A PO boy who returned
as a PO Instructor

By David Wadman

It is difficult to know where to start.

Looking back, I had no intention of joining the RNZN.  My High School career was involved in the Army Cadets; even to the extent of going to the Army camps at Linton and Waiouru during school holidays.  My father was in the Army during the war, serving with the Divisional Cavalry 2NZEF.

I had a school friend, David Rosemergy, who, without prior notice or talking about it, told me he had joined the RNZN and next thing he was gone.  I was 14 at the time and thought that his move was a good idea, so I made an application from Marton Junction to join the RNZN on the 16th February 1953.

It then appears I attended a Navy Recruiting Board in Wanganui on the 26th June 1953. Next thing I received papers that I was accepted and to be on a train on the 29th July 1953 and travel to Auckland and sign up for the RNZN.  Age 15 years 2 months.

The train departed Marton Junction Railway Station around midnight and arrived in Auckland in the early hours of the 30th July.  There to meet us on the station platform was PO Peter Coffey (still in square rig).  If I remember rightly, it was a tram journey from Auckland Station to Admiralty steps, to be put on a boat to cross the harbour to HMNZS Philomel.  The group then started a journey: X-rays, receiving kit, signing on.  On completion of these activities we were then marched onto the jetty to board an ML or Fairmile for the trip to Motuihe Island and HMNZS Tamaki.

And there it started.  PO Coffey was our initial instructor.  When the balance of the intake arrived around September we were split into Advanced Class (AC) and General Class (GC) Boys classes.  In my case it was the AC class, a group of six Boys, who had joined earlier than the GC Boys, with a PO Godfrey as our instructor; PO Coffey was the GC boys instructor.

The GC boys left the island after about six months training and were drafted to the last Frigate to go to the Korean War.  The AC boys spent 14 months under training on Tamaki.

During my training period I was awarded Boy Marksman Badge and Boy Coxswain; rated Leading Boy in Dec 53, and promoted to PO Boy in June 54.

 Five members of our class were rated as Call Boys – not the male equivalent of call girls, but assessed as proficient in making all the pipes on the Bosun’s Call.  For this we wore a silver chain rather than the standard lanyard on our uniforms, with a Bosun’s Call attached to the chain (see photo above.)

I ‘passed out’ from training on 22nd Sep 1954, with me being Best Trainee Entry AC 1st Class and awarded the Cleland Cup.

Some events on Tamaki
The Whalers and Cutters were stored on the beach.  After use for sailing, pulling etc, depending on the tide it was clear lower deck of Boys to drag the boats up the beach.  Coal was sent to the island by scow, which was beached at high tide and was clear lower deck to discharge the coal into bags/sacks for carting up to the boiler house.  Leave to Auckland was given once a fortnight – I was able to go once a week when rated L/Boy.  Our wages were 30 shillings a fortnight, with half being received in our hand and the other half being put on your ledger.

After Training

My first draft was to HMNZS Black Prince, from September 1954 to September
In September 1955.  In September 1955 I was drafted to HMNZS Bellona for the trip to the United Kingdom, to return Bellona and transfer to HMNZS Royalist and commission her into service into the RNZN.  I remained in Royalist until April 1957.  In both the Bellona and Royalist my job was Gunnery Office Writer.

In July 57 I drafted to HMAS Cerebus, in Western Port, Victoria, for an FC2 course until November 57.  On return from the course I was posted to Philomel, where I was Boats Crew, manning the Taihoa with L/S John Baber, and also Quartermaster.

September of 1958 saw me drafted again to Royalist as an AB.  I was made Acting Local L/Sea in Nov 58, got rated L/Sea in Dec 59 and A/PO in Mar 60.  So I had the distinction of being rated from AB to A/PO in one commission over eighteen months.  At the time of being rated A/PO I believe I was the youngest Seaman PO in the Navy, with 7 years service from Seaman Boy to PO.  My time on Royalist was as Quartermaster and Coxswain Motor Cutter or Motor boat.

