Two aspects of New Zealand’s naval participation in World War appear to be in danger of being swallowed by the mists of time. The first is the significant contribution made by the hundreds of New Zealand Post Office Telegraphists who put away their sounders and joined the Navy’s Communications Branch. It was here where they served ashore and afloat in New Zealand and overseas carrying out whatever duty they were assigned. One such overseas posting centred on the battle for the Solomon Islands, the southern limits of the Japanese Pacific conquest. The battles for Bouganville were long and bloody and marked the beginning of the end of Japan’s ill-gotten empire. In the various battles for the areas making up the Solomon’s, Royal New Zealand ships such Kiwi, Tui, Moa, Matai, Breeze and Gale made up the 25th Minesweeper Flotilla and provided significant anti-submarine protection for American supply and troopships operating in the area. By a unique combination of circumstances, we are delighted to present one of those former NZ Post Office trainee telegrapher’s view of his time in the front line as an RNZN Telegraphist aboard HMNZS Matai, then Flotilla Leader of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla, based in the Solomon Islands. Here follows NZ5161 Telegraphist Harry J. Coatsworth’s recollections of “Joining the Navy.”. .
Joining the Navy
Margaret has asked me to write down what I can remember about HMNZS Matai and about life aboard her. But perhaps, I will go back to the beginning of my service in the Navy. In 1940, while working in the Post Office at Outram, a request was received from the Navy for Post Office personnel to volunteer to become Telegraphists in that Service. I was 19 at that time and knowing that I would eventually have to go into one of the services, (men were conscripted when they turned 21) I decided, probably because of the uniform, that this was the service for me.
Because I was under age I think I must have had to get my parent’s consent, and, as they were strongly against it, I dropped the matter. However, some months later, when I was 20 I volunteered again, and although I had my medical examination in Wellington about September or October, 1941. I was not called up until 18th June 1942. So this year on this date, it will be 50 years since I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN).
I was working in the Post Office at Upper Hutt at the time and had never been to Auckland before, so on 17 June I caught the north-bound express train, duly arriving in Auckland at 7 a.m. the following morning. While having a shave at the Railway Station and generally making myself presentable before reporting at the Naval Base, HMNZS Philomel, I got into conversation with another young chap, who I discovered was also joining the Navy as a Telegraphist. His name was Don Cairncross from Wanganui, and the remarkable thing about this meeting was that we walked into the Naval Base together and three and a half years later, when we were both discharged, we walked out of the Wellington Naval Base together. His service number was 5160 and mine 5161, and when we completed our training we were always posted to the same ship or shore establishment.
It was an exciting adventure joining the Navy, and I discovered that there were 24 others in our intake of Telegraphists, or Sparkers as we were always called. Most of them with a Post Office background, but some who had never had any previous involvement in Telegraphy. Only one or two were qualified Post Office Telegraphists but I had been practising my Morse for quite a long time and could send at the required speed of 22 words a minute and receive at 18. I must add here, that to qualify in the Post Office as a Telegraphist it took about 4 months practising full time every day in the Morse Training School to pass the 10 minute test with no more than one error. And then before you could be accepted for the School you had to be able to send and receive at least about 10 words a minute.
And now to get back to my first day. I duly travelled over to Devonport in the Ferry and presented myself to the Navy guard at the gate and was directed where to report to. After just on 50 years later my memory is getting somewhat dim, but I do remember us all being taken to the store rooms where we were issued with 2 Navy uniforms, navy blue jersey 2 white shirts with blue bands around the neck, 2 duck uniforms, great coat, 2 caps, shoes, socks, lanyard, black silk band, 2 collars, overalls, white shorts for P.T. (Physical Training), for summer and in the tropics, thick underwear, kitbag, hammocks, narrow mattress with cover that fitted inside the hammock, and a thick white blanket which when doubled have us 2 thicknesses.
Have I forgotten anything? Yes, our HMNZS hat bands which later some of the older sailors showed us how to make a fancy bow to sew on over the join in the band. Which reminds me that we were issued with needles, thread and scissors, as we were now on our own – no Mum to do our mending, washing and ironing. We all had to be “Do it yourself Kiwis” and during training under the watchful eyes of our Petty Officers woe betide anyone who appeared on parade with the slightest smudge on his white or other clothing.
I remember, too, that day looking around the Navy wharves and seeing ships tied up alongside, possibly a cruiser, but mostly, I suppose. Minesweepers and patrol boats. Another memory was seeing placed around the wharves carved figureheads that had graced the bows of many old sailing ships. The base was a hive of activity, sailors busy everywhere loading ships, working in the workshops and dockyard, and undergoing courses in the various training buildings. I remember the old cruiser “Philomel”, after which the base was named, being tied up at one of the wharves, and I think used as officers’ quarters. It had been taken out of service probably 20 or 30 years earlier. Having served in the Territorials at Burnham Army Camp for 2 months in 1940, I was pleasantly surprised at the lovely roast dinner with sweets they provided that day. Indeed the meals during the whole of my time in the Service, including the 16 months I spent on the “Matai” in the tropics where fresh meat and vegetables weren’t so readily available, were generally of a very high standard.
Training at HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihe Island
During the afternoon we were taken by launch to Motuihe Island which was a training base and known as HMNZS Tamaki. The dormitories and administration buildings were situated on a rise on the northern end of the island and from the jetty we walked up a tarsealed road lined on each side by trees, but it was very picturesque with the branches overhanging the roadway. We 25 new trainees, who were the 8th class of Telegraphists were assigned to the same dormitory as the 7th class of Telegraphists who were half way through their 17 week course. They occupied one side of the dormitory and we on the other side.
In the Navy four meals a day were provided, breakfast, dinner, tea, which was a light meal about 4 p.m. and supper, a more substantial meal about 6.30 p.m. And if you felt like some fruit, sweets or soft drinks or needed toiletries, etc., there was a dry canteen. Alcohol was not permitted on the base during our training. Of course one of the first things we had to learn was how to sling our hammocks, as in those days, on most ships, bunks were not provided for seamen and other lower deck ratings. So our hammock was an important part of our gear which we took with us whenever we were transferred.
In our dormitory at Tamaki there were 25 sets of hooks down our side of this great big oblong room, these being affixed to the walls and to a central beam about 7 feet above floor level, so when we had tightly tied the rope on each end of the hammock to the hooks, the hammock would be about 5 feet above the floor. [I should have used the naval term deck] So when we went to bed we had to reach up and grasp a pipe railing and swing ourselves into our hammocks. They were very comfortable, especially at sea, as they moved with the roll of the ship.
In the morning at 6 a.m. the duty quartermaster would rush through the dormitories blowing his whistle, or rather “pipe” as the Navy called it, shouting “Rise and shine, the morning’s fine, the sun will burn your bloody eyes out”. Needless to say it wasn’t always fine. Our first job then was to lash our hammocks in the special Navy way and place it upright in a partition at the end of the dormitory. Every morning before breakfast we had physical training (PT), then for the whole of the morning and afternoon we had Morse instruction, some sending but mostly receiving, our instructor being a Leading Telegraphist who had served in the Royal Navy for many years.
Between tea at 4 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. we probably had what was termed a “make and mend” period, in which we did our washing, ironing. etc., but I’m not sure about that. I have vague memories, too, that we had to assemble for the raising of the flag at sunrise and for the lowering at sunset. I think the Quartermaster sounded the “Pipe” at these times. I believe we took turns at raising the flag.
I remember some years later, about the mid 1950s, when at Papatoetoe, on a Post Office Flag flying day, Queen’s Birthday or other special occasion, I rolled the flag up in the Navy way, pulled it up to the masthead held in the roll, then with a jerk pulled the hitch out in the rope, allowing the flag to unfold and break free. One old chap standing nearby said,”That was very impressive.” Our 17 weeks training course was both enjoyable and memorable, with the exception of our innoculations, which put me in the base hospital for a few days, and the drilling and filling of 5 teeth in 20 minutes. That was both painful and memorable! Saturday mornings we all had to turn to and scrub out the dormitory, mess rooms and other buildings but in the afternoons we had sports. I remember playing baseball and having a tug-of-war against another training class down on the lovely white sandy beach on the northern side of the island. Last year while out fishing with a fellow bowler in his large launch, we came in close to this beach to have our lunch and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.
On one occasion we had rifle shooting practice, and all of us (25) put in a shilling (10 cents), the winner to scoop the pool. I got the highest score and the $2.50 which was a nice prize as we were only paid $6 a week in those days. It may be of interest that the pay of a private in the army then was 70 cents a day or $4.90 a week, so we were better paid than them. The Navy was the senior of the three services, so perhaps this may have been the reason for the slightly higher pay rate. As for the shooting, I had shot many hundreds of rabbits since I was 14 when Keith being 18 we were able to purchase our own .22 rifle, a Stevens Savage, so I guess I was much more experienced in shooting than the others.
Midway through our training we were given long weekend leave, Friday to Monday, and as we could travel free on the trains, I decided to go and see Betty [sister ed.] who was teaching at Te Puna, Tauranga. She was boarding with a local dairy farmer, Mr and Mrs Williams and family of that district and I was invited to stay with them. And, were very nice people they were too. The steam train journey via Hamilton and Paeroa was very pleasant and the scenery all new to me, the Waikato plains, the winding Waihi Gorge with its river and tunnels, and the lovely rolling country of the Bay of Plenty. I still have vivid memories of that weekend, of Betty taking me round the garden to see all the semi-tropical fruits which I had never seen before and of her saying “Try this, and this” She took me to see her school, and to dinner at Willis Francis farmhouse, which he shared with his brother Tom and wife. The two brothers owned a 300 acre dairy farm at Omokoroa, which had formerly belonged to their late father.
Back to Motuihe Island, or rather HMNZS Tamaki, and more and more Morse practice. Discipline was strict and I remember one of our class having to “froghop” (that is in a crouched position) around the parade ground with a .303 rifle above his head as punishment for some small misdemeanour. He was a very tall chap named Atkinson and I seem to remember that he pulled a muscle or ligament in his leg and spent a few days in hospital. Sundays we always had Church Parade in the morning as the base had its own Padre. Towards the end of our time the trainees put on a concert one night and I remember one chap presenting a skit, mainly about the officers and instructors and I recall his “chucking off” at the Padre about smoking Red Cross cigarettes instead of buying his own.
Cigarettes reminds me that we were allowed to buy tobacco at duty-free prices, the roll-your-own being 15 cents for four 50 gram packets. The tobacco was South African and in half-pound [250 gram] tins and had a different but quite pleasant flavour. Later when I went home to Tapanui on leave I took 2 or 3 tins with me for Dad, as tobacco during the war was in short supply. I told him not to let on where it came from and he said next time I was home on leave that while smoking it on the bowling green he was often asked what the brand was, but replied giving the brand name of the unpopular N.Z. grown variety. Packets of 10 cigarettes in our canteen were less than 5c which was very cheap.
During training we were not allowed a rum ration, but later, when I was in “Matai”, I saved up a quart bottle of neat Jamaican rum and took it home to Dad. He liked a drop of rum in the winter time, but I think Mum didn’t care for the smell of it in the house. The one and only time I have gone sailing was at Tamaki, when one Saturday afternoon an Officer invited about 20 of us to sail with him across to Motutapu Island in a Navy whaler, a clinker-built boat about 30 ft long. We landed there and chatted for a while with some of the soldiers stationed on the island. If I remember correctly, my mate, Don Cairncross, was seasick as he was on every ship we later set foot on.
End of Training and Home Leave
Our 17 weeks training finally came to an end in October 1942, and we were all duly passed out as qualified Ordinary Telegraphists. Final leave of 2 weeks before being posted to a ship or other shore establishment was granted and off we went to our various homes scattered all around the country, my destination Tapanui. The boat trip across from Wellington to Lyttleton was very rough, and I remember one of my classmates, named McBarron, from Timaru, rushing to the side to be seasick and losing his cap over the side. As a sailor I’m sure he must have been mortified losing his cap, as well as the indignity of being seasick in front of other civilian travellers. I wasn’t immune from seasickness sometimes on a rough Cook Strait ferry crossing, and I made quite a number of these and sometimes at the start of a voyage. Today the only ferry steamer trip is between Wellington and Picton, but prior to the advent of larger and faster aeroplanes most people travelled to the South island by steam train and ferry boat. I always enjoyed travelling by steam train, even though from Auckland it would take me 2 full days to reach Waipahi, where I would catch the Railways bus for the last 16 mile trip to Tapanui. Leave was always an enjoyable time seeing my parents and sister Evie, and my uncles and aunts and cousins at “Bona Vista” and “Pine Grove Farm” I think Mum must have had a busy few days before my arrival cooking and filling the tins with all the cakes and biscuits I liked.
Leave was soon over and early in November I was back at HMNZS Philomel awaiting a posting. In the meantime we were put to work, mainly in the Dry Dock, scraping the barnacles off ships hulls and slapping a bit of paint on them. Two out of three nights we had leave till about 11 or 12 o’clock and would, after a quick shower, go across to Auckland on our liberty boats. Saturday nights we had overnight leave when, for about 40 or 50 cents we could get bed and breakfast at the YMCA in Wellesley Street. There were many Service clubs where you could get a nice meal for 10 cents, and often they had dancing afterwards. I first met Margaret in early December (1942) at a Saturday night dance at the YMCA. She was 18 at that time, had lovely auburn hair and a nice slim figure and was easy to talk to. So after a number of dances and supper together, I accompanied her home to Morningside in the tram. I think it was a bit daunting to find that she was a Doctor’s or rather Specialist’s only daughter, and they lived in such a lovely old big 2-storied house. I remember asking her if I could see her again but when I phoned later the following week she told me her parents were going out on the Saturday night and that she had to mind the phone, so I said I would call her again. However, shortly afterwards six of us Telegraphists were posted to the HMNZS Monowai, an armed merchant cruiser of about 10,000 tons, so I didn’t expect to see her again.
