Old seafarers set course for ceremony

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Old salts are preparing for the annual Seafarers’ Service and celebration of the Battle of Trafalgar.

The South Canterbury branch of the Royal New Zealand Naval Association will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at the Seafarers’ Monument in Perth St, Timaru, on October 15, then march to St Mary’s Church to take part in the Seafarers’ Service.

Members will then gather for a meal and the annual celebration of the Battle of Trafalgar.

Secretary Ernie Pope said it was a long-established tradition to take part in the service, which encompassed all seafarers.

Photographic record … The secretary of the South Canterbury branch of the Royal New Zealand Navy Association, Ernie Pope, displays photographs from his nine-month commission on the HMNZS Hickleton during the Indonesian Confrontation. PHOTO: CLAIRE ALLISON

“The navy sends a colour guard to carry the ensign, and we march from the monument to the church.

“This year we’ve got seven coming from Christchurch, from the HMNZS Pegasus, and five from the HMNZS Toroa in Dunedin.”

Mr Pope said the South Canterbury branch of the RNZNA had about 60 members, from as far afield as Ashburton, Dunedin and Roxburgh.

It offered ex-navy staff the chance to get together with like-minded people who had shared experience.

“It’s amazing. You get them together and suddenly they’re reliving those days, and the stories come out.

“We hold on to some of the traditions – sitting down to toast the Queen, and tot-time [the now-defunct practice of issuing sailors with a daily tot of rum].”

Mr Pope retired from the Royal New Zealand Navy 40 years ago, but says he still recalls his number.

He served a nine-month commission during the Indonesian Confrontation in the early 1960s, on the HMNZS Hickleton, a British minesweeper converted for use as a gunboat.

The association holds a quarterly get-together, and twice a year aims to have a mystery bus trip and meal out. As well as offering social events, the association also supports members and widows in practical ways, by offering assistance when needed with transport or household tasks.

Mr Pope said the branch knew there were many other ex-navy people around South Canterbury, and he encouraged them to consider joining.

“We’d love for them to join us.

“We’ve even got people who had had no contact in the past with the navy; one guy when he was asked why he joined said he liked the ambience of the group. Another lady, her husband was a member, and after he died, she joined up.”

Helicopter post .. Mail delivery to the HMNZS Hickleton, a British minesweeper used as a gun boat in the Indonesian Confrontation (1963-66). PHOTO: ERNIE POPE