One of the ironies of World War One was that more New Zealanders went to war in HMS Pyramusthan the Dominion’s own ship, HMS Philomel. Like Philomel, Pyramus was an old ship, but it still played its part in places as far afield as East Africa and the Persian Gulf.
In August 1914 over 60 New Zealanders went to war in HMS Pyramus, under the command of Acting Commander the Viscount Kelburn. The ship was one of the old cruisers that formed the New Zealand Division, the remnants of the Australasian Squadron which was based in New Zealand from 1913.
Launched in 1897 the ship was 313 feet long, displaced 2,200 tons, had a maximum speed of 20 knots and was armed with eight 4 inch guns. Most of the New Zealanders had earlier declined to join the Royal Australian Navy and although Royal Navy ratings retained their original Australasian service numbers, distinguishable from those of the Royal Navy by the prefix ‘ANF’.
With Philomel, the first wartime operation of Pyramus was the occupation of German Samoa in August 1914. It subsequently replaced HMS Psyche as part of the escort of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at Hobart on 21 October. On leaving New Zealand tangible reminders of its commander remained in the suburb of Kelburn and Kelburn Park in Wellington, they having being named after him when his father the Earl of Glasgow, was Governor 1892 – 1897.
The ship was one of the old cruisers that formed the New Zealand Division, the remnants of the Australasian Squadron which was based in New Zealand from 1913.
From Fremantle, Pyramus sailed with Philomel, to Singapore, searching for the German cruiser SMS Emden en route. Having failed to locate Emden, they arrived at Singapore on 12 November. Three weeks later Pyramus sailed for Colombo after which the ship proceeded to Bombay and spent the next six weeks around India.
At this time the last remaining German cruiser outside of Germany was SMS Könisberg, which had been located up the Rufiji River in German East Africa (now Tanzania). While adequate forces were being assembled to deal with Könisberg the area had to be blockaded to prevent any assistance or supplies reaching the German ship. Pyramus joined this force on 11 January 1915. The blockade, which continued to the end of the war, involved continuous patrolling and investigation of shipping, monotonous, usually uneventful, but essential. Exacerbating the boring nature of the work was the tropical heat.