The Monowai, a Union Steamship Company passenger liner of 10,852 tons, which in pre-war times sailed between N.Z. and America, was taken over by the Navy on 21 October, 1939 and converted to an armed merchant cruiser by the Auckland Naval Dockyard at HMNZS Philomel. She was fitted with eight 8.6 inch guns, 4 on each side, also anti-aircraft ack-ack guns. During my trip to Suva, Tonga and back to Suva in her in December 1942, I remember these 8 large guns which appeared antiquated then and were probably World War 1 vintage. Monowai was commissioned on 30 August 1940 and during the next two and a half years was employed on patrol, escort and transport duties in the South Pacific. She was in action in January 1942 in Fiji waters against a Japanese submarine which submerged after a brief exchange of fire. We left N.Z. on the Monowai on 17 December, not knowing until a few days later that we were bound for Suva, Fiji. (Secrecy was important in war time). For the first 2 days the weather was fine and the sea calm and we were all of the opinion that this was the life for us. But all good things come to an end and so did the fine weather. The sea became very rough, and apart from Fred Mackey, the other 5 of us took to our bunks, that is when we weren’t rushing to the toilet (I mean heads) to be seasick. Fred, who I think had pottered around with small boats all his life and who had never been seasick, was in his element – he had our eggs for breakfast. Besides Fred and I, the other 4 from our class were Doug Waters, Don Cairncross, Alex Brown and Wally Bright from Christchurch who was later awarded the British Empire Medal after his ship, HMNZS Moa was bombed and sunk in Tulagi Harbour. He saved the life of one of his shipmates by supporting him in the water until rescued. We only stayed in Suva, Fiji for a few hours then sailed for Tonga. On the voyage I still vividly remember the beautiful sky and all the lovely islands covered, it appeared from a distance, by coconut palm trees, and having white sandy beaches. We anchored in Nuku’alofa Harbour for several hours, disembarked some military personnel, then sailed back to Suva, Fiji.
On our way back to Fiji, a radio message was received that we 6 Telegraphists were to disembark in Fiji and immediately embark on a large American tanker, the USS Neosho, and proceed to the New Hebrides Islands where further transport would be provided to take us to the Solomon Islands to join the N.Z. Minesweeping Flotilla (M.S. 25) comprising 4 ships, Matai (Flotilla Leader), Kiwi, Tui and Moa. Although we called at Suva twice, the nearest I came to walking on Fijian soil was to walk along the wharf, with my kitbag and hammock slung over my shoulder, from the Monowai to the USS Neosho. This ship was due to leave in about 3 hours and we were told not to leave the ship. However I think it was Doug Waters who, with a Neosho sailor, made a quick sorty up the town and returned with a couple of bottles of warm Australian beer, which we proceeded to help him consume. The Neosho, although a large tanker in those days, was quite a fast ship, my recollections being that her cruising speed was about 23 knots which, because it could travel faster than a submarine on the surface, did not need an escort and travelled alone. Her cargo was aviation spirit. We were all given bunks in the crews quarters at the stern of the ship and I remember the following morning when we 6 were all neatly dressed in our white shirts, shorts and long socks, being told to immediately change into our overalls. This was not because we had to do any manual work, but because a former tanker also called the Neosho was bombed and sunk some months earlier and many of the crew were badly burned on the arms and legs. So from then on, all USS Navy personnel were required to wear long trousers and shirts with sleeves. Some of the crew who were sailors on the former Neosho showed us their burns, their arms and legs being stained a dark brown. They were a nice bunch of chaps and very friendly, which made our voyage to Santos a very pleasant one. We had Christmas Day, 1942 on her, and I still have memories of a lovely turkey dinner. I think we spent about 5 days aboard her. In wartime, ships at sea usually followed a zigzag course, so that if an enemy submarine was in the vicinity they could not predict the exact course the ship was taking. We duly arrived at the New Hebrides and were immediately transferred to the USS Saufley, a new American destroyer, which had only been in service, or as they say, commissioned, for about 6 months. We sailed soon afterwards in company with several other ships, the Saufley being one of the convoy’s escorts. The Saufley was a lovely ship, and being a destroyer was very fast, probably capable of 35-40 knots, but of course while escorting other ships travelled at a much slower speed. American warships have bunks but only four of us could be accommodated in the crew’s quarters, and I and the other member of our party were given the 2 bunks in the workshop in the stern of the ship. I’m glad we only spent 4 or 5 nights aboard her, as we got very little sleep. We found that this room was the meeting place each night of the ship’s gambling fraternity, where they played poker or dice till the wee small hours. Also, in wartime, to prevent a surprise attack, Naval ships at sea observe a personal “Stand To” at their action stations every morning just before dawn, just in case enemy ships or submarines were in the vicinity and we found that during the “Stand To” the door of our room was locked from the outside. So when the bells rang before dawn for Action Stations, or as the Americans called it, General Quarters, we were dressed and out the door in double quick time. Probably we just had to slip our overalls on. We didn’t relish the thought of being locked in with no way of escape if the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. As I mentioned earlier, around Fiji and Tonga we saw a lot of beautiful islands with coconut palm trees galore, and one of our chaps, Doug Waters I think, kept saying “Oh For a coconut”, well when we got on board the Saufley at the New Hebrides one of the sailors gave Doug a coconut from which he drank the milk and probably ate some of the contents, but with a fairly rough sea and the rolling motion of the ship it didn’t stay down long.
Guadalcanal and “Matai”
We arrived off Guadalcanal on the morning of 31st December, 1942, and when the Matai and one of our other ships were sighted and pointed out to us, they seemed so small after the 3 ships we had travelled on in the past fortnight. Soon we were aboard the Matai which was to be my home for the next 20 months. Don and Fred were also posted to the Matai but Doug was posted to the Kiwi while Wally and Alex joined the Moa. The Matai, which was built in the United Kingdom in 1930 for the New Zealand Government, was used until 1939, to take stores and personnel to the lighthouses around the country and to provide transport to our Pacific Island Dependencies for the Governor-General. She was a twin-screw vessel of just over 1000 tons and had a top speed of just over 13 knots but usually cruised at about 11 or 12 knots. On the outbreak of was she was fitted with a 4” gun on the foc’sle, an asdic submarine detector, depth charges, 2 rapid fire Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, Bren guns and mine-sweeping equipment. Before I joined her she and some other small vessels had been minesweeping around N.Z. and before going to the Solomons late in 1942 had been serving in the Fiji area. The Matai was a well-appointed ship and had 2 very large freezers, so unlike the other small ships in the area, it was very rare that we were without fresh meat. I am unable to remember now what the ship’s complement was, but possibly near the 100 mark. The Chief engineer, a Lieutenant-Commander, had been with the vessel since it was launched in 1930, so he was a good man to have on board in case of breakdown, which did happen once or twice. Our Captain was Commander A.D. Holden, a Volunteer Reserve Officer and referred to by the crew as “Old Smokey” or “Smokey Joe”, the nickname having been derived from the fact that the Matai emitted a bit of smoke while steaming along. Other ship’s Captains in convoy didn’t like it as smoke could be seen at a distance by submarines. We had 7 other officers and an American Liaison officer. When we arrived there were 4 Telegraphists who had been with her for some months, Don Niven, who was later to become General Manager for Shell Oil, Ted Moseley, a railway clerk/telegraphist, Jim McLeod of Hamilton, a newspaper employee and I don’t recall who the fourth one was but he may have been transferred soon after our arrival. There was also a Petty Officer Telegraphist whose Christian name was Ralph but I can’t remember his surname. [Probably Greentree. Ed.] He and the other “Sparkers” were very nice friendly chaps and we all got along well together. Other Sparkers who joined the Matai later while I served aboard her were Wally Leask, Jack Townsend, Dave Johnston and Ernie Clarkson. With the exception of Jack, who was a railway clerk, the other 3 men were Post Office employees. Wally, when he retired was Postmaster St Heliers, Dave Postmaster Warkworth, and Ernie Chief Postmaster Timaru. Ernie was Deputy Chief Postmaster at Whangarei when I was Postmaster, Kaitaia.
At sea or in port, 2 Telegraphists were always on duty, and our work consisted mainly of keeping a listening watch on both a Morse and a speech radio frequency. The 2 transmitting stations were probably based at the U.S. Navy headquarters at Guadalcanal. Most of the air-raid warnings, called “Condition Red” were received by voice radio, as were the “All Clear” messages. Other plain language messages of no value to the enemy and some coded signals would also be received on this frequency.
The Matai’s voice callsign was “Tommy 1. I cannot now remember our Morse callsign, but at sea we always had to obtain the Captain’s permission before we could answer a call and accept the message, which was almost always in 5-letter or figure code. The received message would then be handed to our American Liaison Officer for decoding, before being passed to our Captain.
On board the Matai the Seamen, Stokers, Sparkers and Signalmen together, all had separate living quarters and mess rooms. Our radio cabin was on the upper deck, immediately above the engine room, and was quite small, as in peacetime it would only be occupied by one man at a time. In my time two Telegraphists were always on duty, and at nighjt time, when with the lights on, the door had to be kept shut, so you can imagine that in the tropics with the heat from the engineroom below, the warmth generated by the lights and radio equipment, it was stifling. All we wore was a pair of briefs and the perspiration poured out of us. So of course we had to take salt pills as well as Atabrin Malaria pills from time to time.
We had a powerful American RCA transmitter [A version of the 89 series. Ed] which gave a strong signal over long distances, but the voice transmitters [Probably TCS series. Ed] in those days only had a limited range, about 20-25 miles if my memory serves me correctly. Every evening at an arranged time, the N.Z. Naval Headquarters in Wellington [Tinakori Ed] broadcast in Morse to its ships at sea, and we would listen out for our call sign and record any messages for the Matai or our flotilla of N.Z. ships. These would be in British code, which we, or our Petty Officer would decode and pass on to the Captain. Also, every evening on another frequency, the N.Z. Navy Office broadcast in Morse in plain language, news from home, and this was usually taken down by our Petty Officer. Copies were handed to the officers and displayed on the noticeboards in the various mess rooms. In the Solomon Islands we were fortunate that really rough weather did not occur very often, which could have caused difficulties when receiving messages at sea if one happened to get seasick.
I can’t remember ever having to take a bucket with me on watch. I do remember however that the rolling of the ship in heavy seas used to cause a fluctuation in the strength of the signals being received. Overall, we worked four hour watches, except in the two Dog watches when we were only required to work 2 hours. Though built in Great Britain in 1930, Matai was not taken over by the Navy until the 5th of March, 1941, and on the 1st of April Matai’s Captain took over as Senior Officer, 25th Minesweeping Flotilla, from HMNZS Muritai [a former Wellington-Eastbourne harbour ferry. ed.] and began clearing the German minefield off the Hauraki Gulf. This took 3 months and early in this work Matai had a mine lodged close under her stern. This was carefully removed and destroyed.
Matai’s Captain, Lt.Cdr Holden, was awarded the O.B.E. for his part in this hazardous operation and was the Caotain during my 18 and-a-half months on Matai. Matai operated in the Fiji area from March, 1942 until moving to Esperitu Santo in November, 1942. Matai, Moa, Kiwi and Tui sailed for the Solomon Islands in December, arriving at Guadalcanal on the 15th December, 1942 where I joined her on the 31st of December. R.J. McDougall records in his book, New Zealand Naval Vessels that “ about 24 March, 1944, near Green Island, north of Bougainville, USS “Cetus” a Liberty-type cargo ship, grazed Matai’s starboard side, damaged boat davits and wrecked 2 mounted Bren guns. This minor accident is not mentioned in “My Trip Book”, but I have recorded that on 24 March 1944, we went alongside a Liberty ship this morning for water. We were at Green Island that day.
When we arrived at Guadalcanal at the end of December, 1942, the U.S. Marines only held the airfield called Henderson Field, fighting taking place to capture the rest of the island from the Japanese. This is the area where the Americans halted the Japanese in their spearhead south, no doubt intending to ultimately invade New Zealand and Australia. And it was from Guadalcanal that the American Forces began their long trek back gradually recapturing strategic island after island until the surrender of Japan in 1945.
“My Trip Book”
During my stay with Betty a few months earlier she gave me a “My Trip Book”, and I see my first entry reads: “Today the 15th of Nov. 1942 is my 22nd birthday”. I must have been at Philomel at that time. However, I see under “Places Visited” that I did not begin my record of overseas service until 25 January, 1943 which was 39 days after leaving New Zealand. I am very thankful that Betty gave me this Trip Book because on rereading it I found that many of the places visited and things we did, I had forgotten
In a newspaper article by an official War Correspondent in which he interviewed Captain O.O. Kessing, U.S. Navy, the Captain praised the work carried out by the NZ Flotilla. He said: While fighting was going on in Guadalcanal the little ships performed with admirable aggression. They were never used rashly – but they dealt the Japanese vicious punches, far harder than could be expected from anything of their size and hitting power. They steamed boldly about the then dangerous Guadalcanal coast, at a time when Japanese planes were striking hard and often, and they carried out daring bombardments of enemy shore positions. They had one job that would have delighted Drake’s daredevils of the seventeenth century. At that time Japanese destroyers, desperately trying to aid hard-pressed land forces, would approach Guadalcanal and toss overboard stores and munitions for the tide to float ashore. The destroyers would retire and before the big drums of floating materials could reach the beach the N.Z. ships would sink them or take them on board”.
