it Sir”. Unfortunately the Petty Officer said, “Okay get out there”. When he got out his arrival at the end of the gratings coincided with a ship going down into a trough of a terrific wave and the wave came up and when the water had cleared the young fellow had been swept away. We searched for about 8 hours but he was gone, he volunteered his own end unfortunately. We then went around to Sydney and we disembarked there and went into HMS GOLDEN HIND which was the Pacific Fleet Base at Warwick Farm in Sydney. Our numbers were growing all the time and after one or two days ashore in Sydney we then went by train down to Melbourne to board the ATHLONE CASTLE for the last part of our return trip home. The Commander of HMS GOLDEN HIND was none other than my friend Commander Nat Gould, who had been the Commander on the EMERALD when I first went over there. When we recognized one another we had quite a good chat in his office and were damn pleased that we had both survived and said goodbye. In those days the trip to Melbourne involved a change of trains I think at Albury, because of the change of railway gauges if I remember rightly. Something happened at Albury on the rail between Sydney and Melbourne just prior to us going down. The boys in their exuberance and excitement of going home had had a drink or two and let their hair down and one of the young fellows was sitting on the railway carriage steps as the train pulled into Albury and he lost both legs. There was much to do about that and the fellows were strictly reminded that they had got through so much and they wanted to get them home in one piece if they could and we had to behave ourselves. We did the best we could and we had a lot of fun nevertheless, and we joined the ATHLONE CASTLE in Melbourne at the passenger jetty. Alongside us was the RANGITATA and she had great big placards on the side of her with storks carrying babies, they called her the Stork Ship. What she had on board were a lot of the war brides that were coming out from UK with families and a lot of babies. Although she sailed ahead of us we got into Wellington before her because her engines had run down quite a bit and she couldn’t pick up any sort of a speed. Our run was much faster and we were back home before her. As we were pulling out from Melbourne we had to make a quick trip back alongside because there was much yelling and screaming and we looked down the side of the ship and one of the girls that was farewelling a sailor through the porthole had been in the act of giving him a bye bye kiss when the tugs heaved the ship off the wharf. She was glued to the ships side or hanging on to the ships side and so they had to push the ship back alongside side so that she could get back down on the wharf and make an escape. When we arrived in Wellington we were greeted by various launches and on board I think was Mr Jones, the Minister of Defence and Mr Fraser the Prime Minister to welcome us home. On the way across the Tasman we went through a medical examination and a routine, so that if we decided to make our own way home as soon as the ship got alongside there would be no repercussions. Apparently some of the fellows had done this earlier in the repatriation scheme. The doctors went across to Australia and processed these fellows on the way across the Tasman and they were free to go if they wanted to and of course a lot did. Us Aucklanders hopped on the train and after an overnight trip we arrived in Auckland with both steam engines on the train crowing like roosters and kicking up a great fuss as we came along the waterfront and greeted by a whole station full of people and relations on our arrival. It was then home, leave and discharge. I took my discharge and went on leave. My intention was to go back and be a printers apprentice again. I had experienced a lot in the time of my naval service and I found that I couldn’t settle down as a printer again. There was a naval strike on and that would have been in 1947. I was a little bit disappointed in the strike, no doubt those that walked off the ships had felt that they had good reason to. It was at that time that I decided to rejoin the Navy.

This was after the strike ?

I think it was during the strike, they were still bringing people back who were unfortunately classed as deserters. I was accompanied back by my friend Ron Smith who I joined the Navy with in 1941 from the Sea Scouts, he was also a printer and he came back in, and so we recommenced our naval career and I finished up on the BELLONA as a Leading Signalman.

Did you have to do any re-training or any thing or was it straight in ?

Straight in. I was fairly quickly reinstated to Yeoman of Signals. After an Island Cruise I went down to TAMAKI as the Boys Instructor with the 12th Boys and 13th VS Boys and that was where we got our football boots on again and I enjoyed the life.

Looking at your record here, you joined BELLONA in June `47 and you seemed to have about 6 months in PHILOMEL from November `47 to May `48 as Yeoman ?

Yes I would have been in the SDO we called it then, the main signal office I was running that.

Then down to TAMAKI in May `48 until late September `49 ?

Thats right.

You had nearly 18 months at TAMAKI ?

