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A LIFE WELL LIVED – (Excerpts from WOGI Jack Donnelly’s Memoirs) – Part Twenty-three “MY FINAL YEARS IN THE RNZN

My final posting in the RNZN would be HMNZS Tamaki, as a newly created position of Administration Officer New Entry School. I had now done a complete 360 degree cycle of my naval career. Just over 30 years ago as a ‘Boy’ on’ The Island’, then as a Petty Officer at Vauxhall Road and now as a Warrant Officer. Once I had established what my role and job was, I then set about how I could fit into the training component of the trainees 14 week course. As the highest ranked ‘lower decker’ I had to set the example and lead the school, first by being a very good role model in dress, attitude, personality and physical fitness. One of my fears was that being in a new establishment the direction of the school would be one of introducing new concepts and forget the historical back ground of who we were and where we came from. It was the simple things like having the trainees talk and understand the unique language of the sailor’s ”Jack Speak” or telling the time by “Bells” I know it wouldn’t be of use outside of the Navy, but it was unique to us and how we are different from “civvies” it is a special part of our heritage. I also ensured that I was visible at all sporting events, ran with and alongside of them in cross countries, and sat in on various lectures. With young Tony Lewis as Parade GI, I ensured that I kept off his parade as I found him to be a very confident and innovative man who led by example. In my opinion, there is no doubt that Tony Lewis had the potential to become a WOGI, and he would have been a good one.

I was very fortunate to have served under two really good NETO’s (New Entry Training Officers) in Lieutenant Commanders, Lionel Rayner, and Andrew Nuttal, both were men whom I got on really well with, they were flexible, fair and firm, and excellent leaders for both staff and trainees. Divisional Officers Lieutenant Brian Stokes, Peter Dawson and Dean Whaanga were all ideal, positive officers with very different approaches and personalities. We developed a great team in the NES (New Entry School) with staff, