Henry Taylor was born on 12 March 1908 in Foster, a small town in Victoria Australia.Harry Taylor, as events concerned him, was an exceedingly self effacing man. Insofar as principles, people, church, rugby and roses were concerned, he was a fearless, outspoken and fighting padre. He had an outstanding career in the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry during the Second World War.
Taylor, Padre Henry Gordon DSO OBE
Henry Taylor was born on 12 March 1908 in Foster, a small town in Victoria Australia. As a child his family moved to New Zealand and settled in Auckland. He read at Auckland University and received a BA. Harry Taylor, as events concerned him, was an exceedingly self effacing man. Insofar as principles, people, church, rugby and roses were concerned, he was a fearless, outspoken and fighting padre. He had an outstanding career in the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry during the Second World War.
He enlisted for service with the 2NZEF as a Chaplain on 12 September 1940. He embarked for service overseas on 8 November 1940. He would serve with the New Zealand Division in the North African campaign 1941-1943, and the Italian campaign 1943-1945. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his actions assisting wounded soldiers in March 1943 during the advance on Tripoli, the first of only three chaplains in the New Zealand Army to receive the award. Irrespective of wounds and his own personal safety under heavy fire, his primary concerns and actions were always for his fellow men. It was reported in the Evening Post on 25 May 1943:
The Rev. Henry Gordon Taylor, Chaplain Class 4, New Zealand Divisional Cavalry. In an action at Burgem Road, during the advance on Tripoli, Mr. Taylor, who always insisted on travelling in a Bren Carrier during action, so that he could visit the men on forward patrol, displayed great personal courage and complete disregards for his own personal safety when he went through heavy shellfire to attend to some wounded, in the absence of a medical officer who had been wounded. He personally helped with dressing the wounded and supervising their evacuation. Then still under heavy and accurate shell fire he conducted a burial service. Again, on the morning of March 23, at Point 210, Mr. Taylor was wounded in both thighs and one arm and his driver was killed. He conducted a service for the driver under heavy shellfire before having his wounds attended by a medical orderly. He refused to see a medical officer until ordered by the commanding officer to do so. He pleaded to be left to visit his men, which he did though suffering considerable pain.
After demobilisation of the 2NZEF, he returned to New Zealand in July 1946 and was transferred to the Army’s retired list on 22 July.
With the mobilisation of J-Force, the New Zealand unit sent to occupy Japan Taylor was remobilised in January 1947, leaving New Zealand for Japan on 14 January as the Senior Chaplain to the formation. He remained there for almost two years, returning home 12 December 1948. He once again returned to the Retirement List until 17 June 1949.
On 18 June 1949 Taylor enlisted as a Chaplain in the Royal New Zealand Navy at HMNZS Philomel. On joining the RNZN he cheerfully underwent a Familiarisation/Divisional Officers’ course, still dressed as an army chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel, with New Entry officers less than half his age.
With the outbreak of the Korean War, the RNZN deployed its Loch-class frigates as part of the UN Naval Forces. He was supposed to be posted to the frigate HMNZS Rotoiti that was deployed in Korean waters from 5 September 1951 to 17 September 1952. However, he failed to join Rotoiti as expected. He was travelling in the ill fated SS Wahine, taking K-Force soldiers to Korea when the ship foundered and was wrecked in the Timor Sea area. Harry was reputed to be one of the few on board, if not the only one, to get off the ship with all his gear, including his Holy Communion kit, without getting his feet wet!
Eventually he joined Rotoiti, having firstly served with K-Force troops in the front line. He kept transferring to each frigate as it arrived in the war zone and Navy Headquarters in Wellington had great difficulty to get him back to New Zealand. He was also posted to the cruiser HMNZS Bellona and two commissions in the cruiser HMNZS Royalist. The majority of his service was in HMNZS Tamaki, the New Entry Training Establishment located on Motuihe Island. He was admired by the trainees and his personal and leadership qualities were respected by all. His time was all Navy time. On the one hand the lives of young sailors were greatly influenced by his example, teaching and the forthright colloquial messages of his sermons. On the other hand, he knew the best fishing spots around the island and shared his secrets with his flock. His enthusiasm and expertise concerning rugby were such that as a result of his coaching, training and no doubt inspiration, the new entries were regular winners at the junior inter-service rugby competition.
Harry had a great rapport with St Stephens Maori Boys College and the annual rugby match between the New Entry sailors and the St Stephens Boys was always a highlight of the season. It was said that his successes in the Training Establishment were attributed to his close understanding with his ultimate “Head of Department”. When HMNZS Tamaki was to be moved from Motuihe Island to Fort Cautley at Narrowneck in Devonport, Harry resisted the move most strongly. It was found that he was greatly concerned that whereas he had a chapel on Motuihe, at Fort Cautley there was none. So the Commanding Officer Tamaki had the stained glass windows from the chapel at Motuihe, put into the Band Room at Fort Cautley with a neon light behind each window. Harry was then quite happy with the move.
Serving in HMNZS Royalist in the South China Sea, Harry asked for a few days leave “to visit Borneo.’ He transferred by helicopter to a Royal Navy carrier and thence to Borneo. At Army Base he enquired (although with hindsight one suspects that he knew the answer before he asked the question — or left the ship) about chaplains being in the front line with the troops. He was told politely that “in the front line soldiers are getting killed.” Harry then sought out a helicopter supplying troops in the forward area and flew to the front line. There he conducted Holy Communion for as many troops as possible before returning to Base and his ship. When the authorities heard about this episode they were not pleased. No one will ever know why Harry did this. Harry had a fierce belief that the chaplain’s place was with his unit wherever it may be and where he could carry out his chaplain’s duties when the troops were most likely to need him. But this was not his unit. And his belief is the belief and practice held by most chaplains. Maybe on this occasion he felt he had reason to make a point. On retiring from the Navy in June 1968, Harry spent some years on the staff of St Stephens Maori Boys College at Bombay before going to live in his favourite Wairarapa, firstly at Carterton and then Greytown.
Harry is well assessed with the words written a few months ago by a veteran of the Western Desert.
“I noticed the death notice of Henry Gordon Taylor and I was transferred back 45 years to the Western Desert. Harry Taylor, or Harry “Kaitaia” as he was affectionately known to the troops, was then padre of the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry. I remember him in the Alamein campaign for many things: his thoughtfulness in meeting and greeting us, his heroism in the following days laying out bodies and tending the wounded amid shot and shell, his Christmas service in the Marble Arch area two months later and his nice gesture after the service when he sought us out and treated us to a much enjoyed nip of whiskey. His whole life was vigorous, varied and useful. He was a model of chivalry and honour.” In the world of chaplains, perhaps the hymn that Harry Taylor taught to hundreds of seaman boys, new entries and others in the Navy, symbolises Harry best – How Great Thou Art
OBE – awarded in New Years Honours List 1954
Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp
War Medial 1939-45
NZ War Service Medal
UN Korea Medal
Ship Served on
HMNZS Kaniere Korean deployment
HMNZS Pukaki Korean deployment
HMNZS Rotoiti Korean deployment
HMNZS Taupo Korean deployment
HMNZS Tamaki (Motuihe Island and Narrowneck)
 Official citation not located – this was reproduced in the 2NZEF Times from the Evening Post article.
 In the New Zealand Defence forces Chaplains were treated as if they held an officer’s commission.