In my first entry in my “Trip Book”, dated 25 January, 1943, I have written – “I have been aboard here now for nearly a month and have had quite a bit of excitement. Often Jap submarines come in and try to float stores ashore, so we have the job of sinking them. Our job is to locate submarines and depth charge them, but so far no luck. About a fortnight ago (about 11 Jan. 1943) we shelled the shore and according to the Yanks we killed quite a number of Japs. “I have added in brackets 150). A “U.S. motor torpedo boat had run aground and the Japs had manned the guns on her so we blew it to bits with our 4-inch gun. That night there had been 5 Jap destroyers around and one was believed to have been hit.”
I clearly remember the day we were ordered to shell and blow up the M.T.B. and we were provided with a small plane to act as a spotter to tell us where the shells landed but our first shell hit the M.T.B. dead centre, a remarkable achievement. The spotter plane radioed back – “You don’t need me” and returned to base. We must have continued shelling in that area, seeing that, according to My Trip book we killed quite a few Japs.
Tulagi Motor Torpedo Boat Base
The Motor Torpedo Base was at Tulagi Island about 20 miles from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, and as we had to call in at Tulagi Harbour quite frequently to fill our water tanks, we passed the M.T.B. base near the harbour entrance. At dusk in the evening we would see them setting out for their nightly patrol at the northern end of Guadalcanal, and they looked a magnificent sight, 15 to 20 of them in one long line, travelling at about 30 knots, the white spray shooting out from their bows and with their 4 deadly torpedoes affixed to 2 racks on each side of the boats. They patrolled the channel between Guadalcanal and Tulagi trying to prevent the landing of troops and supplies, and it was quite exciting being on duty in the wireless office when the Jap destroyers were in the area, as their frequency was one of those we had to monitor. We would hear the M.T.B.’s calling to each other, “Look out ‘Mike Foxtrot (or whatever his callsign was) there’s a Jap up your tail” or “Give me a hand here, I’ve only one fish (torpedo) left” or remarks about where the enemy are. One of the Hollywood movie stars, Robert Montgomery, was on one of the Tulagi M.T.B’s and after the war I was interested to read that President Kennedy was also serving on MTB’s in that area.
On occasions we were up in that area at night but behind the screen of MTB’s. However, I have recorded that on the night of 14 January, 1943 when U.S. PT motor Torpedo Boats were waiting for the ‘Tokyo Express [Japanese Destroyers] to arrive in the Savo Island-Cape Esperance area, PT boat 45 fired two torpedoes at the Kiwi but fortunately missed. Legend says the Kiwi Commanding Officer, LtCmdr Gordon Bridson called up the PT boat asking, “Are you the little bastards shootng at us?” The reply was “Affirmative“. The N.Z. Captain of Kiwi was then said to have replied that the bar of His Majesty’s New Zealand Ship Kiwi would be closed to the Americans for the duration. Actually, according to My Trip Book, the 2 torpedoes passed between the Kiwi and Matai. Another entry on 25 January states that about a week ago we rescued a wounded airman from Savo Island and a day later towed a Walrus float plane a few miles back to the base at Guadalcanal after it had made a forced landing. Another time I saw an airman come down by parachute and land quite close to us in the sea. He was quickly rescued. Quite often we see U.S. planes dive bombing and machine gunning the Japs on Guadalcanal and once saw them exchange a few shots on the beach.
January 25. 1943. We have just returned from escorting a large invasion barge around the westerly side of Guadalcanal and brought back a Jap officer who had been captured, also some U.S. marines. When being taken off in a barge the prisoner turned and saluted the ship. I have been to the pictures on Tulagi, ‘Maryland’ and on the way to the camp where they were held we passed hundreds of white crosses, U.S. Marines who had fallen taking the island.”
January 30, 1943. “Last night, the 29th January, one of our ships, HMNZS Kiwi, picked up a submarine on her asdic detector and brought her to the surface by depth charges, then rammed her three times. The Kiwi opened up on her with her 4 inch gun, machine guns and 20mm Oerllikon guns. We were told that the submarine’s Commander calmly stood on the conning tower and fired back at the Kiwi with his revolver until shot by machinegun fire.” The Kiwi, according to my diary, fired 30 salvoes, only a few actually hitting the submarine. The submarine was (we were later told by the Americans who investigated the wreck which had about 30 feet out of the water where it had run aground) about 1900 tons and carried two 4-inch guns. It was carrying troops and had two barges for landing them. A Japanese engineer officer was captured and congratulated the guns’ crew on their excellent shooting.
There were three casualties on the Kiwi, two slight and one serious. My diary entry of 31 January states that “Leading Signalman Buchanan of Port Chalmers died today of his wounds from the fight with the submarine. The fight took place off cape Esperance, Guadalcanal”. Although I have not recorded the fact, I clearly remember being told that Leading Signalman Buchanan was operating the search light which he directed on to the submarine during the battle. He was therefore in a very vulnerable exposed position from return machinegun fire. He must have displayed exceptional courage and I am sure our Government would have awarded him a posthumous medal for gallantry. I see from a newspaper cutting that the Americans awarded him their Distinguished Service Medal. Continuing from my notes of January 30. The Moa, another of our ships that was near, fired a good number of salvoes but only about four hitting the sub. We were in Tulagi Harbour at the time and when the Kiwi came in yesterday afternoon (Jan 30) we could see her bow well bent and also her stern was cracked by depth charges.
We all assembled on our gun deck and gave them a hearty cheer. They cheered back. Our ship was in harbour taking on water on the night of the action and I was on duty at the time, but although I knew that the action was taking place, I cannot recall any radio conversations between the Kiwi and the Moa. I do remember however, after the action, our Captain being advised of the successful sinking of the submarine, and of his sending a congratulatory reply. The Captain of the Kiwi was Lt-Cdr Gordon Bridson, D.S.C., who was shortly afterwards awarded the U.S. Navy’s highest decoration, the Navy Cross. He also received a decoration from our Government. Lt-Cmdr Bridson was a most respected Navy officer and very popular with his crew. Late in 1946 when I was transferred in the Post Office to Te Aroha I discovered that he was the co-owner of a large hardware shop in the town, operating under the name of Johnston and Bridson.
In a newspaper item, “Commander’s Story,” Lieutenant Commander Bridson said – “We made 2 depth charge attacks and blew him to the surface, obviously damaged. When we first sighted him he was 600 yards or 700 yards away and we closed the range to get every gun to bear. We decided to ram when we were right on top of him, and at first I thought we had bitten off more than I could chew. In our ramming we could see we had made a hole, but it was impossible to determine just how much damage had been done. The second attempt was a glancing one, but in the third there was no doubt we had made our presence felt. Oil spurted out of the submarine all over our foredeck and spread everywhere – even our mattresses were covered with oil.
The concussion of the depth charges had broken all our crockery and glassware, and at the end of the action the ship was not very trim. “When we were actually on top of the submarine, for a while I had to shout myself almost hoarse to be heard above the noise the Japs were making” he went on. “We had perfect target when the submarine began to turn and we made our shots count. They did not open fire until they saw us coming in, apparently hoping that they could escape by lying ‘doggo’, but the first round set her on fire. The lads raised a great cheer then” Because of the damage to her, the Kiwi returned to N.Z. shortly afterwards for repairs and refit.
Back to my “Trip Book”. “last night the 30th Jan., the Moa and Tui sighted 4 Jap invasion barges and sank two. The Japs responded with heavy machine-gun fire, wounding 10 men, 3 seriously and 7 slightly.”
1st Feb. 1943. At noon today Japanese dive-bombers made a surprise attack on Henderson Airfield, dropping their bombs and off again. Three were brought down in flames. One large bomber being brought down by a destroyer quite close to us.” American ships unloaded their freight on to barges just off Henderson field and often we, or one of the other ships in our Flotilla, had to screen up and down outside them to prevent a submarine attack while they were anchored. Our Asdic, underwater detector could pick up a submarine approaching up to 3 or 4 miles away. “This afternoon (1st Feb) the bombers returned and bombed a destroyer, the “Dehaven” off Savo Island. It sank within 5 minutes of being hit and there were only 146 survivors. We could see it in the distance.
2nd February “Last night a fight took place between 16 Jap destroyers and about the same number of Motor Torpedo Boats. The battle took place in “Iron Bottom Sound” between Savo Island and Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal. Five or six MTBs were lost and several hits on the destroyers were observed. Jap planes again raided the island (Guadalcanal) this morning. This afternoon we picked up a badly wounded US pilot at Savo Island. Just before that we had been after a submarine reported near there.”
4th Feb. “Last night a force of 20 Jap destroyers arrived coming in at both ends of the channel between Guadalcanal and Tulagi. An attempt must have been made to land troops because when we arrived the following morning at Esperance Bay there were about 25 collapsible barges and 1 large motor barge floating in the sea. We will use the barge as a store launch. The collapsible barges were about 8 feet long and could be joined in pairs.” We took some on board and I remember when we returned to Lyttleton about 3 months later for a refit, Fred Mackey, who lived at Diamond Harbour, Lyttleton, was given one of these. One or two of these barges had big outboard motors attached, apparently for towing them ashore, and I remember somebody on our ship, probably an officer, racing around a bay where we were anchored, in a two-tandem barge with one of these motors attached. From his bow wave he was travelling quite fast.
6th Feb. “We had a few tense minutes last night when a destroyer picked us up with a search light just off Cape Esperance. Thank God it was a friendly one.” (Probably all the rest of the crew echoed my thoughts.)
14 Feb. “Today we took some U.S. soldiers and about 40 Fijian commandos from Cape Esperance to Lunga (Henderson Field). All had just finished mopping up a lot of Japs and all had souvenirs. One American had a Jap Officer’s sword. It was about 3 feet long and the handle was inlaid with jewels. We exchanged cigarettes with the Fijians for Japanese bayonets.” I have mine still and it has 4 notches cut into the handle, so I presume the Jap owner had used it to kill 4 U.S. Marines.
15 Feb. “Last night we had another submarine hunt but it turned out to be a whale. My action station now is a Bren gun”.
20 Feb. “Tonight we dropped a depth charge on a suspected sub but no result.” I see that on the 23rd Feb I recorded “Wreckage of what may be a 2-man sub has been washed up near Lunga close to where we dropped a charge.”
22 Feb. “Today just off Lunga, (the beach beside Henderson Field) the Moa tied up alongside and the crews of both ships mustered on our well deck for the presentation of awards for bravery to members of her crew. The presentation was made by a U.S. Navy Captain. The Commander of the Moa was given the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal, the Gunnery Officer, the Silver Star and others commendations. The Kiwi had returned to N.Z. so U.S. decorations for her crew would be made in New Zealand. Photographs were taken at the presentation of the crew and ships by a U.S. Navy photographer. A few minutes ago the shore A.A. battery opened up on a Jap plane – the first one over here for a week or two.”
23 Feb. “Last night Japanese planes blew up an ammunition dump on Florida Island, killing a few Americans.” Inspection is being carried out by a U.S. Navy salvage vessel on the submarine which was sunk by the Kiwi.” In a book just to hand, which covered the N.Z. Navy’s wartime involvement in the Pacific, I see that the submarine was identified as the I1 with a surface displacement of 1955 tons or 2500 tons submerged. The inspection revealed extensive damage and the divers estimated there were 40 or 50 bodies in various compartments. She was formidable opponent measuring 320 feet in length, more than twice that of the N.Z. ships, a speed of about 18 knots against the Kiwi’s 12.5 knots, a 5 inch gun, a 6-pounder and one or two machineguns.
25 Feb. Today a submarine was sunk by a destroyer just off the entrance to Tulagi Harbour. It had been spotted by a plane.
1 March. Today we all (those not on duty) went ashore on Tulagi to a concert given by Joe E. Brown, the actor.
Bombing of Tulagi
4 March. Late last night Japanese planes were over Tulagi and dropped a few bombs. All the destroyers in harbour opened up on them and drove them off. One bomb landed 150 yards from the Tui. We went out to sea this morning after a few days in port. Two liberty ships were hit but only minor damage.
5 March. Tonight several enemy bombers attacked Tulagi in 4 raids lasting an hour and a half. Bombs damaged installations in Tulagi. We also heard and saw some drop on Florida side of the island. Search lights picked up the planes and there seemed to be hundreds of ack-ack guns, from machine guns to 5 inch guns sending up their tracer bullets and shells. It looked like a wonderful fireworks display and we wondered if our last moments had come. Shell splinters were dropping all around us. I should have mentioned earlier that we were usually advised by radio of the expected arrival of enemy planes and as they drew close we all received the signal “Condition Red”, meaning We are about to be attacked, or we are under attack by aircraft”. “All Clear” would b given when the planes departed.
5 March. This afternoon Zero Japanese fighters were seen over Russell Island, only a matter of 60 miles away.
7th March. Tonight enemy planes were over Guadalcanal and Tulagi, but don’t think they dropped any bombs. One bomber that flew over Henderswon Field was illuminated by 10 searchlights and looked like a tiny moth – it being at a great height. High caiibre ack-ack guns opened up on it and it seemed shells were bursting all around it. It is believed to have been hit. Ina minute or two after firing ceased there, we saw them open up at Tulagi on another plane. Searchlights were going and we could see tracer bullets flying skyward and the bursting of shells.
Purvis Bay – Few Days Rest
10th March. After watering and fueling in Tulagi we proceeded to Purvis Bay, Florida Island, for a few days rest. Some of the crew have gone fishing and some sailing. “Condition Red” ia becoming quite a habit here. The last few days we have had several in a day but no planes have been seen.
11 March. Today different boats have taken chaps around the bay and fishing. This morning we visited a deserted native village and later went swimming over the coral. The water was very clear and saw several different coloured fish. Also a seasnake which was about a foot long and black and white. Tonight we are heading towards Savo Island on a sub hunt and at the moment it is “Condition Red”.