Yes that was the length of time that the boys did their course. That was a particularly good crowd of fellows,the 13th VS Boys and some of them did quite well for themselves. An interesting thing happened there during their sea training. I took them away on the KIWI, one of our Sweepers, the KIWI of the Jap submarine fame. The frigates and the BELLONA were in the vicinity of Wellington. While on the way down to Wellington to rendezvous with this crowd, we were going to meet them in the vicinity of Cook Strait and then go into Akaroa with them, we got into the terrific storm that they were also involved in. I think two of the frigates were damaged by the storm. On board we had Captain Duckworth who was an NOCA and he wanted to come down and have a look also and so he took passage on the KIWI. It was quite a severe introduction to sea life for my boys and I can tell you that I was continually going around keeping an eye on them and helping them with buckets and things like that. But even NOCA mustered his kit on that particular trip, one of the roughest trips that he had ever experienced I think. We rendezvoused with BELLONA and the frigates, I think there were 4 frigates and BELLONA was going to do a throw off shoot on us outside Akaroa and I think we were in the process of doing this. Captain Duckworth was on the Monkeys Island behind the compass platform and I was on the bridge with the Captain who was a LieutenantCommander I have forgotten his name now. A signal went up from the BELLONA which I read and reported and it was, “Mine in sight starboard side”. I reported, “Mine in sight starboard side of BELLONA Sir”. His reply to me was, “Don’t be ridiculous”. I said, “There is a mine in sight”, the signal flying is, “Mine in sight from the BELLONA Sir, and there is the bloody thing about 200 yards off our port bow”. He was most apologetic and very quickly took appropriate action. I don’t know whether it was one of ours or whether it was a German mine or what it was, but it was left for somebody else to handle. I think it was a German mine, several mines about that time had floated into the Akaroa Harbour. The result of that was when I got back to Auckland NOCA had reported this lot and it resulted in one of my few commendations. While in Akaroa we carried out various activities, mainly sporting activities and I remember the frigates challenged the KIWI because she had the class of boys to a cricket game. Two teams, one from the four frigates and one from the KIWI. “Pippy” Boyd and myself and few others went ashore to bat. Much to the surprise of everybody including myself I carried my bat and the KIWI finished by cleaning up the frigates at cricket, much to the pleasure of the 13th VS Boys. On the way back to Auckland there was a sea rescue which involved me in taking the boys sea boats crew away in the whaler. This was something which was not normally done by a Petty Officer of the Communications Branch, taking the sea boat away. Fortunately I knew enough about it to get the boat away safely, retrieve what I had to retrieve and get it back alongside. It can be a disastrous evolution if you are not careful, you can mishandle the shackle pins and Robinson disengaging gear.

What was life at TAMAKI like for trainees and staff in those days because there was no quarters down there staff were there. If you were married you had to get a boat early in the morning or get back very late at night or weekly board ?

The only quarters that were there were those for the officers, mainly the school teachers and the Captain had his accommodation there and the Padre, but the Chiefs and Petty Officers had no accommodation. We were in two watches because of that strike, it was pretty tough really because apart from running your Boys Division and that was something that you had to concentrate on all the time because they can be little devils,you had to pay attention to your instruction. It was around about that time that I got married and two of my boys were christened at Motuihe, the two eldest.

How long did the boys training last, how long did it go on for ?

They did about 18 months there and although some of them probably found it a little bit severe in retrospect I am sure that they all thoroughly enjoyed it. There was some funny times and in this day and age probably officers wouldn’t have got away with what used to go on down there, but it was a good laugh when we look back on it and a really happy time. The duty watch used to fall in and the Duty Petty Officer would take them and report them to the Officer of the Day, who generally was a very Pusser Commissioned Gunner, Cox or Gardner and they were Officers who had come through the hawse pipe and they didn’t mess about. But this particular night I reported the duty watch correct Sir, and he said “Right we are going to exercise fire stations”. He very quickly said “There is a fire in the gash shute, quick”. We had gash shutes there behind the huts which allowed us to shoot the gash from the galley and so forth straight down onto the rocks for the benefit of the fish population around about I think. He singled out one bright boy and said, “Quick grab that fire extinguisher and put that fire out down the gash shute”. The boy galloped away smartly and did his job and came back and fell in. I think it was Warrant Officer Gardner that said to him “did you put the fire out ?”, and he said “Yes Sir”, and started to laugh. He said “What are you laughing at, where’s the fire extinguisher ?”. He laughed louder and he said, “I fired it down the gash shute Sir”. Warrant Officer Gardner was thunderstruck at this lot. He said, “I will teach you to laugh at me”, he says, “You get 5 of your cobbers and you get down and get that whaler”, and he said, “you will row right around the Island and pick up that gash shute and then report to me”. The smile was wiped off this fellow’s face and his cobbers and after recovering the fire extinguisher from the rocks down below they reported to Warrant Officer Gardner around about midnight after a long row right around Motuihe Island.

I remember going to TAMAKI in the fifties as a Sea Cadet and my memories of the boys then was they were a hell of a hard bunch of guys. Life was tough and they were given a pretty hellish entry into the Navy. As duty Petty Officer you also had to be the PTI and although we hadn’t been trained as PTI’s we were young and fit and used to go for runs with them. There was a lot of running and swimming around that Island and we organized the rugby teams and we organized boxing competitions and things like that. What we used to do down there, probably everybody wouldn’t agree with it, but there was only one way to quieten these fellows down because sometimes they would be playing up at night. They would be made to lash up their hammocks and stand out on cemetery point with the hammock across their shoulders and that would cool them down. You would see a very subdued boy come back and put his hammock up again and go to sleep.

Did the signalman do all their training down there. You were non stop signal training ?

