Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967
W. G. PARKER - AN HISTORICAL LINK WITH 1941 - WORLD WAR II.
Research by C.W.M. and N.S.C. [CW Malcolm and Nell Climie – E]
N.Z. Servicemen were involved in many momentous happenings during World War II and we are indebted to Mr C.W. Malcolm for reminding us of the part played by a Paeroa boy, son of Mrs J. Capill who still lives here. He was the Rev. Wilfred G. Parker, M.A. Chaplain of H.M.S. "Prince of Wales" which, with the Battleship "Repulse" was sunk south of Singapore by Japanese bombing attacks on 10th December, 1941.
Prior to this major tragedy the "Prince of Wales" featured in many historic events, especially during the Battle of the Atlantic. Britain's ability to carry on the War depended on her ability to keep sea-lanes open so that food and raw materials might have safe passage. The new German Battleship "Bismarck" was an immediate menace.
In his chronicle of "The Second World War" Sir Winston Churchill describes naval episodes of the highest consequence which took place in the Atlantic. We quote:-
"All that night (23rd - 24th May 1941) amidst driving rain and snow the "Norfolk" and "Suffolk" shadowed the enemy, and their signals showed the exact positions of friend and foe. As the Arctic twilight grew into day the "Bismarck" could be seen twelve miles to the south - - The "Hood" and the "Prince of Wales" were in sight, and mortal conflict was at hand - - suddenly came disaster. At 6 a.m. after the "Bismarck" had fired her fifth salvo, the "Hood" was rent in twain by a mighty explosion. A few minutes later she vanished beneath the waves amidst a vast pall of smoke. All but three of her valiant company, more than 1500 men perished. The "Prince of Wales" quickly altered her course to avoid the wreckage of the "Hood" and continued the now unequal fight. Then the "Bismarck" steamed southward, but all through the 24th the injured British Cruisers continued to dog her; this tremendous Bismarck, 45,000 tons perhaps almost invulnerable to gun fire, rushing southwards towards our convoys with the "Eugen" as her scout. That evening about 6.40 she suddenly turned to engage her pursuers, and there was a brief encounter", (We now know she had been previously injured by the "Prince of Wales" and oil was leaking from her heavily. On the 27th May Churchill was able to report that the "Bismarck" was sunk.)
In August 1941, a meeting at sea between Mr Churchill and President Roosevelt, when the Atlantic Charter was drawn up, has been termed the most dramatic encounter of the War. H.M.S. "Prince of Wales" conveyed Mr Churchill and included in the personnel was the well known Journalist H.V. Morton, who subsequently described the historical event which took place off the shores of New Foundland in his book "Atlantic Meeting".
Mr Malcolm went to considerable trouble to borrow a copy of this now rare book and typed out for us some most moving passages concerning the Chaplain, Rev. W. Parker.
Extracts from ATLANTIC MEETING by H.V. MORTON.
Publishers: Methuen and Co. Ltd., London, 1943
Third Australasian Edition 1945 Coulls Somerville Wilkie Ltd., Dunedin.
page 70 (Re May 24th - EMPIRE DAY - 1941.)
They (men from H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES) described to me what they could remember of their own feelings as the ship went into action with the BISMARCK....... They were below decks at their duties or enclosed in steel turrets dependent for information upon the Captain's broadcasts from the bridge.
"We were waiting the order to fire," said one young man. "We knew it would come at any moment and we were ready. Then, instead of the order, we heard the Padre reading a Prayer. But we got the order to fire soon after."
I had already heard that story from the Chaplain, the Rev. W.G-.Parker. Just before action was joined he was called to the bridge by Captain Leach.
"Padre, we are going into action," said the Captain, "and we shall need help. I want you to read a prayer to the ship's company. Can you remember that prayer which begins, 'O God, thou knowest how busy I am...'?"
"Yes, sir," replied the Padre. "It's called Sir Jacob Astley's prayer before Edgehill, and I have the words in my cabin."
"Go, then, and fetch it quickly," said the Captain, there's not much time."
While the battleship, steaming into action, was taut with expectancy, every nerve stretched to meet the explosion of the fourteen-inch guns, instead of the order to fire there came to every corner of the ship, from engine-room to crow's nest, the sound of the Chaplains voice saying:
"O Lord, Thou knowest how busy we must be today, if we forget Thee, do not Thou forget us; for Christ's sake. Amen."
Then the guns fired.
page 99 (Re AUGUST 10th, 194l).
As soon as the anthem had ended, Mr Churchill stepped forward and shook hands with the President, and side by side they walked to the chairs on the quarterdeck. As soon as they were seated with the Chiefs of Staff behind them, the service began. The British Chaplain Rev. W.G. Parker and the American Chaplain stood together facing the lectern, and advanced in turn to read the prayers.
