It is important for people reading this manuscript to remember that these are the personal recollections of Mr Williamson. Time and lack of resources have precluded the researching of facts to draw attention to any errors. The views expressed in this oral history are those of the interviewee only and not the NZDF, RNZN, and the Navy Museum.
Firstly Commander I would appreciate some details of your family background Jack, your schooling and the reasons why you decided to join the NZD as it was in those days.
Most of my senior family were schoolteachers. My mother, father, sister and elder brother were schoolteachers. I had no great ambition to follow in their footsteps. That left the three junior members myself and two younger brothers to think of some other ways of earning a living. One Les after being invalided out of the RNZAF during World War 2 finally became a tutor in the London School of Music until he retired to live in Spain. Sid my elder brother, after serving World War 2 as a Flight Lieutenant RNZAF became a Manager in the Farmers Trading Company in Auckland, in Blenheim and retired in Christchurch owning a garage and service station. Bruce the youngest was invalided as a Lieutenant New Zealand Infantry 22nd Battalion after being wounded in Italy to complete his career as a Manager of an Electrical Contracting firm in Hamilton. We were all encouraged in our scholastic careers by our father who had been a Headmaster since 1907 except for a period of World War 1 when he was badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme. He rejoined the Army at the outbreak of World War 2, but was well over age and relegated to home service, much to his disgust. All the male members of the family attended Christchurch Boys High which Dad attended in 1898. Mum and my sister both attended Christchurch Girls High and Mum went on to get her MA at Canterbury College. My mother died in 1934. Dad was born in Mount Somers in the McKenzie Country and Mum in Invercargill. For the best part of a year I kept house for the family after my mother died and attended BHS on completion of those chores. 1935 was my Matric year and despite catching up a far amount of the lectures missed, by swotting overtime I didn’t have any confidence in passing at the first attempt. Additionally my heart was not academically inclined and the sports programme was heavy, rugby, (2nd 15) and athletics (under 18) occupied Wednesday and Saturday afternoons plus a training night for each. The Boys High School Gym and Boxing Teams under Jimmy Burrows (Gentleman Jim, Brigadier World War 2 ex All Black and University Heavy Weight Boxing Champ) took time out of the swotting chore, the thought of failing Matric again haunted me a bit.
A friend of mine Jeff Thiel who lived in the same street in Fendleton and myself managed to get in some flying time with a friend of my fathers who was in the RAF Reserve at Wigram. Weather willing, Sunday afternoon often saw the two of us cramped into the front cockpit of the old World War 1 Avro Biplane with a skid out the front and an oil slinging rotary gnome engine up front to taste the perilous thrills of flying. Later the Avros were superseded by Bristol Fighters, and still later by Gloster Greens. I made discreet enquiries about the Navy, the Navy had a Fleet Air Arm, because the only way to enter the Navy was at the age of fifteen or later on at the age of 18 as a Stoker. I summoned up enough courage to tell Dad of my ambitions and encountered some stiff opposition, he wanted me to pursue an engineering career. Finally he agreed to accompany me to the Recruiter who was resident in the Drill Hall. There he made it quite clear to the Recruiter that should I be selected I was to be allowed to sit Matric at the end of the year. Having received this assurance he signed my papers. Medical and dental exams were done by our family Doctor, Captain McPhail in later years and after what seemed to be an eternity the summons arrived complete with ferry and rail tickets to present myself to the Naval Base Auckland.
What year was this ?
The end of September 1935.
You made a conscious decision to join the Navy of your own free will. It wasn’t that you were forced or anything to do with the Depression ?
No mainly an ambition to fly and become independent and to start being self sufficient in life. I could not help feeling that my schooling to date, Latin, French, Biology and a dozen other subjects that we were faced with day in and day out, plus night times of swot, did not represent any assistance in the thoughts that I had formed for a future career.
Joined by some thirty others, we made our way by ferry and rail to be met a Auckland Railway Station by a Naval P.O., mustered and escorted on foot to the Admiralty Steps, and across the harbour in glorious weather to the Naval Base where Diomede, Dunedin, Leith and Wellington lay alongside the old Calliope Jetty with the towering sheer legs at the western end. We were then about eighty or ninety strong having been joined by the North Island aspirant. On the football field we were sorted out into groups and put through our first medical and dental examination lasting about an hour for each group. Our numbers were reduced to about fifty at the end of this stage. We were then sat down in the green hut we were later to know as the School/ Chapel, to sit a basic written paper on maths, English and, I think, general knowledge. We were bedded down in the same hut on make shift camp beds and the following day faced another stringent medical and dental exam. This was followed by interviews with a number of officers to elicit backgrounds, reason for joining etc. The Naval Petty Officers were kind and considerate. They mustered us with quite efficiency and guided us through the interviews, which kept us up to date with what was to come. On the third day I think, twenty four names were called out, we were in and were to be known as the 19th Class of Seaman Boys 2nd Class. The other applicants seemed to disappear without trace. We were mustered on the quarter deck of Philomel, an old cruiser which was to become our home, and took the Oath of Allegiance administered by very solemn officers with lots of gold braid. On completion of the ceremony things became very brisk. There was no doubt that we were in the Navy as from now. Everything that we were told to do, not asked, had to be done at the double. Mustered along the jetty alongside Philomel we were then formed into the Navy’s sense of order. The Petty Officers introduced themselves as our Instructors (to be at all times addressed as `Sir’). Some rudimentary forms of drill explained and we were lectured on the do’s and don’ts of naval life. In particular the value of a pleased and satisfied Instructor to our own survival. Still on the jetty our class was formed up with a Training Officer Lieutenant Pug Thew and the Assistant Training Officer Lieutenant McMasters. We were ordered to form a line at the jetty’s edge in Philomel, where our attention was drawn to the vast amount of barnacle on the ships waterline and on the jetty piles. Barnacles are the lowest form of marine life except for Seaman Boys Second Class we were informed and that we would do well to remember that. From that time on our Instructors became even brisker than before and also very impersonal, life for us began to whistle and ride at the double. We were introduced to the Stonachie, a two inch tube made of canvass and filled with rope ends. Although used as a rigging tool it was employed by the Instructors as an accelerating device used in a large numbers of ways to persuade Seaman Boys 2nd Class to move a little bit faster ! We learned how fast.
All our activities were supervised by an Instructor complete with Stonachie, used sometimes in a friendly manner and at other times in a definite accelerating mode. Mustering through the showers cold, night and morning was such a high speed evolution, its a wonder that we even got wet.
Can you remember your Instructors ?
The Chief Instructor, Chief Petty Officer Hallem was a Seaman Chief PO who was a carbon copy of the Chief Warden in the TV programme `Pudding’ featuring Ronnie Barker. Petty Officer Bird, commonly known as `Dicky’ who served in the RN under sail, Petty Officer Joe Mosford, ……… Petty Officer New Zealand Navy, Leading Seaman later PO Dick Fordice PO GI, he was also NZD and a Leading Seaman PTI and ex Med Fleet Middle Weight Boxing Champ who I cannot remember the name, later relieved by Petty Officer PTI, again the name invades me. They were all as hard as nails and the boys training role, they knew all the tricks of boys training. At sea in later days we found them to be normal human beings. All were RN except for Dick Fordice who was one of the first New Zealand PO’s. All the RN Instructors were from the Boys Training Establishment in England, HMS Shotley.
How old were you at this stage ?
I would be fifteen.
You were a Seaman Boy 2nd Class ?
Yes and out of the Class of twenty four boys in the 19th Boys the powers to be required four Telegraphist Trainees. We had a number of written exams and what could be called aptitude tests and eventually there were four of us designated as Boy Telegraphists 2nd Class Probationary, Ross, Stern, Greentree and myself. This occurred about two to three weeks after joining, and it was obvious to me that any provision to sit Matric in November was not going to be made by the Navy as my father had been assured would happen when he signed the papers in Christchurch Recruiting Office. In fact they knew nothing about any such arrangement. I was not in the least worried and shot away on my chosen career, being paid at the rate of sixpence per week. I could concentrate on the new world to be learned, Latin and French and all the other subjects which had no bearing on my new life. However Dad had to be faced up to eventually and having been selected as a Tel Rating I considered he would be mollified a little as he was a Signalman in World War 1 before being badly wounded in the Somme Battles in France. On return to New Zealand he was also a very early pioneer in the construction of radio receiving equipment for the then infant radio broadcasting media, solely as a hobby. As an enthusiast he designed and built a prototype of the first all mains radio receiver in New Zealand, a copy of which he made for his tennis partner Mr Skellerup, who in turn turned his electrical business into a radio electrical business and manufactured them for the market. Mr Skellerup finally formed TDL.
The consideration came to fruition and no further mention was made of Matric and we were granted our Christmas leave.
Although Boy Tels we did all the same courses as the remainder of the Class, seamanship, gunnery and all aspects of their training. We did extra school periods plus early morning dogwatch and evening (7 to 8) Morse training, lights out at nine. Turn out at 0530, man the Whalers and Cutters at 0600 and pull to North Head and back before breakfast, showers and breakfast, colours at 0800, then the days instruction. Our first session 0800 to 0900 was Morse training. Somewhere in that period we cleaned ship.
At this stage I should mention the `old boys’ who were the previous class who joined in March 1935 and therefore were some six months into their training. There were 20 boys in the Seaman Boys 18 Class, no Signalmen or Tels, these were formed from every second intake and alternatively Signalman Telegraphists.
The old boys’ demanded recognition as old salts, and a lot of ways would have been more `feared’ than the appointed Instructors. The latter gave the old boys a lot of leeway in controlling the mess deck and the new chums. On our first night in the Navy, the `Old Boys’ mustered our class on the foc’sle (before the tin shed was built for trainee Stoker and miscellaneous ratings) as soon as it was dark and proceeded to administer the initiation ritual. No Instructors appeared to be about anywhere. Broom handles and ropes ends decided whether one was to be a tolerated member of the NZD or one to be used to perform chores, usually the responsibility of the Old Boys. I was half a black eye up on my particular aggressor who had a full flush, thus establishing my right to exist as a human being. All in all, it was a 50 : 50 encounter with honours reasonably shared that ensured our class sharing a degree of quality with our Old Boys. The necessity of establishing the quality at an early age had well been drummed in us at Boys High School. On the playing field, the ring and classroom. My thanks to the late Jimmy Burrows and father ! From day one, we were coming together as a class and a team. I would like to think that the Instructors viewed their visibly damaged Old Boys and new Boy pupils the following morning with a slight glint of satisfaction in their expressions, no comments were made.
Tucker was good, but there was never enough of it. We were marched at the double, worked at the double, and so it was natural I suppose that we were twice as hungry as ordinary mortals ! One of the more popular chores at meal times was in assisting the cooks in the galley. Always sought after as there was the chance of a bit extra going. There were only about a dozen ships company in Philomel, the Store/Liberty Boats crew, (1 Leading Seaman and 2 A.B.’s, 2 Stokers manning the shore boiler and the cooks. Officers were quartered aft except for the Captain, Commander, Surgeon Captain or Surgeon Commander and Supply Officer who lived in the Esplanade Hotel in Devonport. Trainees carried out all the ships chores and ships husbandry. When Wakakura was secured alongside Philomel her usual berth in Auckland, the Philomel ships company mess was augmented by 1 Coxswain, 1 Stoker P.O., 3 Stokers, 1 Leading Tel and 3/4 A.B.’s. The only officer, Warrant Gunner and Captain, was quartered aft in Philomel. There were no barracks as such and the remainder of the NZD were on the Cruisers, Diomede and Dunedin. There was one signalman borne in Philomel to man the signal tower and to handle, distribute all signal traffic in the Base when the Cruisers were at sea. When the Cruisers were berthed alongside, their staffs took over distribution duties and manned the signal tower on a 24 hour basis. All NZD radio traffic was handled by the Cruisers when at sea, and when alongside from the Base Radio Station situated with a central office block where the Dockyard now stands. The equipment in this station was all homemade out of bits and pieces. Admiralty, UK and Portishead radio UK were both worked twice daily direct to clear and receive traffic for the Commodore commanding the New Zealand Station and Ship Letter Telegrams to/from RN personnel serving on loan/exchange in the NZD. W/T Watchkeepers remained vittaled and quartered in their respective ships.
So there were no barracks as such and no shore jobs ?
There were four sheds on the seaward side of the football field (where the barracks now stand), the first was displaying poster type information, knots and splices, naval ranks and ratings badges and promotion `ladders’. The most impressive of these displays was the promotion ladders. Starting with the likes of ourselves, Seaman Boys 2nd Class it stretched high into the clouds and ended with a Admiral of the Fleet, with a rung for each step up ! We came to realize that however that such heights were highly unobtainable. The average NZD Rating was either gifted or extraordinarily lucky if he could ascend to the dizzy heights of a Leading Rate before his twelve year engagement expired, i.e. 12 years and Boys time up to 15 year service !
Pride of place was a painting of Seaman Boy Jack Cornwall V.C. with his gun at the Battle of Jutland.
The second hut was the schoolroom cum dormitory cum Base Church when the partition at one end was folded back. The same fitments are now fitted in the same way in the present Gymnasium with additions to cover World War 2.
The third hut was a smaller lecture room, also doubling as a dormitory. The fourth hut was again a lecture room/dormitory but with fixed tables fitted with Morse and V/S signalling equipment plus fleet manoeuvring diagrams where we did most of our Boy Tel training.
Across the other side of the football field a group of about three huts were joined as one complex to form the Naval Hospital and Dental Section, grim and foreboding and a place to be avoided at all costs.
In our telegraphist training we were also required to qualify in the visual signals syllabus. Flags, semaphore and message distribution and Fleet manoeuvres made a break in the never ending task with improving our Morse speed. All Fleet manoeuvres were made by flag hoist and repeated by W/T before the advent of VHF voice circuits. We had to be able to man the flag deck, and the Signalmen had to man the WT office. Although put into effect two or three times a week at sea, this did not work out as a Signalman’s Morse qualifying speed was only 10 words per minute, against a sparkers 22 words per minute. Likewise, our semaphore was slow compared with a Signalmans.
I gather that Lieutenant Commander Thew, Pug Thew was highly regarded by the boys as a general rule ?
We didn’t see a lot of `Pug’. We had an Assistant Training Officer, a Lieutenant McMaster RN who carried out all the day to day supervision and made unscheduled `spot’ checks on the classes from time to time, checked progress with the Instructors but did not officiate at any formal instruction. Another officer who became known to us was Lieutenant Commander J.B. McLean, the First Lieutenant of Philomel. A very keen yachtie, he often assembled a trainee Whaler or Cutter crew on Wednesday or Saturday afternoons, and from him a great deal of our boat handling was learned, over and above the normal syllabus. When Sir Ernest Davies presented the ketch “Viking” to the Navy she became his baby. She was not in very good shape until J.B muscled the chippies from the Cruisers, the riggers from the Harbour Board shed (ex NZD) and tidied her up for sailing. The Cruisers sailmakers checked the canvas rigs and patched up where necessary. As the Viking was gaff rigged with topsails, trainees were the obvious crew, and this made an exhilarating change from Cutters and Whalers. Also one gained a sense of pride in being a crew on one of the big (67′) yachts on the Auckland Harbour, and (to us) the most elegant !
J.B, on retiring from the RN before the war, became the Secretary of the Cowes Yacht Squadron in Cowes, Isle of Wright.
What were the forms of punishment in the sailing division ?
No.8 was the standard punishment awarded for the more serious offences, of which (being caught) smoking was the most common. Slow to obey, slow to turnout, slow in any manner attracted on the spot punishment. Usually an offence which could not be tied down to a single boy, such as talking after lights out at 2100, saw the class lashing up their hammocks and kept doubling around the dry dock with hammocks at shoulder level. Not trotting, doubling at a smart clip and orderly fashion. Rigg – flannel shirt only ! An individual caught out would find himself up the foremast standing on the yard for as long as the Instructor considered necessary. Lovely view of Auckland Harbour with the Devonport ferries passing a hundred yards away, and a cold SW wind whistling around the nether regions covered only the tail end of a flannel shirt. One felt a trifle exposed to the world in general ! The ratlines up the foremast were condemned in our time under training. The Instructors Mess was in the port after corner of the Mess deck which effectively kerbed any noise generated by skylarking amongst the trainees.