Yes we had a big flag mast on the end of cemetery point where our flag hoisting was done. In those days semaphore and flashing that was all done down there. One of the boys later was telling me, I forgot which ship it was and what officer it was,but the officer turned around to Ron Olds the signalman and said, “answer that light signalman”. Olds put his binoculars up and had a look at this light and disregarded it. The next minute the Officer of the Watch had another go at Olds and said, “would you answer that light signalman, what’s he saying ?”. Ron Olds put his glasses up and read out, “I am a light house Sir”. The full training was done there to bring them up ready for sea and then away they went and then of course from then on a lot of them used to go across to Flinders for their further advancement and some probably went to UK.

Any notable people there, any people who have gone on to greater things ?

Freddy Connew was the Master at Arms when I first went down there and from there I think he went out to recruiting.

Who was the Captain ?

The Captain when I first went down was Peter Phipps from the MOA and he was replaced by C.C.Stevens from Christchurch who was a great rugby man. I enjoyed the life down there, although I found watch on and watch off was a bit much and of course the shortage of people dictated this and we just had to do it.

You moved down there daily ?

Yes I lived in Devonport.

You just caught the TAMAKI Tram ?

Yes caught the TAMAKI tram. Two boys decided that they had had enough one day down there and they decided to get a whaler and go home to mum. Big search parties went out to find these fellows and it wasn’t until next morning going down on the TAMAKI Tram or the HDML that we spotted them on Browns Island. They were running around in their birthday suits on the rocks there getting a feed of oysters. We went in and picked them up and took them back to the Island. Nothing much was done to them or anything like that, it was a matter of getting them used to jumping when somebody told them to do something and they did it. We had a canteen down there and the ships company that was there had discovered occasionally that the beer was a little bit off. If you were in the canteen when Bill Fraser tapped the keg it was generally a pretty good brew. Sometimes it didn’t seem too good and somebody did suggest that Bill was watering this beer down. One night there was alot of hilarity coming from the mess which belonged to the ships company, too much in fact and so they carried out a bit of an inspection and the duty P.O. went in there and here were the ships company with fannies full of beer. Old Bill had to water his beer to make sales worthwhile, because what was happening, these fellows had found the pipes that went down from the taps, they went underneath the building and came up through the floor again to the kegs. By crawling underneath the canteen they were able to milk the kegs and this is what they had done and to keep his till right Bill put water in to make it up. Before I went down to TAMAKI I did an Island cruise on the BELLONA and there was a ship called the RANUI which sailed about 24 hours ahead of us with some sheep for Raoul Island and other stores. We duly sailed and followed along in the RANUI’s wake and when we got out by Little Barrier one of the stewards reported to sick bay with mumps. He didn’t report before hand because he had never done an Island Cruise and he had wanted to do it. Well of course there was all sorts of trouble when this happened and the communication with Navy Office resulted in us being told to carry on and assist the RANUI with getting her cargo ashore and then go and quarantine ourselves because mumps is fairly fatal for the Island people or could be. They were frightened if anepidemic of mumps went through an Island that we would get the blame for a whole lot of fatalities. We duly got up there and unloaded RANUI and then we shot into Suva onenight about midnight and put the steward ashore to a hospital there and then we went up to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, a place called Funafuti which had been used as an American PT Base I think during the war and a lot of the equipment was still there. Amatuku Island was uninhabited and so we went in there and quarantined ourselves and we were in there for two or three weeks whilst the isolation period allowed the mumps to develop and show itself was no longer a danger to the Islanders. Whilst there Joe Dobbin made a camp ashore, a cook house ashore and we had a rifle range. PTI Sims was up to all sorts of events eeling and water polo and so forth, a great time. Then we came down from there and went on with our cruise through the Islands, Rotuma, Suva, Savu Savu, Tonga and they were mainly the places that we visited. Captain Laing was the Captain of the BELLONA and the Commander was Dick Washbourn. It was quite a successful Island cruise.

Did you have the Governor General on board ?

