05 September 2014

The Merchant Navy


On Wednesday 3 September we remembered the bravery and sacrifices of the civilian seamen known as the Merchant Navy. They were not a military force; they were the men who sailed the civilian ships requisitioned by the New Zealand and British Governments for war service. Thousands of New Zealanders served with the Merchant Navy during World War Two, working on the vessels that carried troops, military equipment, fuel, food and raw materials to Britain, America and the battlefields of Europe.

The work of the Merchant Navy during wartime was vital for the continuation of the Allied war effort. Britain relied heavily on the supplies shipped through treacherous waters; the sailors were in constant danger of attack by enemy vessels. During World War Two more than 130 New Zealand Merchant Navy sailors and officers died and around 140 were taken as prisoners of war. There is no other group of New Zealand civilians who faced such danger during wartime.

To commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of the Merchant Navy, we would like to share some of the treasures from the Museum's reserve collection.

Medals awarded to George Henry Davis (1999.21.17), part of the NZ Maritime Museum reserve collection. During World War One Davis served as a soldier in the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps; the first two medals of this set represent his service during this conflict. George Davis also served in World War Two as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy, for his service he was awarded The 1939 - 1945 Star, The Pacific Star, The War Medal 1939-45 and the New Zealand War Service Medal.  The last medal of this set is The Coronation Medal 1953.

Miniature medal set, George Henry Davis (1999.21.19), NZ Maritime Museum reserve collection.

29 August 2014

100 years since New Zealand joined WW1


Friday 29 August marks one hundred years since what is considered New Zealand’s first military action in World War I.

German Samoa was a strategic operational base in the Pacific for Germany, with a radio transmitter in Apia able to send Morse code signals to Berlin. Britain wanted the German presence in the area removed and the leaders of New Zealand were happy to oblige, particularly because of the aim to colonise other parts of the South Pacific.

The passenger liners MONOWAI and MOERAKI were requisitioned from the Union Steam Ship Company to transport the New Zealand expeditionary force to Samoa. They departed King's Wharf, Wellington on 15 August and landed at Apia on 29 August 1914.

With little resistance from the Germans, the force took over German Samoa and administered the country until 1920. New Zealand then governed the islands from 1920, in a checkered history of repressive rules and unprovoked violence, until Samoa finally gained independence on 1 January 1962.

Find out more about the occupation of Samoa.

Union Steam Ship Company steamship MOERAKI, oil painting attributed
 to Frank Barnes (1859-1941). Fraser Collection,  NZ Maritime Museum (8673)
The passenger steamship was built for the company in 1902, and was employed in the trans-Tasman service. 

MONOWAI, hand-coloured photograph by David Alexander
DeMaus (1847-1925). NZ Maritime Museum (2002.23.2)
The passenger and cargo liner was built in 1890 by the Union Steam Ship Company for the trans-Tasman service.

22 August 2014

Poetry from war-torn seas

During the early hours of 26 November 1940, RMS RANGITANE was travelling from Auckland to London when she was attacked and sunk by German raiders. Of the 300 people on board, 13 were killed during the attack.

As part of National Poetry Day, we’d like to share a poem about the RANGITANE disaster from the Museum’s reserve collection. This poem was written by one of the female survivors and our copy is part of the personal collection of Mr William Edward Collison. Mr Collison was a steward on RANGITANE at the time.

Through the grey quiet of a November dawn,
The Rangitane sails, upon her homeward way,
When, suddenly, a shadow deep appears
And takes its shape in the uprising day.

A foreign ship! – The bridge springs in to life,
The Captain wakens from his well-earned sleep

A second ship has now appeared in view,
Is it an enemy upon the ocean deep?

As soon as born, our fears turn certainties.
The wireless message which we try to send
Wakens the guns upon the savage foe

And, with shrill cries, the shells wild voices blend.

The cruel shells, piercing the ship’s stout frame,
Have daunted not the men’s determined mind
To send that message – though it should cost their life –

To save all men and the ships who sail behind.

The ship manoeuvres to protect her guns,
Relentlessly the shells still pierce her side,
Below, the passengers, with quiet calm,
In darkness, amidst roaring tumult glide.

At last, from fire, blast and flood and smoke,
Respite is gained.  There falls a sudden hush.
The guns are silent.  Strangest sounds are heard; -

Men’s voices calling; water’s sudden rush;

The gurgling breathing of a dying girl
The joke upon the lips of one who lies,
Grievously wounded, even unto death,

And yet has light and laughter in her eyes.

At last the order “Take to the boats” rings out,
Obediently, with perfect calm, each one
Goes to his place.  The boats swing out and down.
The ship now floats, afire, her duty done.

n her, our friends and loved ones find a grave
For England’s love and England’s life they died.
We left them there – and prayed the mighty sea
Would welcome them, - their earthly bodies hide.

We love them still – but cannot hold regret;
They would have chosen to make that sacrifice
If they had known that their death could save
Others, freely they would have given their life.

For some it was death, others were prisoners taken,
Each, in his way, has served his country’s ends, -
Again will do so, as long as England needs
Ships and the sea.  On these her life depends.

A typewritten copy of the original poem, written
 by a female survivor of the tragedy [16044e ],
part of the reserve collection of the
 Maritime Museum
Ticket to the Rangitane Ball [16044g],
 part of the reserve collection of
the Maritime Museum.
Postcard of RMS RANGITANE [2636c], part of the reserve
collection of the Maritime Museum.  RANGITANE was a
passenger liner owned by the New Zealand Shipping Company.

15 August 2014

Protecting our beaches: Surf Life Saving and the legacy of Muriel Brown

Photo by Dave Young, 2010
As New Zealanders, we’re lucky to live in a country with so many beaches. But we also need to be aware of how dangerous our waters can be. Surf Life Saving New Zealand watches over our busiest beaches every summer to keep us safe in the sea - their red and yellow flags are a familiar and comforting sight.

Surf Life Saving started in Australia in 1906, and the first New Zealand clubs were established in 1910. Competitions between clubs brought public attention to the members’ skills and strength, and by the 1930s surf life saving was recognised and celebrated as heroic and necessary. The number of clubs and life savers increased and today there are 73 clubs with around 15,000 members.

The Maritime Museum’s surf life saving collection includes photographs and memorabilia belonging to Muriel Brown, the first woman to become a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association.

Milford Surf Life Saving Club was the first club established in the Auckland District in 1925, and the Milford Girls’ SLSC was formed in 1932, with Muriel Brown as captain. The 1935/36 Auckland annual report records nine active members in the Milford Girls’ club in 1935. They made one rescue and gave first aid seven times that year.

Muriel Brown joined the surf life saving movement in 1932. She competed in events each year and even though the club only had a small membership, the team won several trophies and awards in the 1930s. After World War II Muriel served as an instructor and secretary of the Milford club. She also represented the Milford Ladies Surf Live Saving Club in the Auckland Association.

When the Milford Girls’ Club closed in 1961, Muriel joined the Orewa Club and was elected to the role of President.

The Auckland Association awarded Muriel for her work on several occasions. In 1971 she was the first woman to be made a life member of the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association. She became a Governor of World Life Saving and in 1992 was awarded an MBE for services to life saving. Muriel died in 1996 at the age of 82.

Muriel Brown leading the Milford Girls’ Club in a
public display at Waihi Beach in 1937