Captain George Hamilton Dennistoun DSO, OBE

Captain George Hamilton Dennistoun DSO, OBE, Royal Navy, was born in Peel Forest located in Mid Canterbury New Zealand and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 14 in 1899. He served in numerous ships, during his career and was made a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his command of a small naval squadron on Lake Nyasa in World War One. He was recalled for World War II, initially as Naval Officer in Charge, Lyttelton and subsequently as the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Tamaki, the RNZN’s new training establishment on Motuihe Island.

George Hamilton Dennistoun was born in Peel Forest on 23 September 1884 and entered the Royal Navy as a cadet on 15 May 1899 at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, passing out on 15 September the following year. He was then appointed to the battleship HMS Magnificent in the Channel Squadron before joining another battleship, HMS Glory in November which was deployed to the China Station for three years. On return to England he was appointed to the destroyer HMS Sprightly in the rank of Lieutenant in July 1904, before undergoing a navigation course in HMS Dryad between March and September 1905. There then followed a series of appointments to the cruisers of the Australasian Squadron, HM Ships Pyramus and Pioneer until 1907 when George was again appointed to a battleship HMS Hindustan in the Channel Squadron. From 1909 he again joined Pioneer, subsequently transferring to Pyramus until July 1914 when that ship paid off.

HMS Pyramus
HMS Pyramus

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, under the orders of the Senior Naval Officer, New Zealand, George joined HMS Philomel, although he had not undertaken to serve in that ship under the New Zealand Government. In Philomel he was present in the operation to occupy German Samoa, but on return to New Zealand he left the ship and joined His Majesty’s New Zealand Transport No. 4 Tahiti, as Naval Transport Officer. On 29 September, while awaiting departure George was on deck and saw a man fall from a nearby ship, the SS Karamea. He immediately dived into the harbour fully clothed and swam about 55m to the man’s rescue. The quartermaster of the Karamea also saw the incident and jumped in with a line. Together they got the line around the man and he was hauled on board. On 23 October the Directors of the New Zealand Royal Humane Society awarded their bronze medal to George for his actions on that day and subsequently he was similarly awarded the British Royal Humane Society bronze medal.

George arrived back in England in November 1914 and reported to the Admiralty, being posted to HMS Victory, at Portsmouth to await an appointment. This eventually came on 6 January 1915 with an appointment to HMS President, for special services and subsequently to HMS Fox, a cruiser based at East Africa, for command of gunboats on Lake Nyasa. He eventually arrived in Nyasaland with a small detachment of seamen and some naval guns in March.

George was on deck and saw a man fall from a nearby ship, the SS Karamea. He immediately dived into the harbour fully clothed and swam about 55m to the man’s rescue.

With the arrival of George there was a reorganisation of the naval forces which comprised the patrol boats Duplex, 874 tons, built 1872, one 3 pounder gun and Hellmuth, an ex-German tug, 774 tons, built 1899, one 3 pounder gun and the river gunboat Guendolen, 250 tons, built 1899, two 6 pounder guns. This put the force on an efficient basis for operations, the first of which was shortly to be undertaken.

In August 1914 an attack had been made on the German base at Spinxhaven and the large German Government Steamer SS Wissman had been disabled, but by May 1915 it was reported that the vessel was being repaired. It was therefore decided to mount a combined naval and military expedition to either refloat and take the Wissman or complete its destruction. On 29 May the force embarked in the Guendolen and the Universities Mission ship Chauncey Maples, proceded to Sphinxhaven, where the troops were landed at 3.00am the next morning. The German position was taken, with gunfire support being provided by Guendolen and the Wissman destroyed by dynamite. The Germans returned as the troops were being re-embarked and again Guendolen provided cover from the 6 pounders and also machine guns. For this part in this operation and the months leading up to it, George was made a companion of the Distinguished Service Order. The Colonial Office also recommended that his services be brought to the notice of the Admiralty.

George was recalled for WWII, initially as Naval Officer in Charge, Lyttelton and subsequently as the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Tamaki, the RNZN’s new training establishment on Motuihe Island.

After three years in Nyasaland George was posted back to England. Granted 117 days leave, he requested to continue on service. Nevertheless it was not until November 1918 that he received a new appointment, to the destroyer HMS Sanfoin, then being completed in command. In December he was promoted to the rank of Commander, not having served in the intermediate rank of Lieutenant Commander. However, his time in the ship was short, just a month, because a medical examination revealed that his eyesight was defective and he was no longer fit for sea. In March 1919 he took up the position of Librarian for the Senior Officers’ Staff Courses at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. In January 1922 he was placed on half pay and in July was placed on the retired list at his own request.

George returned to Peel Forest and was recalled for World War II, initially as Naval Officer in Charge, Lyttelton and subsequently as the Commanding Officer of HMNZS Tamaki, the RNZN’s new training establishment on Motuihe Island. For his work at Tamaki, George was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He died in 1977.