No there was no Vice Regal party on that trip. Every time we went into an Island of course on would come the local population and they would put on dances and so forth for us and sold their model canoes and we did a little bit of trading with the clothes that we had in the scran bag and soap and things like that, we had quite a nice time. We had swimming races in the Suva Baths. I was swimming and diving for the Communications and I think I won the Corfu Diving. The doctor that we had on board, I think his name was Dr Millen; was a very good swimmer and he won the sprint events and that’s about all I can remember, but he was an excellent swimmer. When we got down to Nukalofa, the Crown Prince came aboard. Queen Salote was still alive and the Crown Prince, the present King came aboard for a cocktail party and my job was to see the fo’c’sle was decorated appropriately in white and red flags. A fellow named Vic Sutherland was the electrician and worked with Able Seaman McDonald. Anyway they had a good party and our job was to rig those flags of course and take them down. The illuminations were big yard arm groups that had been clustered around the various parts on B Gun Deck rails. They were lashed on to them and they had to come down. Later on I heard somebody piping for a duty sick berth attendant to report to the diving flat. Any how the next minute somebody came up to me and said, “could I do artificial respiration”, and I said “Yes” and he said “Quick get up to the diving flat, Wheldale has been electrocuted”. I think the fellow who told me that had had a tot or two. I felt alright and I shot up to the diving flat and it wasn’t me, it was Able Seaman McDonald he had been electrocuted and he was lying in the diving flat. I got to work on him with Vic Sutherland and the word went out then to get onto the doctor who had gone ashore, get him back. The sick berth staff were in attendance and they brought oxygen up, but we used all that and we were on engineers oxygen and the doctor eventually got back and unfortunately pronounced Able Seaman McDonald dead. He had only been married a month and I think probably the rum that this Petty Officer had drunk, plus the fact that McDonald and I looked alike caused confusion. He was accorded a great funeral the next day and the local population more or less took him over and we provided a burial party. There were two or three trucks absolutely loaded with floral tributes to Able Seaman McDonald. On some occasions when a fellow dies in the Navy and I suppose it is still the case or he is killed in action, his kit will probably bring in quite a bit of money for his next of kin, even if there is not much left of his kit. If he is a deserter of course his kit is more or less sold for nothing because it goes back to the Crown. If I remember rightly there was pretty close to a thousand pounds worth of money was contributed to Able Seaman McDonald’s next of kin through the sale of his kit. He had a good kit, he was a very tidy fellow and a very nice chap and so a thousand pounds would help her out. Poor fellow had only been married a month. On the other hand whilst I was serving on the WOLVERINE the destroyer, it was Christmas 1944. We had been warned in our training never to interfere with another man’s hammock and I always insisted on this too, after being a Boys Instructor at TAMAKI. I was very suddenly made aware of what could happen in Christmas 1944 when we were in Gibraltar and there were Christmas celebrations onboard. The duty signalman was a fellow named Signalman Monaghan. When I came up from the PettyOfficer’s Mess the next morning to go to the heads the duty PO was shaking everybody up and saying, “get up or you will be in the rattle” etc. As I came out through the hatch Jan (the duty Petty Officer) was kicking a chap on his feet who was laying in the fo’c’sle flat there. I heard him say, “get up or you will be airing your fringe, wakey, wakey” etc. I went to the bathroom to the heads and in the meantime Jan had been right up forward rousing everybody and he was having another go at this chap and so I stopped. Just then another chap came along and he said, “Hey Jan he’s dead”, and he was dead. looked at his hammock and his hammock had been cut and it wasn’t maliciously done, somebody just skylarking the night before. They had cut this fellow’s hammock and of course he came out head first. I questioned Signalman Monaghan because Monaghanwas the fellow who had to have all his wits about him that night and I made sure of that in case we got sailing orders or something like that, somebody had to be really with it and Monaghan was it. Signalman Monaghan got a horrible shock because he had come down during the night and he found this fellow laying there and thought that he had too much to drink and pulled him out of the way. Where as in fact he was dying and Monaghan was most upset until the doctor reassured him that even if he had reported him then and there, the damage that was done to this fellow’s head would have been fatal in any case. The sad part about this one was that this fellow’s wife had been killed in the blitz and he had two little boys at home. His kit probably only brought in a very small amount because unfortunately he never had a very good kit. It was most unsettling to read the little letter that we got back from the boys. It was obvious that somebody must have held their hands, and very briefly it was “Dear Captain and shipmates we loved our Daddy very much”. I thought by crikey if they knew what had happened somebody had been playing around with their father’s hammock and this is the reason that he wasn’t there, they would have been most upset and I never ever forgot that. Of course they don’t have hammocks nowadays, but that was a very tragic lesson. To get back to the BELLONA, the other thing that I remember about service on that ship that it was about that time that Committees came out to forward complaints or suggestions through these committees. Men could make representations which would be in due course passed on to Navy Office. I was the communications representative on that committee and I think it was the first committee in the Navy here. Commander Washbourn was the chairman. At that time they had converted huts which had been used as military camps into transit quarters for naval families that never had homes. A lot of these war brides were coming out and so forth and conditions were very, very primitive. It was myself that suggested that we have an improvement on these and build naval flats, so that people would have nice accommodation, small gardens that could be looked after by the wife and things like that. I remember the Commander saying “Oh God forbid” he said, “if they piped return naval stores the whole place would fall down, it would be like Devonport in UK”. Any how it was from that suggestion that the naval flats were built in Ngataringa Road.

The Welfare Committee Scheme was set up as a result of the strike wasn’t it ?

That’s right yes. I am not crystal clear but I think the New Zealand Navy was quite unique in that approach at the time in getting submissions from the sailors, because there was no real avenue for such suggestions to be pushed forward to a higher authority was there ? No. I think I had the privilege of sitting on the first Welfare Committee and it was held onboard BELLONA with Commander Washbourn as Chairman.

The Flats are still there in Wakakura Crescent ?

