CPO Radio Supervisor Tony Woolford – Memories

These are Chief Petty Officer Radio Supervisor Tony Woolford NZV 329082 memories of his time in the RNZNVR as a member of the Communications Branch.   Recorded 8 October 2010.

I was in the 5th intake of Compulsory Naval Ratings (CNR’s) which for obvious reasons had just been changed from Compulsory Naval Trainees (CNT’s).  I did the mandatory 14 weeks basic training at HMNZS TAMAKI on Motuihi Island September – December 1951.

I had been at Tamaki for only a week or so when I was called on by the ship’s doctor. He had advised the Navy Hospital had been going through my medical records and Surgeon Captain McPhail would like to see me in Philomel. So I went up on the regular ML trip accompanied by the doctor. I was taken to the hospital and appeared before the Surgeon Captain and several other senior medical staff. Apparently being knock-kneed was a cause for concern especially if I had to do any climbing of the masts or ladders etc; . I stripped down to my underpants and had to walk up and down the room several times. I was thanked and told to wait outside while a discussion took place. Eventually I was called in and much to my relief was told I was borderline but could stay in the service. I feel that they would never have regretted that decision.

Our day at TAMAKI started with wakey wakey at 6am and rolled out of our hammocks, stowed them away and proceeded to the parade ground for our run down the Island. I was fortunate as being a little tubby and a straggler the PTI would often say “OK you can turn around now otherwise you will be late for breakfast” while most ran to the end of the island. Often it was in for a quick swim in the cold sea if it was a fine morning and on the whim of our PTI.

After a shower and breakfast it was duty time before classes commenced. I was allocated to clean the Petty Officer Instructors cabin every morning while they were still asleep. Trying to sweep and dust without waking any of them was quite a challenge however they probably had hit the bottle the night before as I was generally successful. I can remember three who had come out on transfer from the RN with their families and decided to sign on with the RNZN. John Barnes (mentioned later) Jock Peacock and Harry Ellis our instructor for Cook2 dormitory.

One of our lads was or thought he was a hypnotist and took some of us gullible trainees into the Gym one evening for a trial run.  However as we were getting underway the door burst open with the OOW asking “What is going on”.  After being told he said “If you have got spare time lets use it profitably.” Sent for the duty PTI and we underwent a ½ hour physical training exercise in the gym. We had a good sleep that night.

We also had a lad who was averse to washing himself and his kit. One morning we took him into the showers, with his dirty clothes, made him strip, shower and wash his gear. There was no more trouble after that.

One day we went sailing in the cutter and I was placed in the bow. The wind dropped and with the strong current in the Motuihi channel we had to row. I couldn’t handle the large oar and broke it in process of trying to raise it. I was quite unpopular with our instructor. PO Ellis who said that was the first time that had happened to him and he would get chastised by the other instructors on return. Still he never held it against me.

We had a games day with the RNZAF CMT’s at Hobsonville and were taken there by one of our Fairmiles. Abeam of Kauri Point our coxain took us round the wrong side of port marker, hitting the reef and damaged a propeller. We limped into Hobsonville a little late and naturally received some uncomplimentary remarks from the Air force. The fairmile made its way back to the naval base and when the games were completed the Air Force generously took us back to Tamaki in one of their 30 knot rescue boats. That was something to enjoy.

Then came the time for sea training at the end of our 3 months on the “rock”. We all went on board the HMNZS Kiwi at the naval base in the evening for an 8 o’clock departure next day. That is all except me. I had to sling my hammock outside in the cold wind and caught a nasty cold. I was drafted to the Naval Hospital for a week and my cure was to drink a glass of water every hour until I became bloated. A good rest but all male SBA’s. I finally did my weeks training on the next Kiwi draft. We were going into anchor at Tryphena and I volunteered to knock the shackle off. First try – missed. Second try missed again. Lt/Cdr Vallant was just about to order Full Astern when on my third try I succeeded and the anchor went overboard.

I enjoyed my time under training at Tamaki as we all got on well together, learnt discipline, became fit and worked as a team. Some of us kept in contact for several years reminiscing on the good and not so good times.

In March 1952, I reported to HMNZS NGAPONA on the southern side of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and fortunately after a preliminary examination was selected to join the Radio Branch.

