“We weren’t thinking of ourselves. We were all one on the ship. We all had our jobs to do. Nobody panicked.”
I remember when I joined the Navy, there was a recruitment drive in Napier. The Navy came to my school and I was interested. I had a canoe as a boy and practically lived on the water.
At first when I said I wanted to join the Navy, everyone said, “You will not,” but I got my father’s permission in the end. I was one of hundreds who put applications in. Only 22 of us were accepted.
I had no idea I’d be in a battle when I joined as a seaman boy. The only thing that concerned me was whether I’d be drafted to Achilles or Leander. As it turned out I was posted to Achilles. She was a British ship, but we made her ours: over 60% of the crew were New Zealanders and we put a special character on her.
We’d been three days at sea, headed toward Panama when we heard we were at war. We were ordered to change course and cross the Magellan Straight to meet up with the British ships Exeter and Ajax.
My action station during the battle was the 4 inch transmission, in the bowels of the ship. It was a good place to be, unless the ship went down of course. We couldn’t see any of the battle and we only heard about what was happening on our phone. At the 4 inch transmission there was this thick armour plated door that dropped down once we were at our station. Once it dropped, we were there until someone came and opened it up again to let us out. I’ve often thought of that, of how we were pretty much stuck there, but at the time I didn’t think twice about it. It didn’t matter to us because we weren’t thinking of ourselves. We were all one on the ship. We all had our jobs to do. Nobody panicked.
When we came home there was a huge reception waiting for us in Auckland. There was the march up Queen Street and the lunch at the Town Hall. We were given tram tickets that allowed us to travel around Auckland for free for a week. We were each sent a personal note from King George. We were treated like heroes, but I didn’t feel like one. I was just doing my job.
I served my fifteen years in the Navy and the Navy stayed with me afterwards. I never spoke much to my children about the Battle of the River Plate. I think it’s important for people to know about our history, not as the Royal Navy but the Royal New Zealand Navy. The Battle of the River Plate was an important battle because it showed the spirit and capability of New Zealand sailors.
Bobb Batt, N.Z.D. 1605
Bob Batt is 92 years old and is the oldest surviving crew member from Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate.
He and his wife Joan live in Whakatane. In 2015 they will celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary with their six children, 21 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.