Yes that’s right. To extend upon that a little bit more when I was a civilian I brought the state house that I occupied. I thought it was most unfair that a sailor could be paying rent in a flat or the houses which later came along in Philomel Crescent and leave the Navy and not have any equity in a home. His civilian counterpart could and I suggested this to Members of Parliament later on and they said “that’s Defence property and it can’t be done”. They missed the point the Navy would retain his service for longer, have a more settled man and when he finally left the service he would simply take the equity that he had in his house and transfer it to where ever he wanted to settle in New Zealand. The Defence house would always remain with that Department, that was what I was getting at, but they didn’t do any thing about it and I think this would have saved a lot of very experienced personnel. They have always had a time limit on Navy houses. In my day it used to be 8 years I think was the maximum that you could stay in a Navy house and that was to try and ensure that there was the through put of people. I don’t disagree with your theory of building up equity. The electricity people working at the dams and what have you, were able to build up equity and then transfer it. Yes that is perhaps something that they could have a look at again, I think it worth while. I left TAMAKI and I was drafted to the TAUPO. This was a period of my naval service that really I am not very proud of, but for the record I would mention it. I went as Yeoman on the TAUPO and initially we did exercises off Jervis Bay with the Australian Fleet and we did exercises in the Hauraki Gulf with our boys, with our own Fleet.

Who was your Captain ?

