Emily “Ma” Burrows adopted the sailors of New Zealand and became “The Mother of the Navy”. Known by everyone on the base from the Commodore down, her thoughtfulness and diligence was tangibly recognised by the sailors and when she died in 1933 she was accorded a full naval funeral.
Over the years she began to be called “Ma” and in turn she called them her “boys”. Everyone from the Commodore to the newest recruit knew who she was.
Emily was born in England in 1866 and married William Charles Burrows with whom she had three children, Elizabeth, William and Isabella. William was born on 19 December 1891 and soon after he turned 18, in February 1910, he joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd class for an engagement of 12 years. By 1912 he was a qualified stoker serving in the battleship HMS Venerable. At this time Emily, with her two girls embarked in the SS Surrey and emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Auckland on 10 April 1912.
Irrespective of the weather she made the journey from Archhill to Devonport with her basket.
In Auckland Emily and the girls set up home in Archhill. Two years later, in July 1914 HMS Philomelwas commissioned for service under the New Zealand Government as the first unit of the New Zealand Naval Forces and with the outbreak of war in August, berthed in Auckland prior to escorting two troopships for the occupation of German Samoa. While Philomel was in Auckland Emily paid her first visit to the ship to say hello to the sailors.