12th March. Last night enemy planes were three times over Guadalcanal or rather, over Henderson Field and twice were over Tulagi. On both sides a great ack-ack barrage was sent up. Twice we saw planes illuminated in the rays of the searchlights. At one time we counted 14 searchlights and the plane was in the cross beams. Where we were we could hear the roar of enemy planes overhead on their way to Tulagi and hoped they couldn’t see us.
“Cactus” off Henderson Field
18 March. The last 6 days have been spent in screening supply ships at “Cactus”, the code name for the unloading area off Henderson Field, and owing to bad weather no enemy planes have been over, but tonight it is “Condition Red” again. At present we are in Purvis Bay again for a few days rest.
22 March. Last night Japanese planes again raided Tulagi. Yesterday evening about 70 of our planes, Fortresses, Liberators, dive bombers, and fighters, took to the air to bomb the enemy somewhere. From time to time we used to see these fairly large flights of aeroplanes in formation heading off to retaliate against the enemy, and very impressive they were too. Mail came today, after 21 days waiting. I didn’t record what mail I received but Mum and Betty wrote regularly. And usually there would be a “Tapanui Courier” newspaper, keeping me up-to-date with all the latest happenings in Tapanui and the District. I received this free-of-charge thanks to the generosity of the Proprietor, and Evie, who worked in the newspaper office. The other Sparkers and Bunting Tossers, (as the Signalmen who used flags and lamps were called) who comprised our Mess, called it irreverently the “Tapanui Curio” or the “Two minute Silence”. Nevertheless it was good to receive it.
24 March. Last night we had “Condition Red” for 4 hours, about 9 p.m. till 1 a.m. Several raids were made on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. We were patrolling off Henderson Field and opposite us on shore 2 large fires were started by bombs. One was an oil dmp and the other I think was an ammunition dump from which we heard three terrific explosions And saw flames shoot skywards. Searchlights had 2 of the enemy planes in heir beams but they escaped in the clouds. By one terrific explosion in the air we think one plane may have been blown to bits by ack-ack fire and her own bombs. Just now at nights the moon is nearly at the full. About 9 a.m. this morning we had another “Condition Red” but no raid.
25 March. This morning about 4 a.m. there was a short raid on Tulagi. At present we are berthed alongside the USS Niagara in Tulagi Harbour and have just been to the pictures aboard her. The result of the bombing on the 23rd at Guadalcnal was 2 Flying Fortresses and1 Liberator destroyed. The terrific explosions we heard were the bombs on those planes exploding. I think the USS Niagara was the ship from which we obtained our water every 12 or 14 days, as the Matai did not have its own distilling plant. It was tied up beside a hilly part of the shoreline at the far end of the harbour and, I believe, piped the water from a stream in the hillside. The M.T.B.s, our own Flotilla and other small craft all contained water from this ship. Our oil supplies were obtained from a hulk, a large old sailing ship moored in the harbour.
26 March. Again this morning enemy planeswere over Tulagi dropping a few bombs and some at Purvis Bay.
27 March. This morning we had several raids over Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and they dropped a bomb here in Purvis Bay just beside a Liberty ship, not very far from us.
Turtle and Crocodile
27 March continued. This afternoon some of us went for a trip through the channel between Tulagi and Florida Islands and landed for a short time at an American camp. I remember this trip. Four of us Sparkers borrowed the ship’s dinghy, about 10 foot in length, probably 2 of us at a time rowing and taking turns. I recall that a large turtle surfaced near us, and I think it was the same day we saw a crocodile swimming close inshore.
Walter Nash, Prime Minister
31 March. This morning, Walter Nash, for many years Minister of Finance, but who, at that time 1943, was probably Prime Minister [No, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance. Ed] came on board and shook hands with us all. We gave him our home addressesand he was going to send a note to our parents.
3 April. Last night we went to the pictures aboad the USS Niagara. “Condition Red” again this morning several times, but no planes appeared. I hear the M.T.B. base at Russell Island has had quite a bit of bombing. In Tulagi Harbour this afternoon were 8 heavy U.S. destroyers and the heavy cruisers “Honolulu” and “St Louis”.
8 April. Tonight at 7.45 p.m. enemy planes were again over Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Several flares were dropped, some coming down near where we were patrolling of Henderson Field. They made a wonderful picture illuminating quite a large area of sea. May have been reconnaissance planes trying to discover what transport ships were unloading off Henderson Field. Planes flying very high were illuminated in the search-lights but ack-ack fire failed to bring any down.
Bombing at Purvis Bay and Sinking of Moa
7 April. This afternoon about 3 p.m., between 50 and 60 Japanese planes raided Guadalcanal and Tulagi – the biggest attack made on these islands by planes so far. We were on patrol when we received warning that a large formation of planes were heading in our direction so we immediately sailed for Purvis Bay. The Tui, Gale (which had replaced the Kiwi) and our ship, the Matai had just dropped anchor in Purvis Bay when the divebombing began. From the stern of our ship I could see a number of enemy planes going into attack, quite low – shells bursting all around them – one I believe going down in a death dive. Later we heard that our other ship, the Moa, which was taking on oil from the oil hulk in Tulagi Harbour, had been bombed and sunk, and I believe this may have saved us from being seen. From the book “Battles of the Solomon’s” I saw that the Moa had been hit by a 500 pound bomb, which drove through her Commanding Officer’s cabin and exploded below, and that she was also damaged by 2 near misses. She fired a short burst from her Oerlikon and anti-aircraft fire was maintained by the oil hulk. The Moa listed rapidly and sank bow first about 4 minutes after being hit. The Moa got her seaboat away and some survivors clambered aboard and into landing craft which came to the minesweeper’s aid. From a separate source I note that five ratings died, Leading Seaman J.C.O. Moffatt of Tauranga, Able Seaman K. Bailey of Auckland, Leading Stoker H.D. Crawford, an Englishman, Stoker E.J. Buckeridge of Waikino and Telegraphist C. Duncan of Taihape. Seven ratings were injured severely while seven more ratings and the Moa’s captain, Lieutenant-Commander Peter Phipps were also injured. The sinking also brought acts of courage which won awards of the British Empire Medal for Yeoman of Signals J. Salter of Dunedin and for Ordinary Telegraphist W. Bright [one of my classmates] from Christchurch. Together they saved the life of Signalman F. Thomas who was badly wounded and who lay unconscious on the bridge of the Moa. In those few minutes before the ship sank, Salter and Bright fitted Thomas with a life jacket. Then as the ship went down, they floated him off the bridge and supported him until they were rescued. In another brave act, Lieutenant C. Belgrave dived for and rescued Steward W. Molloy. For the Moa’s captain the bombing was really the result of an act of kindness. He recalled that 7 April was the last of the big Japanese raids on Tulagi and it lasted on and off for two and a half hours. “We were due to fuel but could not enter harbour because of the Condition Red imposed by the air raid. And so we remained outside, protecting transports and waiting for condition Green. When it came, I stood down to let an American destroyer fuel ahead of us. She was required back on patrol urgently, and I let her jump the queue”, Sir Peter said. When the Moa’s turn to fuel came she went alongside, secured and “buttoned up” her fuel lines. There was no “Condition Red” and the first stores were coming onboard when there was a sudden roar of aircraft. “The bridge machinegun opened up”, said Sir Peter, “and then crash! We were hit in the boiler room and in the after part of the bridge. The bomb that hit the bridge went through my cabin and missed me by about six feet. I got some splinter wounds when the bomb went off.” Thanks to the boiler room bomb there was a terrific noise of escaping steam as the Moa settled quickly in the water. Most of the ship’s company were in the sea before she finally went down, but one who had not got away was an Englishman, Chief Engineroom Artificer Anstis, Commander Phipps saw him lying in the scuppers and immediately went to his aid. “I went to lift him but found I had no power in my right arm. And so I dropped him, and as he fell he cut his head on an oil fuel line coupling. He had to have several stitches in his wound and Anstis had the doubtful distinction of being injured by his captain.” The Moa was one of four ships sunk in the raid, including a tanker which had been the prime target. As one of the raid’s casualties, Sir Peter finally found himself lying on the beach, soaked in oil, with a priest cutting off his uniform. The oil-soaked gear had to come off before his wounds could be treated. “I had nothing, not so much as a tooth brush. It was quite a spiritual experience to lie there knowing that all my possessions had gone down with the ship.” But Sir Peter had a uniform again by the time he and the other survivors were flown home for leave. As it happened, he was the last man from the Moa to return to New Zealand, where he subsequently assumed command of another minesweeper, HMNZS Matai.
8 April. This morning we went to Tulagi and some of the survivors of the Moa came aboard. There are now 5 missing believed killed, one a sparker, Ginger Duncan. Alex Brown, a Telegraphist, who was also in our training class, and who travelled up to the Solomons with us has a broken leg. Our fighters engaged Zero fighters over Savo Island, leaving the dive-bombers a clear field. One single Grumman fighter that came to engage the enemy was shot down by our own fire. Several Jap planes were shot down by ack-ack fire. The U.S. destroyer “Aron Ward” was also sunk outside the entrance to Tulagi Harbour and another destroyer damaged.
9 April. In the BBC news this morning the Americans claim to have shot down 32 Zero fighters and 5 dive-bombers to the loss of 7 of our own fighters in the raid. Besides the 50-odd dive-bombers there were over 40 Zero fighters. From the book “Battles for the Solomons” I see the warning of the imminent attack was received from the Coastwatchers. It states that “67 bombers covered by 110 Zero fighters were flying southward.
To Lyttleton, New Zealand
10 April. Tonight the Coxawain announced we were under sailing orders for Lyttleton. My word, the boys put up a cheer. The Tui is accompanying us to Auckland. This afternoon a bigger air attack than that of the 7th was expected and all ships were hugging the coast in bays out of the way. However, they didn’t turn up. I went ashore last night to Tulagi radio, and one U.S. Marine told me there have been Jap observation planes over nightly, but they have not been firing on them, owing to it giving away their positions.
11 April. This afternoon a Service was held on the for’ard welldeck in memory of the 5 chaps who went down with the Moa. This service was conducted by an American Minister, the Last Post being sounded, and 3 volleys fired. Wreaths were then thrown into the sea by some surviving crew members.
13 April. Last night in the first watch I had 3 Condition Reds and one this morning, but they were only observation planes as no bombs were dropped. If I remember correctly, when Codition Red was broadcast to all ships, we would immediately advise the bridge by voice pipe, and the officer-of-the-watch would sound the alarm for the ship’s company to Stand To at their Action Stations until the All Clear was received by radio and the order given to Stand Down.
15 April. Last night we watered again at the USS Niagara and took on oil from the USS “Eskerine Phelps”, an old converted 4-masted sailing ship anchored in Tulagi Harbour. Both of these ships are credited with shooting down 2 Jap planes each. This afternoon we again went round to Purvis Bay and took aboard 5 sailors from the “Gale” who are on draft to N.Z. The Gale is not returning with us, only Tui and ourselves. I think the Moa survivors have returned to N.Z. by air. I’m not sure when the Gale arrived in the Solomons, probably about March, as she was not with us early in 1943.
Delay in Departure
16 April. This morning at 10.30 a.m. we left Guadalcanal for N.Z. but were ordered to return after 3 hours sailing as our relief had not arrived. We anchored in Tulagi Harbour for the night and at 7.30 p.m. Condition Red was received and shortly afterwards the guns opened up on a Jap. Shortly afterwards we could see the beams of searchlights from Henderson Field and bursting of numerous shells. I haven’t recorded what a disappointment the delay in our departure must have been to us all, but I am sure we were all eagerly looking forward to our leave and seeing our families again.
17 April. This morning we sailed round to Purvis Bay.
18 April. Tonight about 7.30 p.m., just as we were leaving Tulagi for “Cactus” (Lunga Point, Guadalcanal)), Jap planes came over and raided Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Several bombs and a flare were dropped near Henderson Field. A great ack-ack barrage was put up on both islands. At one time both sides were firing at the same time. At 11.30 p.m. we were woken (those off duty) by a destroyer about a mile away firing at an unseen plane.
19 April. This morning about 4.15 a.m. more Jap planes were over here, so more firing. Last night a Jap plane was shot down in flames by one of the U.S. night fighters.
21 April. Tonight about 8 p.m. we had another “Red” and the Tulagi battery put up a terrific barrage. It turned out to be one of our own planes.
22 April. This morning 7 large transports arrived and with them our old watering ship, the Jamestown, the predecessor to the Niagara at Tulagi. The Jamestown is the second largest yacht in the world. Mail day today and there were over 30 bags for the flotilla. Tnight we are on or way to the Russell Islands, convoying 4 T.L.C.s (Tank Landing Craft).
23 April. Easter Friday. Returned this afternoon from Russell Island and tonight we are screening a salvage ship in Konimbo Bay. This ship is still salvaging parts of the submarine that was sunk by the Kiwi.
25 April. Anzac Day. While watering alongside Niaagara today we got a report that there were 50 to 60 enemy planes approaching and had Condition Red for nearly an hour. I don’t know whether they were driven off by our planes, at perhaps were on their way to Esperitu Santo.
22. On our way to N.Z. Again
26 April. Today we are again on our way to N.Z. in company with the Jamestown. This afternoon we had another air raid scare. A large submarine was sighted by a plane this afternoon off Cape Esperance.
27 April. Out of sight of land all day. Sea is fairly rough and quite a few have been seasick. This afternoon the Tui’s engines brokle down, causing an hour’s delay. Tonight’s 5 p.m. news from San Francisco announces that the Jap planes approaching Guadalcanal on the 25th were attacked by 4 Corsairs, new U.S. Navy fighters, shooting down4 and scattering the rest. Two of our planes were shot down.
29 April. Arrived at Esperitu Santo, New Hebrides, this morning. The harbour is full of warships, heavy cruisers, destroyers and an aircraft carrier. The HMNZS Breeze is here on her way to Tulagi. Probably one of our replacements.