Commander Gilfillen, he was a real gentleman, I had a lot of time for him. We went over to Jervis Bay and just before going over there I was playing football on Great Barrier Island and broke my arm. I thought I would go ashore, but the Divisional Officer or the First Lieutenant was a fellow named Carr, said I had to go and do that cruise. He later finished up Admiral, Laurie Carr. My right arm was in plaster. Well you can imagine how difficult it was, but we got through. One part of it when we went from Jervis Bay down to Western Port and on that particular run we struck a terrific gale and a lot of the staff were sick, we were in line ahead, which meant passing signals down the line visually. I can remember being on top of the flag locker passing semaphore down the line in a raging storm. If I had of gone over the side I would have gone straight to the bottom with this plaster. However we arrived safe and sound a bit battered about. Two of the frigates on our arrival in Western Port had to go straight into Melbourne, into dry dock. They had suffered some hull damage and things were shaken up pretty much.We were anchored in Western Port at Flinders Naval Depot with all those that were in one piece and strangely my friend Pipi Boyd was on the TAUPO as he was on the KIWI with us. Pipi had done something wrong and he was under punishment which involved a couple of hours work while other fellows were enjoying a bit of a kip. I was on the bridge this particular day looking down at Pipi doing his punishment on the fo’c’sle, he was actually painting the cable and he was titivating little shackles and so forth on the anchor gear. I watched him lift up a piece of steel and tap a bit of paint in and then another bit and then he stood back and then he looked at another one. I could see it going through his mind, will I or won’t I, and he lifted this one and all hell broke loose. We already had one anchor down, but Pipi let the other one go, he lifted this shackle and dropped this anchor and there was a cloud of dust. All his white paint work was for nothing and at the same time on either side of the ship was a very interesting spectacle. Up one side came the First Lieutenant, the Jaunty and a few others and up the other side of the ship came the Captain, the Cook and a few others and they are all heading for the stem of the ship where Pipi Boyd was trapped. If they had taken a film of that lot it would have been worth while, because there was no way that he was going to get out of that. Shortly after that Navy Office asked for us to report any interesting events that had happened over there and the Commander said to me, “What do you think Wheldale ?”. I suggested that he send that little titbit about the day that Pipi Boyd anchored the ship by himself. Alastair Gilfillen was horrified he said, “Oh no, lets forget all about that”, but I thought it was news worthy. However we came back from there and the TAUPO and the HAWEA were ordered to the Mediterranean in exchange for the ST AUSTELL BAY and VERRYAN BAY another RN frigate. They were to come out here and we were to go to the Mediterranean. I hadn’t been married long and I had no desire to go to the Mediterranean. I was detailed off that I had to go and very hesitantly I went, it was for 12 months. As I say I wasn’t happy about it at all. However you join the Navy and you do what you are told. On the way over we went up through the Barrier Reef, Max McDowell was the Navigating Officer. remember one day there we were heading for the Capricorn passage and the Captain said, “We are looking for the Capricorn passage we expect to pass the reef, keep your eye out for broken water and things like that”, “Yes Sir”. For some reason I looked on the starboard quarter and I said that we had broken water on the starboard quarter. Any how it proved that we had entered the passage in and this was the broken water of the northern side of the Capricorn passage. It was just as well that Max McDowell was an expert navigator, he was spot on. Then up there through Cairns and Darwin to Singapore to Trincomalee, to Port Sudan. We had to call into Port Sudan because one of our signalmen was dangerously ill and we had to get him ashore. Signalman Hopkins from Christchurch was discharged to hospital in Port Sudan and later rejoined the ship in Malta. We went into Tobruk and we painted up ship and so forth while we were there to look nice when we joined the Mediterranean Fleet. We had a bit of conviviality there with soldiers that were stationed ashore in Tobruk and I think it was at that time that they were still clearing a lot of the mines and three children belonging to an Army Sergeant had got tangled up with one of these mines and had been killed not long before we got there. While we were in Tobruk we got the Malta Times and it was headlines on the frontof the Maltese Times, “ST ANGELO had done it again”. I looked at this and what had they done again, they had lowered the colours again of the RN in a race that wasapparently a monthly event in Malta. In fact ST ANGELO had never been beaten and they wanted to let the world know about. As usual they had done it again. This seemed to sow the seed in our minds that we had a bit of a challenge here coming up. As I had done a bit of rowing and liked rowing I was involved. We got into Malta and very shortly after getting there the Hamilton Cup was being rowed for and we raced, we put a crew inand we were beaten fairly narrowly by ST ANGELO. I think it was the TAUPO’s Petty Officer’s crew. They were fairly close and gave them a good race. After that we went away on cruises. We were going on our second summer cruise which involved us going to Cyprus. It involved us in two things. Firstly we had to track 50 Russian Trawlers that had been inside British Territorial waters in the channel that had come into the Mediterranean and we had to track them or shadow them through the Med and carry out exercises, eventually finishing up in a place called Marmaris. The American 6th Fleet was to go into a place called Rhodes. The night before we sailed I had gone ashore. By this time I hadn’t realized but there was no doubt about I had become quite addicted to rum and alcohol. I was in no condition to sail the next morning and in fact I think I was still intoxicated. A Maori chap and I had the night before been onthe Chequers, the Duke of Edinburgh was the First Lieutenant, and we finished up in a cabin with him, I can vaguely remember that. The result of that was I disgraced myself and on arrival in Marmaris I was disrated I lost a hook very much to my shame. The result of that was that I wasn’t allowed to row in the regatta in the TAUPO’s Petty Officers crew. I was sent to HAWEA where Tom Stocker was the Skipper and because they wouldn’t allow me to row I was pretty annoyed, because I had done quite a lot of training.The regatta went on and the TAUPO won the Cock of the Fleet. HAWEA won a lot of trophies. The Cock of the Fleet was a great achievement. The interesting thing about that, was that everybody, every other ship, tries to get that rooster during the night of festivities that followed. The Turks had warned us not to swim in that harbour of Marmaris because of the presence of Hammer Head sharks. I think all the Hammer Head sharks went out of Marmaris that night, because it was full of sailors trying to out do one another in pinching a trophy off another ship. The Commander off one of the ships came aboard TAUPO I think it was to congratulate them on their effort, but he was immediately under suspicion and when he came up to the Quarter Master to congratulate them, this fellow without any hesitation threw him over the side. From the water he threatened this fellow with all sorts of trouble. He went over fairly quick and he went back to his ship in a very wet state, but there were some funny things happened that night. I have got an idea it was the NEWCASTLE that was in there carrying the flag. One of our fellows had managed to board the NEWCASTLE and outside the Admiral’s cabin was a chromium plated dolphin. He had latched on to this dolphin, when he was discovered by the marine sentry and there was a hell of a bellow and he rushed out apparently with the dolphin still in his arms and he left somewhere up near the flag deck,he was catapulted off and fortunately hit an awning and from that went into the sea still clutching his dolphin and was picked up by a motorboat that was hovering around there. Next morning there was a general signal to the fleet to return the Admiral’s dolphin, who ever had it, nobody knew about this dolphin. Later on it surfaced alright, it was down below on the forward mess deck somewhere and was returned with all sorts of apologies to the Admiral. He wasn’t put out about it really. I think that was the first summer cruise. I was still on the TAUPO when this particular incident happened. There was an alteration of course of the fleet and we finished up passing fairly close to the flag ship and I could see Commander Gilfillen getting quite agitated about this. He was a very nervous man, but a very nice fellow and he was embarrassed about this job that had been done in Marmaris. He said to me, “make a signal to the Admiral, Wheldale, apologizing for the conduct of our boys at Marmaris”. I did and said, “We were sorry that we had pinched his fish”. That was it and we stood back and waited for a reply. Well back came the reply and the Admiral said, “Our apologies were accepted without reservation”, he was quite pleased with the whole effort and even offered us congratulations and finished up by saying, “I hope my fishing is as successful as yours when I next go to Taupo”. So that was how that particular incident finished up. We also carried out bombardments at Cyprus. Whilst we were in that vicinity and it must have been the first cruise, ships were coming from the Black Sea through the Dardanelles and I had a fairly close eye on these ships. A Russian ship came out there one particular time and 50 Russian trawlers had gone through into the Black Sea. This ship had all its gun platforms and various aerials intakes fitted, all they had to do was get their guns on board and this thing could be ready for war. I think at that particular time the emergency could have started in the Eastern Mediterranean rather than Korea. Because of the fact that we had the American 6th Fleet at Rhodes and the Turkish and British Fleets were Marmaris, this situation changed. It wasn’t long after that that the trouble actually started in Korea.

You think the Russians could have come down through the Dardanelles ?

