Harold Beven reckons he’s the luckiest man to serve in the Second World War. Born in a village east of London, he saw plenty of action in the (UK) Royal Navy, but by his own admission, never got his feet wet. Joining up as soon as possible after the outbreak of war, Beven served in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete — and later the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy — as well as the D-Day invasion of France. At the age of 96, Beven remembers entire conversations as if it was yesterday.
Daniel Herlihy’s naval career spanned 44 years, making him the longest continuous serving member of the New Zealand Navy. He joined in 1949, at the age of 14. Even before seeing active service in Korea he’d been involved in keeping New Zealand ports running, during the infamous 1951 waterfront dispute. Following significant action off Korea’s coasts, Daniel was later involved in the Suez Crisis and the Malayan Emergency. Later, while commanding a coastal patrol vessel, he took part in action against illegal Taiwanese fishing boats. At 82, Daniel recalls many details.
When the British troopship The Marquette sank in the Aegean Sea, killing 32 New Zealanders in World War One, it caused outrage in Aotearoa. Their deaths — mainly nurses and medical orderlies — could have been avoided if they had been on a hospital ship, which gave more protection from attack. Instead 167 people died on 23 October 1915 when a German torpedo slammed into their vessel. This Great War Stories episode interviews actor Antonia Prebble about her role in Australian TV series Anzac Girls, playing Marquette survivor nurse Hilda Steele.
In his matter-of-fact way, James Murray reflects on some of the horrors of the War in the Pacific. Joining the New Zealand Navy at 17, Murray found himself aboard an American destroyer, watching the first atomic bomb explode above Hiroshima. “We thought they’d blown up Japan,” he says. Earlier, aboard HMNZS Gambia, he’d watched Japanese kamikaze planes attempting to sink the aircraft carriers his ship was trying to protect. Later he was among the first to land on the Japanese mainland, helping take control of the Yokosuka Naval Base.
This NFU film follows the maiden voyage of HMNZS Otago. Built at a Southampton shipyard, she was the first ship made for the Royal New Zealand Navy. The anti-submarine frigate is shown undergoing sea trials in 1960, before a haka on the Thames and a bon voyage from Princess Margaret send the Otago homewards. There are visits to ports in the Mediterranean, Suez, Singapore and Australia (where the crew enjoy shore leave) before arrival in Dunedin in January 1961. The Otago later supported protests against nuclear testing at Mururoa; she was decommissioned in 1983.
At 101 Arthur Asher offers a remarkable account of his experiences in World War II. Dates and events come easily to mind as he narrates his time in the North African desert war and Greece. Caught up in the gruelling battle at Bel Hamid near Tobruk, Asher was later wounded by an exploding mine. A stay in a convalescent camp felt more like being in prison to Asher, who went on to fight the German advance in Greece, shooting down a spotter plane in the process. Back in North Africa, he was hit by a car, ending his war with a broken leg and jaw. Asher died on 19 May 2017.
From North Atlantic convoy protection to the invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland, Joseph Pedersen was there. His entire naval career was spent as a sonar operator on two destroyers, HMS Walker and HMS Lookout. The latter was the only destroyer of eight in its class to survive WWll. Harrowing stories of sinkings, dive bombings and helping in the recovery of bodies from a bombed London school, are balanced by the strange coincidences and humour of war. Aged 90 when interviewed, Pedersen's recall of long ago events is outstanding. Pedersen passed away on 29 March 2017.
This first episode from the third series of Great War Stories chronicles HMS New Zealand, a navy battleship that served in the Royal Navy (New Zealand didn’t have a navy in World War I). The ‘first class battleship’ was paid for by New Zealand to aid British sea power. Nearly half the population of New Zealand visited the ship when it visited in 1913. Its role in the Battle of Jutland is explored, including a ‘lucky charm’ piupiu worn by its captain in battle. The series of short documentaries screened during TV3’s nightly news, as part of Great War centennial commemorations.
Starting his World War II military service in the army, Jack Harold was soon transferred to the navy. He saw active service at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and was aboard minesweeper HMNZS Moa when it and sister ship HMNZS Kiwi engaged a Japanese sub, eventually sinking it after the Kiwi dropped depth charges. The Moa’s luck didn’t hold; it was sunk in a Japanese raid, taking five of its crew with it. Jack survived, and returned to action in the Pacific aboard submarine-hunting ships. Jack Harold was discharged from the Navy in 1945; he passed away on 15 April 2017.
John Wilkinson didn’t realise until after the end of World War ll that he’d broken his back when the plane he was piloting in North Africa was shot down. Captured and beaten up by Italian soldiers, interrogated by the Gestapo, John eventually ended up in the notorious Stalag Luft III prison camp in what is now Poland. He was involved in the Wooden Horse Escape, one of the most famous of the war. Later he would meet his future wife at the camp, a displaced person from Lithuania. Now 95, John’s memory of his wartime experiences remains undimmed.