New Hebrides and Noumea
30 April. This afternoon I went ashore on Aore Island for 2 hours leave. There were hundreds of U.S. sailors there – several games of baseball and other American games were in progress, also a large orchestra playing. Tonight I went ashore again to the pictures at an American camp (The Lady has Plans).
1 May. We left “Buttons” (probably the code name for our anchorage this afternoon for Noumea.
3 May. Arrived Noumea this morning. Leave this afternoon and had s good look around the town. I remember I was with a signalman named Brown and we decided to have a meal at a small bar type eating house and were horrified to find that the eggs we had were a U.S. dollar each, which was a lot of money in those days. The American forces, of which there was a large number stationed in Noumea, were very well paid, so probably the local shopkeepers were making the most of it and charging highly inflated prices.
4 May. Leave again, and met my cousin Frank Coatsworth, a soldier in the N.Z. Army and based in Noumea at that time. I must have had his address and sent a message to his camp, which was situated a few miles out of town, as he came in to meet me in his Jeep and took me out to his base camp for an hour or two. There are about 60 air protection balloons put up last night for a trial Condition Red.
5 May. Left Noumea this morning for N.Z.
6 May. The Tui has broken down again and is now being towed by the Jamestown.
New Zealand and Betty’s Wedding
9 May. Arrived New Zealand this morning and picked up an American supply ship off Auckland heads tonight, the USS Delphinus, which we are to escort to Dunedin.
12 May. This morning about 10 a.m. we dropped a pattern of depth charges (five) on a suspected submarine off Wellington. They sure made the ship shudder.
14 May. This morning we berthed in Lyttleton Horbour and tonight I am aboard the “Wahine” on my way to Tauranga to Betty’s wedding.
15 May. Arrived in Wellington, met Keith who was a Sergeant at Fort Dorset, then left for Greytown for the weekend to visit friends.
18 May. Met Keith again and we are travelling north together to Tauranga.
19 May. We were met at the tauranga station by Mum, Dad. Betty, Willlie, and Beryl and Elizabeth, school teachers who were at college with Betty and who are to be her bridesmaids.
20 May. Wedding was a great success. Betty came in on Dad’s arm just after 11 a.m., and after the service we had our photos taken. I was groomsman. The breakfast and speeches went off O.K.
Matai Refit at Lyttleton
This was the last entry in my diary until after the refitting on the Matai, when we left Lyttleton for Wellington on 21 August, 1943, so I will have to try and remember as best I can the events of the intervening period. I expect the reason for sending the Matai to Lyttleton would be that the Auckland Navy Dockyard staff would be inundated with ship repair and refitting work and their dry dock in constant use. Lyttleton fortunately had a dry dock in which, during the latter stage of the refit, the Matai entered to have her hull cleaned and repainted. Other external checks and repairs were probably made at the same time.
In the wireless office, our radio equipment would have received an overhaul, and I believe we were given new transmitter receivers both in our office and on the bridge. Apart from the short period in the dry dock we were tied up for the rest of our 3 months stay at one of the harbour wharves.
In the Navy the crew were usually divided into 3 watches, Red, White, and Blue, so 2 out of 3 days while refitting in Lyttleton 2 watches would be allowed leave from about 4 p.m. till midnight while the other wath remained on duty. Those not on duty, Saturday or Sunday, were given all night leave, in which case we stayed at one of the servicemen clubs in Christchurch, where we could get bed (usually a camp stretcher) and breakfast for 20 cents or 25 cents.
We telegraphists on our duty day had to collect the ship’s mail from the Lyttleton Navy Office, and I seem to remember being asked by duty crew members to bring them back a couple of bottles of beer, as there was no wet canteen on board the Matai. There was always a duty seaman on guard at the gangplank and an Officer of the Watch somewhere, so we had to be careful that the bottles hidden in the mailbag didn’t “klink” as we walked up the gangplank.
Fred Mackey, a class mate, and one of our Telegraphists, came from Diamond Harbour, just across the water from Lyttleton and had arranged to be married shortly after our arrival in port. He had asked me to be his best man and Ted Mossley, another Sparker, his groomsman. After 49 years, I don’t remember much about the wedding, but I guess we got him “hitched up “ OK. For the wedding we would have worn white ribbons on our uniforms instead of the usual Navy-coloured ribbons.
On leave days we always caught the train to Christchurch which I think was free to servicemen. We spent some time at the wartime servicemen’s clubs, where we could get a nice cheap meal, play billiards or tabletennis, and sometimes they had dances. Otherwise we could go to the pictures. I remember on one occasion, our ship’s company (except for the few who remained on duty) also Navy personnel from Lyttleton, paraded through the main street of Christchurch. It must have been one special day or occasion. Our stay in Lyttleton was very enjoyable but finally our refit was completed, and I saw from my diary that we left for Wellington on the morning of 21st August 1943. I have recorded that “it is a beautiful sunny day and the sea is quite calm.” Just as well seeing we haven’t been to sea for 3 months.
We arrived in Wellington the following morning and I see that Keith came on board in the afternoon as I was on duty. The following day we met again and went to the pictures. Back to my diary.
29 August 1943. This morning we were outside the heads for a practice shoot – another sweeper (small Navy vessel) towed the target. Later a plane came over towing a kite for ack-ack gunnery practice.
31 August. Today we left Wellington for Noumea convoying an American Liberty ship. The weather was pretty rough through the Cook Straits.
5 Sept. Arrived this morning at Noumea. Have taken on oil and water.
12 Sept. Still here and we are having a few more repairs done. Have been ashore 3 times so far. Met Howie Townrow from Outram. I remember this chap’s name but cannot picture him after all these years, but I think he worked at the Outram Post Office with me when I worked there for 2 months in 1941.
15 Sept. Left Noumea this morning with a S.C. (U.S. escort vessel) and are heading towards Sydney to take over convoy of a Liberty ship from an Aussie corvette.
16 Sept. We are on our way to Esperito Santos. The Liberty ship is being towed by a tug.
19 Sept. Arrived tonight at Santos. Harbour is full of ships, cruisers, destroyers, aircraft carriers and a small submarine. First mail came board late tonight.
21 Sept. Tonight I went ashore to the pictures at an American Army Camp. “Coney Island” with Betty Gable and George Montgomery. The pictures were of course outdoor, a big screen, having been set up at the bottom of sloping ground, and I can still remember sitting up on the higher ground among hundreds of U.S. troops. Betty Gable was a popular “star” in those days and well known for her beautiful long (million dollar) legs, so I suppose there was plenty of whistles and “cat calls” whenever she appeared on the screen.
23 Sept. This morning we left Santos for Tulagi, convoying 2 Liberty ships. An S.C. is with us also as an escort.
24 Sept. Early this morning we met up with a big convoy from Noumea – 5 more Liberty ships and 3 escorts. Laer in the morning we were ordered to say 15 miles at the rear of the convoy, owing to the amount of smoke we were putting up.
26 Sept. At dawn this morning we were off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, and proceeded across to Tulagi this afternoon. Tonight we had a Condition Red air raid warning for about 15 minutes.
28 Sept. This morning the Kiwi came alongside. I can’t remember now, but I expect we brought mail with us for all the N.Z. ships in the area.
29 Sept. Went around to Purvis Bay this morning to take on water.
30 Sept. Back to Tulagi. There are 2 large American submarines here. One has 18 Japanese ships to her credit.
2 October. This morning we left Tulagi in company with a 1500-ton American submarine and carried out manoeuvres with it this afternoon off the Russell Islands. I still remember these manoeuvres, the submarine submerging and we following it by means of our Asdic equipment. This is fitted in a dome under the ship, and from the Asdic signals can be sent out under the sea, which will resound back with a “ping” if it strikes a metal object. From memory, the Asdic in those days had a range of about 3 miles and while at sea the operator would be continually making around-the-ship sweeps, searching for enemy submarines. In these manoeuvres, of course, the submarine commander would have been using every trick he could think of to try and escape from out of the range of our Asdic and we, of course, would be trying to sail over the top of him, where, if it had been an enemy submarine, we would have dropped a diamond shape pattern of depth charges on top of him, set to the depth estimated by our Captain. To achieve a diamond pattern we would first drop a depth charge from the stern of the ship, then from each side of the ship, using an explosive device we would fire 2 more depth charges, then a further depth charge would be dropped over the stern. My diary continues that after submerging we followed the submarine for about 2 hours. It left us about 5 p.m. and headed for Brisbane. It had one 3-inch gun and was capable of a surface speed of 20 knots and 11 knots submerged. It was the USS “Drum” and carried 36 torpedoes.
Back to Henderson Field and Purvis Bay
4 October. Back on the old job – screening off Henderson Field.
7 October. This morning we went to Purvis Bay for water and oil. There were 2 destroyers there that had collided head-on up by Munda Island. Both their bows were shorn off nearly up to the first gun turrets.
10 October. This morning, just on 100 planes, bombers, and fighters took off from Henderson Field and headed towards Bouganville. 16 of the escorts fighters were Kittyhawks from the N.Z. squadron.
11 October. This morning at 2 a.m. Japanese torpedo bombers made a raid on shipping off Koll Point, setting one on fire and another had to be beached. The Tui reported having a torpedo fired at her. One plane was seen from our ship, gliding into attack. The two ships attacked were the ”John G. Couche” and the “Himes”. The Himes was still burning at 7 p.m. tonight.
12 October. In a newspaper that arrived from N.Z. tonight I noticed that Wally Bright has been awarded the British Empire Medal for saving a fellow crew member’s life when the Moa went down.
19 October. This afternoon I went ashore on Tulagi. Walked around past Blue Beach. Saw Buchanan’s grave. He was the N.Z. Leading Signalman on the Kiwi killed when his ship was in action against the Japanese submarine. There was a submarine alongside the main wharf and I was allowed to look over her. It was the USS “Guardfish” of 1600 tons and had 17 ships to her credit. Had a look through the periscope then a look at the wireless room. The ‘Sparker” on duty said “This is the life for me”. The Guardfish has been around the coast of Japan, and was the one (mentioned in the newspaper) that was supposed to have seen a race meeting in progress on shore. One chap said, “We saw the track but that’s all”. There were 6 torpedo tubes for’ard and 4 aft. Altogether it carried 28 torpedoes.
25 Oct. Tonight we are patrolling off the Russell Island, waiting to escort a submarine back to Tulagi.
27 Oct. This morning we escorted it out again as far as St. Isobella. We carried out an hour’s manoeuvres similar to that we had with the “Drum”. Came back through the Sandfly Channel.
29 Oct. Started work this morning in Purvis Bay on trying to improve the forced draft (to eliminate smoke from the funnel) but tonight we have been ordered to escort a Liberty ship to Munda. Picture leave tonight on board the destroyer USS “Waller”. There is quite a considerable task force in harbour ready for a big push on Bouganville.
30 Oct. Left this afternoon for Munda with an American vessel YMS 243, both as escort to the “Henry Grant”.
31 Oct. Arrived this morning at Munda. Leave this afternoon on a small island. Sllight aerial activity around midnight.
1 Nov. Tonight between 6 and 9 p.m. a few Japanese planes were over and dropped a few bombs on Munda airfield. Searchlights were going and quite a bit of ack-ack fire was put up. We are anchored in a bay at Randova.
2 Nov. Left tonight for Tulagi
3 Nov. Arrived this afternoon at Tulagi. Collected mail and have moved around to Purvis Bay.
4 Nov. Work has been started on forced draft and painting ship. Dark grey and light upper works.
14 Nov. Work on the forced draft has now been completed and this morning went across to Lunga but had to return to Purvis Bay tonight as it has not been a success. Yesterday the Australian cruisers “Shropshire” and “Australia” and 2 Tribal class destroyers dropped anchor here. There was picture leave to the Australia and destroyer “Warramunga” (I must have been on duty as I don’t remember going aboard one of these ships.)
15 Nov. Today is my 23rd birthday.
16 Nov. The N.Z. Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, came on board today.
23 Nov. Today we put to sea again and screened ships at Lunga. An American Navy vessel got a contact and dropped a couple of depth charges. Forced draft is quite a success. Left for Malaita Island with the USS “Stratford” about 11 p.m.
24 Nov. Arrived this morning at Malaita and dropped anchor in the lagoon. Natives came out in their canoes to trade pineapples, bananas and beads. I got 3 pineapples for a tin of beans and some soap. We are making a trip around the island with the “Stratford”.
25 Nov. Today is the American Thanksgiving Day so we are taking a day off. The Stratford is alongside and we are anchored in Salo Harbour. Leave this afternoon and had a wonderful time ashore. We visited a native village and I traded 4 packets of cigarettes for 3 pineapples. (In retrospect it now seems that they drove a fairly hard bargain). More canoes are alongside tonight so traded my pipe for a club which has a beautiful inlay of mother-of-pearl. Also got some beads for soap. I still have this very fine club, which reminds me of our very pleasant visit to this lovely island. I think in this case I got the better bargain.
26 Nov. Made three more short stops today and tonight we are on our way back to Tulagi.
28 Nov. This morning Commodore Sir Atwill Lake came aboard for a three day visit.
30 Nov. Made a trip to the Russell Island and back today. Tonight the Kiwi is alongside giving us her water for our trip to the Treasury Island. This island is held by New Zealanders and is only 30 miles from Bouganville.
1 Dec. We are escorting a tug that is towing a concrete tanker and it can only make 4 knots. It’s carrying fuel for the Motor Torpedo Boats.
3 Dec. During the daylight hours today we have had a continuous fighter escort. Have had a few action stations. Tonight we could see heavy ack-ack fire on the horizon – probably from the Treasury Islands.