Then the first of the hymns chosen by Mr Churchill went roaring out over the silent bay:
O God our help in ages past. . . In the long, frightful panorama of war, a panorama full of guns and tanks crushing the life out of men, of women and children weeping and of homes blasted into rubble by bombs, there had been no scene like this, a scene, it seemed, from another world...
The service continued. Captain Leach read the Lessons, and the second of Mr Churchill's hymns was announced - "Onward, Christian Soldiers." The deep voices rose again through the still morning and the other ships far out in the bay must have heard it clearly and have recognised it as they sang.
I watched the two men in the seats of honour.......Churchill was affected emotionally, as I knew he would be. What was he seeing, I wondered, for his mind embraces wide vistas, as he looked round the decks of that warship where the fingers of the wind were gently bringing together the folds of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, where British sailors and Americans stood shoulder to shoulder, so alike most of them that they might have been brothers. Perhaps he will tell us some day what was passing through his mind that Sunday morning. ++
The voices were lifted in a majestic hymn,...'Eternal Father, strong to save'. Now, as the voices rose and fell, a situation that was almost intolerable in its incalculated emotionalism reached breaking-point. I have seen many poignant, heart-searching ceremonies in my time. I saw the Victory March through London at the end of the last War. I was present in St. Paul's when King George V and Queen Mary returned thanks for victory. I was in Westminster Abbey when the Unknown Soldier was buried. I saw the Menin Gate unveiled upon the blasted ramparts of Ypres. I saw George V carried to his grave. I was in the House of Commons when a king gave up his crown, and in Westminster Abbey when another king was anointed. All these events pulled at the heart in their different ways, and the scene upon the quarterdeck of a British battleship...was of that order, too.
Slowly and solemnly over the hushed gathering came like a benediction those exquisite words that are ordered to be said every day in the Royal Navy:
O Eternal Lord God Who alone spreadest out the heavens, and rulest the raging of the sea; Who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; Be pleased to receive into Thy Almighty and Most Gracious protection the persons of us Thy servants, and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea, and from the violence of the enemy....
++ From THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Winston Churchill Volume III page 345. "On Sunday morning, August 10, (l94l) Mr Roosevelt came aboard H.M.S. PRINCE OF WALES and, with his Staff officers and several hundred representatives of all ranks of the United States Navy and Marines, attended Divine Service on the quarterdeck. This service was felt by all of us to be a deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples, and none who took part in it will forget the spectacle presented that sunlit morning on the crowded quarterdeck...... the American and British chaplains sharing in the reading of the prayers.. I chose the hymns myself.
We ended with "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides had chanted as they bore John Hampden's body to the grave. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die."
H.M.S. "PRINCE OF WALES" - LIST OF OFFICERS (AUGUST, l94l)
CAPTAIN J.C. Leach, M.V.O.
Commander H.F. Lawson
Commander (E) L.J. Goudy
Paymaster Commander A.J. Wheeler
Surgeon Commander F.B. Quinn
The Reverend W.G. Parker, Chaplain
Lieutenant Commanders... and so on
THE REV. W. G. PARKER, M.A.
Wilfred Parker was born in Wellington in 1905 and in 1910 came with his widowed mother and a younger brother to Paeroa where his mother married MrJ. Capill, an uncle of Mr Les Shaw. After attending the Paeroa Dist. High School, Wilfred entered the Public Service in Wellington. Later he went to St.John's College and Auckland University, graduating Master of Arts and obtaining his Licentiate in Theology. He was ordained at St.Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Wellington in 1928 and remained there as a curate until he went to Great Britain in 1931. On the day of the Napier Earthquake he was visiting the Budd family, previously of Paeroa, then in Hawkes Bay, and as his injuries were slight he took a prominent part in rescue work. Subsequently, he was at Leeds for 15 months and then went to Hove in 1933. In 1935 he entered the Royal Navy; after being stationed for a short time at Chatham was sent to the China station. He came to N.Z. on furlough in 1938, returned to England, and was at a Fleet Air Arm Station when War was declared. He was appointed to the "Prince of Wales" when she was commissioned in May 1941.
Mrs Capill, now 82 years of age has lived in Paeroa for 57 years. In 1939 she and her family moved to Bradley St. after residing for 25 years in the house above the Convent, (now Mrs Scutts' and then owned by Mr Alf Lawrence who acquired it after his retirement as Manager of the Abbatoir). Mrs Capill was the mother of 8 children, two sons being lost in World War 2. Mr Capill died some years ago and a daughter in 1963. Her daughter Dorothy who spent 10 years abroad has returned to Paeroa and is a Sister at the Maternity Hospital.
In 1953 Mrs Capill was invited by the Chaplain of the Fleet to attend the Royal Naval College Chapel at Greenwich for the unveiling and dedication of the Memorial Plaque to Chaplains who gave their lives in the 2nd World War. She flew over in order to be present on 10th May. During her six weeks in England she attended the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953, returning to N.Z. in the R.M.S. Rangitoto.