Boy Training in the NZ Division RN 1919-1939

The barquentine Amokura (ex HMS Sparrow) was purchased by the New Zealand Government in 1906. She was used to train boys for service in the Merchant Navy though a number entered the Royal and Royal Australian Navies.


The barquentine Amokura (ex HMS Sparrow) was purchased by the New Zealand Government in 1906. She was used to train boys for service in the Merchant Navy though a number entered the Royal and Royal Australian Navies.

Chief Yeoman of Signals Lincoln (Bully) Martinson DSM  joined Amokura at the age of thirteen in 1919.

The training followed Navy lines. There were four ex Navy instructors onboard and the Captain and First Mate. The Amokura had made many cruises over the years, to Raoul Island and to Fiji. When I joined her the expense of running her was so heavy that we did all our training in Thorndon Bay in Wellington. The Technical College in Wellington used to send a schoolmaster down three times a week and they used to take classes in our establishment ashore for different grades of school work. The discipline was hard. The instructors were ex Navy, they were good men but they were also very firm where discipline was concerned. You stepped out of line you caught it. They all carried switches or wands with them. You stepped out of line anyway at all and you got it across the backside before you knew where you were. There was about three or four different types of punishment. You could get six cuts across the buttocks. You brought your hammock up the Quarter Deck, you lay down on it and they walloped you with six of the best, by golly they hurt. The worst punishment was for being caught smoking or if you were insolent. You were sent aloft to stand on the main truck at the top of the mast. One would stand there for half an hour irrespective of the weather, in just you flannel shirt. We all wore flannel shirts there were no pyjamas in those days.

We were taught with a nautical flavour, the Seamanship Manual we went through as if it was the bible. We learnt splicing, rope and wire splicing, we learnt anything that was necessary for a seaman to know for the maintenance of his ship and for the duties that may be given as a Seaman Boy and as an Able Seaman. I took up Signals, in the Amokura we were taught semaphore both hand semaphore and mechanical which was very big and cumbersome to use. We had to have knowledge of flag signalling. We were given a pretty good idea of what was in front of us if we went either into the Merchant Navy or the Navy proper which when I joined didn’t exist in New Zealand.

Personal cleanliness was a must. We had wooden tubs on the upper deck both winter and summer. In the winter they were filled with hot water. After we were called from our hammocks, in we went every morning. In the summer it was cold salt water from over the side. Heaven help any boy who forgot his daily cleanliness. It was instilled into us that the best companion was a clean companion. The one other thing they added was bowel cleanliness. We were given a dose of medicine every Friday night at bath time. Everybody ashore knew when the Amokura boys had their dose.

The boys from Amokura provided working parties to maintain HMS Philomel, which was then lying in Wellington, and also to assist the crew of HMS Chatham when in port. Chief Yeoman Martinson joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy in 1921 as a Boy 2nd Class at the age of fifteen, his number was NZD 345. He was posted to Chatham and rated Ordinary Signalman in August 1922.

At first they didn’t know were to put me as I was the only Boy in the ship. I was originally put with the Ordinary Seamen but somebody higher up did not like that and they put me in the Signalmen’s Mess. Because that was a Broadside Mess I had to pay a mess bill. I only received five shillings a week pay and the mess bill came to twelve shillings a week, so I had a bit of a problem. We fed ourselves on the Government Issue from the Pusser, the standard ration. This was meat, vegetables, sugar, milk(Glaxo at sea) and other basics. Anything extra you wanted you purchased from the canteen. The food was prepared by the cooks of the day, there were always two in the mess detailed. They were allowed an hour or so every morning to prepare the main meal of the day. Being only a poor unwanted Signal Boy I was permanent cook and mess deck sweeper and that was part of my payment towards my mess bill. Hammocks were a big problem in cruisers of the CHATHAM class. She was fairly crowded and we used to sleep were we could, even on the stools in the mess. The Yeoman of Signals was Ginger Gardiner. He came from Chatham in England and was one of the finest men that I ever knew in the service but he made my life a misery. When I should have had a couple of hours ashore he used to keep me onboard and thump signal material into me. After about a year I could almost quote the signal books.