4 Dec. Arrived dawn this morning. Quite a few NZ soldiers have been on board all day. One was a chap Cutress from Gore. Left for Munda, New Georgia Island late this afternoon.
5 Dec. Arrive Munda early this morning. Took on water from a US transport ship then proceeded to Rendova Island. Dropped anchor in the lagoon but ordered to sea at 8.30 p.m. tonight.
6 Dec. Arrived Russell Island this morning.
7 Dec. Left for Tulagi noon today.
11 Dec. Spent last few days anchored in Purvis Bay and left for Lunga, Guadalcanal, this afternoon.
12 Dec. Left this afternoon for Munda, convoying the USS Stratford. We are carrying 825 bags of parcel mail for the troops. (Not sure now but probably for the NZ troops).
13 Dec. Mail was unloaded this morning on to amphibians. (These were vehicles with wheels so that they could be used both on land and in the sea.) Screened the USS Stratford for the rest of the day.
14 Dec. Left noon today on the homeward trip – Guadalcanal.
15 Dec. Arrived Lunga this morning then proceeded to Tulagi for stores and water.
18 Dec. Have been patrolling at Lunga.
19 Dec. Left Lunga early this morning to escort the Stratford around Guadalcanal. We will be making about 14 stops so that the Stratford can pick up natives for labouring.
23 Dec. Arrived back at Lunga tonight, then across to Tulagi for mail.
24 Dec. Proceeded to Purvis Bay for water.
Christmas Day 1943
25 Dec. Christmas Day. Spent today screening off Lunga. The cooks turned on a wonderful dinner of Turkey, peas, beans, fresh cabbage, potatoes and trifle and cream. As I write this, I can still visualise the Matai’s galley, and the cook, Shorty Shoebridge and his assistants. Shorty was an excellent cook and thanks to our very large freezers we always dined well.
26 Dec. Dropped 5 depth charges today on a contact but no result.
27 Dec. Left this afternoon for Rendova Island escorting the Stratford and the Kopara.
Vella Lavella Island
31 Dec. Arrived Vella Lavella and screened Kopara and Stratford all day.
1 Jan. Two watches ashore on leave today, but I happened to be on duty.
2 Jan. This afternoon the Pacific Kiwi Concert Party came aboard and gave us a show. Also a silver band played half a dozen numbers. Left tonight for Tulagi escorting 4 L.E.I.s. (Can’t remember now what these were like, but apparently were some type of landing craft).
3 Jan. Arrived Lunga 7 p.m. tonight. Heavy swell all day.
4 Jan. This morning we went across to Tulagi for oil and mail. Went alongside Kiwi.
5 Jan. Back to Purvis Bay for water.
6 Jan. Still in Purvis. Picture leave tonight to the A.R.B. China. (Can’t remember what ARB is.)
8 Jan. Watered again, then round to Tulagi. More mail.
9 Jan. Across to Lunga for orders. Rained all day.
Treasury Island again
10 Jan. Sailed mid-day for Treasury Island, convoying a tug towing pontoon barges. Only making 6 knots. Passed by big convoy of transports. Some of the crew have put in for drafts to the U.K.
11 Jan. Passed Randova Island today. Overtaken by convoy of 5 ships.
12 Jan. We are now North of New Georgia. Progress is slow owing to heavy seas.
13 Jan. Arrived reasury Island early this morning and found both Kiwi and Tui here. Kiwi had just arrived back from Empress Augusta Bay, Bouganville. Left 10 p.m. tonight for Lunga.
14 Jan. We broke down this morning for about an hour. Seas are very heavy. (Not very pleasant having a breakdown at sea as we would have been a “sitting duck” for any Japanese submarine in that area. I guess we got quite a buffeting, too, with the heavy seas.)
15 Jan. Arrived Lunga late this afternoon. Ordered round to Beaufort Bay so that our doctor can attend a sick man. Visibility bad and sea too heavy so unable to go in close tonight. (I can’t see Beaufort Bay on my map, but if I remember correctly I think it was on the other side of Guadalcanal.
16 Jan. Two men tried to paddle out to us in a rubber raft but the sea was too heavy and they were swept back on to the reef. We tried lowering the motor launch but couldn’t so had to use the whaler. Chap had dengue fever. Arrived Tulagi late tonight. Mail.
17 Jan.More mail today. Gale arrived from New Zealand.
18 Jan. Went round to Purvis Bay this morning and watered. Picture tonight and it was “Road to Morocco”. Tui and Gala crew came over to see it. (This must have been the first time we had pictures aboard the Matai. I think it was an old secondhand machine we had received, as I can remember breakdowns as well as the stops to change reels. Ships used to swap films and if we got hold of a good film we could get another good one in exchange.
19 Jan. Still in Purvis Bay. This afternoon I went across to the waterhole for a swim. Gale was tied up there and met Les Davies who is an R.D.F.(Radar Direction Finder) seaman aboard her. I’m sure Les worked in the Post Office but can’t remember now where I had met him or known him.
20 Jan. Moved round to Tulagi. Dick Malthus (Leading Signalman) and A.B. Smith have gone aboard Kiwi for passage to N.Z. (The Gale which arrived on 17 Jan must have been a replacement for the Kiwi.).
21 Jan. This morning w tested out our sweeps (The minesweeping gear had never been used before while I was on the Matai and was not used again.) Tonight we are on our way to the Treasury Island with the Gale – we are escorting the Tug Vires and it has some pontoons in tow.
23 Jan. Arrived Treasury 5 p.m. tonight. A few N.Z. soldiers came out to see the pictures. It was “Priorities on Parade”. Sailed at 11 p.m.
24 Jan. On passage to Lunga. The Gale has been ordered to proceed to Rendova. Saw 2 waterspouts. They passed the ship travelling at between 20 to 30 knots. (During my time on the Matai we saw several water spouts, and on one occasion there was quite a discussion among some of the crew on whether the water was sucked up from the sea to the clouds or came down from the clouds).
25 Jan. Arrived Tulagi this morning. Mail.. The Breeze, a similar type ship to the Gale, probably sister ships) arrived and has parcel mail for us. Tied alongside the USS Balsam tonight at the water hole. Had a wander over her. Pictures tonight “You’ll Never Get Rich”. The movies were our main form of recreation, as when in port we were usually there only long enough to take on oil and water. We were rarely ashore, and anyway there was little to see on the islands in the brief hour or two we spent ashore, mainly in Tulagi. The Americans who controlled the NZ Flotilla kept us on the move and I suppose our ships served a very useful purpose by releasing U.S. warships for other purposes.)
26 Jan. Anchored Lunga for night. Pictures again – “Street of Memories”.
27 Jan. Under way for Russell Island at 6 a.m. Arrived and proceeded to Sunshine Sound for boiler clean. Tui is also here for a boiler clean and is tied alongside the USS Argonne. Pictures “Men of Boys Town”.
28 Jan. Painted ship, and worked guards with Tui. (Guards means that instead of both NZ ships maintaining a radio watch we took turns.)
29 Jan. Leave today from 1.30 p.m. Corker swimming pool and made the most of it.
30 Jan. Watch aboard today, so Speigle (nick-name for Don Cairncross) and I spent the afternoon fishing over the stern. I caught 3, just enough for breakfast for the mess.
31 Jan. Shore leave again and more swimming. Picture tonight “Road to Singapore”.
1 Feb. Went to Reynard Sound for water.
2 Feb. This morning we joined up with a convoy of 15 ships and are on our way to Bouganville. Sea is very rough and Speigle, Johnno (Dave Johnston) and I have been seasick. In fact most of the crew have had their heads over the side.
3 Feb. North of Munda. “Corrina” heaved to because cargo was shifting. Our cable locker and Bosun;s store is full of water.
4 Feb. Arrived Augusta Bay, Bouganville, 5 a.m. this morning. Anchored close to shore all day. The L.S.T.s and destroyers left again this morning. We have gone on to the screen. The fighting ashore is only about 4 miles away and is about 500 yards from the NZ fighter strip. Air raid tonight.
5 Feb. We are still screening 3 Liberty ships. There are a couple of volcanoes here. The one right opposite we can often see smoking. There were several air raidsw tonight and quite a bit of ack-ack fire put up.
6 Feb. Still screening. Saw over a hundred bombers heading for Rabaul today. Only one alert tonight.
7 Feb. The Tui arrived this morning and joined us on the screen. We are running very low on water and made the most of a good shower of rain to do some washing.
9 Feb. Went alongside “Cortina” for water today. Several air raids tonight. One plane dropped a flare. (A flare is quite spectacular, lighting up a large area of sea or land or both.)
10 Feb. Back on screen all day. More air raids tonight.
American Attack on Us!
11 Feb. At 11 p.m. tonight we sailed for Buka with the Tui on a submarine hunt.
12 Feb. “Action Stations” all day from 5.30 a.m. until 11 p.m. This morning about 11.15 I was leaning over the port rail up for’ard watching an American Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber circling around us when all of a sudden it opened up on us with machineguns from the rear cockpit. I could see the tracers coming towards us. About 10 minutes later it circled around again and gave us another burst from the starboard side. I could see trhe bullets playing along the water about 10 feet out from the ship. One chap sitting on top of a steel locker jus below me felt something graze a little toe, and when we looked later there was quite a dent in a wardroom porthole cover. There were 2 bullet holes through the crows nest. (I’m glad that Yank was such a rotten shot!). Then at 20 to 12 he dived on us and dropped a bomb which exploded about 60 feet directly ahead of us. One of our gunners on a for’ard Oerlikon (anti-aircraft gun) gave him a burst and the crew on the 4-inch gun fired 3 shots after it. Moze (Ted Moseley) one of the sparkers on watch, on orders from the Captain, got cracking on the R.C.A. transmitter and called for fighter support which didn’t take long to arrive. (According to a Naval historian, the bomb was 1000 pounder whih, if it had hit us midships would have sunk the Matai and probably killed a large number of our crew.
13 Feb. Arrived back at Torokina Bay early this morning and anchored. Pictures tonight “Play Girl”.
14 Feb. Went alongside a small tanker today and oiled. Water was brough out by L.C.T. (Landing Craft Tanks).
15 Feb. Back on screen again this morning. Heard that NZ troops landed on Green Island yesterday (Captain Peter Adams, Margaret’s cousin from Blenheim was killed in action during the fighting. Rhys Williams, of Kaitaia, who was a YMCA Canteen Manager, who served on Green Island and knew Peter, said he was shot by a Japanese sniper perched up in a tree. Capain Jack Clarkson, who we knew in Papatoetoe, a teacher at Otahuhu College, also knew Peter very well and had shared a tent with him. (Peter was killed 20 Feb. 1944.)
Explanation of Attack
18 Feb. This morning the Captain (Commander Holden, O.B.E., gave us an explanation on the bombing and machine-gunning on Sunday. It was a Marine Pilot returning from a raid on Rabaul. This afternoon I saw the splash where a fighter hit the water quite close to us, and looking up into the sky I could see the pilot coming down by parachute. He landed in the water about 2 mile away and a rescue boat picked him up.
17 Feb. Speigle and I went ashore today to collect the ship’s mail. I received 5 letters.
18 Feb. Still on screen. Moe mail again today.
19 Feb. Another 200 bombers and fighters left here for Rabaul this morning. Flights of over a hundred have left here every morning since we arrived – Liberators, Mitchells, Douglas dive-bombers and others. Speigle’s birthday today.
20 Feb. This morning I went ashore to Church – Church of England, and the Padre was American. We sailed down the coast this afternoon for a few miles and we could see the Americans shelling the Japanese.
21 Feb. Today our officers entertained the officers of the Fijian Commando Unit. On their last patrol they killed approximately 650 Japanese for the loss of 4 men.
22 feb. Another plane crashed today about 2 miles from us. We raced to the rescue and again we were beaten by a rescue boat. A small bag of parcel mail arrived today and I was one of the lucky ones . Got a parcel from the W.D.F.U. (Expect that was the Tapanui Women’s Division of the Farmers Union. And very nice parcels they were too.) Went alongside a small refrigeration ship tonight for water.
23 Feb. Today a fighter plane crashed into the water – the pilot coming down by parachute and picked up by a rescue boat. Tonight about 7 p.m. we ;eft with four barges to pick up wounded soldiers from a party that has landed about 15 miles up the coast from Cape Torokina. Had action stations for nearly 3 hours.
24 Feb. Action stations all morning and part of this afternoon. Shelled the shore both times where there were supposed to have been mortar guns and machine gun posts. Fired 42 salvoes. The second time we had 2 planes spotting for us and said we got several direct hits. About 1.30 p.m. twelve light bombers came over and dropped their bombs on the same area (Kuraio Mission). Later they strafed it with machine gun fire. (I haven’t recorded whose planes but seeing they bombed and strafed the area we were firing into, it must have been U.S. planes.)
25 Feb. This morning we went in close and shelled the shore again, then strafed it with Oerlikon fire. Yesterday I saw a convoy of L.S.T.s heading North, flying barrage balloons. Perhaps they were going to Green Island or going to make a landing on Buka. Arrived back at Torokina 9 p.m. tonight.
Lunga and Purvis Bay again
26 Feb. Left noon today for Lunga escorting a Liberty ship. The Tui is travelling with us as far as Treasury Island, where she will pick up a small tanker to escort to Purvis Bay.
27 Feb. Passed New Georgia and Rendova Islands today. Broke down twice tonight. Water in the fuel.
28 Feb. Arrived Lunga 10 a.m. this morning. Anchored till 1 p.m. then went to Kukum for water. There are over 30 Liberty ships and transport ships anchored here, also D.E.s, LST’s and other small craft. Arrived Tulagi 7.30 p.m. Pictures tonight – “City of Darkness”. Received 4 letters in mail.
