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Desmond Price

Desmond Price joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy on 5 October 1938 as an 18 year old and signed on for twelve years. He was trained as a Stoker at HMS Philomel the shore establishment located at Devonport. Price served with HMS Leander and was involved in the Solomon Island Campaign. 


Desmond Price joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy on 5 October 1938 as an 18 year old and signed on for twelve years. He was trained as a Stoker at HMS Philomel the shore establishment located at Devonport.

On 10 March 1939, as a Stoker 2nd Class, he joined the ship’s company of the light cruiser HMS Leander, sister ship to HMS Achilles. With the outbreak of the Second World War he was a Stoker Second Class aboard Leander. In what was New Zealand’s first act of the Second World War, Leander departed Auckland 30 August 1939 for Fanning Island in the central Pacific, to land a small garrison.

With Achilles deployed overseas Leander patrolled the seas in the New Zealand area which included two visits to Campbell and Auckland Islands in search of German Raiders, between September and November 1939. However, Leander did not locate the one of the Raiders’ supply ships Erlangen, which was in a remote anchorage in the Auckland Islands during the time of the ship’s first visit. Six troopships carrying the 1st Echelon of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to the Middle East were escorted to Australia in January 1940, before Leander participated in the New Zealand Centenary celebrations at Waitangi, on 6 February 1940.

On 2 May 1940 Leander departed Wellington as a part of the escort for the troopships carrying 6,800 men of the 2nd Echelon of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. When crossing the Indian Ocean, Leander was detached for Alexandria, while the remainder of the convoy proceeded around the Cape of Good Hope. During this time Desmond was now promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

It had been intended that Leander would serve in the Mediterranean, but this was changed shortly after her arrival at Alexandria and she joined the East Indies Station at Port Sudan on 4 June 1940, embarking the Admiral Commanding the Red Sea Force. The function of this force was convoy escort and the protection of shipping in the Red Sea and Aden area.

June 1940 was an eventful month for the ship, experiencing air attacks, and although not hit, Leander did suffer splinter damage from near misses, and destroying a damaged Italian submarine ashore south of the Italian naval base at Massawa, Eritrea on 27 June.

The next few months were passed with Leander engaged in monotonous patrol and escort duties, enlivened only by occasional air attacks. With accompanying destroyers the ship engaged two Italian destroyers which attacked a convoy from Massawa on 21 October 1940. HMS Kimberly Iater sank one of them but was damaged herself and taken in tow by Leander.

After destroying a fish factory by gunfire in November Leander docked in Bombay in December. The ship sailed again as escort for a convoy to Aden and up the Red Sea on 27 December, on completion of which she joined the Eastern Fleet, based at Colombo in January 1940.

Here again the main duty was the protection of shipping, however convoy escort duty was varied by the need to seek out enemy raiders known to be in the Indian Ocean. The first of these patrols commenced on 24 January 1941, when a distress signal from the British steamer Mandasor was received. Leander and HMAS Canberra searched the area for what was later known to the Raider Atlantis, but without success. On 27 February, following further convoy escort work and patrols Leander sighted a ship at 10.37am, which proved to be the Italian Raider Ramb 1. After a short engagement Ramb 1 was sunk, Leander rescuing survivors, which comprised all but one of the crew, however, one later died of wounds.

Patrolling with HMAS Canberra the following month, Leander was in a supporting role when Canberra sank the German ship Coburg and the captured tanker Kitty Brovig, which was being used to the enemy Raiders. Similarly she was part of the patrolling forces when HMS Cornwall sank the Raider Penguin.

Leander sailed from Trincomalee on 23 May 1941 for the Mediterranean, where it had initially been agreed, the ship would be in support of New Zealand troops embattled on Crete. However, by this time Crete had been lost and Leander formed a replacement for one of the four cruisers which had been lost during the battle and evacuation of the Island.

The first operation for Leander in the Mediterranean was Operation EXPORTER, a campaign against Vichy French forces in Syria. Between 12 and 26 June the ship engaged Vichy French destroyers and came under attack by German aircraft on several occasions, fortunately without being damaged. After another period of operations in support of Cyprus, Leander formed a part of the escort for ships bound for Australia, eventually arriving at Wellington on 8 September 1941. Her deployment had lasted 16 months.

The Soloman Islands Campaign 

On 4 September 1942, Desmond was promoted to temporary Acting Leading Stoker (Temporary). With the entry of Japan in the war Leander saw much service escorting troop transports and supply ships to and from New Zealand, Australia, Noumea, New Hebrides, Fiji and other Pacific islands. On 7 August 1942 American Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in the Soloman Islands. HMNZS Leander had been involved in escorting convoys to the perimeter of the area and in mid September joined Task Force 67 in the theatre of operations. However, on 19 November 1942 a crack was found in the hull requiring the ship to return to Auckland for urgent repairs.