Smoking was totally prohibited amongst Seaman Boys, and being caught smoking accounted for most of the No.8 punishment awarded. Slight of hand on our part was not always successful as I can vouch for. I didn’t smoke, but there were a group of 5 or 6 in our class who did. A group of our class were detailed off to rig the school hut for Church the following day. A cigarette was being smoked. The Chief Instructor entered the hut with a rush and the cigarette was back handed rapidly amongst our group. Not fast enough however, we were separated beyond passing distance from each other and I was left holding the `baby’. Fourteen days No.8, no leave and no pay (6 pence per day). Up at 0500 for 1 hour extra work under a very grumpy Duty Instructor, normal class work goes 0600 to 0700, breakfast, turn to 0730 then normal instructions until noon, turn to 1230 to 1300 then normal instruction, tea at 4, turn to 1630 to 1800, supper 1930 to 2100, extra work and muster for night rounds by the Officer of the Day. All meals had to eaten in solitude on the hatch above the boys mess deck. The hardest part was no contact with the rest of the class with a rifle drill on the football field where the barracks now stand. Gaiters and pack plus standard webbing and a .303 rifle. First session was hopping on the spot with knees full bend and the rifle above the head, followed by a smart double around the field again with the rifle held above the head. These two drills were alternated to the point of exhaustion, and I mean exhaustion. It was difficult to survive a full session of No.8 pack drill. There was never any question of giving in, the GI’s whistle hurt more than the pack drill. I may hold some sort of record of minutes was on the spot, but certainly amount of prestige was to be gained from the Instructors and the other boys by surviving a full 14 days No.8. The Whale Island type of punishment and usually survived, supervised by an Instructor with a gunnery S.Q.
You obviously don’t look back with any regrets ?
No, none at all. The rules were broken and the punishment earned. It was not so much for the crime, you were punished for not having the sense to avoid being caught ! One always had the satisfaction of recollecting the actions of near crimes where one was not apprehended by the ever vigilant Instructors. One case in particular springs to mind.
A fore and aft catwalk connected with the foc’sle and the poop on Philomel was used by the Instructors to take the air and at the same time to keep an eye on all activity in the waist below. You had an illegal `club’ of smokers and non smokers, and entrance to the club was off the catwalk just forward of the forward funnel, down a rope ladder rigged inside one of the boiler room ventilators and from there into the forward boiler room into a manhole. There we could smoke or yarn or revel, being concealed from the eyes of authority. The Instructors knew we had a cubby hole somewhere but they did not find it until a couple of classes later on. Rumour has it that an eagle eyed Instructor noticed a faint tinge of smoke from the forward funnel and investigated using a more usual access to the boiler room.
If the weather was bad, drill normally taken on the football field, was transferred to the Harbour Board shed on the seaward side of the dry dock. This was also the gym, rigging shed for the Dockyard and Auckland Harbour Board store for dry dock fittings and equipment. Inattention to an Instructor or any other misdeamour earned a penalty of doubling around the shed with a variety of heavy objects hoisted shoulder level such as a four inch shell and cartridge, or a six inch shell which weighed 112 lbs. One didn’t invite a second dose of these impediments to a seaman boy’s progress in life, but if unavoidable, so be it.
Well, the interesting thing to me is that in modern days those punishments would be regarded as almost barbaric, but the trainees such as yourself took it as part of the training. You knew the rules and as long as you obeyed them, you kept out of trouble.
Sometimes of course one was caught in a chain of events which resulted in being lumbered. The team spirit and unwritten rules would not allow any attempt to push the blame for any misdeed done to any trainee. My heinous smoking offence was a case in point, and it was perhaps logical that from that time on, I became a smoker. If one was going to be caught out, it was essential to us that it was going to be worth getting caught for, and no half measures. The standard reply when going through the shattering experience of being weighed off, when asked “if one had any thing to say”, was “nothing to say Sir”. The grim face of the inquisitors, the Officer of the Day, Assistant Training Officer, Training Officer, First Lieutenant, Commander and finally the Captain all made it very clear to you that you were as guilty as hell and the side was being let down. A lasting impression !
Jack you mentioned earlier about a ladder of promotion. You in fact finished up as a Commander, how many rungs did you manage to step on your way up ?
The promotion ladder was, and still is, although titles have changed, Boy 2, Boy 1, Ordinary Rate, Able Rate with an SQ, Leading Rate, Petty Officer, Chief Petty Officer, Warrant Officer, Senior Commissioned Warrant Officer, Lieutenant (SD) the latter being nicknamed `Old and Bold’. By the time `Old and Bold’ was reached (if ever) the age limit of 55 was also imminent. Wartime promotion accelerated for all branches of the Lower Deck, and at Wars end I held a Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist rate. Having decided to go through for commissioned rank, as there were obviously going to be New Zealand Officers in the post-war RNZN, it was 4 years before I became the third Warrant Telegraphist in the RNZN, in 1948. Four more years later promotion to Senior Commissioned Warrant Electrical Officer (Radio), followed by selected for Direct Promotion to Lieutenant in UK. Direct promotion to Lieutenant came after acquaintance courses in UK 1 year later, and to Lieutenant Commander 4 years later. A Commander after a further three and a half years, followed by retirement (age) seven years later. Just before retirement, the chance of nomination was secondment to the Singaporean Navy. Captain’s rank was offered and declined as my wife’s health would not have stood the climate in Singapore. After 30 years of married life in the Navy, the Navy climate, she was entitled to have me home just to mow the lawns !
As a Boy Tel were you starting to get educated in the trade of being a Telegraphist or not ?
Yes, right from the word go. Up to four hours per day were devoted to Morse training, gradually increasing our speed under the experienced of an infinitely patient fist of Petty Officer Fawcett RN, a very long and drawn out process. In between Morse sessions we had schooling in maths and radio theory with Warrant Schoolmaster Holt RN, (Stan Hermans predecessor). The Bible of radio theory was The Admiralty Handbook of Wireless Telegraphy, studied until we almost had it off by heart ! The hardest part was getting our Morse copy up to the required speed of 22 words per minute without errors. About one third of the time allocated to Morse training saw us at about 15 words per minute, it took the remaining two thirds to get up to speed, which we had to retain before we could qualify. We all made it eventually. However we were trained on a static and interference free instructional aid, and were to be in for a setback on going to sea manning a circuit sometimes saturated with static and interference from other stations working on the same frequency. Quite a different kettle of fish ! Up to the first two years at sea we manned the commercial distress wave of 500 KHZ handling all forms of commercial traffic and adding the experience necessary to become a trained operator. Every forenoon at 0900 we had to copy a standard buzzer exercise to improve our accuracy and speed, using the inter W/T Office buzzer communications circuit. You didn’t phone, you used a Morse key for communications at all times within the ship.
When did you actually go to sea ?
(end of Tape 1)
(beginning of Tape 2)
Jack I just asked you I think when did you actually go to sea ?
Two or three false starts. The first was a buzz that we were to join Diomede as soon as kitted up in the Red Sea. The second was about halfway through our training when the four of us were training as Tels were told that we were to be sent to Australia to complete our training in the RAN. That came to nothing as we were told by our Instructor that someone had overlooked the fact that Aussie Ratings joined at a minimum age of 17 and a half and that just turned 16 year olds were not wanted and would prove an embarrassment. The third came shortly after, for the four of us to be drafted to Dunedin going to UK to pay off and to commission Leander. That did not transpire either. Finally we joined Achilles soon after she arrived in NZ. We were still quartered on the Boys Mess deck and overall charge of Leading Seaman `Lofty’ Lund, an Admiralty rated Leading Seaman (for saving life at sea) who had a vast experience in Boys training. We were watchkeeping from the word go. The CPO Tel was Harry Lynch, the Signal Officer was Lieutenant Commander Sir Peter Dawney and the Skipper Captain I.G Glennie. We did our seamanship and gunnery training on the real McCoy and were a very insignificant part of a team of 500 odd. The Training Officer was Lieutenant Dick Washbourn RN, later to became CNS RNZN, who was also the Gunnery Officer, and the only New Zealand born General List officer. D.G. (Davis Goff) was the Warrant Torpedo Gunner, later Commodore Auckland. We learned fast, a case of necessity. Boiler cleans and ships bottom cleaning in dry dock were all part of the ships maintenance additional to our allocated daily ship cleaning station. My first ship station was the capstan flat and winch/cable motors. A wondrous place, a vast cavern filled with highly polished massive machinery where the spare wings and tail assemblies together with wing tipped floats for the Walrus Amphibian were plan stowed around the bulkheads and overhead. We also had cleaning stations in our own department, mine with the Auxiliary W/T Office (3rd W/T) down in the lowest deck just forward of A boiler room and adjustment to the H A C station in the forward LP room. This had to be kept up to inspection standard at all times in our own time.
Communications on the New Zealand Station. Was there a Fleet broadcast shore facility or not in those days ?
No, nothing ashore. When the cruisers were alongside at Calliope Wharf, watches were transferred to the Base W/T Station (ZLE) from the Cruisers. The Base Station situated where the Dockyard block now stands, was a home made radio station with a transmitter built from spares and odd pieces, a lot of which were made over the years. The 100 foot radio mast was made of two or three inch water pipe and the main receiver was built by Bill Brewer NZD with components either made or bought ashore. It was named the Brewer `X ‘. Bill was our first NZD Chief Petty Officer Telegraphist and before his retirement was Lieutenant Commander W. Brewer DSM, RNZN, his decoration earned as the Chief Tel of Achilles in the River Plate Battle. He finished his service as Commanding Officer of HMNZS Irirangi previously known as Waiouru W/T.
In 1938/39 when a new Station was built out near the main gate, the old home made equipment was transferred to the new building by wheelbarrow and plain manpower when Dockyard expansion needed the space for the new central block. A 100 foot mast made a spectacular descent after the first guide wire was slacked back, a heap of rust on the concrete tabernacle ! There was no transport in the Dockyard to do the shift of equipment, the only truck the sullage truck, in fact there was no transport of any type. The radio station later became the Welfare Office after the war.
The seagoing Navy had its own communications department and own W/T equipment. If you wanted to send a signal from Wellington to Admiralty say, how did one go about it ?
There was only one person in Wellington who would be in a position to request such a signal and that was `Tubby’ Sleeman, a public servant known to us but never ever sighted. All signals were originated by the Flag of the Commodore Commanding the New Zealand Station, and he flew his flag in Achilles most of the time. At sea, Achilles passed the signal direct to Admiralty on one of the twice daily skeds direct. If alongside, the Base Station ZLE passed the signal direct to Admiralty. At sea Achilles kept the two Admiralty skeds (to and from) daily, and each Cruiser took turns at working the LL6 Radio sked which was direct working with Portishead Radio in the UK for the passing and receiving of SLTs (Ship-letter telegrams), special rate telegrams from members of the ships company to their families etc. Again twice daily.
Aussie was no problem. A common frequency could be activated 24 hours a day to Flinders W/T in Melbourne. Combined periods were the busy period on the Australian circuit. We also worked NZ commercial radio stations, mainly Awarua and Auckland for special rate New Zealand telegrams (one penny per word) available to all onboard when at sea. This rate applied worldwide to NZD and RNZN ships only. We operated commercially almost as much as on naval circuits.
Okay, I wanted to get the fact that there were no shore based naval or Defence communications of any sort.
We were the only section of the Navy in the world working direct to Admiralty and we therefore had much more experience on high frequency and consequently long range capability than anyone else. This was demonstrated to our advantage in World War II.
I hadn’t realized until I started this project that in my day in the Navy, there were sea – shore rosters, allowance made for people going on a course, for sickness, for discipline etc. It was regulated with quite a few serving ashore. In your time there was virtually no shore time at all.
Or wanted either. The ships programmes were a lot different. For instance, we didn’t do 18 months on the Far East Station as we did later on. The Island Cruise during the New Zealand winter months lasted about three months. An Aussie exercise period took up to two months either in Aussie, NZ or Indian Ocean. The Pacific Island Cruise often had VIPs embarked including the Governor General and his staff. It was not altogether popular as there was more than the usual ceremony attached and whites were the order of the day, day in and day out. There was no working rig as such, and dhobeying was always a problem. Usually one New Zealand cruise a year. Exercises and gunnery periods in the Gulf once or twice per year.
Would you say that the affiliation with the ship was more intense and more highly developed in those days than in ships later on in your career.
In the training period, Shotley methods were installed into trainees, a very strong team spirit. Once at sea this team spirit extended from class to branch and from branch to ships company and most of all to the ship. The ship was a big team, some 500 and a force to be reckoned with. Whether on the playing field or during exercises. Maintenance facilities pre war in the Dockyard were virtually nil, and none so nil as electronic spares. The only spares available were those carried on board and these were almost non-existent, so the team work extended into the maintenance sphere. If a fault developed the item at fault had to be repaired or a new one fashioned out of what ever material was available. Towards the end of World War 2, Achilles had the most modern radar equipment in the British Pacific Fleet, but in contrast, the most outdated radio gear, partly offset by judicious use of the tot bottle in the USN stores at Tulagi and other forward Bases. Post war, two ship stand out in the “never say die” category. The first was Agincourt, flotilla Leader of the Fourth Destroyer Squadron on which I had the privilege of serving on loan to the RN in 1953 and 1954 as Weapons and Electrical Officer. With a little encouragement by leading the way, RNZN fashion, the good team of technicians became superb and breakdowns became a thing of the past, as did requests for Dockyard Assistants. The infection spread through Agincourt to the other three Destroyers of the Fourth Destroyer Squadron culminating a truly efficient and reliable Destroyer Squadron. The man-material was there, all that had to be done was to employ it for the maximum affect ! That was made possible by D4, Captain J.Lee-Barber DSO, plus 2 Bars, later Rear Admiral, Harwich, who allowed the transition from Dockyard Repair to ships staff `fix it’. D4 was renowned as the top Destroyer Captain and the best ship handler in the RN, and that was borne out in our stamping ground from the Lofoten Islands to Casablanca and Helsinki to Newfoundland including the Med.
The second ship was Blackpool, Commander J.I. Quinn, an ex Seaman Boy Second Class in the 20th Boys Class after ours. Joe had the same “seat of the pants” tributes as Johnny Lee Barber, but the Blackpool was technically a write off when offered to the RNZN by the RN, particularly with regard to the gunnery fire control system and main electrical distribution system and control. Long hours by dedicated teams saw both these short comings inside tolerance and in control and very competitive with the new systems in Waikato. Understanding of the problems evolved by these two Commanding Officers and their willingness to trust their departmental heads and staff to solve ship problems, made the efforts worthwhile and created a vast amount of loyalty and enthusiasm. Appreciation of the effort extended, even when success was not fully possible, had the same effect.
Hence your affection for those ships.
Yes. The inter ship competition was unbelievable and the enthusiasm contagious, other departments would be as interested in a particular maintenance evolution as your own !
Right back to the earlier stages of life pre war and NZD.
A lot of the RN Loan and Exchange personnel, had a somewhat overbearing attitude to New Zealand Ratings, as a large majority of them were Senior Rates, at times this irked. My second brush with authority came about as an example. A normal watch in the main W/T consisted of a Boy/Ord Tel on commercial distress wave, (500 KHZ), a Tel on inter ship HF, a Tel/T.O. on Admiralty and Portishead long range HF, and a Leading Tel in charge of the Watch. About 2300 I was told to go forward to the main galley and draw the `kye’ ration for the middle Watchman. I handed my phones over to the Leading Hand of the Watch and proceeded as told. Handing over the phones was a standard method of turning over the Watch to ones relief. While I was forward, Lieutenant Commander Dawney entered the main W/T and found the commercial distress wave unmanned. The CPO Tel was promptly summoned and when I returned with the `kye’, I was escorted to the bridge and arraigned before the Officer of the Watch and charged with being `absent from place of duty’, a charge which almost automatically meant cells (at sea) and hard labour in Mount Eden Prison for a total of 90 days. This all happened so quickly, that I didn’t really have a clue what had happened or why I was in the `rattle’. Next morning all became clear when the charge were laid before the Commander and I was placed under open arrest to appear before the Captain. The Leading Hand of the Watch denied sending me forward for the `kye’ and it looked as if I was for the high jump. I was sent for by Peter Dawney and the dire consequences which must follow. My word against the Leading Tels, “nothing to say Sir” was the only response I could offer. Shortly after this interview the Tel T.O. of my Watch requested to see the Signal Officer through the CPO Tel and testified that he had heard the Leading Hand of the Watch instruct me to go forward for the `kye’ and saw him take over the phones (and therefore the Watch). He was then fully engaged in working his circuit and taking the first opportunity to present his evidence. In front of the Captain all the facts were laid out in the order in which they happened with the result that the Leading Hand of the Watch lost his Leading Hands rate, I was given an almighty bottle by the Captain and later in private by Peter Dawney and the case was dismissed against me. A Boy Rating was fair game to cover up the short comings of the Leading Hands who in those days were the ultimate authority one dealt with during the course of a normal day. However the naval system prevailed in the end but it could have had far reaching effects ! I still often wonder why I received a glance from the various quarters, maybe I was wasting time and effort by not having denied the allegations in the beginning; any way my consciousness was clear, I had done no wrong.
