Commander Charles (Bunty) Palmer joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1929. As a rating he was part of the team that provided assistance to the police during the Queen Street (Auckland) riots of 1930. In 1934 while in Britain on civilian matters, he secured a month long commission onboard the battleship HMS Hood, after which he returned to New Zealand and the Volunteer Reserve. At the outbreak of World War II on the 3rd of September 1939, Palmer joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy and within a week was at sea in command of the captain’s motor boat.
He later took command of the senior patrol launch HMS Wirihana, guarding the eastern approaches to Auckland Harbour. Six months later in mid-1940 Palmer was sent to Britain with the first naval draft, which sailed onboard the vessel Empress of Japan, in company with the second echelon.
After a brief time in the shore establishment HMS Excellent he took command of the Tree class trawler HMS Pine. Pine was put to service sweeping ahead of, and escorting, channel convoys from Portsmouth to the shore establishment HMS Chatham and back, through the Straits of Dover.
In late 1941, Palmer was posted as commanding officer to the ocean minesweeper HMS Cromarty which deployed to the Mediterranean via the Cape of Good Hope, to take part in the Madagascar landings, operations against the Vichy French and minesweeping between Alexandria and Tobruk. HMS Cromarty also took part in the Sicilian and Italian landings, and was eventually mined during preparations for an assault on the south of France. For his part in these many actions, Palmer was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Despatches twice. When HMS Cromarty was mined, Palmer was badly injured and subsequently spent the remainder of the war in various hospitals.
Charles (Bunty) Palmer was discharged from the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1946 having attained the rank of Commander.