Frank Kivell was a young New Zealander who joined the first New Zealand Naval Forces in August 1914 and spent the war in New Zealand’s cruiser, HMS Philomel. In 1916 he saved two fellow members of the ships company of Philomel from drowning and was awarded the New Zealand Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal.
Frank Kivell was born in Wellington on 5 November 1897 and went to sea as a young man, his trade being defined as ‘sailor’ when he entered the New Zealand (Royal Navy) Emergency Force on 19 August 1914. This was a group of volunteers to wishing to serve in the Navy for the duration of the war. The designation of this force was soon changed to the New Zealand Naval Force to avoid confusion with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). Frank’s official number was NZNF 8, out of a total of approximately 49.
Frank had safely reached the shore when he saw Anderson’s predicament. Without a thought for his own safety, and not waiting to remove his clothes, he swam back out through the heavy breakers.
These men were borne on the books of HMS Torch, although accommodated at Alexandra Barracks. Frank was there until HMS Philomel returned from the expedition to occupy German Samoa, when he joined that ship in the rank of Able Seaman. Philomel left New Zealand in October 1914 as part of the escort for the main body of the NZEF, leaving the convoy at Fremantle and proceeding to the Mediterranean. The ship operated in the eastern Mediterranean until June 1915 when it was deployed to the Red Sea, where it operated until September. Philomel was then sent to the Persian Gulf where it was employed until its return to New Zealand in 1917, having been overseas for three and a half years. Conditions on board the ship in the Persian Gulf were most uncomfortable. Captain Hall-Thompson recorded that the temperatures were extremely high, in the order of 100o Fahrenheit (38oC) and on occasions it was 105o (41oC) at midnight. The standard dress for the ship’s company was a white helmet, back pad, vest and white shorts. Double awnings were rigged both fore and aft to keep the sun off the decks, but even with this the heat was insufferable and most of those on board suffered from boils, ring-worm and prickly heat.
Communication with the shore was usually by boat because the ship had to anchor off, there being no wharfage suitable for Philomel at most ports. The weather for the latter part of January was generally bad and communication with the shore was cut off most of the time. On 1 February it was important that contact be made with the shore and the ship’s cutter was sent away with orders to anchor outside the breakers and the final part of the trip to be made in a local surf canoe.
Shortly after the boat anchored in about 14 feet (4m) of water, a series of steep waves completely swamped it and the canoes were capsized. The majority of the crew were able to swim to shore, however Able Seaman Anderson, a weak swimmer who was tending the anchor, did not. He had been swept to the stern of the boat and began to panic.