Repairs to Leander were delayed a little by the Dockyard completing a refit on Achilles after which Leander underwent a short refit. She was operational again in March 1943, engaged mainly in escort duties as far afield as Pearl Harbour and Bora Bora (Tahiti).  On 1 April 1943 Desmond was still an Acting Leading Stoker, a rate he retained for the rest of his service aboard Leander.

On 11 July she joined Task Force 18 at Espiritu Santo, replacing the cruiser USS Helena which had been sunk. The Task Force was patrolling off the Island of Kolombangara on the night of 13 July when a Japanese force was encountered. Leander was hit amidships by a 24-inch (610mm) torpedo which killed 27 and wounded 15, three seriously. By superb damage control the ship was able to proceed to Tulagi, where temporary repairs were effected enabling a return to Auckland on 29 July.

The damage was beyond the capacity of the dockyard and on 25 November 1943 Leander departed Auckland for Boston, arriving there on 23 December. Repairing and refitting Leander was to take 21 months and the ship was paid off from the RNZN on 8 May 1944.

By this time Desmond had been confirmed as a Leading Stoker. On 17 January 1944 he along with the rest of the ship’s company of  Leander were posted to HMNZS Achilles which had been in a major refit and repair after losing a turret to a Japanese bomb in January 1943. On 1 April 1944, Desmond was promoted to Acting Petty Officer Stoker (Temporary).  He would remain at this rank for the rest of his wartime service.

Desmond served on the Achilles until 30 June 1944. From 1 July, he was posted to HMS Drake, the shore establishment at Devonport in the United Kingdom. His rating was Lead Stoker A/S Petty Officer.  He was then posted to HMS Dolphin, a Submarine Deport at Gosport on 18 November 1944.

From 21 January 1945 he was posted to the submarine tender HMS Elfin and served aboard the T-class submarine HMS Tribune. He was then posted on 10 April 1945 to the deport ship HMS Forth. On 7 May 1945 he was posted to the Deport ship HMS Adamant and served aboard the T-class submarine HMS Totem.

With the demobilisation of the Royal Navy after the conclusion of the Second World War, the New Zealanders who had been serving within the Royal Navy were returned to New Zealand.  Desmond, as a regular in the Royal New Zealand Navy, arrived back in New Zealand in November 1945 and was posted to HMNZS Philomel. He would remain serving at Philomel until January 1948. On 10 April 1946 he was confirmed as a Petty Officer Stocker.  On 21 August 1947 he was given the rate of Petty Officer Stoker Mechanician. This signified a change of branch from Stokers to Mechanicians.

On 27 January 1948 he was posted to the corvette HMNZS Arabis. He participated in the voyage back to the United Kingdom where she was paid off from RNZN service in August 1948. He then transferred with the ship’s company from Arabis to the Loch-class frigate HMS Loch Shin which was commissioned into RNZN service in September 1948 as HMNZS Taupo.  After commissioning the ship and conducting working up exercises, Taupo was bought back to New Zealand and Desmond was posted back to Philomel on 4 February 1949.

From July 1949 to August 1951 Desmond was posted to Royal Australian Navy training establishment HMAS Cerebus which is located at the Flinders Naval Depot in Melbourne. After completing the course he was now a Mechanician 3rd Class. He then returned to Philomel for two months and was then posted to the Improved Dido-class cruiser HMNZS Bellona which he served on until January 1953. During this posting he was promoted again to Mechanician 2nd Class. He then returned to ­Philomel until November 1953 when he was sent to the RNZN training establishment HMZNS Tamaki located on Motuihe Island as part of the staff to teach new recruits entering into the RNZN. At this time he was promoted to his final rate of Mechanician 1st Class.

From March to November 1954 he returned again to serve on Bellona very briefly before spending a year aboard the Loch-class frigate HMNZS Pukaki. During this time Pukaki and the other frigates were part of the forces maintaining the Armistice that had ended the fighting on the Korean Peninsula. He returned to Philomel in November 1955 and served there until April 1957.

In April 1958 he was posted to the survey ship HMNZS Lachlan and served with her for a year. In April 1959 he was posted to the cruiser HMNZS Black Prince, the sister ship of Bellona. This was his last ship that he served with in the navy. In October 1958 Desmond retired from the Navy with the rank of Mechanician 1st Class and became a school teacher as his civilian occupation and lived in Takapuna. Des passed away on 4 October, 2017 in his 98th year.



Posting Record Card for Price, Desmond William Robinson held at the Navy Museum