The first long winter cruise visited countless Islands which were little more than atolls and finished its northern most port in Honolulu Pier No. 4. Plenty of time to take in the sights but not much money, being on Boys pay still. At the time it was about 1 shilling and sixpence per day. As we were Watchkeepers, time off was no problem. Chief sent two of us over to USS Itaska, a survey ship with some signals in an envelope. While we were in their radio room awaiting further instructions or a reply, we were shown around their equipment by a young radioman. We overheard mention of Canton several times and our radioman told us that was their next task and they were leaving for Canton Reef the following week. On return to Achilles, Chief asked us how we got on over at the USN. We mentioned the fact that they were due to leave for Canton Island. This raised quite a lot of interest and we were further questioned by Peter Dawney and the Navigator. About 3 days later we made a typical Captain Glennie spectacular departure as scheduled and proceeded at 14 knots to the main island of Hawaii, to clean and refurbish Captain Cook’s memorial. We cleared Hawaii late in the day and proceeded south. Shortly after departure and after dark speed was increased until we had worked up to 30 knots, and this was maintained until we arrived at Canton some 1700 miles to the SW. It consisted of a flat atoll some four miles wide and eight miles long with a single narrow break in the reef about 200 yards across, full of nigger heads just inside the entrance. Three coconut palms in a very battered state and several million land crabs were the only sign of life and the highest point above sea level was about three metres. The water outside the reef was too deep for anchoring and Achilles had to hold her position by steaming, and nosing up to the reef (carefully). The entrance was made wider by blasting and even then the only way the motor cutter could enter the lagoon was at slack water. Eventually this was accomplished, a mast manufactured and raised. Without ceremony the Union Jack was hoisted and Canton Island became a British possession. A spa and canvas shelter was built for the portable transmitter, batteries and generator and to provide shelter for the shore party and supplies. Being 2 degrees south of the Equator, everything had to be protected from the sun. The handling and humping part of course, was the boys, i.e. us. All water had to be humped ashore in 30 gallon casks, some 30 or 40 sufficient to last the shore party out until they were relieved. Also enough explosives so the shore party could continue to widen the entrance. We left about two days after first arriving leaving the shore party to make friends with the land crabs. Several days later the USS Itaska arrived. Eventually the atoll came under joint UK/USA ownership and was built into a major staging base for British Airway and Pan Am flying boats complete with Hotel and maintenance/fuelling facilities. Still later during World War 2 a large airstrip was built on the northern side of the lagoon. Today the `Island’ is abandoned except for a Care and Maintenance party. During this period we were also keeping a double banked watch on 500 KHZ another frequency used by Amelia Earhart and her Navigator who were over due on a trans Pacific flight from Hawaii to Australia. This we maintained for about two weeks without any success. Our tasks at all the many Islands visited was to stock up medical supplies and check out their radio equipment which formed their only contact with the outside world, other than the very occasional Island Trader. Transport to and from the ship which had to remain outside the reef were by native outrigger canoe or when calm enough, by Whaler rigged with a sweep oar tiller. Doc and Toothy were kept busy, both ashore and in the Sick Bay. Our main job was the battery banks, usually homemade out of beer bottles with the tops cut off covered with a thick layer of tropical insects which had committed hari-kari in the sulphuric acid electrolyte. The Engineers had their work cut out trying to get some sort of reliability out of the very ancient diesel or petrol generators used to charge the batteries. Regardless of their age, these equipments played a valuable part in the coast watching scheme during World War 2.
What about your own personal career ?
At the age of 17 and a half we were rated `Ordinary Telegraphists’ which gave us a vastly different way of life, a large increase in pay, (I think it was about 3 shillings per day, better leave, moved to the Communications Mess deck and became a semi-adult member of the Comms Team although we still got all the dogsbody jobs. You were making progress from the lowest of the low ! still watchkeeping, most of our spare time was taken up with schooling, gunnery and seamanship training and boats in parallel with our seamen classmates. At the climax being examined, written, and oral and practical in these subjects. In addition, radio theory, maths, Morse proficiency, semaphore, flag hoisting and fleet manoeuvres, and Crypto work, we were adjudged to be qualified `telegraphist’, equivalent to an Able Seaman, eligible to be rated after 9 months in the Ordinary Rating. Again an increase in pay I think to four and sixpence a day. We were now `adult ratings’ with standard leave privileges and entitled to draw a tot. Not many did draw their tot, rather taking the threepence a day in lieu. A further hurdle still took up our spare times, followed by exams, both written and practical to qualify for a Trained Operator, the equivalent to the AB (SQ) rating and a prerequisite for selection for an eventual Leading Hands Course, also with the equivalent seamanship, gunnery and boat handling practical parallel exams. One way and another, we were never at a loss for some carrot dangling in front of us to ensure that most of any type on watch or not on watch was usefully employed.
At about 18 years of age, the Gunnery Officer come Training Officer (Dick Washbourn) interviewed two of us with reference to a recent AFO on CW Candidate selection from the Lower Deck. It seemed to have good points, and myself and an AB, Arthur Winnall were allocated tasks (entirely seaman) with the Navigator, Torpedo Officer and other Officers in addition to our own departmental duties, tasks and assignments which ate into already heavily committed departmental spare time. This must have been noticeable, as I was summoned to the Signal Officers cabin and queried at length about my feelings on the new tact. After hearing me out, particularly on the adverse affect it was having on my communications choice, Peter Dawney told me I should have to abandon communications in preference to becoming a CW Candidate, and also gave me an idea of the costs of living in the Wardroom. This was not possible without some form of income other than the Navy in those days. Also, that, if selected, any NZD Candidate was promoted to whatever on the RN list and from that time on, ceased to be a member of the New Zealand Navy ! I was given a couple of days to think about it, but in fact, did not need two days. My Father could and would have given any necessary support to live in the Wardroom, but there was no way I would ask him to do so. I had joined partly against his wishes, but I had been independent from the age of 15 and that was it. As for a change of Navy, no way, the NZD was my choice and that was the way that it was going to stay. I saw the Signals Officer the following day and asked to be relieved from CW Candidate evaluation, and revert back to the Communications Branch full time. The Signal Officer thought that was wise and remarked that one of these days the NZD might have the need of more than the one only Warrant Tel in the NZD borne at present. This could give me another chance of Officer status later which did not require me to cease being a communicator or to become RN. Arthur Winnall became a CW Candidate, was changed to RN, survived the War and didn’t see New Zealand again until after the War shortly before retirement as a two and a half.
Did you come to regret the decision made at the age of eighteen in later years ?
Negative. With a great deal of luck and accelerated advancement occasion by the event of World War 2 I was promoted Leading Tel at 20, P.O. Tel at 22 and CPO Tel at 25 being at that time Chief Tel of Achilles being paid two and sixpence per day as `charge’ pay additional, as no qualified Signal Officer was borne. After paying off Achilles in 1946, (the last Kiwi aboard her) it was to be early 1947 before I qualified as the Third Warrant Tel in the NZD, now the RNZN, and 1948 before I was actually promoted.
I gather that before the War you were drafted out of Achilles ?
That is correct. I was drafted to Wakakura to relieve Dave Ingram who was invalided off with appendicitis. I was still in Wakakura when Achilles departed on the Island Cruise immediately before War broke out. Achilles thence sailed directly to South America. My action station in Achilles was taken over by an RN Loan Tel. Both Tels in the director control were killed during the River Plate action with Graf Spee.
There, but for the grace of God went you.
Yes. I rejoined her the day she returned to New Zealand after the Battle. It was an odd feeling taking over the old action station on her return. One couldn’t help thinking …….
Wakakura, what was life aboard her like ?
Primitive in the extreme. Coal fired with up and downers driving a single prop. With enough steam in the kettle she could race along at about 8 knots providing the wind was astern ! My transmitter/receiver had been modernized to about 1935 vintage and was good if the steam donkey in the boiler room had enough steam to drive the W/T generator at the right revolutions per minute. If I needed to transmit I had to nip down to the boiler room from the wheel-house and check on the steam pressure. If insufficient it was necessary to grab a shovel and assist the Stoker to lift the pressure ! The normal crew consisted of one Warrant Gunner as the Captain, one CPO Coxswain, four A.B.’s, one Leading Tel, three Stokers, one Leading Stoker, one PO Stoker (Engineer) and one Cook. The Captain’s cabin was under the wheel-house, the Coxswain and Stoker P.O. messed aft in a cubbyhole, and the remainder of the crew in the foc’sle under the single 4″ gun. The gun made her nose heavy and even in a moderate swell she would raise to the first swell and duck under the next. At sea the waists were always flooded. This `over one under one’ caused some problems on one trip to Wellington to sweep for mines. Wakakura had hit the jetty leaving Auckland through failing to go astern at the right time (not usual) and the caulking under the 4″ gun was dislodged. We experienced a full gale on this trip which took 8 days, two of which were spent making no headway around East Cape although the engine was at full revs normally giving us 6 to 8 knots. Instead of over one and under one Wakakura was doing over one and under two or three, and the foc’sle remained flooded for 7 of the 8 days. Seawater went straight down through the deck head, through the bunks and topped the deck up with the overflow going out the bulkhead door sill and into the wastes. Two oilskins made the standard blanket as one slept fully booted and spurred. There was never the less 12 to 18″ of water swilling around the deck in the foc’sle and the bunks squelched water when one clambered up and grabbed some much needed sleep. We were paid one and sixpence per day “hard lyers” when at sea.
My duties were various: – single operator periods radio watch 2 on 2 off from 0600 to midnight. Helmsman the only person on the bridge 2000 to midnight, with a long lead pair of headphones on to cover the 2200 to 0001 single operator period. Hand steering only between 2000 to 0800 as the steam steering engines at the back of the wheelhouse kept the skipper below in his cabin awake. The hand steering was about 6′ in diameter and kicked like a mule in any sort of a seaway. It was physically hard work to hold her on a given course to steer and I weigh twelve and half stone and was thrown across the wheelhouse more times than I can remember. Lieutenant Gilfillan RNVR got his initiation on that wheel during the trip to Wellington. Later Commander Gilfillan RNZN. Other duties were signalman, postman, part of the Paravane and minesweeping deployment and recovery team. All hands including the Skipper coaled ship, which had to be done immediately on arrival in harbour regardless of how long you had been at sea. Being `Canteen messing’ the next important chore was to get some food on board for a slap up meal, the first and the last couple of days.
She was a pretty unsophisticated vessel ! You left Wakakura went back to Achilles, as soon as she arrived back from the South Atlantic right ?
That is correct. The next 12 months we spent on a will of the whisp hunt to intercept the German Raiders operating in the Pacific from as far South as the Auckland Islands to the mid Pacific, a vast area where the Raiders held all the cards. Fast escort duties for NZ troops with 27 knot convoys to the Indian Ocean kept us constantly at sea in addition, as Leander was serving in the Red Sea Mediterranean area with the RN. When France was over run, French ships became a problem. Achilles intercepted a French Liner Commissaire Ramel (10,000 tons) south of the Equator and north east of Tonga and boarded her as she was determined to return to Vichy France. We placed a prize crew of two Officers and 21 mixed AB’s and Stokers plus myself as a Leading Telegraphist all armed and facing a hostile crew. The Chief Radioman and his two Radiomen were relieved at gunpoint as were the other ships Officers, except for the Chief Officer and Navigator. The bridge was isolated and put under constant armed guard. I operated behind a locked door in the radio room which was only opened for our Officers in charge of the prize crew. Several incidents took place mostly staged as a show of bravado in case word leaked back to France. One incident took place in the engine room as we neared Port Vila which could have had serious consequences had it not been forestalled by the armed guard. We unloaded a few passengers in Port Vila and sailed direct for Sydney handing her over to the RAN. We returned by TEAL flying boat to New Zealand arriving on board in Auckland 30 minutes before a thirty knot dash for Tahiti. There we embarked full tanks of diesel fuel to immobilize small units of the French Navy which were all diesel driven.
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They were not able to argue with eight six inch guns with their small guns and did not seemed inclined to oppose the draining of their only means of propulsion. Another Liner Ville d’Amiens (7,000 ton) was seized at Tahiti and sailed back to New Zealand this time with P.O. Tel Lutman as the Radio Operator. Commissaire Ramel was sunk in the Indian Ocean by the German Raider Atlantis about three weeks after we handed her over to the RAN. Achilles burnt standard oil fuel and the tanks were designed to be oil typed for that fuel. The diesel fuel seized in Tahiti was of a much lighter viscosity than oil fuel and the tanks in the double bottom seeped diesel filling all the Mess decks and lower compartments with fumes. The high speed run in atrocious weather did not help and the smell of diesel never really left the ship despite steam cleaning on return to Auckland. Most uncomfortable. Niagara and then Puriri were sunk by mines off Bream Head and we picked up the survivors from Puriri but the Orion had laid the mines and gone. Rangitane, Turikina and Holmwood were victims of these two Raiders but the task of them being brought to account was impossible for one vessel to seek out and destroy, in the vast areas of ocean. Tasman Empire Flying Boats were requisitioned in the hunt to no avail. A very primitive New Zealand made radar had been installed in Auckland but still no success ! Leading Tel Boyle did two trips as observer/operator on the flying boat flights and I was detailed for the third. However the flying boat proved unserviceable and the flight was cancelled.
I understand that at some stage during the War you were involved in a form of communication intelligence.
Yes in mid `41 I was suddenly drafted to Wellington. Interviewed by Warrant Telegraphist Philpotts, three of us were given the task of learning Japanese Morse and W/T procedures, ditto Russian and German. Japanese Morse has an alphabet of 62 odd letters and symbols against our 26 letter alphabet, and is termed Katakamo or Kana for short. Learning the special characters took about a week but getting up to the speed, about 30 WPM took one to two weeks intensive tuition. We were to become Instructors of a nucleus of Senior Post Office operators to be incorporated into what was known as the “Y” network, a worldwide net of Direction Finding stations (D/F), and monitoring stations. Some 70 odd were trained by us to man the high frequency D/F Stations at Awarua, Musick Point and Kaitaia, plus some 12 ex P & T RNR Telegraphists for overseas Stations, mainly Suva. The Officers in charge of these Stations also had to be trained on Y procedures. All the HF D/F Stations in the Pacific net were linked by a system known as `snap’ system, via Cable and Wireless undersea cables and were controlled from Awarua Radio and the Y office in Navy office, i.e. us ! We in turn linked with Aussie, Canada (Esquimalt), Capetown and Admiralty by a `flash’ system which was somewhat similar. The Pacific Net was Awarua, Musick Point, Kaitaia, Suva, Hawaii and Esquimalt. The start of my association, the majority of `flashes’ were originated by Admiralty and concerned German U boat reports during the Battle of the Atlantic and German commerce raiders operating worldwide. A `flash’ originated a `snap’ from Navy Office which put all the Pacific net on to the frequency designated and the bearings obtained were past into the Y office, encrypted and passed direct to Admiralty. Although we were half a world away, weekly and monthly analysis reports from Admiralty showed that the Pacific net was providing some very useful confirmation of the UK and Atlantic net results. A very small proportion of the flashes concerned Russian activity. Towards mid 1941 and onwards our activity became more concentrated on Japanese activity, particularly in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands groups. I did two trips on Achilles supernumerary, not shown on my papers, trained four more operators in Kana and D/F techniques and when in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands had a 24 watch set on Japanese M/F frequencies being used by Jaluit Radio, the control station for Japanese submarines operating in that area. Bearings were taken on the ships M/F D/F from various positions in an endeavour to pinpoint the areas of most activity including the precise position to the bases. We had to stay out of air surveillance range for obvious reasons. The M/F transmissions could not be heard by the Pacific Net as M/F has only a comparatively short range. There was little doubt that activity in the region was increasing at a high rate. All this activity was of course promulgated to the Y Organization world wide per medium of the weekly intelligence summaries. Although a very small pea in a large pod, we became more and more orientated towards the mid northern Pacific area. Since `Barbarossa’ had been launched against Russia in mid June `41, we had dropped monitoring traffic around Vladivostok which left more time to concentrate on the Japanese activity, particularly Jaluit, the rapidly expanding Japanese Naval Base. Random reports and sightings from the Island Groups south of the Marshalls indicated that a fair proportion of the build up was of submarine activity. These sightings plus HF D/F bearings plus Stations controlling transmissions all added up to Jaluit W/T being in control.