I drafted to Philomel in July 60 for an FC1 course, from 2nd July to 14th October 1960.  Having completed the course in I found myself drafted to HMNZS Tamaki on Motuihe Island, at the age of 22 years 5 months.  A return to where I had left on the 22nd September 1954, (6 years and 1 month).  Who should still be an instructor back there again but PO Peter Coffey.

It was a surprise to me that I was employed as Parade and Gunnery Instructor. It would appear that according to my Divisional Officers comments on my history sheets, I was being groomed to be a GI, hence this new role.  The Gunnery Officer at the time was Lt. Frank D. Arnott.  The other Instructor was PO Charley Peart.  Lt. Bourke took over as Gunnery Officer at a later date. 

It was a difficult time for me from a dress point of view as, as an Acting Petty Officer. I was still in square rig.  I made a request to the Commanding Officer, Cdr. Bardwell, to change rigs early, but he turned me down.  I was disappointed in his decision, as I was the Gunnery Office Writer under him in Bellona and in Royalist for first commission, and I thought this would make it easier to get approval to change rigs early.  However, it was not to be.  I then had to complete my twelve months probationary time before being rated up to Petty Officer and then a new rig.  

The Chiefs and Petty Officers mess in Tamaki was a dangerous place to be, more so after a passing out parade.  I recall after one such event missing the 1600 boat back to town – it left as we were walking over the football paddock to the steps.  So, back to the bar we went.  Created a lot of grief family-wise when I turned up at Admiralty steps the next day, to be greeted by a heavily pregnant wife not happy with me missing the boat!!

Another event I recall was the Navy shooting championships held at Whangaparaoa 1960 and 1961.  As I was the team leader and had my 1938 Austin 10 at Admiralty steps, I loaded Bren guns, .303 Rifles, pistols and ammunition onto the ML and then into my car and went home to Henderson.  I placed all this gear into the house and then next day reloaded the car and proceeded to Whangaparaoa via Riverhead/Coatsville for the shooting comps.

Shooting events that I have won include: 1959 – Kiwi cup RNZN Revolver Competition; 1960 RNZNRA White Wickham Cup; 1961 RNZNRA Long Range Champion.

In January 1962 I drafted to HMNZS Taranaki, at the age of 22 years and 8 months, and was made Captain of the fo’c’s’le.  (The forecastle (abbreviated fo’c’sle or fo’c’s’le) is the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors’ living quarters.)

The ship sailed early that year for a 13-month deployment to the Far East.

Lt. J.E.M. Welch formally recommended me for GI on the 30th April 1962.

One particular special memory from that trip relates to the Far East Fleet rifle championships, which were held on Stonecutters Island, Hong Kong in January 1962.  Taranaki entered a team, which won four of the teams events. I won the Fleet rifle championship, short and long range cups.  The remarkable thing about these wins was that they were made using borrowed .303 rifles.  These rifles were taken out on loan from the Armoury in HMS Tamar on the day of the competition and we had little time to sight them in.  In achieving the wins the Taranaki team beat teams from the cruiser HMS Tiger and other RN ships, that had their own rifles and with which the team members were familiar with firing

Following Taranaki’s return to NZ I was drafted to Philomel in May 63, into Training Division.  I was on a roster for TD PO, looking after all the trainees outside of training hours.  Following 12 months in this role I then discharged from the RNZN in May 64.

My main reason for not signing on was that I had decided that I did not want to have any more long trips away from family.  The Navy made a lot of promises that trips away would only be six months duration, but that at the time was not meant to be.

Epilogue – by Jack Donnelly.

David Wadman had only a short career in the RNZN, completing just his minimum required service of 10 years and 10 months, comprising 2 years 10 months Boy’s time and then 8 years man’s time, the latter being the basic period of engagement in his day.  However, as you have read from his anecdote, he achieved so much.   His loyalty, dedication and determination provided the foundations for his brilliant career.  

In the end, it was his family that he unselfishly put ahead of his career in the RNZN.  Dave had the aptitude and ability to go right to the top had he signed on.   A Gunnery Instructor or Gunnery Officer were certainly well within his scope. 

Thank you for your story and your service, Dave, and good luck in the future.