New Zealanders on HMS Philomel 1916

New Zealanders in the Royal Navy in the First World War

New Zealanders were involved in virtually every aspect of the war at sea between 1914 and 1918, and indeed some even served in the Allied intervention against the Bolsheviks in Russia during 1919. They were at sea with the Grand Fleet, in the Air with the Royal Naval Air Service, beneath the waves in submarines and as Chaplains and Wrens.

Ship leaving port in NZ with reinforcements 1916 Supplement of the New Zealand illustrated
Ship leaving port in NZ with reinforcements 1916 Supplement of the New Zealand illustrated

Unfortunately, there is no definitive record of all those who served. An “Official List” was provided to the Associated Press at the time of the Armistice, reputed to be a complete list as of September 1918, however, this list is not definitive, and in some instances, not even correct as at the stated date. There are 483 names on the list, in addition to which must be added the names of those known to have been omitted and those who had been killed or were otherwise deceased.

The lack of accuracy of the Official List can be readily observed with some obvious examples. Perhaps one of the more definite sources is a list of transfers from the NZEF to the Royal Naval Reserve or Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. On this list there are 45 names, however of these eight names do not appear in the Official List. A similar list compiled by Lieutenant Colonel John Studholme, one time Assistant Adjutant General of the NZEF, contains 131 names of which 35 do not appear in the Official List. Besides these omissions there are men such as Alexander Boyle and George Dennistoun, both from Canterbury, who had joined the Royal Navy in the early part of the century.

Motor Launch
Motor Launch ML123

Recent research indicates that about 685 New Zealanders served with the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Womens Royal Naval Service, to which must be added 196 men who joined the Royal Naval Motor Boat Reserve and the 22 officers and 299 ratings who served in HMS Philomel. This gives an approximate total of 1,202. That more men did not join the Navy can partly be explained by the fact that it was Government policy that New Zealand’s main contribution to the war effort would be the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and men of military age required special permission to leave the country, which was not generally forthcoming unless they were well connected. Thus the general list is predominantly composed of officers.

685 New Zealanders served with the Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Naval Reserve, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Womens Royal Naval Service, to which must be added 196 men who joined the Royal Naval Motor Boat Reserve and the 22 officers and 299 ratings who served in HMS Philomel.

A selection of individuals gives some indication of the variety of service seen by New Zealanders during the war. David Boyle from Christchurch was a career naval officer and served in HMS New Zealand throughout. Another career officer was George Dennistoun from Peel Forest, who spent most of the war in command of a small flotilla of gunboats on Lake Nyassa in East Africa. Lieutenant Walter Frame, a mariner from Oamaru initially joined the Australian Army, but later transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve and served in Q Ships (submarine decoy ships). One of the ratings who was able to leave New Zealand was Sydney Anderson who joined the Royal Naval Air Service and was a mechanic in seaplanes over the North Sea. Also in the Royal Naval Air Service was Flight Lieutenant Harold Beamish also from Napier, who was unable to pass the medical examination in New Zealand and travelled to England to enlist. He was a successful fighter pilot. Enid Bell from Wellington was in England when war broke out and was one of the early members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Robert Greening was a career rating in the Royal Navy who spent the latter part of the war in submarines. Finally in this short list is Lieutenant John Martin Royal Naval Reserve who drowned off Murmansk, Russia, in October 1919.

NZers on HMS Australia001
New Zealanders on HMS Australia
RNZ yact squadron officers
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Officers on HMS Hermione at Southhampton 1917