“This prism is from one of the gun sights on the Graf Spee, presented to my father after the war.”
I never was on the dull tame shore
But I loved the great sea more and more
from The Sea by Bryan Waller Procter (1787-1874)
My father Richard Washbourn was a second generation New Zealander, born 14 February 1910 in Sumner, where his father had a medical practice until he moved the family back to Nelson. Nelson is where father’s great love of the sea developed. When he was 15, my father sailed and rowed a dinghy from Nelson to Golden Bay for the school holidays.
At Nelson College in July 1927 he sat and passed the Special Entry Cadetship Examinations to join the Royal Navy.
He grew up believing that everyone was an equal human being, regardless of their rank. He had very little time for people who he felt were not doing their job to the very best of their ability. As an officer, he was interested in team building and encouraged sailors to be proud of what they did. He was strict but fair.
I’ve met a lot of men who worked with or under my father. Their memories of him are of a man who always had an eye on what was going on with his men. One rating told me of a time he was in a bosuns chair suspended down the side of a ship, scraping the hull. My father yelled at him, “What are you doing Mr. Sergeant? One hand for the ship and one for yourself.”
Throughout my upbringing, my father was a naval officer. I was used to the hierarchy, the ships, the men in uniform. I grew up in England and Malta GC, in the Mediterranean, travelling wherever the Royal Navy took us.
My father took me sailing, though he took my younger brother on exercises. The only time I went to sea on a ship he had command over was when my father had returned to New Zealand and was Chief of Navy. Some boffins and the then Minister of Defence were to go on a day of sea trials on the ship and he wanted to bring his daughter. I was invited along to be her companion.
He actually did tell us about the Battle of the River Plate. As the gunnery officer, he was stationed in the DIrector Control Tower in HMS Achilles. To him, the battle was a culmination of all his training.
He also told us of the horrors of what humans can do to each other. As a gunnery expert he had been sent to Germany right after the war to look at the German technological advances. He saw the gas chambers and places where people had been incarcerated.
While in Germany, he serendipitously met two officers who served in the Graf Spee at River Plate. One of them had been baffled because they found one of the shells that had hit them during the battle was a blank practice shell. My father smiled at this, and explained to the officer that at one point during a delay in ammunition supply, in order to keep up the rhythm of firing, he had ordered the crew to fire a few practice shells. It amused him to hear they landed one of those shots.
In the 1960’s my family returned to New Zealand and after a 6 month leave at his beloved shoreline property at Onekaka, Golden Bay, he joined the New Zealand Navy to become Chief of Naval Staff. He had a wonderful career, but if he had his druthers, I think he would have spent more time on-board ship. My father was a sailor at heart and not a politician.
This prism is from one of the gun sights on the Graf Spee, presented to my father after the war. I remember him saying it was very interesting to receive the piece knowing it was from one of the range finders used to fire at the British ships during the battle, whilst he was directing the gun fire from the Achilles.
Liza Eastman was born at Tichfield, Hampshire, in 1944. Her brother Jonathan was born in Auckland in 1948 whilst their father was at sea! No matter where they lived their parents always brought up Liza and Jo to think of themselves as New Zealanders, so it is of little surprise that after life choices which saw them spend time in the USA and England respectively, they both ended up living in New Zealand.
In 1988, after 15 years in Southern California and three children, Liza and her husband Vic Eastman MD moved their family lock, stock and barrel to Golden Bay to be close to her now widowed mother. Vic built a fine home for them on long owned family land near Washbourn Road, Onekaka.
Today, Liza and Vic run a B&B. Liza is a fabric artist and quilter, whose works have been exhibited nationally and internationally