Was the Y system activated before Pearl Harbour ?
Yes, some twelve months previous. However the Coastwatcher scheme, although formed up on paper was not activated until after Japans entry into the war and the reports we had received before that, were sent in by the DCs (District Commissioners) on the various Islands plus some from fishing and trading vessel.
Did it get any indication of the attack on Pearl Harbour being imminent ?
No, the Japanese took elaborate W/T silence precautions. The main Jap carrier Task Force had been lost track of, and in hindsight this should have been a warning to the USN. The Japanese also created false radio activity in the vicinity of their mainland. In addition there were diplomatic negotiations in Washington on the withdrawal of their troops from China, all of which was designed to disguise their intention to carry out a surprise attack. Any transmissions which had to be made were made on L/F frequencies and on low power which put them out of detection possibility in the South Pacific, and even in the Wake, Guam and Hawaiian areas. Our area of vital interest was the Marshalls ! The Y section consisted of two small rooms and a map room tucked away in one corner of an area on the second floor in the Stout Street Building under 24 hour security guards. Staff consisted of a Warrant Telegraphist (later Lieutenant) Philpotts, in command, three P.O. Tels of which I was one from 12/12/41), two Wren coders and Doctor Campbell from Victoria University where he was the Maths Professor. All D/F bearings, Kana traffic copy, D/F Station, operator comments were mulled over for the first hour or so of very day at a discussion by all the staff and added into or compared with Coast watching reports and Admiralty sitreps from world wide Y stations. An operator has a distinct `signature’ when sending Morse Code regardless of whether its Kana or international. Similarly the transmitters have a signature, note (tone) and keying characteristics which can be recognized by experienced operators and our D/F Stations were manned by very experienced operators. This became known as “finger printing a transmission” and formed a sound basis for the identification of a particular unit. Coupled with the de-crypto team led by the boss and Dr Campbell we were 95% certain that our area of interest was submarine traffic controlled by a master station Jaluit W/T. After Pearl Harbour we trained a solid nucleus of experienced Kana H/F D/F Operators from the P & T and RNR Tels ex P & T, sufficient to man our commitments both in New Zealand and Suva, a very intense period followed on the control and analysis aspect. Our pet project continued to be the area around and south of the Marshalls. Long periods of W/T silence would be followed by a burst of activity with Jaluit and bearings obtained showed a steady downward trend towards the Coral Sea. I modified my own receiver to cover the 6 MHZ frequency being used, by what we were not convinced were submarines, and when not on watch at night the W/T Office monitored this frequency. After long periods of silence bearings obtained from the D/F Station in the net showed a definite move south towards the Brisbane area. Again silence for a period of about two days. All these fixes from the net were reported to all authorities Admiralty, The Australian Commonwealth Naval Board and Hawaii as `most immediate’. About three hours before the Sydney Harbour attack, when I was the night watch `controller’ in the Y office, my wife rang to say there seemed to be activity on the frequency on our home set. I took a chance and alerted Awarua who immediately instigated a snap to all Stations. The bearings coming in confirmed a big southern shift a beam of Sydney. These being passed on receipt to ACNB and Admiralty, `operational immediate’. All D/F’s remained on the frequency passing in bearings on every transmission. Lieutenant Philpotts and all the staff spent the rest of that night waiting from some information as to what was happening. About 0900 the next morning after reading wild reports in the morning paper, we received the Y report from Admiralty detailing the damage caused and the casualties who included New Zealand Naval ratings accommodated in an old Ferry at Garden Island – the only allied ship sunk. It would seem that most of the hard labour we had put into months of analysis and bearings had been largely put down to atmospheric and isophere distortion of the D/F bearings. No effort had been taken to confirm our findings by any Australian D/F Stations who formed part of the West Aussie and Indian Ocean net. After all – we were but a small pea in a large pod ! One of the mother subs (I24) was last D/F’ed in mid Tasman and her aircraft overflew Auckland and Wellington. Forewarned, no attempt was made to illuminate or fire at the plane and thus reveal that there were any defences. Spasmodic transmissions later showed that some of the five I Class Submarines had returned to the Jaluit area. I21 and I24 shelled Newcastle and Sydney respectively about a week after the Midget attack. No Midgets survived; but all the mother submarines returned to base despite many sinking reports. We had to console ourselves with the knowledge that had done all that was possible and hoped that more notice would be taken of our efforts in future.
It was surmised that after the inconclusive Battle of the Coral Sea that the Jap Command wanted to demonstrate that they were still capable of penetrating further south than the Coral Sea. It was unlikely that it was timed to be part of the Coral Sea skirmish in view of the time taken to tow the Midgets south by the mother submarines. Intercepted Kana traffic by the monitoring groups and D/F Stations increased after the Coral Sea but D/F bearings in the north west Pacific were few and far between as the L/F frequencies used in that area prevented them from being monitored from our area of operations. It is not know whether any of our intercept traffic was of assistance in the Battle of Midway. If it was, no mention was made in the Y Analysis Reports. Reports from the Combat Intelligence Group in Hawaii were virtually non-existent !
How long did the job last in the Y Section in Navy Office ?
Until August `42 when I was sent up to Suva to relieve Dave Ingram as P.O. in charge of the HF D/F Station in Suva, accounts borne in `Veniture’ but directly responsible to, and controlled by the Y Section, Navy Office, Wellington. Situated in the middle of a swamp near Luthala Bay, the D/F was a rather ancient HF D/F officially listed as an Aeradio D/F for the navigation of aircraft, on long haul routes through out the Pacific. RNR ex P & T Kana trained operators manned the single channel D/F 24 hours a day. My first job was to modify the D/F into a new modern 4 channel D/F, build a control station on the verge of the swamp and double the number of RNR operators to man the extra channels. On completion of the control station, I received 8 U.S. radiomen to train in D/F and handling/monitoring in the control. With the USN complement added to build the staff up to 18, the local Fijian FRNVR began to make life difficult and to interfere with the operational aspect. It was necessary for a combined visit from Officer in Charge Combat Intelligence Hawaii and Director of Naval Intelligence Wellington to advise the local Navy that they had never seen or heard of us !
This was the only time in the Navy that I owned a horse which, at times was necessary to travel from the control, through the swamp to the D/F was on this job.
The Control Station consisted of a framed hut some 20 feet by 40 feet, unlined with two 8 feet by 10 feet rooms at one end for a store and one sleeping billet (mine). All the power wiring and fitting of equipment was done by ourselves and the cable links to Cable & Wireless by the NZ P & T. As an added incentive to leave the Station doing the job laid down from Navy Office, the Naval Officer in Charge Fiji was asked to explain why the over run on the cost of the building by his own owned and operated firm indicated that a new hotel Hilton had been erected in Fiji ! We were left well alone after that !
In addition to our increased DF operators and quadruple channels we were often called upon by Nandi and Lauthala Bay to home in lost air patrols both USAF and RNZAF and in fact had one channel permanently on Air coop frequencies.
The intercept traffic changed in the last half of `42 as a result of the landings on Guadalcanal became predominately surface with submarines doing occasional forays into the area to the east of the Solomons, without any noticeable effect. Late `42 I did a quick Catalina trip to Espiritu Santo to survey a possible site for an extension to the Y net which came to nothing due to the area being left behind as Allied forces progressed towards the north west in mid `43, and the Japanese began to draw back from the Solomons.
When you handed over at Suva, you did a quick course in Cerberus and then rejoined Achilles prior to rejoining the British Pacific Fleet after docking repairs in Auckland. What was the state of the radio equipment in Achilles ?
Pretty ancient vintage 1931 and out of date really when Achilles was first commissioned in 1933. When refitted in U.K. in 1943, Achilles had a single stick masts replaced with tripods and the most modern long range two hundred mile and medium range (10cM) combination surface finding radars fitted, which made her an obvious choice for picket duties in the Pacific War. However her VHF aircraft/ship communications were short of channels for the type of air war in that area.
What you are saying in layman’s terms is that you had excellent and versatile radar but you didn’t have the communications equipment to pass the radar information on to aircraft and ships ?
That is correct. Our main shortage was of multi-channel VHF transceivers. My predecessor as Chief Tel, Arty Hay, had done a good job with his tot bottle in Tulagi and Manus, and because of the communication plans we were faced with, I carried on the good work. In addition a couple of five hundred watt transmitters must have fallen off the back of a truck and this almost doubled our HF capability for long range communications. Power supplies and control lines were installed and arranged at sea by ships staff, as fortunately the power supply units had fallen off the truck at the same time as their parent equipments !
Quite a coincidence. Just let me get this right, you were using Naval rum to purchase equipment from the USN, to enable the ship to meet its communication requirements?
Really it was used to get the right social atmosphere with the right people to the stage where it was offered, and when necessity demanded, it would be a crime to refuse.
Who condoned these transactions ? Who was your Signal Officer ?
That was no problem. No qualified Signal Officer was borne and as the Senior Communications Rating, I was paid 2 and sixpence per day `charge pay’ I was responsible to the Captain to meet the department’s responsibilities.
The War was over by the time we arrived in Yokohama to relieve Gambia who had represented New Zealand at the Japanese surrender. Gambia left for New Zealand thankfully and home going revolutions were the order of the day for her quick return. We were anchored of Yokohama breakwater with some several hundred ships filling Tokyo Bay, British Pacific Fleet and USN units plus. With Illustrious, Indomitable and 12 Destroyers we did a show of strength through the Inland Sea where Indomitable distinguished herself by fouling the high tension overhead power lines between the main Island Honshu and Kyushu with her top hamper. Very spectacular but no damage to the Carrier. Back in Yokohama and with the big units dispersing far and wide, we were left with 12 Destroyers to hold the fort BPF wise. Captain Banks was the senior officer and took over the duties of SBNOA (Senior British Naval Officer Afloat) and as such we became responsible for all control and communications in Tokyo Bay including the shore detachment. As we had lost our 12 USN radiomen, we had to borrow from the destroyer flotillas enough sparkers to man the extra circuits. Having established a reputation for long range communications and because ZLO (Waiouru WT in New Zealand) passed all the traffic for C n C British Pacific Fleet, that became an additional guard circuit. As C n C was in Hong Kong in Howe that also meant that we had another 24 hour circuit direct to Howe. We were over loaded in all respects, and our unlisted extra transmitters proved a godsend. The sheer volume of traffic for C in C proved to be a hurdle which had to be overcome to survive. A new fangled device called a Bendix wire recorder had been obtained on the social procurement programme in Manus. A thought was turned to action by myself and the CEA turning out a new set of gears for this beast to enable us to take traffic from ZLO (NZ) at 200 words per minute instead of the operator manned circuit speed of thirty WPM. Then it was possible to transcribe the traffic flow replaying the same traffic back using the lower gear ratio on play back to enable A bank of operators to produce the text on multicarbon rolls without errors and ready for distribution. This puzzled ZLO for many weeks but they faithfully did as we requested although they knew we were not fitted with high speed equipment. We also had a circuit direct to Admiralty where we operated under the call sign `GBT’ (Tokyo Naval Radio) until a station was established ashore with reliable power supplies and the RN took over. This reduced the ZLO traffic quite considerably as they became responsible for C n C British Pacific Fleet’s traffic. We then turned our high speed system on to Awarua Radio (ZLB) at schedule times and took our penny a word telegrams from New Zealand and similar places. Out going telegrams had to go at hand speed, we couldn’t reverse the process unfortunately. We had to clear up to 200 telegrams per night to (ZLB) Awarua, and as we had no junior operators experienced in sending Morse as opposed to receiving same, this out going traffic had to be done by myself and 2 P.O. Tels, Paddy Boyle and Ginger Roberts. We had tried to work shifts on this telegram traffic but found that it took all three of us to the small hours of the next day to cope as letters home were being lodged instead of telegrams. In the end we had to restrict their length to forty words and one per day.
Any other trials and tribulations in this period which seems to have been pretty hectic?
Not really a pleasant interlude with the visit of Commander Courage British Pacific Fleet Wireless Officer (FWO) who came to call on the Captain to inquire why permission had not been obtained before opening our telegram service with New Zealand. Also he wanted to know how we were operating high speed circuits when his Fleet records show that we were not capable of doing so. Our Divisional Officer, Lieutenant Peter Tulloch brought him down to the main office and left me to explain. The high speed system was in full swing and I took him up to the BWO (Bridge Wireless Office) as the best way of explaining. Paddy was taking a 30 minute run from ZLO on British Pacific Fleet traffic at 200 WPM and bank of 4 operators were handling the other circuits and one was replaying the previous wire recording directly on to distribution forms at 30 WPM ready for onward transmission. The Captain spoke to the staff after the Fleet Wireless Officer left and passed on some very encouraging remarks. Dicky Courage was Commander of the Signal School HMS Mercury when I was sent there for the WT1’s Course in 1947, and I was asked to lecture on ways of taking high speed Morse when one couldn’t !
Another incident which did not have the same ending occurred shortly after the Fleet Wireless Officer’s visit. I entered the main W/T after an all night session in the Bridge Wireless Office to find a young Lieutenant seated at my desk. I naturally asked him his business as he was in a restricted area of the Main Wireless Office, (crypto). He produced ID reluctantly and informed me that he was a qualified Signal Officer. I rang Peter Tulloch who knew nothing about his visit which was stated to be `to take over Signal Officers duties as none was borne’. Peter shot down to the Main and escorted this Lieutenant Rushbrooke to the Captain. I learned later that the Captain was very angry and ordered him from his ship at his earliest convenience. We didn’t see him again. He made life a little difficult for me in Mercury in 1947 but in 1953 when Commanding Officer of a junior Destroyer, came cap in hand to request assistance for his gunnery radar by my `Fixit Team’. All’s well that ends well I suppose.
During this period we were Senior British Naval Officer Afloat, Tokyo, we managed to get some fresh air (!) with a quick trip to Nagoya, Sasebo, Nagasaki and some other smaller ports, still working our long range guards. We were finally relieved by Argonaut and proceeded to Hong Kong escorting an ex British V & W Destroyer which had been scuttled in Hong Kong at the outbreak of war with Japan, raised by the Japs and used by them during the conflict as a torpedo firing ship. We had brought her to a very shaky state of sea worthiness in Yokohama with ships staff. She was a wreck really, but she left Yokohama with a show of dash – limped to Hong Kong where she entered with a rip and a roar – the last she ever did ! We were promptly handed the BPF traffic guard plus the job of acting as the coast station VPS which was destroyed by the Japs at surrender. Commercial activity on 500 KHZ was a total bedlam ! Two operators were required to man the circuit and an extra operator in the D/F. Distress and emergency calls were handled at an average of 3 to 4 per day. Piracy patrols by the duty destroyer were necessary 24 hours a day as the Chinese reverted to their customary way of earning a livelihood. Our OA fitted a 3″ gun to a local patrol boat secured alongside but once on patrol, this vessel turned pirate and had to be sunk by the duty destroyer. The Flag in Howe with the very latest W/T equipment duplicated and triplicated throughout that massive battleship, and with a flag ship’ complement of communicators made sure that everyone else did the donkey work. Our one and only type 48 M/F transmitter vintage 1930 could stand the pace no longer and after about three weeks having expired beyond repair with all the meagre spares on board used and none available elsewhere. No amount of Kiwi initiative could coax it back into life. Howe took over. Shortly afterwards we sailed for Subic Bay to transfer spares for Black Prince thence to Dutch New Guinea. Troops were embarked and we sailed from Manado to quell a riot against the returning Dutch. This was aborted before arrival and the troops disembarked again at Moratai after which we sailed for Manus. Diverted to stand by a stranded vessel at Biac Island until the USN tug took over, we arrived at Manus to refuel and were saddled with a large battle practice target to tow to Sydney. Very few BPTs have ever made a trip as fast as that one did ! Home going revs ! We arrived back in Auckland March 1946. After war service leave and a farewell cruise around New Zealand ports we sailed for the last time as Achilles from Auckland, bound for U.K. and arriving September 1946 with a signal from C n C Nore to the effect that he considered Achilles to be the smartest ship ever to pass through the locks at Sheerness. She was we knew it.