We paraded for 39 weeks of the year with 1 week sea training for 3 years.  At that time the Navy wished to give priority to the Communications Branch and NGAPONA was soon joined by Chief Petty Officer Don Nichols who took on the task of training communications personnel posted to the ship.  The buntings were fortunate having Chief Yeoman Harry Moon and Yeoman Wiggy Bennett joining the Reserves from the Regular Force after war Service.  Our initial training commenced with learning and advancing our morse code reception up to 22 words per minute (wpm) and relevant communications procedures.  After a little begging CPO Nichols managed to extract from Naval Stores some B28 receivers which were issued for home use.  From September 1953 on every weekday morning at 6.30am we would log in on 3172 Kilo Cylcle’s (KC’s) to our callsign ZKC2 and would receive an 1/2 hours morse broadcast of newspaper items.

In the middle of winter of 1952 for our sea training we went down to HMNZS IRIRANGI.  HMNZS IRIRANGI was situated about 5 miles south of the Waiouru Township.  Travel was by train, which was fondly called the ‘Rattler’ which always arrived in the early morning.  Waiouru in the early morning in the middle of winter was not a pleasant place to be.  The train would be met by truck and a half frozen sailor who was never in a good mood to have to meet the train.

Our daily routine was to listen to some of the broadcasts available to build up our Morse speed. In the classroom we were taught naval signal procedures which we could practise on line communicating with each other. We were given a tour of the station and were told in “whispers” about NR1. This only wetted our appetite but it was never satisfied.

The Irirangi commander Lt/Cdr E C Thorne had an evening engagement and required a baby sitter for his 3 year old son Anthony. One of our sparkers volunteered and was the envy of us all when he told us next day that he had a virtual free run of the fridge and could enjoy the delights it contained. It was another training experience to be part of and we were eager to learn in a branch that offered lots of interesting opportunities.

We used to get up 10 minutes before the 8am bus transport to the Wireless Training Hut and our only break was on the Sunday when instead we went to the local Anglican Church to dedicate a ship’s bell.

Following our return from IRIRANGI, Chief Petty Officer Nichols departed from NGAPONA and we were lucky to have Chief Petty Officer Doug Bickley posted in as his replacement.  Chief Bickley was followed by another superior Chief Petty Officer Reg Haynes.  These Chiefs who have all now sadly crossed the bar and they provided us with an excellent Wireless Telegraphy (W/T) background.  On the departure of Chief Haynes the Navy decided that as I was  a Leading Telegraphist that I could continue training the sparkers who entered the RNZNVR via the CNR regime and this is was a task that I relished.

For my sea training in 1953 I was onboard HMNZS TUI for the Royal visit of the Gothic with Leading Telegraphist Jim Blackburn as the sparker. Another good instructor and instrumental in forming our present RNZN Communications Association.

In 1953 Ngapona had 5 personnel drafted to HMNZS Black Prince to be deployed to the UK for the Coronation Review of HM Queen Elizabeth second. One of these was Telegraphist Tom Skinner who was one of our class. Tom was in the 2nd CNR intake of 1950 and was the son of Sir Tom Skinner K.B.E. Head of the Federation of Labour. Tom was a keen sparker and we were pleased to see him chosen from our group. Unfortunately we did not get Tom back as on the voyage he enjoyed the life so much he signed on until 1961 going outside as a Leading Telegraphist. He served on the Royalist, Pukaki, Irirangi, Philomel and was an instructor at the Signal School. Tom today, lives at Orewa and still works as an Employment Relations Consultant.

In 1954 I was fortunate to be selected as a telegraphist on HMNZS BLACK PRINCE for a 2 month trip to the South Pacific Islands plus involvement carry out exercises with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).  We took the then Governor General of New Zealand Lieutenant General, Sir Charles Willoughby Moke Norrie and Lady Norrie to the various islands in the Cook Group and were originally scheduled to visit Tahiti but the Authorities were not too keen to have around 550 matelots ashore during the July Bastille Celebrations.  I was placed in a watch under LTEL John (Snow) Millson who was a good instructor and assisted me greatly in being assessed for my LTEL rate.  I was subsequently passed by the Communications Officer Lieutenant J D Gresson.

In 1955 according to my W/T Log which I still have, we were issued with a 5G Transmitter and given the callsigns ZKC21 – ZKC22 for a brief period.  These were later changed to ZLYA1 and 2 etc.  We continued using the network sometimes spasmodically depending on the sparkers available with the final link on 10 October 1964.