29 Feb. On the degaussing range all afternoon, then on into Purvis Bay this evening. Went alongside a tanker for more water, picture tonight “My Favourite Blonde” -Bob Hope. (Degaussing means demagnetising)
U.S.O. Concert Party – Ray Milland
1 March. Still in Purvis Bay. Storing ship today. There is a USO concert ashore today, given by some American Film Stars. Ray Milland was one of them. Picture tonight was “In which we Serve” – Noel Coward.
2 March. Went with store party this morning board a U.S. Liberty ship. A Lieutenant-Commander took me to his cabin and gave me a pile of magazines, “Posts”, “Colliers”, “Life”, etc., all latest issues. In one of them was the story of the Kiwi’s sinking of the large Japanese submarine at Guadalcanal – probably with photos of the Commander and ship. When the officers heard I had this, one of them borrowed the magazine and I never got it back.) Mr Kear, one of our officers, who was in charge of the party shouted us all icecreams. (That should have been a real treat for us up in the tropics.) Pictures tonight, “Hold Back the Dawn”, Charles Boyer and Olivia De Havilland.
3 March. Went to Koli Point this morning and took on more stores. Anchored off Lunga for the night.
To Repair Ship
4 March. Picked up a ship outside Purvis Bay this morning and escorted it to the Russell Island. We then proceeded to Sunshine Sound and went alongside the “Argonne”, a repair ship, to have our other boiler cleaned.
5 March. We have ceased radio watchkeeping, the Argonne taking over guard for us. Leave this afternoon to the MTB base. Ted Moseley and I went for a stroll then had a swim.
6 March. Went ashore again this afternoon on leave. Had a game of Badminton, then went swimming. Picture tonight was “Heaven Can Wait.”
8 March. Five of the N.Z. Fairmiles arrived today and then one of them came alongside. Shore leave again today. Had a game of table tennis, a swim, then hitch-hiked about 5 miles over to the other side of the island.The picture tonight was “My Girl Sal” – Judy Garland.
9 March. Proceeded to Raynard Sound early this morning. Went alongside an LST for water, and stayed there all day, leaving again about 5 p.m. and anchored in another small bay. Picture tonight is “Who Done It” – Abbott and Costello.
11 March. HMNZS Breeze came alongside this afternoon for abot an hour. Met Jack Baker, a Telegraphist aboard her. (Have an idea he too worked in the Post Office.) Left about 5 p.m. for Lunga Point, arriving there around midnight and anchoring.
12 March. Proceeded to Tulagi this morning, oiled and returned Lunga. Convoyed 2 ships to Tulagi. Picture tonight was “Desert Victory” about the Eighth Army in Egypt.
Bouganville and Green Island
13 March. Sailed tonight for Torokina, Bouganville, with the Breeze and a P.C. (small U.S. ship), escorting a Liberty ship and a Transport ship carrying N.Z. airmen.
14 March. Tonight the American P.C. boat got a submarine contact and dropped several depth charges. Action stations for about an hour and a half, but no results. The Breeze was left to patrol the area.
15 March. Arrived Torokina 11 a.m. Lay at anchor all day and sailed for Green Island at 5 p.m. About 10 p.m. a Catalina flying boat spotted us and dropped a flare close by illuminating the ship. We contacted them by radio.
16 March. Arrived Green Island this morning. Have taken over the screening of 2 Liberty ships from 4 destroyers. We are to take the ships out to sea at night and bring them back in the morning.
48 Japanese Planes.
17 March. Still screening. Tonight a few Japanese planes were over droping flares.
18 March. Action stations this morning for about three quarters of an hour. Japanese planes were over again.
19 March. Went alongside one of the Liberty ships this morning for oil. Mail came aboard this afternoon.
20 March. The “Alnita”, a troopship, arrived this morning and left again tonight with one of the Liberty ships. Today the Americans landed on Emirau Island, just north of New Ireland.
21 March. Spent all day ashore today with 2nd cousin, Jack Coatsworth of Motueka (son of Rev Tom Coatsworth, Dad’s cousin.) Met a N.Z. soldier named Hurst from Rakaia.
22 March. Still screening.
N.Z. Soldiers and Turkey Dinner
23 March. Twenty N.Z. soldiers came on board for the day. We had a special dinner for them, turkey, roast potatoes, peaches etc. The sea was fairly rough and it wasn’t long before some of them had lost it.
24 March. Went alongside the Liberty ship this morning for water. About 20 more soldiers were out for the day today.
25 March. Another store leave for us today. Sailed 7 p.m. for Lunga, Guadalcanal.
26 March. Left convoy this morning and proceeded to Torokina, anchored. Mail came aboard tonight and in a letter from Betty she tells me I have a new nephew, Blair. Movies tonight but the machine broke down on the second reel.
27 March. At anchor all day today. The guns ashore were going all last night and have started up again tonight.
28 March. This afternoon we went a few miles down the coast and fired six 4-inch shells where there was thought to be a small enemy concentration. Two LCIs were cruising up and down very close to the shore strafing the beach with their 3-inch gun, and 40mm Oerlikon guns. Five big transports arrived this morning filled with troops, mostly negro, who left again this evening.
29 march. Went out on the screen this afternoon.
30 March. Still screening.
31 March. Left tonight for Green Island escorting some LST’s filled with N.Z. troops.
1 April. Arrived Green Island early this morning. Four LSTs had also just arrived from Emirau Island. Left aboujt 4 p.m. The other 2 escorts are a DE and a PC.
2 April. Passed Bouganville, Treasury’s during daylight hours today, Making 10 knots.
3 April. Arrivd Russell Island 12.30 p.m. today. The LSTs discharged their troops and we left again for Lunga at 4.30 p.m.
4 April. Went around to Kukum this morning for water, leaving there for Tulagi about 3 p.m. We have tied up alongside the Tui for the night.
5 April. Went around to Purvis Bay this morning. Swimming this afternoon over at the water-hole. Back to Tulagi, oiled then dropped anchor. Pictures – one of Deanna Durbin’s.
6 April. Stored ship today, all had to give a hand. We got apples, pears, tomatoes, butter, cheese, potatoes, etc., One of the N.Z. Fairmiles came alongside this afternoon. Jack Francis was the sparker aboard her. A few members of the crew turned on a concert tonight – down on the well deck, and it was a great success. They had the wardroom piano, and a few chaps with piano accordions and guitars to make up an orchestra. After the show the Captain (Commander Holden) presented Charlie Kent, our Petty Officer Telegraphist with a wallet for reading the press, (He tooka copy of the news in Morse, broadcast from N.Z. every night to ships at sea.) Also Don Niven and I for our services as Librarians. (We looked after the ship’s library and took turns issuing books to the crew. Usually we opened our little library room bout 4 p.m. in the afternoons for about an hour, and would first dash around the ship calling “Library Open”.) I Can’t remember the presentation, but guess we also received wallets.
7 April. Proceeded to Lunga this morning. Anchored for the day and this evening went around to Kukum for water. The picture tonight was “Blossoms in the Dust” but the machine broke down half way through it.
8 April. Left at 7 p.m. for Green Island. Picked up the Tui and a Liberty ship at Russell Island at day-break. We have a NZ war correspondent on board who is going to give our ships a write-up in the papers.
9 April. Two fast convoys passed us today, the latter a big one, 5 destroyers and 5 transport ships, about parallel with Torokina.
10 April. Arrived Green Island early this morning. A couple of PTs (Motor Torpedo Boats) came alongside and we gave them some fresh stores.
11 April. Leave today and there were about 20 N.Z soldiers came aboard for the day. We are screening a Liberty ship.
Leave on Green Island
12 April. Don Niven and I went ashore this morning for a day’s outing. We landed at Blue Beach and set off round the coast to visit one of Don’s cpousins. Had morning tea at their camp, then paddled back to Blue Beach with Don’s cousin and friend in their canoe. Went from there to the Mission to visit another friend of Don’s. Had dinner at the Camp Hospital, swoup and flapjacks. Met Don’s friend aabout 1 p.m. but as we had decided to see as much of the island as possible we didn’t stop long. Our next objective was the aerodrome about 5 miles distant, so set off to hitchhike there. Altogether during the day we got around 8 lifts. We haad a glance inside a Liberator and a Mitchell bomber. Only one plane took off while there – a transport. The surface of the runways are mad of coral and very smooth. We finished off the day with a swim. Met George Turton who used to live at Overdale, 3 miles south of Rakaia. Mail tonight and I received 1 letter from Betty.
13 April. Still screening. More leave and more NZ soldiers on board.
14 April. Left tonight at 4.30 p.m. for Torokina with the Liberty ship.
15 April. Arrive Torokina at daybreak. Dropped anchor.
16 April. Went alongside a Liberty ship this morning for water and in the afternoon took on oil from a small tanker. Out on the stream tonight.
16 April. Still screening.
19 April. Went in and anchored this afternoon. There was leave tonight to go ashore and see a boxing tornament. About 8 bouts altogether, and in between there were items – songs, jokes, piano accordion solos and a few numbers by a band.
20 April. Have taken over command of the swcreen again.
21 April. Went out on a submarine hunt tonight, but no luck. (There must have been a sighting in our area.)
22 April. Back to Torokina again this morning, anchored all day, then left at 4 p.m. for Munda with a Liberty ship, the “Sara Tesdale”.
23 April. Arrived Munda about 2.30 p.m. this afternoon and left again immediately for the Treaury Islands.
24 April. Arrived Treasury Island 7 a.m. today, oiled, then went alongside an ammunition barge for shells etc. Leave this afternoon so I went ashore in the hope of running across Ira McPherson. (We worked in the Post Office and boarded together at Upper Hutt). Enquired for him at Army Div. Signal Headquarters and found that his camp was about 3 miles along the beach, so one of the soldiers took me out there in a Jeep. Leave was from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. so had tea out at the camp then he brought me back to the jetty in his Jeep. He is leaving for New Caledonia tomorrow on his way to NZ. (Lucky, I caught him. Now retired he lives at Motueka where Marg and I called on him and his wife when passing through about 1979.)
25 April. Went alongside the USS President Munro this morning for water then left for Torokina, arriving there about 5 p.m. Have anchored for the night. Mail tonight.
28 April. Stored ship this morning, then back on to the screen again.
27/28 April. Still screening. A bit monotonous but very important job in wartime, protecting the anchored ships unloading stores or troops from submarine attacks.
29 April. The Breeze arrived this afternoon with a convoy bound for Emirau Island. We screened all day till 5 p.m. then left for Lunga with the Liberty ship “Leeds”.
30 April. At sea. We’re making about 11 knots.
Asdic and Radio Repairs
1 May. Arrived Russell Island about 3 a.m. this morning. Another escort ship is taking the
Leeds” on down to Lunga so that we can repair our Adic underwater detector. Left for Lunga this afternoon and anchored there for the night. Went ashore to a radio repair hut to get one of our radio motors repaired.
2 May. Sailed across to Purvis Bay this morning. Don Cairncross, Jack Townshend and I went ashore at Lyons Point for the parcel mail. Received a parcel from home and chocolates from Bathgates at Crookston.
3 May. Stored ship all day today. Leave for swimming over at the waterhole.
4 May. Went round to Tulagi this morning, anchored for night.
5 May. Back to Purvis Bay, then across to Lunga, then to Kukum for water.
6 May. Left this afternoon for Torokina but broke down before we reached Cape Esperance (northern end of Guadalcanal) and had to anchor for a few hours to repair engine. Anchored quite close to a Japanese ship that had been beached.
7 May. Passed New Georgia today.
News from Home – Dad sick
8 May. Arrived Torokina this morning. Fridges have broken down so had to transfer stores to fridges ashore. Mail – one letter from Keith saying Dad is very ill.
16 May. Still at anchor at Torokina. The Gale and Breeze are here now. The Breeze is doing a boiler clean.
17 May. Had a letter from Betty today. Dad is on the mend. Left for Emirau at 7 p.m. tonight to pick up a Motor Torpedo Boat tender.
16 May. Passed Green Island early this morning.
19 May. Arrived Emirau 2.30 p.m. and left again aabout 4.30 p.m. The MTB tender is the “Mobjack” and her Commander used to command the USS Niagara, the ship we used to go alongside for water during our last tour of duty in the Solomons.
21 May. Arrived Treasury’s 11.30 p.m. tonight and went in to anchor.
22 May. Oiled this morning, then went alongside the “Mobjack”.
23 May. Left at 6.30 a.m. fpr Tprplina, arriving here at 4 p.m. Mail.
24 May. Back on the screen again. Three ships here.
28 May. For the last three days we have been lying at the buoy, just keeping an Asdic watch. He Kiwi arrived this afternoon about 4 p.m. from New Zealand. Bill Thompson (another classmate, and later Post Office Director) is the Leading Telegraphist aboard her and he came over for a while tonight.) Neville Kent (who I relieved at the Post Office at Pongaroa (east from Pahiatua) for 2 weeks in 1941, was also a Telegraphist aboard her.
29 May. Was ashore this afternoon getting towels and blankets for the ship’s company. Left Torokina tonight 7.45 p.m. on our way to N.Z.
30 May. At sea.
31 May. Arrived Russell Island dawn this morning. Anchored in Raynard Sound. Stored ship, then left for Tulagi at 11.30 a.m. Arrived Tulagi 6 p.m. and went alongside Tui for the night.
1 June. Oiled this morning. We were all paid up today. I collected $304 American dollars. (This was quite a large sum in those days, 1944. While in the tropics we were only paid enough to buy sweets, toilet gear, etc., in the ship’s canteen or on the occasional trip ashore, hence the reason for the lump sum payment. I also had part of my weekly pay paid to my parents in Tapanui, who banked it for me. It was referred to as an “allotment”). Left for Lunga 5 p.m. tonight.
