RPNYC and the Navy


Club members have been well represented in all of the armed forces through the years, but it comes as no surprise that the closest affinity over the years has been with the Navy.

As the Royal New Zealand Navy was only created in 1941, most members joined up as reservists with the Royal Navy during the war years. A good introduction  to the Reserve system may be read here

During WWI, New Zealand yachtsmen, and indeed yachtsmen from around the colonies were in demand, particularly for patrol and escort duty in the North Sea. These were taken from the ranks of the Reserves.

Among those who joined were Bernard Freyberg, and his older brother Oscar, who joined the RNZVR. Oscar’s yacht the Viking was in fact the very first tenant of Clyde Quay marina. He was commissioned Lieutenant and saw action in the North Sea on escort duty. He was sunk at least three times in this service.

Not the type to take this thing lightly, Oscar designed a vessel which was basically an engine encapsulated inside a fast hull, with a big gun on the front. It was submitted to the Royal Navy and the concept was taken up, resulting in the ML.

An ML pictured during WWI. Basically its a beefed up Cook Strait whale chaser

Other Club members were at Jutland, including Grafton Bothamley, who continued Reserve service up to WWII.

In 1940 yachtsmen were again in demand. They were put to use primarily in patrol duty. The nature of the work suited yachtsmen, who routinely navigated unknown waters in all conditions, were by and large familiar with engines, and the entire workings of a vessel. They were also used to working in small crews, with a less strict chain of command, and had an ability to judge when to take initiative. These were not attributes generally encouraged by the regular Navy but it was in dire need of it in the years following 1939.

In 1940 the Clubhouse was used as a recruiting station for Naval reservists, and many members joined up and received officer training to be commissioned Sub Lieutenant or Lieutenant. The most well-known of these was the inimitable Jack Maddever. Among his comrades were Geoff Inns, Stephen Gerard, Bill Mellor, Tony Clarke, Herb Dixon, Hugh Herd, Colin MacMillan who were all assigned to patrol vessels in South East Asia. They enjoyed a fine welcome at the Singapore and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Clubs in off-duty hours, and the RPNYC still retains reciprocal memberships with those Clubs.

All of these men were kept busy during the hard months of campaigning which ended in the fall of Malaya, Hong Kong, and Singapore. They were conducting reconnaissance, hit and run operations, picking up civilian refugees and isolated military personnel. Gerard, Inns, Clarke and McMillan were reported missing, along with their crews, later declared killed. Herd, Dixon, Maddever, and Mellor made it home alive in 1945, after three hard years in labour camps like Changi and Palembang.

Other members ended up in operations further afield, with Nigel Blair serving in the Atlantic, and later the Pacific, Penwill Moore, who also served in the Atlantic and acted as a navigator during the D-Day landings, and Alister McAlister, who served in the Submarines Vox, Unshaken, and Voracious.

There have been many others, during war and peacetime, active in both the Navy and Club life, down to the present day, including James Dunlop Storey, Brad King, Johnathon Rowe, Phil Gurnsey.

HMS Vox P73. One of the submarines Alister MacAlister served on.

Oscar Freyberg.

The Freyberg boys were positively Nietzschean in their physical and mental capacities. More can be read about some of them here.

Nigel Blair, Club Commodore. Blair had a glittering sailing career racing centreboarders. He owned a cruising yacht, the Oyster, during the 1920s and 30s, which is now owned by the author, and back on the Club register as of the 2021/22 season.

Blair was in the Navy for the duration of WWII, and the reserve for the following five years. Here is an extract from The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945:

When Task Force 37 arrived in the fuelling area on 31 July, the ships’ companies of the Gambia and Achilles found HMNZS Arbutus with the Fleet Train and gave her a rousing welcome. The New Zealand Naval Board’s offer of this little ship had been accepted by the Commander-in-Chief British Pacific Fleet in May, and she was sent to Sydney and fitted out for radio and radar repair and servicing duties. The Arbutus, which was commanded by Lieutenant Nigel Blair, RNZNVR, of Wellington, left Sydney on 4 July and, after a call at Manus Island to embark a New Zealand radar officer and three radar mechanics, joined the Fleet Train in Japanese waters on 28 July. In one period of three days the Arbutus went alongside no fewer than forty ships to tranship stores and spare parts and service their radar equipment. On 8 August the Arbutus and two other small ships left the Fleet Train to escort three supply ships back to base at Manus Island. When she arrived there on the 17th, the Arbutus had completed a continuous period page 394 at sea of 33 days and steamed 7600 miles without a stop of her main engines. From Manus Island she escorted supply ships to Hong Kong, where she arrived in time for the Japanese surrender of that base on 16 September. When she finally returned to Auckland on 1 October, the Arbutus had steamed more than 20,000 miles in 77 days since leaving Sydney. In a message to the New Zealand Naval Board, the Commander-in-Chief said he was ‘most grateful for the contribution of HMNZS Arbutus to the effort of the British Pacific Fleet.’