Well that just about finishes off the pre war and war period Jack. What of the post war period as you saw it ?
I was the last Kiwi left on board Achilles, the others having departed for Bellona. The ship was spotless but empty and there was no way that I was going to spend the next four months waiting for my WT1’s Course to start in Mercury. I saw Bill Jordan in NZ House and Captain Gilfillan with a request to be seconded to ASWE (Admiralty Signal Wireless Establishment) at Hazelmere. This, to my delight was arranged and after a quick run around all the projects being undertaken in that Research Establishment, I was made assistant to Bill Heaton, a Senior Scientist who was later to become the Senior Scientist at ASWE, i.e. in command civilian wise. The project was termed the `Vanguard’ Project and its purpose was to test all the special equipment being developed for the projected visit of King George the Sixth’s Tour of South Africa. On completion of testing by Marconi Standard Telephones and Cables and other firms spread around the factories in London, Slough, Birmingham and the numerous other localities, we had to mock up all the equipment in ST & C Southgate London for a final approval by Lord Louie Mountbatten. Thence to oversee all the equipment installed in HMS Vanguard and then test again on completion. The equipment developed and fitted would be considered reasonably up to date even today and included television (modified airborne), facsimile (photo and correspondence), new transmitters and receivers and radio teletype.
When it came to the Vanguard fitting stage things became a little difficult for me being only a CPO Tel (no sword) and Bill Heaton arranged an ASW top security pass for me and from then on I was in civilian rig. Bill would have liked me to be on the trip with him as we had developed into a good team of two. However I had of course to start in January `47 and didn’t relish sleeping with a sword as for overalls unthinkable ! With all our trials virtually complete I left the Vanguard Project to join Mercury for the WT1’s Course.
The Vanguard routine wouldn’t have done for you Jack !
No, not really, that sort of Navy was never my part of ship.
(end of Tape 3)
(beginning of Tape 4)
Once the WT1’s course formed up and got underway, I found that it wasn’t teaching me anything new on the technical side, as I was more up to date than the instructor as a result of the Vanguard project. I was being used more as an instructor than as a pupil. I made Gilly in NZ House aware of this and I considered I was wasting my time. Having discussed this with my wife by letter, I asked him to consider asking NZNB to request a change over to the Warrant Telegraphists Course which was running parallel to the WT1’s Course. It transpired that the change was approved, albeit that I was running two months adrift. That was how the decision was made to start at the bottom once more, but now this opened up further rungs on the ladder. Another factor was of course that we were now RNZN and by seeking progress in the way of promotion to officer did not mean that one had to change to RN. Bearing up with a Scotch CPO Tel Jock Strasser, I soon made up the leeway involved in the change over. Jock and I were the only non-natives out of 14 in the class so we were able to devote our full attention to comparing notes. We topped the class in the finals, Jock pipping me by a short head (Commander Jock Strasser, Commanding Officer of HMS Caprice 1965 in Auckland when I was CSO (T). Courses followed the qualifying section at Dryad for Air Director and Navigation, Lee on Solent (for practical flying and Air Observers Course) and Daedalus (for Air tactical and communications) and finally Whale Island for Divisional don’t trip over your sword, fire fighting/damage control). That wrapped up the last Warrant Tels Course to be held in the RN as subsequent Courses were to become Warrant Communications Courses without the technical content.
Did you do that as a Warrant Officer ?
No, the class was promoted on completion of the course but I caught Ruahine hell bent for home. It was in 1948 before I was promoted as I didn’t have the HET qualification which I should have got earlier, but didn’t seem to have the time plus the RN bogey which had dispelled any ambition for commissioned rank prior to the RNZN being formed. In addition to getting my HET on arrival home I was promptly given the job of forming up the first P.O. Tel Course in New Zealand and teaching the school academic section as well, as Schoolies were in short supply. With some effort and candle burning, both came to fruition and promotion came in April 1948, the first day to Warrant Telegraphist followed by Warrant Communication Officer, the second day to WEO (R) Warrant Electrical Officer (Radio and Radar) as the split in the Communication Branch was adopted in the RNZN. I was then posted to Waiouru W/T, 3000 feet up in the central North Island, later to become HMNZS Irirangi. Lieutenant Bill Brewer DSM, later Lieutenant Commander, SCCO Stan Davies, later Lieutenant was the First Lieutenant Paymaster and myself as the Technical Officer. Stan Davies and myself found an old house about a mile from the main camp buried in native bush and very basic. Floorboards had half inch gaps, no water or power, no stove and a great fireplace about 8 feet across on which all cooking and heating and rainwater had to be done. The roof however was water tight and we repaired the windows. We had somewhere at least so we moved our wives down from Auckland so at least we would be together after five years of separation. It was pioneering of the first order. The day started with an 0600 session on the bushman’s crosscut saw to get in enough wood to last through the day until we got home and cut another slice off a fallen tree in the bush. We quickly mastered the art of using a log splitting gun. Fifty percent of the time and right through the winter it was necessary to plough through up to three feet of snow to get to our logging operation. An abandoned ex RNZAF building seven miles away on the 400 acre transmitter site was blown down in a typical Dessert Road gale and fell in remarkably good order on to a 70 foot Army low loader which by some coincidence had been left alongside the building for shelter. We had an application in to use this building to convert into a dual unit residence but the wheels were not working very fast. By the time the necessary authority came through the building was firmly established on firm foundations which prevented any further damage and suitably stiffened with interior partitions. As Stan and myself had to do the work at night it was necessary to put power on the building. The wood to partition i.e. strengthen the building on the inside came courtesy of the Ohakune Saw Mill and cut out of 70 foot hardwood masts which had had to be replaced, as they would no longer hold climbing spikes. The outside was dozey but the centre produced more than enough very tough 4 x 2, so tough that every nail had to be predrilled before driving home. The Canteen Managers hobby was brick work and he demonstrated his art with a dual fire place, spiralling through 90 degrees in the centre of the building. All that remained to do when the approval came through was to connect up the hot water cylinders, stoves and tubs which seemed to have been sent by accident from the Naval Store. Cost per unit 700 hundred pounds each. We did not complete in time for the birth of my one and only son. My wife, Una, had to be evacuated from the farm house in the worst snow storm in memory and rushed to the Nursing Home to Taihape 17 miles away. Taihape was also our nearest shopping centre. It is of note that the ships company married quarters were all built by the original occupants in a similar manner several years earlier, converted from ex Army huts. We were all charged a nominal rent which must have paid for material costs 1000 fold over the years.
The task it had was the modernization of the transmission and receiver aerials and replacement of about 120 masts in their respective farms 7 miles apart, build two new transmitter buildings and extend the two receiver buildings, repair and replace where necessary the underground control lines and provide microwave links to back up the underground system, build a new diesel emergency power station to make the station independent of the national grid, and to supply at least 75% of the normal transmitter load and to install modern SSB teletype systems at the receivers when the extensions had been completed. As usual, there was no money ! We borrowed tank recovery 30 wheel transporters from the Army to move the 70 foot masts from the railway flat tops to the TX and RX aerial farms and progressed the replacement masts when the weather allowed, again using Army tank recovery cranes with the masts weighed up to about 3 tons each. The rigging party consisted of one Seaman P.O. and two A.B.’s to do all the wire splicing (8 guys per mast). Ships staff watchkeepers off watch made up the new aerials when the masts had been renewed. Ministry of Works Wanganui handled the receiver building modifications after being supplied with outline drawings. However, M.O.W. baulked at the transmitter buildings and had to be supplied with detailed plans, a job which was done on the kitchen table. Ditto the emergency diesel power plant for the transmitters. Two of the 40 ton diesels and their associated alternators and switch gear were obtained from completed hydro electric power stations around the country and a third one was located in the pumping tunnel at Mangakino which was close to completion. These were all installed with the very useful assistance and borrowed equipment from the Army, the control panels built and reticulation married to the feeder from the National grid. The supply authority tested our work and found no faults.
Because there was no money available for new transmitters to cope with expanding services overseas, we had to design and build six medium power transmitter (3 KW) using some parts obtainable from war assets and making those not obtainable ourselves. The kitchen table was then the design centre and we completed these for 440 pounds against the lowest tender price of twenty three thousand pound each. A 4 KW modulator was also built to convert RCA 4KW transmitter to a broadcast transmitter. Thus Naval Radio Waiouru went on the air from a studio built at the receivers to broadcast music and news to our ships working in the mid and North Pacific well out of range of any Radio New Zealand broadcast. After several months of providing this service, a tuning procedure carried out incorrectly by the transmitter watchkeepers resulted in a spectacular explosion which blacked out the centre of the North Island and wrote `finis’ to our signature tune by Mike Mulligan. Radio New Zealand commenced their HF programmes to the Pacific about 3 weeks later and Naval Radio Waiouru stayed off the air for good.
Modern Racal ISB equipment was received and installed in the receiver buildings which had been modified to house them and the aerial system modified for diversity reception to suit. About two years late and costing the Naval vote about 100,000 pound each two DS13s arrived from the U.K. as the transmitters followed by one Maconni HS10 (Army vote). Of 35KW output, these transmitters were the most powerful HF transmitters in New Zealand as well as being the most modern. They were installed with enthusiasm by ships staff and the planned positions prepared for them in the new buildings, tested, and set promptly to work. A month later an Engineer arrived from the U.K. from ST & C London to test the ST & C DS13s and found them in full time use. Each transmitter occupied a floor area of 600 square feet and put the finishing touches to our station. Later NT2 transmitter building was shifted a quarter of a mile across the paddock joined to NT1 to make one building in conformity with new dispersal policy and to reduce the number of manning technicians. There still seemed to be a colossal amount of work to do in early `52 when I was told to pack bags and family for a direct promotion course in U.K. After 4 weeks of enforced inactivity broken only during the 2000 – 0001 section by relieving the Chief Radioman and passing his traffic for him, we disembarked at Southampton and found ourselves a house and car close to H.M.S. Collingwood, Fareham. There were 7 on the course Sid Hank (later Commodore Hank RN) and myself on the direct promotion selection. Dave Nelson, Lieutenant RNZN converting from Schoolie to Electrical, two Indian Navy Subs and two Pakistani Subs ex University Courses. This was the first direct promotion course held in the RN.
How long did that course last Jack ?
About six months. Sid and I were well behind on the advance maths section which started at higher calculus and advanced from there. We stumbled on as it was many years since we had been to school and knew it was material which could well be forgotten as soon as we left the classroom. With the practical side however, Sid and I reversed the situation and led the field. About half way through what was more an acquaintance than a syllabus type course, I was notified by New Zealand House that I was now a Senior Commissioned Electrical Officer (R). If I qualified, I would not have missed one of those rungs on the ladder ! We made it, and were promoted Lieutenants on completion.
Did you do time in the Royal Navy after that ?
Yes, an appointment was issued posting me to HMS Theseus an Aircraft Carrier, which dismayed me somewhat, with 15 other Electrical Officers and the type of `bull’ I had managed to avoid some years earlier on H.M.S. Vanguard. After a little Dutch courage I called on Captain Knowles the L Appointing Officer in London and told him of my misgivings as to whether the published appointment would be of benefit to the RNZN. He heard me out, but I left a bit down to it. Two days later the appointment was cancelled and a fresh one issued posting me to Agincourt, the Leader of the Fourth Destroyer Squadron. The best move I ever made.
They were the later Battle Class Destroyers were the not ?
Yes there were eight of them, four running and four in operational reserve. D4, Captain Johnny Lee Barber DSO plus Bar, DSC plus two Bars was one of the most decorated Destroyer Captains of the Second World War. He was at sea in Destroyers for the whole of the War and was the Senior four ring Captain and acknowledged to be the best Destroyer handler of the RN or any other Navy. He drove his ship hard and she was clean. When I paid my joining call on him he greeted me with “good, a bloody Kiwi, now we will have a Rugby Team !”. I knew straight away that I had made the right decision. Every Officer in that ship appeared to be hand picked and the whole Mess seemed to radiate warmth and hospitality. A quick one day turnover from my predecessor who seemed anxious to be on his way, for very good reason as I found out later. He had been left on his own as an `old and bold’ (L) Officer Ex Torpedoman with no assistance from the Squad (L) Officer L04. He had been progressed to Commander (L) having been in Admiralty Bath all his naval time from Sub Lieutenant, knew nothing about ships, was quartered in either Aisne or Corunna and was rarely ever seen in the Leader. I quickly found out that he was on the books of the Squadron for social purposes only and it was some 3 weeks before I met him for the first time.
`Guns’ (Lieutenant Commander Pat Rees, GO4) was the first to expound his wows. His gunnery 275 was only producing half the range on jet Aircraft it was supposed to, the two Radar Controllers STAAG twin Bofors mountings were defective and we were awaiting the next Dockyard refit to solve the problem. His blind control systems was unreliable and communications intermittent. TASO 4 followed with tales of woe about his Sonar and Torpedo control below specified performance. NO4 (Lieutenant Commander Foster) had similar problems with his High Definition 974 radar and his medium 293. The Gyro compass also threw an occasional wobbly. All were listed on the defect list for Dockyard at the next refit. Looked like a lot of midnight oil and a pair of overalls ! The first thing to do was to get my own staff behind me in what was to become a marathon. A good enthusiastic staff of capable Chiefs and P.O.’s who only needed some degree of direction and leadership, they were superb. By the time we left Portsmouth bound for Rosyth and the Baltic, the Gyro had been stripped and given a complete overhaul, doubled the acquisition range of the gunnery radar and with more improvement possible, and the two navigational radars performing pretty close to the maximum specifications, all achieved in the two weeks alongside, the passage to Rosyth, and without any outside assistance other than Naval Stores Portsmouth. The stores on board were pretty depleted but the Supply Officer who shared the Cabin with me in the `casbah’ down aft was caught up with a degree of enthusiasm and did a good job of restocking the Naval Store in Rosyth, which was a good storing base, stores were available there which were out of stock in Portsmouth.
The Baltic run helped consolidate our gains as the weather was favourable and enabled work to commence on the first of the two STAAG mountings. The visit programme however made this stretch out over a longer period than it should have, starting at Helsinki (Finland), then Stockholm and Malmo (Sweden), Odense and Copenhagen in Denmark then Oslo and Bergen in Norway, an exhausting run ! Fleet exercises with Cruisers and the 6th Destroyer Squadron followed in Trondheim Fiords and a shore bombardment in the Lofoten Islands. A 30 knot run back to Rosyth for a few days rest where a prop was changed having been nicked backing and filling in the extremely narrow Odense Canal. Agincourt was a Portsmouth manned ship with 98% of the ships company addicted soccer. We some how found time to get a rugby team together using two from the Wardroom who were keen players and myself. The remainder of the team were recruited from the ship’s soccer team and were the current holders of the Kings Cup, the Trophy played for annually by the whole of the Home Fleet. Agincourt had held this cup for the last two seasons and were coached by the Gunner, Bill and I still can’t remember his name, who was naturally not too keen on letting me have them for Rugby. I had a few runs in the Baltic and Rosyth where we seemed to knit together reasonably well and had a star 1st Five eights in Lieutenant Idiens and an excellent fullback in Lieutenant Chapman who could be relied to convert from close to the halfway. From Rosyth we went back to Liverpool (1 game x 1 win) and then on to Cardiff. We were challenged by Cardiff `B’ Team and met on Cardiff Arms Park. We were up at 3:0 at half time. However big changes in the second half to the Cardiff Team saw us down the drain by some 40:3. Ah well ! at least we had had a game on the hallowed park and GO4, Pat Reece who was Welsh to the fingertips was accused in the Mess afterwards of split allegiance ! It cost him a lot of Gin. Bolstered by our brush with Cardiff we struck Eagle on an off day in Portland and removed the Hamilton Cup from their showcase in an unbelievable burst of enthusiasm from twelve Soccer players plus three others ! Lieutenant Bruce Idiens went as the Captain the U.K. Combined Services Team and Dave Chapman played for two seasons with the same Team. In the Destroyer Squadron Regatta the `gin palace’ lifted the Cock from Duchess by a short head. We were on an `up’.