The Chatham did her normal New Zealand cruises and we would cover the Pacific from east to west including New Guinea and up the Fly River. When we got back to New Zealand after one of these cruises, Navy Office, which consisted of one Chief Writer in those days, advised that twenty New Zealanders would be sent to the United Kingdom for training. I was rated Signalman as that was the minimum requirement to go to the United Kingdom. In fact I was rated from Signal Boy to Ordinary Signalman to Signalman in the space of 24 hours.

We proceeded to the United Kingdom in the SS Corinthic via Cape Horn and Montevideo. When we got to Portsmouth Barracks Telegraphist Snowy Kinzett and I reported to the Regulating Office for Signalmen. We found that we were both down to do Leading Rates courses, which was a bit of shock as I really didn’t know too much about Signalman’s duties. They sent us on leave for fourteen days, we were paid five pounds a month, considerably more than the English sailors, so we had plenty of money. The course lasted 12 weeks and I was then posted to HMS Queen Elizabeth the Flagship of the First Battle Squadron. They put me in the bum boat or supply trawler the Blue Sky as the signalman, and her job was to keep the Queen Elizabeth supplied with mail, vegetables and anything else that was required. I was in Blue Sky for some time. I was taken out of her and sent to HMS Revenge a big battleship. I played rugby for the United Forces Rugby Team whilst I was in Revenge. I returned to New Zealand in 1924 in the SS Athenic, where I met my wife to be, and joined HMS Dunedin, which had arrived in New Zealand to replace Chatham.

Only three boys from Amokura joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy when it was formed in 1921. Able Seaman Arthur Ball-Guymer applied to join Amokura but she was paid off at the end of 1921 and he instead joined Philomel as a Boy 2nd Class in 1922.

I went to Auckland and was met at the station by a Petty Officer Physical Training Instructor. I reported aboard Philomel and met Petty Officer Boy Davis-Goff. Another one was Arthur Wilkinson and their class joined the Chatham shortly after I arrived. I enjoyed the life but didn’t like the English Leading Seaman. As we went up the ladder to go onto the wharf to march over to the training huts he used to stand there and thump us. We used to fly up the steps and every time he missed we yelled out. Leading Seaman Westcott was his name. He was always filing his nails and always wore a smart uniform. He taught us pointing and grafting and his favourite saying was, “You might have broken you mother’s heart but you will not break mine”. We had rifle drill, knots and splices, away in the whalers, sailing, boat drill, a certain amount of signals but seamanship mainly. Petty Officer Jerry Low was one of the Instructors; he was a three badge man. Chief Petty Officer Harry Mills was the Gunnery Instructor, he was a hard man. We used to call him “Bear down on you butt”. After tea we would go to the Harbour Board shed for Physical Training with Petty Officer Roberts. There were ropes hanging down from the rafters and we had to shin up those. I used to go up like a monkey but one chap could only go up three or four feet before dropping down again. Roberts had a rope with a Turks head on it and this poor chap used to get it across the stern sheets, he never did learn. The instructors all came from Chatham, they did six months in Philomel, most were people who had brought Chatham out from England.

After six months I went to Chatham and to a mess where Davis-Goff was the head boy. We went to Sydney and I remember we berthed at Circular Quay. We met the Aussie Navy, went to Jervis Bay for exercises and then on to Melbourne and Hobart. I remember Able Seaman Mick Combie who came back from ashore with two big cans of jam. We were in the Boys mess looking through the ports, watching the fellows coming back. He came back wobbling, he had been to a couple of pubs and a number of the crew had toured a jam factory. He lost one can over the side as he came up the brow.

I changed over to Dunedin in 1924 when she took over from Chatham. In 1926 I was sent to the United Kingdom to undertake a Gunlayer’s course at Whale Island, HMS Excellent. Snow Wall and Tutu Somerville also did gunnery training. I never stopped running for the six months I was there. It came through from Navy Office that we were to go to sea with the Royal Navy for training and I went to HMS Iron Duke and was in charge of a casement gun. This was a six inch gun that looked through the ships side. To cover guns and put the muzzle cover on you had to climb out over the ship’s side and down the slope of the gun port. I was then transferred to HMS Revenge. I came back to New Zealand in the SS Ionic and was sent again to Dunedin.