Yes it looked to me as if this was what was going to happen. Any how this particular ship was very interesting and I used to do a little bit of sketching. I sketched that ship and its pertinent points, its aerials and the type of aerials that I knew, the gun platforms that were on it and so forth. I had it on a signal pad and Commander Gilfillen must have seen this, shortly after we arrived back in Malta I was visited by an Intelligence Officer who took that away, and was glad to get it. Following my disrating and time on the HAWEA we went to Crete and Greece and then up through the Corinth Canal to Taranto and then back down to Malta. It was during that time I had decided to do something about not being able to row at Marmaris and also taking these bombastic ST ANGELO crew, or I thought they were any way. I got volunteers and we started to train firstly in Suda Bay and our land training used to take us past the New Zealand cemetery at the head of Suda Bay. It was then that Tom Stocker the Skipper came out one day after we had been training and asked us who was training us and I said well there was nobody and I said “Would he like to have a go ?”,and he said “Yes” much to my surprise. I think he felt a little bit for me and the fact that I had come aboard his ship with my tail between my legs and down a rung or two and he said he would. We really got stuck into this and there was also a stokers crew, which was coached by a Chief Petty Officer Booth, General Booth we called him after the Salvation Army man. The trouble was of course we only had one whaler which we used to share for training. These whalers that were produced in the New Zealand Dockyard were good whalers, made of Kauri and I think we probably had the edge on people with the boats that we carried. So the best crew had to have the best boat and so when we got into Piraeus, Athens, we staged a race, one crew against the other, which we called A and B. The Stoker crew beat us. We borrowed a whaler from the TAUPO for that race. Any how that was alright, there might be some difference in the whalers, he thought so, we will have another go when we get to Taranto. We had another race in Taranto and again the Stokers crew beat us. Therefore they had the pick of whalers.When we got back into Malta we borrowed a whaler from the PEACOCK, I think it was for our crew. She was one of the RN sloops that was with us; PEACOCK, PELICAN and so forth. We used that, rather heavy whaler, any way we were boated and ST ANGELO started to make some inquires through the Maltese Messmen that came aboard and asked us how we had been training. They were asking TAUPO more though how their crew was going, and said ST ANGELO had been disappearing out of sight over the horizon in their training. They had their eyes firmly set on the TAUPO who had done so well in the first race when he came up against them. We went around to Grand Harbour on the day in question for the Hamilton Cup, and it was the last event that we were going to have before we came back to New Zealand, a dry dock and then back to New Zealand. Grand Harbour was absolutely black with Maltese. The gun went and it was areal good race and I thought B crew came in somewhere around about 3rd or 4th and I wasn’t sure what had happened to our A crew and was in no fit state to look around. I heard these speakers go “The Captain of the HAWEA report to the dias” and I looked at Tom Stocker and he said, “I think we have won”, and he was most moved by this lot. I said, “I think they want you ashore on the dias Sir”. We paddled him ashore and he had the pleasure of accepting the Hamilton Cup on behalf of the winning crew and of course that was followed by a victory cruise around the Grand Harbour. We were towed all around and we were greeted by great hoots by the 4th Cruiser Squadron which was just entering harbour and the news had reached them. The same thing happened when we got around into Selima and Marmoset, it was a great celebration. It was from that the Hawea Cup was dedicated and raced for in the harbour here for many years. I don’t know whether it still is. The whalers have all gone now ? The whalers have gone and I don’t know whether the cup is used for any thing, but that is where it all came from and it was a wonderful occasion. It was later on that Commander Gilfillen finished up as New Zealand Naval Liaison Officer in London and he told me of one occasion when I think he was at Buckingham Palace for some function, the Duke of Edinburgh brought the subject of the Hamilton Cup up.

It was a great event wasn’t it, my understanding that a lot of money was bet on those races and the Maltese were habitual gamblers ?


A lot of money was lost that day ?

There were a lot of tears shed and that night there wasn’t a Dghaisa on the harbour, the Maltese all went home, they were very, very upset.

No doubt a few of the HAWEA and TAUPO crew won a bit of money that day too ?

Yes well I know that Commander Stocker invited everybody down to the Wardroom, it was a great occasion, there was champagne. I think there were about 7 Admirals in Malta at that time and they all sent champagne including Prince Phillip, he sent some over -they had a real party. Shortly after that we went around into Grand Harbour and had our tail scraped to come back to New Zealand, and it was then that Tom Stocker one day cleared lower deck to say goodbye to the crew and it was a very emotional time for him. I think we presented him with a miniature of the Hamilton Cup. He said, “I didn’t think that New Zealanders could do it, but I know different now”. He was very proud. I met up with Tom Stocker again when we commissioned CANTERBURY and he was a retired Captain and was one of the officers used to be the master of the ships before they were commissioned during their time of doing trials out of the builders yard. He did the trials in CANTERBURY and I can recall him talking very fondly of his time in HAWEA and that event. Yes he was a wonderful Captain and he was a great ship handler. Since then I have done a lot of ship handling myself of ferries and such like, but I think that fellows like John Hughes-Hallett and those that I sailed with and was very close to, taught me a lot. I was always intrigued with Tom Stocker when he was entering harbour, particularly Silema Creek. You had to go bows in towards Marmoset and then go astern first up into Silema Creek and pick up forward and after buoys and slot yourself in, it was quite a manoeuvre and I used to watch this with great interest. Tom Stocker used to get up on the monkeys island and he would not move from one side to the other, he would just stand there with his hands in his pocket and whether he was shuffling coins around in his pocket or not I don’t know. He would give his helm and engine orders from there without moving and I never saw him make a faux pas, he always had the thing strictly under control and he was quite cool, calm and collected in a tricky situation, he was very good. We came back and a new Captain replaced him and back to New Zealand to be greeted not long after that with the Water Front Strike.