Back in Portsmouth for the usual 2 weeks before gunnery exercises in the Bay of Biscay, `D’ invited my son John for a week at sea and obtained the necessary approval from C in C to have a male guest on board. John was five and half at the time. He spent most of that week as `a close adviser to the command’ on the Bridge except when he was recovered from outside the guard rails chasing the ship’s kitten by a watchful Chief Buffer. He attended Mess dinners at night in pyjamas and a bow tie and was Vice President at one formal dinner at sea to celebrate the Battle of Agincourt ! That was hilarious ! He slept in my bunk and I slept on the deck. After returning my offspring to Una in Portsmouth we were off again for the combined Home/Med Fleet exercises in the Mediterranean between Gib and Malta. At Portsmouth I had found P.O. Radio Electrician John Day, bored to tears and waiting for a Course in Collingwood. later Lieutenant Commander Day. He was keen on joining the `fixit’ team and with `D’s’ permission, I jacked it up with the Portsmouth Posting Captain. At `D’s’ request I deployed some of our `fixit’ team on to the other three ships of the 4th Destroyer Squadron including myself to get their (L) Officers off their backsides and into overalls to get their systems tickled up to an operational state. We succeeded to a degree and certainly doubled their gunnery radar detection ranges with quite a bit of enthusiasm developing amongst their staff. Commander Tom Best, on loan to the RNZN at an earlier date and qualified (G) was in command of Borossa and his radar got special attention for which he was truly thankful. D4 led the Destroyers into the pens at Gib in his usual inimitable manner, 4 knots over the harbour limit, two engine movements “stop both”, then “half astern both”, then “finished with main engines, tie her up No 1″, departed the Bridge to his cabin. The ship was dead parallel to the jetty with a 4” gap between the gunwale and fenders ! Not only once but about the six times we berthed in the pens. Ship handling plus ! With six destroyer flotillas (24 Destroyers) and D4 as Senior Officer the combined exercises got away to the east of the Rock, the 4th Destroyer Squadron took the AA shoot and Agincourt the individual highest scorer. Calamity just after the shooting exercises completed, we lost a main generator in the engine room which left us with insufficient power to continue in the exercise. This would have forced the ship to transfer `D’s’ staff to another destroyer and go into Gib Dockyard for repair, taking any thing up to 3 days. Since the ship was built a spare armature weighing about 2 tons was stowed right forward just aft of the cable locker. It was worth a go by ships staff and the diving programme was rescheduled so we could anchor to the east of the Rock and as clear as possible of the swell coming through the Straits. With co-operation from every department in the ship, the unwieldy beast was coaxed through passageways, down hatches, through the boiler room where a combination of L and E staff had stripped the burnt out generator and shored it clear to prevent damage from men and other equipment as the ship rolled. Starting the evolution at 1800, the replacement armature was fitted and tested and reported operational at 0600 the next morning. The exercises continued as scheduled. In the RNZN this type of operation is the norm where Dockyard aid and facilities are few and far between but was unheard of in the RN. After the Exercise we were on our way to Dar el Beida (Casablanca) to represent the RN at some obscure Anniversary of French participation during World War II. We played Rugby against the French Air Force but didn’t do very well, the grounds were fine gravel and the French did not tackle, just played the fast running game. We lost yards of skin ! Back to Pompey for our usual two weeks and then to Londonderry for anti-submarine exercises in continuing filthy weather in the Irish Sea. Three weeks of that were quite enough. The Royal visit to Canada was on, travelling by air. However some 20 Home Fleet Units were deployed covering the flight spread out across the Atlantic in the middle of the worst Atlantic gales recorded. Twice we were shifted northwards towards Iceland at 28 knots in weather which in the normal course would have dictated 14 knots max. We lost our catwalk fore and aft and all our boats. In a Battle Class Destroyer the upper deck is unusable in any sort of seaway and with the catwalk gone, those down aft were isolated from forward. One of our two steering motors had burnt out and an armature and on assessing the position I found myself and two Stoker Watchkeepers cut off from forward and not able to do any thing about it. With a bit of luck. I found a spare armature in the tiller flat and with the tool kit which I always carried in the `casba’ managed to strip the defective motor. The working motor was starting to overheat so we had to divert our efforts to rigging the hand steering gear which was managed after some head scratching and hard humping. However it was obvious that three of us could not manage to steer by hand if the remaining motor packed up, the Bridge was informed by phone that it could be necessary to steer by main engines, an almost impossible task in that seaway. A hand steering crew should be closed up aft, an also impossible task. We were fortunate to find two 1 ton chain blocks and various handy-billies in the towing locker which allowed us to sling the spare armature weighing about half a ton one moment and weightless the next, as the ship pitched. With more good luck than judgement we succeeded in getting it on to the lower casing without damaging the bearings surfaces or commutator hastily bolted it in position with the top casing. From then on it was a piece of cake, buttoning up again. On the bridge both steering motor lamps came up on the panel, occasioning a call from `D’ on the phone saying “good work – what took you so long ?” 18 hours later during a brief lull we were able to make a dash along the lifelines forward and grab a meal. The Wardroom was a shambles and I just had time to rescue the Wardroom radio from its shattered cabinet, get it going and sit wedged in one corner with Pat Reece (G04) and listen to Wales defeat the All Black 3 : 0. A sorry 4th Destroyer Squadron extremely battered, retired to Portsmouth for repairs, and the inevitable inquiry. Our track chart showed movement from mid Atlantic almost up to Greenland, across to within 100 miles of Newfoundland and back, damage sustained must have accounted for a fair proportion of the naval vote ! Spotless again in three weeks with No 1 chuckling with glee with all his new deck gear and boats we were all back on the rails again. A Royal Fleet Review and another Station Gib Exercise and back home. Then the blow struck, `D’ was promoted Rear Admiral Harwich ! His departure from Agincourt was witnessed by most of Portsmouth Naval and Dockyard personnel, including C n C’s Staff and C n C himself, who all, I think had come to regard Johnny Lee Barber as a permanent fixture in Destroyers in Portsmouth. The Wardroom and Chief Petty Officers towed him to the main gates in his Ford 8 polished up like a Rolls Royce. The ship did not seem the same after he had gone although his successor, equally decorated and senior, an ex Submariner had to prove himself to the ship in the coming months. This he did, but never to quite the same degree. One of my long felt beliefs is that ships should have one crew in the main, a reasonable operational programme which allowed sometime for families, to produce the greatest overall efficiency. This we did before the War with Diomede and Dunedin, Achilles and Leander and to a smaller degree, the RN. On Agincourt, officer and crew changes gradually whittled away the familiar faces and towards the end of my time I even started to feel a bit of a stranger in the Wardroom. The end came when Lieutenant Bryson was appointed to Agincourt (later Admiral Sir Henry Bryson). He was a product of Manadon and Bath and did not seem overly interested in the nuts and bolts of the job, so may be the ship does not matter so much if promotion is what is being aimed at ! I myself, got a lot of job satisfaction from all the ships I served in, and in particular Agincourt. The reward I received from the Herbert Lott Memorial Fund `for contribution towards the fighting efficiency of the Fleet, Gunnery Equipment Engineering Section – Inventions’ worth 5 pound published in AFO’s was not asked for, but gratefully received. This was not an invention, merely a modification which cured a `blind fire’ remote control design fault which was adopted in Vanguard, Eagle and the 8 ships of the 4th Destroyer Squadron, a total of sixteen ships. The same fault was repeated in the Royalist and was cured in a similar manner.
By the time that you got back to New Zealand you had a fair amount of seagoing experience as an Officer Jack.
Yes I suppose so but I wasn’t back yet. With my passage booked and the family packed I was informed in person by Peter Phipps my passage was cancelled and I might as well get myself and my family shifted over to Plymouth to stand by Royalist. That done and accommodation found I made my presence in Drake and found my way into the Dockyard to see what I had won ! A flat upper deck with no bridge, two bare ladder masts, two funnels and no turrets ! I made my number to the Captain of the Dockyard who introduced me to the Admiralty Superintendent, 4 million pounds purchase by Sydney Holland, phew ! I was the only Kiwi standing by the job to start with and was to accept all and every nut and bolt that went into her. Below decks considerable progress had been made with engine, boiler room, auxiliary equipment but many of the equipments were not sited to enable sufficient access for maintenance requiring pipework and cabling to be re-sited. The bridge which had been built and fitted out with equipment ashore was barged off and lifted on board in one piece. The turrets arrived from Vickers, were assembled alongside and lifted on board in one piece, a tricky operation. The 34 PPI’s (Plan Position Indicators) arrived for installation and were rejected as they were 1942 vintage, reconditioned, and the new models which were much more versatile, were known to be available. Vice Admiral Sir Ralph Edwards, the Third Sea Lord did a tour of the ship every two or three weeks (ex RN loan service in the RNZN) backed the full modernization of the ship even though Admiralty Bath was trying to unload old and outdated equipment out of the RN. Each visit he required a detailed list of unacceptable equipment by me and from memory every item was approved to be replaced by current up to date equivalents. What he ordered to be done was done, a very valuable ally of the RNZN !
(end of Tape 4)
(beginning of Tape 5)
He toured in overalls when he was walking around the ship and dealt only with the foreman of the Yard, Mr Pengelly, myself, Commander (E) (RN standing by) and the Charge Hands actually doing the work. Decisions were thrashed out on the spot and his Secretary, also in overalls noted the decisions for the follow up authorization. Pip Bardwell joined in on accommodation. The boiler and engine rooms had been extensively modernized and full remote control was established in the DCHQ. A boiler could be flashed up using a motor driven pump quickly and efficiently. However B boiler room had to be flashed up by hand pump involving a relay of Stokers cranking a hand driven pump and took twice as long as A. Efforts to have the hand pump changed fell on deaf ears. Belfast was alongside being stripped to undergo a similar modernization to Royalist and her equipment was being craned across to the jetty. A motor driven pump exactly similar to that fitted in A boiler room must have been badly slung as it parted from its strop and fell straight into our boiler room on to mountings which fitted exactly ! Mana from heaven, it was promptly bolted down and pipe work and wiring rapidly connected ! A trickle of Senior Rates began arriving as the advance party for the ship when she commissioned. My fire control EA’s and OA’s first went to Collingwood to undergo pre-commissioning training on the FPS 5 systems, two of which were being in the process of being fitted. They were not accepted for this course as `being too old’ and academically unprepared and came direct to the ship. These FPS 5 systems were the first to be fitted into any ship in the RN or otherwise. The system specification called for either system to be capable of controlling its own group of two turrets or both groups, either split or together. Admiralty Bath, in their wisdom, or what seemed to be total ignorance did not appreciate that A and B turrets had a forward datum for alignment and setting of their training stops and that X and Y had an after datum, the lot being dictated by the design of the training servos in the respective computers. If fitted as designed A and B were safe on their own forward system, but would crash Y turret into the after structure and X turret would be able to shoot away the mainmast and director. Vice versa for the after sector controlling the forward turrets. Messrs Ferranti Ltd of Manchester were the makers and installers of the FPS 5 and associated computers. Approval was obtained from New Zealand House for accommodation and expenses and I shifted the Fire Control Team and myself to Manchester at the invitation of Ferranti Ltd to do a hands on rapid acquaintance course with them on the equipment nuts and bolts. To correct their design problem two new servo units were built to correct the failing. Valuable assistance on manufacturing equipment and materials was obtained from Ferranti’s. Sufficient knowledge was also obtained by the Royalist FPS 5 Staff to serve the RNZN for ensuing years as Instructors and Maintainers. NZNB in their wisdom, CB wise had decreed that all BR’s and CB’s on Bellona were to be transferred to Royalist in ignorance of the fact that the equipment in Royalist was totally different from that of a Dido Class Cruiser. The result was that we sailed after commissioning from Malta with no relevant books on the equipment fitted on board. These we finally received after completion of our work up in Malta. (Note CB is a confidential book and BR is a book of reference).
The construction period and setting to work and trials period of the Royalist was, without doubt, the hardest in my technical service in the Navy. Coping with Bath boffins, ASWE, Dockyard, Whale Island test teams and Stores wallers was a times rewarding, exasperating, frustrating and at all times, time consuming. Getting the quart into a pint tot was not possible but somehow it was shoehorned in. Six months before the ship was offered to the RNZN, a meeting was convened in Admiralty, the result of which was that work on the Royalist was halted and the plan to convert other Dido Class Cruisers was shelved permanently. Knowing this made it easier to insist that the latest modifications be incorporated in the ship to make her the most modern light Cruiser built at the time of commissioning. When Bellona arrived, the work load increased considerably at a time when trials were reaching a crescendo with added instructional commitments. Sea trials had to be exacting and eventually were, after several re scrubs. We got our 4 million pounds worth. One of the most difficult aspects of the arrival of the future ships company was the querying of many decisions which were arrived at after considerable debate, incessant repetition of `why wasn’t it done this way’ and attempts to divert Dockyard labour for purposes other than those they were strictly scheduled to do by the Dockyard Planning Office. Okay at Devonport, Auckland, but chaos in Devonport U.K. At last commissioning and a quick trip to Torquay before sailing for Gib and Malta for work up. Una and the boys were left in the tender care of Doug Harris in New Zealand House to get them on to RMS Rangitoto for the trip home, while I travelled Grey Funnel. Belfast was now in line for the type of modifications we had successfully undergone and even being twice the size of Royalist, still had problems squeezing a quart pot in ! A pretty hefty `set to work’ programme was the order of the day for days to follow, culminating in a Med Fleet Exercise in which the FPS 5 gunnery system, enthusiastically manned by the RNZN, proved its superiority over all others. A quick jolly to Messina in Naples and then back to Malta. Then off to Suez but not to transit the canal on the way home, but to act as Air Control Ship for the Anglo French assault on Port Said. Despite emphatic denials by the New Zealand Prime Minister, Sid Holland, there we were again in a full blooded air-sea operation. The RN had no choice, we had the most modern action information and air direction lay out in the Med and had to be used until Belfast who had been rushed through a modernization, arrived to relieve us. Egyptian MTB’s were known to be active in the area between Crete and Port Said. We detected fast moving targets closing one Aircraft Carrier and two Fleet Tankers at high speed in an initial range of 3- to 40,000 yards. Time was about 2100 from memory and we engaged these targets in blind fire straddling them as observed on the fall of shot PPIs. The targets veered away at even higher speed and despite our revs for 30 knots, we lost contact. Thus we were the only vessel as far as is known to engage a surface target during the Suez operation, although at the wash up afterwards, the theory was put forward that the targets engaged were probably small willy-nilly weather disturbances because of their speed of dispersal ! Having been relieved by Belfast we did our best to emulate a willy-nilly back to Malta to refuel, then Gib for the same reasons at 29 knots, out of the Med and south west to Freetown in Sierra Leone and thence Simonstown where we arrived with empty tanks. Twenty knots to Mauritius and then fourteen knots to Perth followed by Hobart and home. Barney (Commander (E) Barnett) did wonders with the black gang to coax the maximum knots consistent with not running out of fuel on that trip home from the Eastern Med. We arrived Auckland on the 20th of December 1956. I was posted from Royalist to the job of Base Electrical Officer early `57 where I was responsible for the radio, radar and electrical efficiency in all sea going units and shore establishments under the control of Commodore Auckland and amounted to all of the RNZN. Inspections, Dockyard refits, harbour and sea trials plus renewal of the ageing DG and Noise ranges. The latter were time consuming and governed by weather, but furthered my diving abilities and cut out middlemen reports. A fair old amount of paper bashing was involved, most of which was done at home allowing the desk to accumulate paper while the practical side of the job was being attended to. Promoted Lieutenant Commander (L) a year later. Back to Royalist as Acting Commander a year later where I felt more at home (but saw less of home). The Ordinance Branch and the Weapon Mechanic Branch were created to replace the old QO and QA Ratings (qualified Ordinance and Qualified Armourers). The overall branch became the WE Branch embracing radio, radar, electrical and ordinance. Promotion to the confirmed rank of Commander Engineering (L) came in December `62. The most interesting innovation in this period was the decision to send Royalist to Pearl Harbour to work up and be inspected by USN Fleet Training Groups based in San Diego. An international challenge of some magnitude ! They were good. Specialist senior ratings and officers were selected for this task. However differences in phraseology, construction, power distribution and weaponry needed solving. This was accomplished with the minimum of confusion and a good spirit of co-operation making the USN and the RNZN both happy with the final result. Both sides learned a great deal from this trial which was to continue in later years. The work up was the hardest I have ever experienced. The USN objective was to kill the ship completely so that she was dead in the water, armaments and all. Heads of Departments were made early casualties and could not interrupt unless machinery or safety of crew were imperilled. The main generators were tripped off the main switchboard requiring reductions of least essential loads to keep the ship steaming and capable of at least self defence. At times the main switchboard was left manned only by an EM2 who might have only been in the ship a few weeks, but was rising to the occasion as though this type of disruption was an every day part of his life ! The USN tried hard but didn’t bring the ship to a halt, or disrupt our fighting capabilities. After Pearl Harbour we showed the `flag’ in Canada and West American ports and then home with a Far Eastern spell to follow. The RN were critical of our USN work up, but that Far Eastern spell went from strength to strength and I think that we proved a point that a work up is a work up regardless of where it takes place or who the testing team is, RN or USN.