A scrapbook covering Nigel Blair’s sailing life was presented to him during the 1980s, and can be viewed in the Club Start box, or here

Alister MacAlister served on submarines, primarily in the North sea. His entire family were involved in yachting and things maritime through generations. After the war he studied law and became very prominent in Maritime Law. The author had the privilege of crewing on board his boat Nirvana in 1998 – my first series, and his final.

Sir Penwill Moore Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Pen had a remarkable career during his time with the Navy during WWII, and a remarkable life altogether. He joined the Club in 1936 and retained his membership until his death late 2021. Much has been written about him already here, here, and here. Google him!

Jack “Ripper” Maddever

Jack owned a half share in the Nanette with his mate and Geoff Inns. They entered the Naval Reserve together. Jack was captured at the fall of Singapore and spent the duration in camps like Changi and Palembang. When he signed on, he weighed 10 stone, when liberated, he weighed little more than five. Always a wild one, after the war Jack carried on through life raising a family and sailing. Jack and his wife Lorna owned Cockle Cove in the Marlborough Sounds, and operated it as a nature reserve after the war. He had a devil may care attitude, and seems to have decided that he would squeeze the most enjoyment from life as possible – He had little use for authority figures, and just didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. The yarns associated with him and fellow camp survivor Herb Dixon are frankly hilarious, and created one or two diplomatic incidents on the occasion of Japanese Navy visits post-war. He held court in shed 40B Clyde Quay, and the parties there were legendary.

Jack’s wartime letters have been published, and a little more can be read about him here

Herb Dixon

This is written about Herb on the NZ Navy Museum website:

Herbert Dixon joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in the Second World War, having volunteered in April 1941 through Scheme Y. The scheme recruited experienced yachtsmen to man small craft in Hong Kong and Singapore. He was in Hong Kong when Japanese forces attacked on 8 December 1941 and was reported missing on 25 December, the day Hong Kong surrendered. He spent the remainder of the war in the Pacific as a prisoner of war. He was liberated on 20 September 1945 and subsequently returned to New Zealand. He was created a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for ‘services to the defence of Hong Kong and as a prisoner-of-war’.

Geoff Inns

Geoff Inns was a great friend of Jack Maddever, and owned the Nanette in partnership with him. He is uncle to Bob McVeagh, a prominent member of our Club. He disappeared during the battle for Singapore. The nature of his fate and of his vessel remains unknown.

Stephen Gerard

Stephen Gerard appears to have been quite a mercurial and romantic character. He was by all accounts, tall, handsome, intelligent; he was naturally attractive and also quite solitary. Neither family, university, nor jobs ever held him down for long, and he had a habit of just wandering off. Even the place and time of his death is shrouded in mystery, but it happened some time during the fall of Singapore, or shortly thereafter. He skippered a ketch on a Pacific cruise in 1932/33, and later enjoyed sailing the Cook strait and the region solo. He wrote a very engaging book named the Strait of Adventure, which is still easily found in bookshops and libraries. Something more will be written about him in the Journal of the Wellington Classic Yacht Trust. In the meantime, a little more may be read of him here

Thomas “Bill” Mellor

Anthony “Tony” Clarke

Bill and Tony’s pre war life and sailing were closely linked. Tony’s father owned the Marangi during the 1920s, and both crewed on her, with Bill acting as skipper. They were both experienced sailors around New Zealand’s coasts. Bill purchased the Astral during the 1930s and Tony crewed for him.

BIll was among the first yachtsmen in NZ to get a commission and command in South East Asia. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Tony was assigned to Bill’s crew on the H.M.S. Hunjao as his 2iC. Both were captured after the fall of Singapore. Tony soon escaped the camp at Muntok on Banka Island. His fate is unknown. Bill survived his internment.

Colin MacMillan

MacMillan was a keen sailor and acted in a secretarial capacity for the Club during the 1930s. He had an active campaign in South East Asia. The ultimate fate of he and the vessel under his command have remained a mystery until recently. The work of Michael Pether has uncovered some interesting possibilities, which can be read here.


Chess set carved by Hugh Herd while a prisoner at Changi. Te Papa collection.

Lancelot Hugh Herd owned the beautiful Schooner Queen Charlotte prior to the war. He joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of World War II and was given the command of a Fairmile ML motor patrol boat based out of Singapore. On February 13, 1942, he evacuated Singapore with the British forces to relocate to a base in Batavia, now Jakarta. He stopped en route at Bangka Island off the coast of Sumatra, only to discover that it had already been over-run by Japanese forces. He and his crew were captured and taken first to a prisoner-of-war camp in Malaya, then to another adjacent to the infamous Changi Prison back in Singapore. He survived the war, but died shortly after in 1947.

Further reading: The Club published three newsletters which included a lot of correspondence from members on active service, including from the men mentioned above. They can be read here

If you spot any inaccuracies here, or can add any information about these individuals, please contact the Club.


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