The RNZN in conjunction with the RAN Shared the T Class submarines based in Sydney and I was able to go on two separate day exercise trips on Tactician in 1953 and Telemachus in 1954. As an exercise a Boarding Party appeared so the Captain darkened the control room and as each sailor came down the ladder a bag was put over his head and he was bundled away.  There was no surrender that day.  After exercises were completed the submarine sparker let me send the surfacing signal which consisted only of GGGG and nothing else.

Also in 1955 we were steaming in our MLP3555 to Kawau for Easter weekend training and unfortunately we hit a reef close to Motuketekete Island ripping a large hold in the bottom.  This was my only time I had to call Auckland Radio with a Mayday.  We eventually got back to PHILOMEL next day after beaching and re floating with temporary repairs accompanied by HMNZS PAEA and towed stern first by the fleet Auxiliary tug ARATAKI.  That wasn’t my only grounding.  From time to time the four Reserve Motor Launches (ML’s) would go on exercises together.  On one occasion in the Hauraki Gulf while the skippers were having a meeting on one of the other ML’s and we were anchored in Islington Bay.  I was the Radio Operator on PAEA and the fast receding tide went unnoticed until too late.  We were left high and dry only held upright by some of the ships ropes tied to Pohutukawa trees on shore.

In the Compulsory Naval Reserve (CNR) era the Naval Board awarded prize money to each of the 4 divisions for General Excellence. The recipient was to choose his own reward. In 1957 as a Leading Telegraphist I received this honour and chose “A SAILORS ODYSSEY’ The autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Andrew Browne Cunningham of Hyndhope K.T G.C.B O.M. D.S.O. One main theme of the book was as Naval Commander-in-Chief he convoyed the British troops to Greece and later covered their evacuation. He also organised until the loss of vessels made it impossible to continue loading troops including some New Zealander’s from Crete to Alexandria. He died on 12 June 1963.

Promotion in the RNZNVR was quicker and easier than in the RNZN providing one was able to conscientiously put the time into training which  wasn’t easy when we had to hold down a daytime job as well.  In May 1957 I was passed for Petty Officer Telegraphist by Lieutenant Commander Edward (Iggy) Biggs who was the Signals Officer in PHILOMEL.

In 1958 with the abolition of Compulsory Military Training (CMT), HMNZS NGAPONA complement was reduced from 300 to 70.  A vigorous recruitment drive was initiated to obtain volunteers for the reserve to reach their full entitlement of 180.  This was initially successful with 74 new personnel from new recruits and CNR’s signing on.

(The photograph is of me as a POTEL teaching some O/TEL’s morse code after the abolution of of CMT in 1958. The O/TEL’s are L – R Legget, Poole, Peacock and Woolford (my brother).  The civilians in the background are parents invited by NGAPONA to view our training facilities.)

With the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge on 30 May 1959 most of NGAPONA’s crew lined up on both sides combined with other armed service personnel to greet the Governor General Sir Charles John Lyttelton, 10th Viscount Cobham who officially opening the bridge to traffic.

In 1962, I was promoted to Chief Petty officer Telegraphist with my main duties besides training sparkers was to train our officers to be able to use the ships radio when they went to sea.  Often due to low sparker numbers and with the ML going away most weekends for training no Radio Operators were available.

In 1963, saw the visit of  HM Queen Elizabeth II to New Zealand so I volunteered to join HMNZS ROYALIST to assist with the communications at Waitangi.  I was on the jetty as she came ashore and was able to announce her arrival for the waiting dignatories on the Treaty Ground.

Also In 1964, I was elected President of the Senior Rates mess for HMNZS Ngapona. We had about 20 members from a variety of branches plus a regulating CPO and a Chief Stoker for our ML P3555. It usually went to sea every 2nd week-end subject to crew availability for training Exercises. As mess President I instituted a monthly newsletter to all of our members to advise on happenings in Ngapona and the mess as we never had a full parade muster due to their civilian commitments. I had one major problem with a regular Chief who unsuccessfully tried to earn a little income on the side by supposedly becoming an agent for Nestlé. The sales were so slow that one of our officers who worked for Nestlés wanted their outstanding accounts paid. It was not really a mess problem but I approached the 1st lieutenant for advice. It was still ongoing when my year as President was over so I was able to “pass the buck”.