At the start of the next Far Eastern Commission Dave Nelson relieved me in Brisbane and I was posted in turn to the Australian Naval Training Establishment in Sydney and Melbourne, then to Navy Office for briefing on my next posting which was to be the CO of HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihe Island.
Back to the training establishment. Having joined as a Seaman Boy at 15, moved through lower deck ratings to Chief Petty Officer, for three years, qualified warrant rank and promoted 1948, Senior Commissioned Officer in 1952, Lieutenant in 1953, Lieutenant Commander in 1958 finally to Commander in 1962, and awarded the MBE in the same year, it seems as though you didn’t sit still for very long Jack.
Blame it on our initial training as Seaman Boys, opportunities and accelerated advancement during the War, plus a changing Navy and a lot of luck. One regret was that the Fleet Air Arm dream was stonkered before the War when Telegraphists were banned from transferring to Telegraphist Air Gunner and Diving. My flying in the Service ended in Malta when we were guests of the RAF by a New Zealand Flight Lieutenant Snowy McKee to partake of greeting the sunrise at 0400 from Luga airfield in a meteor Mk VIII and be back on board Royalist for breakfast. The right way to start a day at 35,000 feet watching the sun creep across the Island !
Conversion from Siebe Gorman hard hat to CABA had to wait until `59. One of the disadvantages of the Engineering (L) Branch (to give its proper title, the Weapons Electrical Branch) was the distancing of the Branch from the Seamen, although some 80% of the maintenance task was on equipment manned by Seaman, i.e. gunnery, TAS and air direction/plotting. To maintain our equipment a thorough user knowledge is absolutely necessary, and a very good spirit of co-operation developed. As an example of this belief I gained my Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate in Royalist in `62 and there after kept the morning watch at sea in the Royalist, Otago and Blackpool from 0400 to 0800. `Finger fault’ malfunctions calling out maintenance staff ceased during those hours when the workload more often than not saw those personnel working well into the small hours after the days exercises had finished, ready for the following days exercises. Three maxims, drummed in to us by our father who was as much an engineer as he was a schoolteacher, served me well in the Navy and subsequent civilian life. (1) Never leave until tomorrow what can be done today, (2) Anything built by human hands can be dismantled and repaired by humans, and (3) If there are no tools suitable for the job make them. These principals were put to the test in one way and another as a daily occurrence in the Navy.
After leaving Royalist in Brisbane, doing a quick tour around RAN training establishments, you took up your appointment as the Commanding Officer HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihe Island in the Hauraki Gulf. As a fifteen year old, you had undergone training in the old Philomel training ship. Can you give me some impressions of the new training regime as you found it on appointment.
I had been briefed in Navy Office that Tamaki was to shift to a new locality, although at that time it was not decided whether it was to be Hobsonville or Fort Cautley in Devonport. This shift had been on the cards for a number of years and never came to fruition. Shortly before I took up the appointment I was told by 2NM that I would have to “live in” in C.O.’s quarters at Motuihe. This did not please my predecessor over much as he had expected to stay on in the quarters until the shift took place. Waiting for a decision as to where Tamaki was to go, I concentrated on the training programmes. Lieutenant Commander Roy Williams RNZN (later lost at sea) was First Lieutenant and Training Officer. A number of Training Staff Officers had married quarters on the Island, the remainder plus Chiefs and Petty Officer Instructors commuted from Auckland by ML manned and run by Tamaki. Duty Officers and Instructors were quartered in the Wardroom and Chief and Petty Officers Messes. Weather played an important part in the amount of instructional time available to trainees. Trainees were employed on many extraneous duties such as gardening, helping out in the Officer’s residences and all in all had departed a far cry from the intense training programmes we had survived in earlier years. The `crime’ rate was high and supervision was difficult with the dormitories spread over the western part of the Island out to Cemetery Point. Commercial Traders travelled at whim to the Island using Tamaki boats and stationed themselves in the Quartermaster’s Lobby, using the PA system to summon trainees to attend. Insurance Reps were the biggest offenders, badgering trainees into buying policies and to sign allotment deductions from their pay. One such Rep had topped insurance sales to New Zealand by sitting in the Quartermasters Lobby. Easy pickings and guaranteed repayments. All Traders were banned from travelling on Service transport unless prior permission was obtained and total restriction placed on the use of the PA system. A separate room was set aside for Traders on Sunday afternoons only and use of that was restricted to prior permission being obtained.
With regard to the future Dean Eyre, Minister of Defence, was intimately associated with the decision. After informing the Army of his intention to look over Fort Cautley as a possible site for the new Tamaki, he arrived to find the only occupants of that Establishment were two Army Sergeants playing golf on the football field in their braces ! Of such stuff great decisions were made ! The sewerage system at Motuihe was getting very close to packing up altogether unless complete sections were dug up and renewed. The first inspection of the future site was discouraging. Overhead power lines dangled great strips of rotted insulation. Most of the poles needed renewal. The dormitories had not been maintained for years and the wiring was so sub standard as to be dangerous. There was no useable furniture in any of the dormitories and galley equipment was old and 50% unserviceable. The sullage traps under the floor of the galley were blocked and flooded, completely unsanitary rendering the galley useless unless rectified. Lieutenant Commander Eddie Blakiston, our Supply Officer, was disheartened to say the least by what was going to be a mammoth task ahead. He reckoned without the unstinted co-operation that we were going to get from Ministry of Works and the Dockyard. The Navy in the Auckland Command were divided, some for and some against the shift, some 60 – 40. The Directive was clear. At the end of the current term at Motuihe, Tamaki would shift to Fort Cautley during the two week break before the next intake of 440 trainees, 440 being the greatest number of trainees ever entered into the RNZN before, and I think since. All equipment at Motuihe was to shift to the new site. Eddie took a complete inventory of Motuihe. No furniture was movable being all Borer infested and Devonport Borough Council By-Laws prohibited Borer infested wood in the borough. New steel bunks and furniture were ordered from Namco. Peter Baxter, the Works Liaison Officer in the Auckland Command spear headed Ministry of Works assistance although he hadn’t a clue where the money was going to come from. Jack Gladwell, Electrical Superintendent Auckland Area Ministry of Works took the electrical side under his wing, removed all the overhead wiring and poles and reticulated the complete system in concrete channels underground. All dormitories were rewired and new switchboards fitted. All old equipment was removed from the galley. Ministry of Works lifted the flooring of the galley, drained and re-laid the sullage system, the filthiest job of all. Floors were sanded, window and locks repaired and the painters moved in on the dormitories, offices and galley. Pads were laid for the galley equipment to come from Motuihe and the building rewired. Two or four additional dormitories arrived from Papakura Military Camp courtesy of Dick Webb (Lieutenant Colonel later Chief of Defence Staff) who was most co-operative where as his immediate superior was vehemently against the move and instigated a stream of ministerials to NZNB, all of which were dealt with without any problem. Any way by the time we received them, the action being complained about was already complete and a fait accompli. SNSO surveyed all the defective Borer material at Motuihe and checked the material to be transferred in advance of the shift. The Ministry of Works was standing by to shift the very good galley equipment from Motuihe as soon as we closed down and Dockyard was standing by to receive the mast for the removal of dry rot as soon as we delivered it. The Queen’s Harbourmaster had it. Lander (LST) checked out and SNSO had allocated the 7 ton trucks to be used. If Lander failed, the shift would have failed. There was no other way of moving all that equipment off the north and south beachheads.
The move started the night of the end of term parade, working the North or South beach on a rising tide so the beach could take the weight of the trucks and depending on the wind direction. Eight Ships Company and two fork-lifts manned the outgoing end and four at the Fort Cautley end. All tides had to be worked night and day. There was only one mishap when the Officer in Charge of the North beach tried to load the 10 ton wide diesel truck onto Lander when the tide was only half way out and the beach had not drained. Instead of saving time it cost us some six hours digging the truck out which was buried to about half way up the cab, laying the wooden track and using two other trucks to assist it to back out under its own power. A lesson learned but valuable time wasted and an exhausted beachhead crew. Only two infringements of authority occurred during the shift. I was sent for on the first or second day by Commodore Challis (COMAUCK) to explain why the white ensign was not flying over Tamaki. My reason – no mast – as it was being repaired in the Dockyard before being erected at Fort Cautley for a commissioning ceremony. As it was deemed essential that it should be flown, we mounted a cutter oar on the water tower and complied. The second occurred at 0230 in the morning when I was in the leading truck out of Lander making our way out of the West gate to unload at Fort Cautley. I was stopped by a Traffic Officer who stated that a complaint had been made about trucks coming out and into the Dockyard at all times of the night. The problem was explained but the delay nearly cost us the return trip back to the Island for re-loading on the next tide. A quick visit to the Town Clerk of the Devonport Borough Council to explain the position and we had no further problems with the truck noise. The new Tamaki was falling into shape in an amazing fashion, and again I cannot give enough praise to the Ministry of Works and Dockyard. Trainees doing a further term started returning from leave and employed with their Class Instructors at the Island clearing the last remnants and giving the now empty buildings a complete muck out. As soon as Lander had finished the main part of the shift, she was employed under the supervision of the SNSO Disposal Officers in moving all the condemned furniture on to the Islington Bay Depot where it was burnt on the concrete ramp. The galley was operational, the dormitories shining and newly painted, the bathrooms and washplaces ditto, and parade ground and roads re-sealed and the Ships Office and Training Office was set up and working. The two new dormitories were going to be late but only 40 of the new entries of 440 would have to have temporary accommodation in tents loaned from the Army. The mast however had more rot than just a repair job and the lower section had to be renewed with a delay of about a fortnight. COMAUCK agreed that we should delay commissioning until the mast was up and the new entry kitted up. That gave us time to build a Quartermaster’s Lobby and install a boom gate inside the entrance and erect the archway over the main gate proclaiming to all and sundry that this was HMNZS Tamaki Royal New Zealand Navy Training Establishment all of which is exactly the same today.
I had one Officer who showed distinct signs of being unhappy about the move, Padre Taylor. After personally repacking his beloved stained class windows and Chapel paraphernalia I suggested that he should go on leave. This he did looking a little glum. As soon as he had gone, we unpacked all his gear and converted the Army Band room into a combined Band room and Chapel along the same lines as his old Chapel at Motuihe. As we couldn’t cut holes in the wall we mounted the stained class windows on the walls and fixed fluorescent tubes behind them. The Altar was laid out exactly as at Motuihe. He reported to me on return from leave and I suggested that he check his gear over in the Band room in case it had been damaged in the shift. Result, one very radiant Senior Padre.
With the new intake in full swing there was little time for less urgent matters to be attended to. The first priority were our boats, 3 Cutters, 8 Whalers and a number of Dinghies and 1 motor boat. A convivial lunch with Reg Savoury, Chairman of the Auckland Harbour Board disclosed that the Harbour Board were not enamoured with their sharing of the jetty at Torpedo Bay, no security, not sharing the maintenance and countless occasions when the Pilot Boats had their propellers fouled by fishing lines. Vandalism was also rife. I raised the necessary request to NZNB via COMAUCK and let QHM and the Boatswain of the Yard, Lieutenant Algie Walton (20th Boys) in on the play. The answer was in the affirmative, in less than a week a record ! and the following day the first of the mooring buoys were laid. Four days later all the boats had been towed down from Motuihe and set up on the new moorings and Lander shifted all the boat gear into the boatshed alongside the wharf. A security guard was allocated to the renovated guardhouse and the gate closed to the public. Auckland Harbour Board were happy and we now had 95% of Motuihe established on the mainland as directed. We were short only of a gym which would have to be built. The Army Bandmaster, Lieutenant Smythe again came to the rescue and offered in addition to the Chapel, use of the Band room during daylight hours as a gym, as he used it only at night two or three times per week.
How did you get on with the Army during the move and afterwards ?
Brigadier Pleasants, Officer Commanding Northern Military Districts opposed our every move. He lived in an Army house on the Northern border of the Parade ground of the new Tamaki. He interfered with Instructors on the parade ground and trainees, especially in the forenoon before departing for his Headquarters in Quay Street, Auckland. He complained about noise, morning colours at 0800, and was continually on the look out from his house for grounds to lodge a complaint to Army in Wellington. As my memory serves me, some 16 Ministerials were served on me, most if not all were instigated by O.C. Northern Military Districts. One in particular illustrates the petty nature of these complaints. It stated that we were guilty of inhumane treatment of a Naval Rating who had been forced to stand at attention on the southern side of the parade ground for a period exceeding 24 hours in the summer sun, and through the night. The `rating’ in question was a life-size photograph of Petty Officer G.I. Mayer wearing Seaman’s rig to illustrate correct form of dress for the benefit of the trainees.
Colonel Graham Diggle Chief of Staff to Officer Commanding Northern Military Districts (later relieved by Dick Webb) was co-operative but at times was over ruled by Officer Commanding Northern Districts.
Colonel Dick Webb Chief of Staff to Officer Commanding Northern Districts was very co-operative in all respects and gave decisions on the spot on any of the odd problems which cropped up. Lieutenant Joe Hanvey, Officer Commanding Fort Cautley, nearing the end of his time in the Army, co-operated at all times, and was a wealth of history and happiness in the area. He entered into the spirit of a renewed military use of a disused establishment.
Lieutenant Connery who had a son in the Navy doing an REA Apprentice Course in the U.K., had a very similar outlook to Joe Hanvey, and also proved a hive of information. Both these Officers were our every day contacts with the Army.
The Combined Officers Mess was a First Class Mess, more in the nature of an exclusive Club. Other than 3 or 4 `livers in’ at breakfast there were no signs of Army activity until lunch when a varying number of Officers from NMD arrived by Army cars and departed 1300 – 1330. The Chief of Staff to NMD was the President of the Mess and the various problems occasioned by the influx of the 12 or so Tamaki Officers was sorted out by Cedric Steward who had taken over from Roy Williams as No.1 and Training Officer. At first the Army stayed aloof and suspicious.
(end of Tape 5)
(beginning of Tape 6)
This did not last for long after conscious efforts by Cedric and our Officers, plus the rejuvenated military atmosphere of nearly 500 trainees closed the gap. They were at first irked by the total security measures governed by our QM and our internal gate but gradually became used to it. Chiefs and Petty Officers messed in the Sergeants Mess whose President was a Regimental Sergeant Major from Northern Military Districts and the Vice President was Chief Petty Officer G.I. Jack Baigent, Tamaki’s Chief Instructor (22nd Boys). This Mess ran like a charm with very few problems. Obvious professionalism won the day !
Three months after we had vacated Motuihe in good order and a state of cleanliness, Tom Pearce paid a visit to the Island in his boat `Cachalot’, crushed his dinghy going alongside the jetty and made a scathing report to the press and the Auckland City Council in his capacity as a City Councillor, stating that the Navy had left the Island in a state of filth. Vandals had wrecked the buildings and really made a mess of the place. The resident farmer backed our statement that we had left the Island in good order and spotless. However, it left a nasty taste in the mouth. I was refitting the model of an 18th century hundred gun-ship-of-the-line at home at the time, and so decided to make an extra long boat model, 2 and a half inches long. This was presented to Tom Pearce at an Auckland City Council function to replace `Cachalot’s’ dinghy with the hope that it would be more robust that its predecessor, “compliments of the Commanding Officer HMNZS Tamaki”.
