The Rock Anecdote 3

PROLOGUE: This is our third edition of short stories about HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihe Island that both Gary “Kips” Houghton and I are writing to keep the interest flowing and alive leading into the “Survivors of the Rock” reunion on 14-16th February 2020.


History will say that from 1941 to 1963 the island of Motuihe was inhabited for 22 years by the RNZN as a training base for its new recruits. Today there is nothing official on the island to say that we were there. It is our endeavour to ensure that in February 2020 we leave our ‘marker’ on the island to say, “WE WERE HERE.”

They came from the four corners of NZ, young, energetic, keen and in the hope of a new beginning in their lives as sailors. Some were straight out of school, for others it was their first job and a career in the Navy. Others had had previous employment, but found their jobs unfulfilling.

The motivators for joining were many and varied: a long held ambition or dream of being a sailor; following a family tradition; a desire to see the world; a chance to get away from home; a whisper in the ear by a local police officer or a choice suggested by a benevolent magistrate.

For many it was their first time away from home. There were those who had never lifted an iron, threaded a needle, worn shoes or owned a pair of underpants. A few had been sea cadets; others thrived in a military environment. Then there were those who could not handle the pressure or discipline, but for the majority, it was a whole new experience.

When you first caught a glimpse of this idyllic island in the middle of the Hauraki Gulf, with its beautiful beaches, palm trees on the foreshore, a white cliff and small boats moored to buoys, you thought that at last you were in paradise. But once you stepped onto the island you could almost smell its historical tradition and discipline. Whether you completed 3 months or 12 months the memories of your time and training on the ‘Rock’ never leaves you, it is engrained into your mind forever.

The training instructors were certainly “old school”. Some were ex-World War 2 veterans, others transferred across from the Royal Navy and then there were our own ‘home grown’ instructors. They ruled by fear and with an ‘iron hand’; instant discipline was enforced, the training was very structured and traditional. Some may well say that they were cruel, brutal or even heartless, but “fair and firm” are words that many “boys” would use to describe their instructors.

The training program focused on teamwork, hygiene, naval traditions, seamanship, ship knowledge, parade drill and physical fitness. Promotion was awarded to those trainees who displayed leadership skills and they became class leaders. Additional promotion for the Seaman Boys was to Petty Officer Boy and Instructor Boy.

Once described as “Gentle Annie” was the HILL, all 100 plus yards of it. The discipline practices that the instructors employed for trainees was endless: sprinting, frog hopping with hammocks or rifles, carrying buckets of sand up from the beach, 5.25” projectiles on the shoulder or whenever the trainees returned from leave inebriated. Besides the hill the toughest punishment was the dreaded Number 9s, which consisted of drilling with .303” rifles at the double early morning and night, additional work and stoppage of leave.

Four meals a day, breakfast, lunch, tea and supper were a pretty stable diet, but you didn’t dare to take any extras or down came a spatula – Wham!! Life and training on the island was not all hostile. There was a movie theatre where Sunday night features were screened; tobacco was cheap; ‘free to roam’ was granted on Sundays – when the ferries arrived in summer time laden to the gunwales with ladies; a few hours liberty one day each weekend – to see the lights of Auckland, get acquainted with the “creatures of the night” and guzzle down cheap wine (snibos); there was also a variety of sports to play.

When the time came for trainees to leave the island there would have been feelings of satisfaction, maybe sadness or even emancipation. They had gone from boys to men, had quickly grown up, gained in confidence and found inner strength to survive. Most of them never returned to the island.

“Tell me and I forget,
Show me and I remember,
Include me and I learn.”

“Boys on the Rock”

By Jack Donnelly