(Behind the bar is me – then CPO Mechanician Jim Thomas- next  can’t remember possibly  – Chief Electrician “Woff” Wheeler – lastly Chief Electrician Bob Harvey.)

I enjoyed my term but with the bar being open each parade night some
members liked to stay late which didn’t suit me with a busy work day
commencing the next morning. Luckily I had a good secretary who didn’t mind supervising and locking up to let me go earlier.

1964 was also a proud year from me when I was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to NGAPONA.  I was invested by Sir Bernard Fergusson.

In 1966 we had the honour of taking the Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson to Hauturu (Little Barrier) for a weekend visit and stay.  The reason being that his father Sir Charles Fergusson as a previous Governor General had taken him when he was a lad and he wanted to do the same for his son George.  George came back to NZ as the British High Commissioner 2006 – 2010 and was present on the night that NGAPONA relocated as an entity to its present location in PHILOMEL.

Similar experiences to that of the RNZN, the RNZNVR had an excellent bond of comradeship and one of our lunchtime sports was to play badminton twice a week in our drill hall.  Besides myself was our Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ron Faber who now lives in Whangarei and Chief Petty Officer GI John Barnes our Regulating Chief were always starters.  John has just celebrated his 90th Birthday and lives in Milford.

In 1967  the Navy announced that it was going to phase out the current RNZNVR Communications Branch and replace it with a new branch named the Naval Control of Shipping (NCS).  As I didn’t wish to join the Seaman’s Division and my job as International Marketing Manager for R & W Hellaby Ltd took me overseas part of the year it was time to bow out gracefully after a wonderful 16 years service.

Over the proceeding years through our ‘Old Salts’ Association I have managed to keep regularly in touch attending Lunches, Mess Dinners and Social Evenings.  The convener for the Old Salts Association was Denis Kean originally a bunting who stayed with NGAPONA until he retired in 1993.  Denis completed 35 years service and finished up as a Chief Petty Officer Naval Control of Shipping and the sole survivor of the 1950 CNR’s.  I have always been proud to have been a member of the Senior Service and have never lost interest in its progress.

9 Responses to CPO Radio Supervisor Tony Woolford – Memories

  1. Peter Ching says:

    Really great record of your service. Found it most interesting. Thanks for sending it to me.

  2. Jeremy Laurenson says:

    Very interesting read – I plan to forward to other people who are currently serving or plan to serve in the Navy

  3. Merv Grewar - ex PRD - NZ340023 says:

    A great memoirs Tony and brings back many wonderful memories of a part of my life that I cherish. Our paths crossed constantly in those days and it was a pleasure working with you, the ship and all those that I came into contact with in Ngapona and in the RNZN – The Navy gave me a great life as the communications skills I obtained ultimately saw me obtaining a successful job with Civil Aviation which then took me to this wonderful South Island town of Hokitika. I can also thank the Navy, I suppose only in a minor way, for my wife and children – we met at the Navy League during my conscript days and now over 50 years later, we have a great extended family.
    A good read and reminisce of days which should still be used to make men out of boys. cheers

  4. Tony Woolford says:

    Thanks Merv for your remarks as we did have some interesting times together.

  5. What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Alan says:

    To all those that knew Tony, he passed away on 14 September 2011.

  7. Tony Marsden says:

    In the photo of the various mess members of Ngapona the unnamed person is, I think, Chief Electrician “Woff” Wheeler. I used to see him on the Rockies ML when I was in Fisheries ML Mako & we were doing excercises with the reserve ML’s

  8. Paea P3552 (Heather & Keith) says:

    Wow Tony, being the proud owners of Paea… great to see the photos and read your stories…. We currently have Paea on the hardstand at Norsand Boatyard giving her a tidy up and makeover…. everyone just loves her here and she’s really looking great…. will post piccies soon.

  9. Thane Zander says:

    Kia ora Tony, my name is Zaps Zander (was Ngapona CPO MCM from 1993 to 2000 working the whole time as VR MCM Trainer/Supervisor/MCM Operations) and I am compiling the Definitive ML Database of all our ML’s.I happened to find your memoirs and photo’s in a Google search. I have placed the Paea aground photo in the database, along with your accompanying text. If you have any issues feel free to drop me a line. If you find the following website is worthy please feel free to pass it around your VR mates especially those that may have text/photo’s to contribute. Here is the link – http://rednaz1958.blogspot.co.nz/2016/03/composite-list-of-hdmls-still-active.html Regards Zaps

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