After Tamaki you were appoint to COMAUCK as Chief Staff Officer Technical.
That is correct. I would have liked to finish the job, there was still a gym and school to get off the drawing board and into something more tangible. However now the place was established on the mainland, money restrictions began to drastically slow the completion. I turned over to Commander Joe Quinn (20th Boys). In addition to now carrying Base Electrical responsibilities the new CSO(T) put the onus on all technical work. Dockyard, Marine, Sea and Harbour Trials, DG and Noise Ranges, for the RNZN less Navy Office, Wellington. Also Works and long term Planning. Weather reporting ships (Loch Class Frigates) were always a problem well past their prime from all engineering aspects and their problems came thick and fast. Operating in the roaring forties was not kind to ships or crews. They were essential to flights from Christchurch to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, both RNZAF and USN aircraft. Works consisted of sorting out all the minor work schedules submitted by shore establishments into order of priority to fit in with a limited budget. Tamaki now being a going concern had to take its turn with the rest, having had an open sesame during the shifting period. Long term planning was an ongoing estimate of the foreseeable future and was particularly difficult in the Dockyard and Philomel areas where space was already at the point of saturation. Dockyard wanted Philomel out of the area to allow the Yard to spread eastwards, to allow for a slipway and small boat maintenance area. Tidal and prevailing wind charts soon showed that such a slipway could only be used 40% or less of the time. A chance sighting of an article on synchrolifts in an American magazine and a request for further full information solved the slipway problem at a fraction of the cost and it was finally built and commissioned in the early seventies when money became available the existing slipway was unable to slip a new patrol craft. Built on the now disused Lander ship site the synchrolift made more room at the western end of the yard. Demolition of some of the old machine shop created room for the more modern weapons and fire control shops to service Otago and Leander Class Frigates. New AC shore supplies were set into the cliff ahead of the Dock and reticulated to the jetties. The new wharf was now on hold due to lack of money. It was eventually built in `89-`90. Expanded training in Tamaki needed Artificer workshops and additional accommodation, ditto Midshipman training, all demanded hours of work by Mr Sturmer and self, mostly at night roughing out plans on the lounge floor at home to be turned into discussible plans by Mr Sturmer Ministry at Works Drawing Office in Auckland, and to be wholly or partly rejected at a dozen and one meetings. Sandwiched in between all this seemingly endless task were the ship trials and inspections, pre-refit trials, refit conferences, shore establishment inspections, and sea acceptance trials, all generating mountains of paper work. The dreaded appointment arrived in late `65, Navy Office. At the same time Dave Nelson was appointed to Otago. He wanted Navy Office and I for sure did not. I knew what I was doing, throwing away the chance to become DNLD and to become a desk wallah for the rest of my Service life. Not for me ! a swap of appointments was arranged and I joined Otago in January 1966, for another Pearl Harbour work up and another Far East Commission, and Dave went to Navy Office, Wellington.
I had now been married for 26 years, and was 47 years of age. The nomad type of existence my family had been forced to live was beginning to pall. Our first house in Mairangi Bay had lasted for 4 years until being forced to sell to take up the Tamaki appointment as ordered. Before sailing on Otago we purchased our first home in Ngataringa Road. It was time to settle for good and all ! A good run through the Fleet Training Groups best efforts in Pearl and then via Guam and Borneo to Singapore. With the Indonesian confrontation in force we patrolled the Straits of Malacca alternating with Hickleton and Santon and although eyeball to eyeball at times with the opposition our patrols were without incident. Then Bangkok and Hong Kong where we had to have a boiler retubed. Fleet Exercises followed in the South China Sea and off Northern Borneo, Singapore and then Auckland for a refit, and replacement for a damaged bow. One high point of this commission was the live firing of the Seacat missile system during the work up Training Group in Pearl Harbour. Three drone aircraft were downed with 3 missiles, fired without explosive heads, but only two were credited as the 3rd aircraft was recovered with one wing only destroyed. We were astonished to be told by the Fleet Training Group that this was the first live firing of a missile system at Pearl. The low point was personal. I was thrown violently by the ship turning at speed in the heavy swell off the entrance to Peal Harbour tearing the ligaments in my upper right arm. With the arm in a sling for the next 3 months was not the most comfortable way of spending life at sea but at least I managed to improve my left arm capabilities ! Twelve months later while we were under refit in Auckland, the RNZN Naval Bone Surgeon restored my defective arm to about 90% of its former state with a series of Cortisone treatments.
Come mid `67 the Navy Office appointment again reared its ugly head. Blackpool had just arrived in New Zealand after commissioning in U.K., 6 months on the Far East Station. Dave Nelson who had managed to escape from Navy Office to be WEO of Blackpool to bring her out to the RNZN wanted to get back to Wellington where he now had his home. Duly arranged I joined Blackpool being driven by Commander Joe Quinn (20th Boys). Blackpool was the last of the of the Whitby Class Frigates built in the RN and had had an 18 month refit in Chatham Dockyard in `63 – `64. Commissioned in the RNZN in June `66 she bought with her from the RN a history of problems, a large number which were sorted out by her RNZN crew on the delivery voyage to New Zealand via the Far East. We were the roustabout Frigate, a poor relative of Otago and Taranaki and infinitely inferior to Waikato. What we lacked in sophistication we more than made up for in vim and dash and enthusiasm of a crew led by Joe Quinn (seat of the pants Joe) and the ability to be detailed for any task instantly and without excuses. Also she was lighter and faster than a more modern Rothesay or Leander Class. Lieutenant Commander Bill Watson, the Marine Engineer Officer, always managed to produce that little bit extra from those turbines of his to give her the dash for which she became renowned. Here we had another Agincourt with a Team which pulled together to get the maximum effort and result.
On the WE side the outstanding problems not completed by the commission staff were tackled with gusto. A ship safety problem of not being able to synchronize all main alternators and the diesels from one switchboard without having to close up staff at each local switchboard was cumbersome, slow and gave great potential for error. Such an error could bring the ship to a grinding halt in the water. Checking all the associated wiring through the ship and comparing with the none too adequate drawings held, we found a group of junction boxes where the wiring had not been completed at the refit carried out in Chatham Dockyard in 1963-64. Hey presto ! – after completing the system we now had proper and reliable control. Three weeks tracing, checking and double checking well spent !
The performance the gunnery system and sonar equipments were marginal in their performance and these were checked and re-checked until tuning records were brought into tolerance. Gradually over weeks of work more often than not at night when exercises had wrapped up until the following day, progress was made. AA shoots measured in TTBs (Target Triggered Bursts) improved, enthusiasm of user and maintainer increased. Sonar ranges were improved and `on top’ mortar firings gave overall proof to the complete system. Eventually we could hold our own and be better at times than our more modern counterparts, even Waikato with her MRS3 gunnery system, and the then new, solid state technology in all aspects of the electronic equipment. Fifteen months of hard work which in the end, gave an immense amount of satisfaction to both myself and staff helped to convert a pigs ear into a sows purse to the stage where Blackpool ranked with the best. She will always be linked in my estimation with the Agincourt and the RN where leadership and ship handling from the Captain spread throughout the ships company, user and maintainer alike. My final task at sea came at the explosive anchorage at Motuihe when Commander Derek Cheney who had relieved Joe, turned to me on the Bridge and said “take her to sea `L’ via Rakino Passage”. I appreciated that small thought !
On arrival at Auckland I took up my new appointment as Commanding Officer Taranaki where she was in the Basin being destored and readied for a rebuilt conversion of her propulsion machinery from steam to gas turbine. She was in full commission with reduced complement, a not a very satisfactory arrangement. However it did not last long, on my 49th birthday I took up the appointment as Posting Commander on the Staff of COMAUCK. I immediately found I had a battle royal on my plate. Led by a Brigadier in the Defence Department, a move was underway to combine all Army, Navy and Air Force postings in one office, computer controlled, in Wellington and was almost a fait accompli. With COMAUCK’s blessing I visited Army and RNZAF posting authorities and amassed as much reasoning as possible to oppose this combination. I was totally convinced that the manning of the RNZN could not be done by some faceless clerks using computer runouts at a remote distance from 95% of where the action was needed. Navy posting did not follow any mathematical equation. Neither did Navy wives and families, they were already at a disadvantage compared with Army and Air Force, in that virtually all Army and Air overseas postings were accompanied, and even a change of base within New Zealand sometimes took several months to come to fruition while accommodation was juggled for their families. Human beings are the mainstay of an efficient ship, not a floppy disc shoved into the jaw of a number cruncher. Total bureaucracy operated by a high ranking Officer at Defence Headquarters seemed to have over ruled common sense, and naval backing of the status quo grew to the point where the complete scheme was put back into the melting pot, eventually to be put on extended hold in my remaining time in the Navy. I hope that it is still so ! My time in the Navy was in its 35th year and drawing to a close when I was offered the possibility of secondment to the Singaporean Navy with the hint of four rings. Una and I had been married for 30 years and she had given me unstinted support in all our decisions. Although the proposed task could be accompanied, the climate in Singapore was considered to be unsuitable for her state of health what at that time was causing concern. So I opted out, and was placed on the retirement list at the age of 50.
Well, we are getting to the end of your career. Were there any high points which stand out in your memory, and any low ones also ?
The high point would have occurred in the Wellington Town Hall after receiving the MBE from Her Majesty the Queen. That was the chance to introduce my father, wife and boy to Her Majesty on completion of the ceremony. To me it was a vindication of a 15 year olds decision to join the Navy.
The low was in fact 100 odd feet under the surface at Whangaparaoa Peninsular working on our DG range where some vessel had fouled the range and dragged it several hundred yards to the south out of position. The interconnecting cables had to be cut and the range recovered for repair in the Dockyard. In hard hat rig because of the tide rip, I had cut through two of the heavy two inch armoured cables when the twisted coils whipped back and pinned my airline to the bottom. I still had air and the phone line to Manawanui and reported the position to Lieutenant Commander Wickman telling him I only had two hacksaw blades left to start cutting my way out. Thirty minutes later after three cuts I was down to my last blade when AB Dickens arrived in the gloom and started to work from the opposite side. He had a good supply of new blades and we freed the line after about another 45 minutes and retired to our stops where we decompressed for close on three hours. Then inboard and a most welcome tot whilst thawing out. That was a low not to be repeated.
I agree with you. I have one last question for you. If you were starting your life over again would you join the Navy again ?
That question would be easy to answer if it was the same Navy that I joined at the time, yes I would join. Everything neat, clean cut and within reach of the walls comprising the Naval Base, Ships Dockyard and training facilities. Whether one would join a modern Navy with new ideas, run by faceless public servants from a remote location where decisions are made by people or floppy discs who do not have the remotest idea of what a ship does or even looks like, would take a bit of getting used to, and my impression is that it would not work efficiently. However it would probably still be worth a go even if one had to struggle to get things back to the way they used to be. I think World War II showed that we can foot it with the best even if a certain valuable asset is no longer with us to bolster our equipment supplies ! The sea is still the challenge and the ships may alter but the answer would be yes.
A fair answer. And after you retired where then ?
To Electronic Navigation Ltd as Manager with one ex RNZN employee and one office girl part time. The turn over after tax about $3,000 a year. ENL was started on the North Shore in 1938 and reformed under the present name in 1947 after World War II. Manufacturing radio and D/F equipment and fitting Decca radar, maintenance of overseas vessels and local fishing vessels. Import Licensing and time against cost problems were mastered with a struggle and we looked for better equipment than that being fitted at present. Most equipment seemed to be supplied with the object of keeping maintainers busy and was unreliable, bulky and spares, mostly `inhouse’ were impossible to obtain. An International Firm provided our answer. Furuno, new state of the art, commercial quality, medium cost and totally reliable equipments were available with quick delivery and spares backing. We ditched our British and German suppliers and took a gamble. The new solid state equipments took off like a rocket. We provided equipment, tuition on use and accompanied them on sea trials. Staff increased to four, all ex Navy including one Dutch Navy. Office staff doubled full time. Fishing exports jumped from about 15 million dollars in 1973 to $100 million by 1975-76. We fitted radars, sonars, weather FAX and satellite navigation systems all with a 100% reputation for reliability. By 1978 we had 75% of the fishing industry fitted with totally reliable equipment. Export earnings multiplied. Staff were now seven and agents were established in every major fishing port in New Zealand. Installations were done to Navy standards which contributed towards the low maintenance load. New vessels were built in New Zealand and overseas both big and small, but they invariably specified our equipments, as did an increasing number of luxury vessels and yachts being built in New Zealand yards for overseas buyers. The Navy were supplied with D/F’s and radar. The first ever multi beam scanning sonar was fitted in 1975, the first in the Southern Hemisphere and cost not much less than $100,000. The owner reported that it had paid for itself in five months. In sixteen years no maintenance has been required. Value for money – there was never had any necessity to advertise ! Ten years later in 1980 after 10 years with the number of days off accountable on the fingers of one hand, at the age of sixty I decided that it was time to delegate and made Ex Warrant Radio Electrical Artificer Mike Hodson, Manager of ENL, and retired after stocking our new computer system with our spares holdings which were becoming too large to account for handraulically. Una’s health was not improving so I continued doing the odd ultra-sonic salvage and repair job for the firm in my own home workshop. All the company’s shares had been called in and were now under the ownership of members of the staff, a particular point which I very much wanted to implement. All the earnings of ENL were now in the hands of the staff who did the work, and I no longer hold any shares. Twelve years on, I help out by programming the single side band radio telephones as they come from the manufacturer and the GPS (Global Positioning Systems) equipments when necessary as in the Gulf War when parameters were changed for security purposes. It helped me to keep my hand in.
How would you summarize your 35 years in the Navy and 12 years in or closely associated with the electronic industry, totalling nearly forty seven years in all ?
Basically one must be motivated by the will to learn which is aided to a considerable degree by understanding the user’s problems. This can only be done by becoming a user as well as a maintainer. To be an expert in ones field one must comprehend what is going on behind the panels for a particular input on front controls. It was this firmly held belief which did not make me hesitate when the Communication Branch was split into user and maintainer in 1948, in changing over to the engineering side. Team work and ship spirit installed during training as youngsters was also a vital factor, coupled with an aversion to see any item of equipment however minor, remain in a state of disrepair for a minute longer than necessary. To ask for assistance outside the ship was a humiliating experience but had to be tempered with common sense. At the commencement of World War II the number of vessels suitable for requisition as auxiliary vessels amounted to half a dozen old Scottish type steam trawlers well past their day for continuous steaming, and requiring twelve or so crew members to man. To day, should an emergency arise, we would have 30 to 40 large modern steel trawlers with a surface speed of 12 knots plus, manned by 5 to 6 crew and equipped with the most modern sonar and capable of operating in the anti submarine mode, 40 to 100 mile radar, GPS systems and with engine rooms designed to operate continuously unattended without a qualified engineer in the crew. The latest single side band radio and weather FAX fitted. Up to another 50 or 60 vessels of similar size could easily be converted to the same specifications in a very short period of time. I believe these to be a National Defence asset which are engaged at present earning New Zealanders $300 million exports from the fishing industry.
Another aspect of naval training is its breadth and scope. civilian training tends to teach only one aspect of electronics whilst ex Naval technicians cover the field from radar and sonar through the range to Gyro compasses, more than civilian expertise. Above all they have the team spirit and camaraderie necessary to promote confidence and goodwill. I have yet to meet an ex Naval rating who has taken his time in the competitive world who has not done well or lost his sense of humour.
Well Jack I would just like to thank you sincerely, you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to prepare yourself for this interview, trying to remember the high points of your life in the service and I am grateful for that. You had a reputation for, shall we say, technical innovation a `do it yourselfer’, and I think that several of the episodes that you have referred to in the interview illustrate that. You were a “lets get the bloody thing working” sort of guy and worry about the paper work later to the good of the ship whether Royal Navy or Royal New Zealand Navy. You had a very successful naval career from Seaman Boy 2nd Class to Commander, not many people have done that, and you have also had a successful business life after leaving the Navy. I am grateful to you for your time and for sharing your naval experiences with me.
(end of interview)