I went ashore and my job then was to run the Main Signal Office in PHILOMEL. I think it was the beginning of `51. My job then was to see that all the signals that were coming in through Navy Office were distributed to the authorities in the Base that were sending out the crews to the various ships that were strike bound throughout New Zealand. I did this with the assistance mainly of one or two WRENS, Joyce Law was one of them and then Ann Smith was another, but again we were back in two watches. It was a pretty difficult time, there was plenty of pressure and it was nice to see that the Navy did get something out it. The facilities down at the Base now remind me of this time. I took my discharge in `51. I was disappointed because I had worked hard, and disappointed myself and had qualified for commissioned rank which was what I had wanted to do right from the word go when I had joined the Navy as a boy, as a young fellow.

Looking back would you have preferred to have stayed on or you should have stayed on ?

Yes I think so. My particular problem was an inability to handle alcohol and I have found that out since, and I hope a lot of others find out and don’t finish up in the situation that I did. For some reason I was allergic to alcohol and you will see from my records there that I had reached the dizzy heights of the peak of my promotion before I drew my rum. From the time I drew my rum I never went ahead, although I passed for various qualifications. I was a little bit disappointed there, but however I left, and that was the reason for it. I would have loved to have stayed on, I loved the Navy.

The tale that you tell, you obviously enjoyed it and would you do it all again ?

Yes and I would know better, but its 40 years since I had a drink. I often wonder, if somebody had told me when I was a boy what was really going on whether it would have made any difference, I think it may have and I hope that they do, do this for young fellows now. One thing that has pleased me is that I have seen that the rum has been stopped as an issue in the Navy, because one of my early memories was of a stripey going down to get rum for one of the forward mess decks on the EMERALD in Mombasa Christmas 1941 and he never appeared. We found him behind the torpedo tubes with an empty fanny of rum alongside him and we carted him up and put him on a table and the doctor pumped him out. I can remember thinking then as a young fellow, “what the hell did he do that for, silly old fool”, and of course I know now. Approximately 2 or 3 years ago I was invited for morning tea by one of my Commanding Officers, Commander Gilfillen. I went up and had morning tea with him and during the morning he said, “come into my little study”. What he said to me was, “now you should have carried your sword in the Navy and you never, and I am going to give you one”. He presented me with a sword about 150 years old that belonged to the First Treasurer, I think it was, of the Canterbury Provincial Government and I have got it now. Commander Gilfillen is dead now, but it must have caused him some concern. He was a fine fellow and he didn’t enjoy doing what he had to do according to Kings Rules and Regulations and the Admiralty Instructions.

Since then of course I have been able to help other fellows. I have seen fellows who fortunately did get their promotion in the Navy and fell from greater heights than I and they shall be nameless. One particular fellow who won’t be nameless and who I was very, very sorry to see get himself into such a situation was the First Lieutenant we had on the BELLONA. This man had every decoration pretty well apart from the VC because of his war service in submarines, Alastair Mars a fine fellow, a very courageous man. Like many of us had been under some severe tensions and when we come back into harbour or back out of the blue relaxed in the manner that was appropriate with the time or we thought was appropriate and unfortunately became addicted. Because he failed to to take up an appointment, I think he may have gone to the pub before he got on the train to take up an appointment, he finished up with a court martial. It was said on the BELLONA that he used to drink a bottle of gin a day or something in his cabin. That man should have by rights been hospitalized not court martialled.

I was very sorry about that and I will finish up my little story. I have had the pleasure or the privilege Ishould say of sitting on an Armed Forces Medical Board at the Medical School here some years back now. The question was asked of an Army Officer of what he did with people in his unit who had an alcohol problem. This young fellow who had not seen any service, it was obvious, simply said, “We have got no time to mess around with them, we are trained to fight, we discharged them”. I said in reply to that, “Junior Officers of your inexperience should not have that right, I said you could ruin a man’s life. You are discharging a fellow perhaps that may have seen more fighting or action than you”. I said, “it should not be left in your hands”. I swung around and sitting on the panel were 4 doctors and I said “When anything like that that happens in the Armed Forces these days it should be referred in the first instance to these men here, the medical men”, and that is where I leave it.

Thank you for the opportunity to record these events of my life. We only go around once.

1 Response to Yeoman of Signals Wheldale – Oral History

  1. mike revell says:


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