3 June. Left Guadalcanal for N.Z. 10 a.m. today.
7 June. Sea has been very rough.
Arrived New Zealand and Leave
15 June. Arrived Auckland noon today. Leave tonight. Apart from my entry on 7th June I haven’t recorded our trip back, but we called first at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, then at Noumea, New Caledonia on our way to Auckland. I still have recollections of that very rough sea. On my return to N.Z. I did not use my diary, or as it is called “My Trip Book” again, so from now on I must rely solely on my memory. I see from my last entry that we were given leave on the day of arrival so I would have left that evening on the Limited Auckland-Wellington express train for Tapanui. The following evening I would have boarded the ferryboat to Lyttleton, and the next morning continued my train journey to Waipahi, arriving there at about 7 p.m. A railway Road bus provided transport for the last 16 miles to Tapanui.
We were entitled to 2 weeks leave every 6 months, so as I had been aboard this tour of duty overseas for 10 months, possibly I may have had about 3 weeks leave. It was wonderful to be home again, and I’m sure I took home some 100% proof Navy Rum and Tobacco for Dad and American towels purchased at the U.S. PX stores in the Islands for Mum. Mum was a wonderful cook and whenever I was home the tins were always filled with my favourite cakes. Holidays in Tapanui were always delightful and passed very quickly, with a visit to “Pine Grove” farm at Crookston to see our Bathgate relatives (probably I stayed with them for a night or two), rabbit shooting, a day or two up the Blue Mountains deerstalking for fallow deer, and I remember a day at the Gore races with Dad. I wasn’t actually with him all day, as being a policeman he was on duty, however I had a few 10/- (10 shillings = %1) bets and not knowing any of the horses I picked horses names that I liked. One of these horses was called Sailor’s Pal and. Of course being in my uniform, I thought this sounded a good omen. But would you believe it, the horse was not only last, but a long way back at the finishing line. Dad later told me that at its next start, SAILOR’S Pal won. The horse was not a pal to me but after his next poor performance at Gore, probably paid a big dividend in his next race. Aunty Grace from Dunedin was staying with Mum and Dad at the time and being a staunch Methodist, didn’t approve of racing. I always stayed with her in Dunedin, either on my way home or back and she walsy made me very welcome.
Returning to Naval Base Auckland
On my way back to the Naval Base I spent a day or two with Betty in Tauranga, arriving in Auckland about teatime the day before I was due to report back to Philomel.
Government House and Auburn Hair
I remembered that Government House, the Auckland residence of the Governor General, had been converted into an Armed Services Club for the duration of the war, so I thought I would have my tea there. Little did I realise at that moment what amomentous and far-reaching decision I had made and even today, 48 years later, I can still clearly remember that evening. I recall having tomato soup and toast and apple pie, which has always been my favourite sweet. Government House, which in those days was in Princes Street, and is now part of Auckland University, had a large ballroom where dances were held for the servicemen, these being arranged by the women’s Lyceum Club, Victoria League, and maybe 1 or 2 other women’s organisations. However, on that articular evening, after finishing my tea, I found that a dance was just starting, so on entering the ballroom, I looked around wondering who I would ask for a dance. Perhaps it was the auburn hair that caught my attention, anyway I asked this young lady, we started waltzing around the hall, and after a while she said, “Haven’t we met before,” to which I replied, “I don’t think so,” as I was sure I never forgot a pretty face. However, after reminding me that we had met at a dance at the YMCA about November, 1942, a year and 8 months earlier, I seems that I had, even though on that previous meeting I had accompanied her home from the dance. Anyway that was how I met Margaret again for the second time. We danced a lot together, and when I took her home that night she asked me to come in and meet her parents. After seeing her lovely big two-storied home, and learning that her father, Dr Lindsay, was a specialist, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to do so. It must have been a Saturday night as they were playing bridge with friends, Dr and Mrs Holmden and Mr and Mrs Shrubsall. But I needn’t have worried as they were all very friendly.
Waiouru Naval Radio Station
Shortly after reporting back to the Naval Base, HMNZS Philomel, Don Cairncross and I were draft (transferred) to Waiouru Naval Radio Station, which later was called HMNZS Irirangi. This was about the end of July, 1944, the middle of winter, and we had only arrived back from the tropics 5 or 6 weeks earlier. On arrival we were issued with gumboots and several blankets. I only had two which were lashed inside my hammock. We certainly needed those extra blankets, as it was so cold I finished up doubling most of mine to form 12 thicknesses, so I could keepwarm at night. We were oused in a block of dormitories and slept in bunks. There were about 100 people on the station, approximately 60 Wrens and 40 sailors. Most of the Wrens had been trained as Telegraphists at HMNZS Tasman, Lyttleton but some were cooks and truck drivers.
Our Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Philpott, and the other two officers were Warrant Officer Brewer and Wren Officer McChesney. After the war, Lt Philpott married Miss McChesney and they went to live in Taupo. I think they had a country store around the lake somewhere. The Wrens had separate quarters some distance from the main quarters. On the station, besides the Administration Buildings and garages for the trcks, there was also the cookhouse/dining room, large YMCA recreation building, where we could play billiards, table tennis, have a cup of tea and there was also a wet canteen. We were not issued with a rum ration when on a shore station.
Our transmitting/receiving buildings were about 300-400 yards away across the paddocks. About the time we arrived, a 7 hole golf course, later extended to 9 holes, was formed and we found it a most enjoyable sport to play.
Instead of the usual 4 hour watches at sea, I think we worked straight 8 hour shifts, 7 days a week. Don and I replaced two other Telegraphists on the Honolulu circuit. For sme reason it was called the N.I.T. circuit, and although I cannot now remember, it may have been Honolulu’s code call. There were about 16 stations on our circuit ranging across the Pacific from ours in NZ to Alaska. Ours was the only non-American station, all the Americans using a different type of sending key to ours. The key was called a Bug, and Morse could be sent faster on it than on our type of key. However, the Americans always sent every word (or figures) twice, so it was no problem to read the message. On our circuits the messages received and sent were very short. The reason for this was as follows:
When a Japanese ship or submarine at sea began transmitting, all the stations on our network would be advised by Honolulu and all the Direction-Finding stations on that island or in that country, would take a bearing on the enemy ship or submarine, and we would all then send our reply to Honolulu. Through the replies Honolulu could pinpoint on the map the exact position of the submarine or ship. I expect that bombers or warships would then be sent to that position to deal with the enemy ship or submarine. At Waiouru we were in Morse communication with several other overseas countries, Australlia, Fiji, India, Canada and Great Britain, as well as sending messages to ships at sea. All messages were in code. After a few months I was placed on other circuits and eventually worked with all the above countries.
When communicating with Australia and Great Britain coded messages were first placed on a tape, the letters or figures being perforated on the tape in dots and dashes, then this tape was placed in a high speed transmitter and the message sent to the country of destination. By this method messages could be sent much faster than could be sent by hand. On inward messages we converted the dots and dashes back into letters and figures. Communication equipment in those days was nowhere as sophisticated as it is today. (1983) and due to atmospheric conditions it was some times difficult to hear Morse signals from other countries or ships. I know with Great Britain we sometimes had to switch over aerials from North to one facing the South Pole, and so receive the messages from that direction. It was very interesting work which I enjoyed.
Song of Waiouru
Oh, mother this station’s a wonderful place,
There’s nothing to see here but tussocks and space,
And a pine tree or two and a mountain afar
So you’ll soon guess the name of the place where we are.
Tou’d weep at the plight of your wandering child
Whom they’ve sent here to freeze in this desolate wild;
With other poor sailors so far from the seas
Surrounded by tussocks that wave in the breeze.
Words fail when I write of the head of the show,
For how to describe him I really don’t know.
He isn’t like Nelson, or Hawkins, or Drake,
And sometimes we think he got here by mistake.
For it looks as if most of his spare time is spent
In fishing and golf like a real country gent.
In the time he has left he plants thousands of trees
To hide all the tussocks that wave in the breeze.
The RPO here is a bloke called McPike
And, Mama, you really can’t think what he’s like.
He hounds us poor mat”lots from morning till night
To polish or scrub everything within sight.
And now we all live in trembling and fear,
“Cos we know that one day he will get the idea
Of arming the seamen with brooms and squeegees
To wash down the tussocks that wave in the breeze.
Now Ma, I must tell you before I forget
That I fear I can’t get you a Wren for a pet.
Don’t be disappointed or get in a rage
When you read that I can’t bring one home in a cage.
For these little birds are not easy to tame;
It’s a mighty hard job, though I”ve tried just the same.
Though I”ve tried every trick they escape me with ease
And fly from the tussocks that wave in the breeze.
The Commodore says when we’ve cleaned up the Hun,
And when Tojo is finished our job will be done.
And he says that he knows we will win the war soon,
That we may beat the Japs by the middle of June.
Now there aren’t any Japs within cooee of here,
So I want you to write, to the boss like a dear,
And tell him I want to go home if you please
Where there aren’t any tussocks that wave in the breeze.
(Written by Wren Marie King, in 1944, to the tune of “The Mountains of Mourne.)
Surrender of Japan
After the surrender by Japan. I was placed on a circuit working with the battleships, “King George V” and “The Duke of York”, which were anchored in Tokyo Bay, and we were receiving messages mostly from or about prisoners-of-war, for onward transmission to Great Britain. Apparently these 2 ships are unable to establish direct radio contact with the U.K.
Being in such an isolated place as Waiouru (about 5 miles from the Military Camp), which in the winter was extremely cold, the stalks of the tussocks enlarged by frost to about 3 times their normal size, you may think it could have been a lonely 15 months existence, but there was always something to do. We played a lot of golf with whatever clubs that were available, usually a driver, a number 3 or 5, and a putter, and in time became quite proficient players. There was also a weekly afternoon truck trip into Taihape for shopping and a glass of beer at the local pub. Some of the chaps however had quite a few more than the one or two beers and had to ask the driver to make a comfort stop on the way back to the camp. It was a canvas-covered truck with 2 or 3 celluloid windows along each side, and the driver would remind the Wrens – “No looking out the windows please girls”.
The Army Camp had a picture theatre and 1 or 2 nights each week a truck was available to take personnel to see the “movies”. During my time at Waiouru, Mt Ngaurohe was sending up a lot of steam and smoke and sometimes a grey ash, and even though it was about 25 miles north of our camp we had to check the wind direction before hanging out our own washing, otherwise all our good efforts would hasve been in vain – but beautifully washed whites becoming a dirty grey colour. In the summer, or rather I should say, on a nice hot summer day, we could go swimming in a hole in the river near the camp, but the mountain water was so cold you dived in one side, went for your life to the other side and hurriedly scrambled out again.
About 3 miles down the side road from the camp there was a large sheep station, which had its own cookhouse and bunkhouse for the station hands, and the cook there was a bit of a character, named Harry –I forget his other name now, after about 50 years. Anyway several of us, Wrens and sailors, would occasionally, during an afternoon, walk down to see him, and he was always delighted to see anyone from the camp. He would cook us a meal of home-grown lamb or hogget and roast potatoes and meat off the farm was absolutely delicious. We always had lovely meals at our camp but Harry’s cooking was superb. Sometimes at our camp we would have a dance, concert, and once a fancy dress dance, and Harry was always invited to these. I think he rarely left the sheep station and probably it was quite a treat for him to come along and mix with all the Wrens and sailors. The Wrens came from all different backgrounds, one the daughter of an Army Brigadier, another a Magistrate’s daughter, two from large sheep stations, and others from various walks of life. They were a fine bunch of girls.
One of the radio mechanics was a chap named McConnachie, whose father was the NZ Champion Billiards player, and he came along on one occasion and gave us an exhibition in playing billiards and showed us many trick shots. Wild pork was on the menu one night after a day’s shooting by a couple of the chaps. Another day a number of us went by truck to Raetihi to see the rodeo, mostly back country locals, I suppose who were trying to ride bullocks and unbroken horses.
Discharge from the Navy
The war was over, and about the end of November 1945, Don Cairncross and I were sent to Wellington to be discharged. Our service in the Navy was finished, and we were back in Civvy Street. That is, as soon as our leave was completed. Before leaving Wellington I called at the General Post Office to enquire about my future prospects in the Post Office. Although I was a trained Telegraphist in the Navy, I had not, pre-Navy time, passed through the Post Office Telegraph School. I had my sending certificate but not that of my receiving, so I asked if I could attend the School in Wellington to obtain this. Morse by radio has a different sound to that received on the Post Office Morse sounder, which is a clicking sound and takes a bit of adjusting to. No definite answer cold be given at the time so I left immediately for Christchurch to see an old friend before travelling on to Tapanui. On discharge we were all given travel warrants for ourselves and one other, so while in Christchurch I phoned Mum and suggested that we travel up to Tauranga and stay with Betty for a while. She was agreeable to that, but when I further suggested we travel from Christchurch to Auckland by RNZAF Dakota, he reply to that was, “That would take quite a bit of thinking about”. She had never travelled by air before. So we went by train and ferry boat. At that time servicemen were allowed free travel on the RNZAF D.C.3’s (Dakotas) and some months before, when on leave, I had travelled from Christchurch to Paraparaumu on one of these planes.
48 Years Later
Last year, September, 1992, my eldest grandson, Alistair, who was doing a project on the Navy as part of his school work, wrote asking me a number of questions regarding my wartime service in the RNZN, one of these being: “What was it like to go to War?” My reply to this question was, “Quite exciting. Being young I never thought about our ship having to kill some of the enemy. Probably I was more interested in seeing other parts of the world. The uniform with bell-bottom trousers was another attraction in joining the Navy. In writing these memoirs of my three and a half years in the Navy, I have recalled many happy memories of my life at the training establishment, life at sea and my time at H.M.N.Z.S. “Irirangi”, of the happy times and friendships made, which have endured for over 50 years. (July 1993)