Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 47, September 2003




By Len Beilby

Ronald Beilby joined the New Zealand Army at age 19 years and entered Narrow Neck Military Camp, Auckland on 1 July 1940. In recognition of his pre-War Territorial training, he received the rank of corporal, which he held until 15 October 1940, when then promoted to sergeant. A further promotion to Company Sergeant Major resulted on 24 May 1941 and sometime later he was recommended for Officers' Training School. However, believing that other branches of the Armed Forces provided earlier opportunities for overseas service, he first considered Air Force, but then lodged an application for transfer to the Royal New Zealand Navy. Apart from a short period with the 3rd LAFV (Light Armoured Fighting Vehicles), his specialised army service was spent mainly with the Northern Divisional Signals Corps.

Ron entered the Navy on 22 May 1942 having signed on for the duration of hostilities and was rated, 'Ordinary Signalman'. On 28 January 1943, after completing initial training on HMNZS Philomel and at Devonport Naval Base, he was posted to Port War Signal Station on Tiritiri Island, situated at the entrance to Auckland Harbour. In order to preserve radio silence, all wartime communications between the Signal Station and incoming and outgoing ships were maintained by the use of Aldis Lamps, flag signals and semaphore, methods that had formed an important part of his training. Messages thus received by the station were relayed by cable and landline to the Auckland Navy Office for their information or for onward transmission to the destination ports. Ron was granted full signalman status on 23 February 1943 and remained on Tiritiri until 11 January 1944.

After returning briefly to Philomel, he was then posted to the 7th Anti-Submarine Minesweeper Flotilla which was made up of four Isles Class minesweeping trawlers, Inchkeith, Sanda, Killigray and Scarba. Ron served for two months on Inchkeith and for about two years on Sanda. As well as sweeping gear, the vessels carried 12 depth charges, one twelve-pounder gun, three Oerlikens and two machine guns on the bridge.

Early in the War, Northern New Zealand coastal waters were visited by the German raider No.36, Orion, which had laid 228 mines in the approaches to Auckland. The Union Steamship Company's liner Niagara, with a cargo that included 8 tons of South African gold in transit to USA, fell victim to two of them. Divers recovered the gold in 1941. Sweeping for enemy mines was undertaken in the vicinity of Great Barrier Island, Cuvier Island and Mercury Bay, while in the latter stages of the War, the flotilla was engaged principally in the clearance of New Zealand's defensive minefields around the Bay of Islands and Whangarei. It was often dangerous work, but not without its moments of humour. Interludes included escort duties for vessels to Norfolk Island.

Ron was discharged from the service on 19 February 1946 when Sanda was paid off. She was sold in 1948 and went into use as a merchant ship until 1970.