2008: Devonport Navals return home
The Auckland Division of the Naval Reserve (first formed as the Devonport Navals in the 1880’s), came home to Devonport Naval Base in a ceremony that took place on Saturday, 30 August 2008. The event included family members of the Reserve and prior members including the “oldest member,” Lieutenant Commander Con Thode, in his 90s, who joined HMNZS Ngapona in 1928.
Image Right: The New HMNZS Ngapona's Plaque (MC 08-0333-70).
The ceremony began with the laying of the mauri (lifeforce) at 05:30 am at the Navy Marae followed by a formal parade at 10:00 am at the Devonport Naval Base. The parade was reviewed and the new home for HMNZS Ngapona was officially opened by His Excellency George Ferguson, High Commissioner to Britain, whose Grandfather opened the first Ngapona at St Mary's Bay in 1926 when he was Governor General.
Ngapona has continued to parade at St Mary’s Bay until the end of last year when ties were formally severed and Ngapona transferred to a temporary location within the Devonport Naval Base. During the event, Ngapona formally held their first parade at the new location and opened their new facility within Devonport Naval Base.
Above Image Left: Photo shows the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Ngapona, Commander Rod Thomas, at the opening (MC 08-0333-02).
Above Image Right: Members of HMNZS Ngapona march to their new premises in the Devonport Naval Base (MC 08-0333-07).
The ship’s company come from a wide range of backgrounds within the Auckland community and are the “citizen sailor” serving both their Auckland community and their country with pride. They include in their number construction workers, Nurses, teachers, lawyers, doctors and a wide range of other occupations and ages. Present members of the Reserve serve overseas in peace keeping roles at sea and at shore with the RNZN.
Above Image Left: Oldest Member of the Naval Reserves Lieutenant Commander Con Thode (MC 08-0333-64).
Above Image Right: Plaque for new HMNZS NGAPONA - Commander Rod Thomas and Reviewing Officer His Excellency George Ferguson High Commissioner to Britain (MC 08-0333-67).
Background of Naval Reserve in Auckland
The Devonport Navals were formed out of ex seamen in the 1880’s. Following the “Russian scare” in the 1890’s, (which saw the construction of the gun batteries at North Head), the Navals were disbanded. However Aucklanders with an interest in the sea joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in the First World War, and formed the basis of the Auckland Naval Reserve, HMNZS Ngapona, formed in 1926.
Ngapona was first formed in 1925 as the beginnings of the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve in New Zealand. The first parade was held, following recruitment at Endean’s Building, on the wharves at Downtown Auckland. The first batches of officers were ex-Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Officers who served in the First World War and had returned to New Zealand. The driving force to the formation of Ngapona was Major Charles Palmer of the New Zealand Army Motor Service Corp (Hostilities only). He was not, however, the first appointed Commanding Officer, as the Government deemed that it was appropriate to appoint an ex “Royal Navy Officer” - Commander John Middleton.
One of the first roles of the new “Division” was to parade through Auckland when the Great White Fleet of the American Navy visited Auckland in 1926.
In 1929, following active politicking by (now) Commander Palmer, the present building for the Division was constructed on a wharf, at the bottom of the cliff at St Mary’s Bay, Ponsonby. It was considered a “state of the Art” complex, based on a current English design for Volunteer Reserve Units. At the time, St Mary’s Bay was generally a location for ship builders. The way to reach the Division was down a “Jacob’s ladder” which still exists going up the cliff from the back of the Division to the top of London Road. Cutters, whalers and other small vessels used to be tied up to the wharf alongside the Division.
Above Image Left: Looking at old images of HMNZS NGAPONA in the new gallery (MC 08-0333-73m).
In the years up to the Second World War, the Division was a popular and prestigious organisation, and a highlight of the Auckland social scene.
The original enlistment book from 1925 still exists in HMNZS Ngapona.
Many personnel who joined from 1925, named in that book, went on to undertake distinguished service in the Second World War in a variety of roles, as varied as North Sea convoys, channel duties, the Mediterranean, and, of course, the Pacific. One, who joined at this time, was “Jack” Hilliard, who served as Executive Officer of HMNZS Philomel during the Second World War. During the Second World War, 42 of the Divisions’ numbers were killed in active service and some took notable parts in significant naval actions. At the conclusion of the Second World War, the Division was not immediately reassembled. It took some concentrated lobbying by Jack Hilliard to get the Division re-established. This occurred in 1946.
The officer corps was personally selected by (now) Commander Hilliard, on the basis that he wanted Ngapona formed in a manner ready to undertake hostilities at short notice, following the unsettled international scene evolving after the War.
There are Naval Volunteer Reserve Bases in Auckland (Ngapona), Wellington (Olphert), Christchurch (Pegasus), and Dunedin (Toroa).