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A LIFE WELL LIVED – (Excerpts from WOGI Jack Donnelly’s Memoirs) – Part Sixteen

A LIFE WELL LIVED – (Excerpts from WOGI Jack Donnelly’s Memoirs) – Part Sixteen

“NASU (Naval Air Support Unit)”

On being promoted to Warrant Officer, I was posted to NASU to replace my good mate “Bash” Bishop. This was to be a whole new experience for me, being part of the Air Force culture, driving fast boats and being in charge of my own unit. The NASU crew was what I would describe as, hard working, loyal matelots who enjoyed a few “quiet ales” on occasions. They also proved to be very innovative and creative when required. The unit consisted of a large building complete with office, ablutions, store rooms and a huge lounge area ideal for live entertainment. A jetty, pontoon, and four boats, W88, and W44 were wooden hulled fast boats capable of speeds of up to 40 knots. W312 AND W214 were flat bottom large, slow barges. One of the main tasks of our naval unit was to support the Air Force when they were carrying out parachute jumps, in acting as a safety and recovery boat. My first task when taking over was how I going to run this small “outback post” of HMNZS Philomel? How flexible, lenient and relaxed could I afford to be? I had to consider my position, then, how to get the respect and best out of my team. I then looked at my crew and just who they were. Brian Quick, our POME, was quiet, a solid worker and reliable. The Leading Seamen coxswains were Peter Vandermade, whose Dad, was in the Air-force and had also been cox’n of these boats. Pete was not only an excellent boat handler but professional in all that he did. “Mac” McLean, Roger Morrissey, and Tom Waaka were very reliable and exceptional drivers of all the NASU boats. The Able Rates were quite “senior” in years and experience, but in my opinion didn’t seem to be at a stage where they were looking at promotion. Gunners, Nick Beechey, “Bunty” Cooper and Bill Baker were all competent sailors, who did their job when required and played their part in making the unit and team a happy one.

Bill Baker was an A grade mechanic and in his “spare” time would work on our cars if or when it was required. He had all the car maintenance facilities at his disposal. Nicholas Beechey and “Bunty” Cooper were our “social reps,” they had all the contacts on the base. Our Christmas “Do’s” were legendary, the Friday “make and mend” meetings were always happy occasions, the boat trips back from Philomel after monthly divisions with refreshments, singing and the guitar playing loudly was our way of acknowledging and enjoying each other’s company.

One of the funniest occasions in my time at the unit happened at one of our Christmas “Do’s” We invited the Army transport unit to a few celebratory drinks with us. What we set up was to have cheap rum for the Army and flat “coca-cola” for us. At a pre arranged time “Bunty” announced that we would like to challenge the Army to a “Boat” race, naturally they accepted. The result, Navy 3, Army 0. They got “plastered” and once again the Navy had out-smarted the Army.

There were times when things at the unit were quiet. This is where the crew’s innovational skills would come to the fore. Day trips for fishing in the gulf, diving for kina, paua, mussels, and scallops. There were weekends when I would take my family on a boat trip in W88 around the islands in the gulf. It gave me a chance to once again visit Motuihe Island. On this particular day I took Hugh Pocklington (PRI) and Margaret his partner with us. I found it quite emotional when I saw what was left of the place. Could hardly make out where the parade ground had been, but I still managed to jog up that famous hill. I never expected to visit the “Rock” again, but so pleased that I did.

A way in which we built up quite a substantial amount of money for our unit’s funds was that every time there was a storm in Auckland, the upper harbour would see many small boats break their moorings and we would find them or tow them back to our NASU unit. We would contact the Police who would visit us, take the details of the boats, if they were not claimed after a period of six months, we were entitled to take ownership of them. We would then patch and paint them, advertise and finally sell them.

The one thing that I supervised and closely monitored was our dress, and all the crew ensured that they were at all times correctly dressed whilst on the Air-force base. Our boats were also very well maintained and the cox’ns of both W88 and W44 took personal pride in their boats appearance. The two years that I spent at NASU were the happiest and most satisfying time in my career. I had my family at Hobsonville with me, a great team of sailors, tremendous environment and no pressure. Some may call it a “McHale’s “Navy” posting, but I say, “We did all that was required of us, and did it well.”

With six months to go before my time in the RNZN was to come to an end, I had a chat to Terry Shepherd (GI) who had left the Navy only to return after about three years “outside.” I guess I was feeling a little uneasy about going out into “Civvy Street” and being a failure. Terry said to me “Jack, whatever job you decide to take up, never think that you can start at the top, that was my biggest mistake. Cream always rises to the top.” That message has remained with me to this day. I did several resettlement courses, but just couldn’t decide what I would do until I met Peter Mason, an ex Air-force ‘bandy’ whom I previously knew through the various tri services ceremonial parades.

He convinced me to join him as a manager of “Uncles” takeaways bar. After meeting with David Poutney, the managing director, I began training as a manager. At that time there were 26 “Uncles” outlets throughout Auckland and I was to manage the Te Atatu food bar.

And so it was time to “Swallow the Anchor” after twenty two years and seven months. When I look back on my time in the Navy, I fully realise that it was a “colourful” career with turbulent seas at times, but there was also lots of blue skies, smooth sailing and calm seas. I achieved everything that I set out to do and finished up at the “top of the hoist” in my gunnery world. If I was asked to sum up my career in just three words, they would be, challenging, achieving, and rewarding.” The day I left home to join the Navy my mum had said to me, “Jacky, look after yourself and you will do well” I would like to think that I achieved her wishes.

Thank you Jack for allowing us to share in your memories. I have had so many positive comments that I have decided to reproduce the memoirs in full. – Ed.

(to be continued)

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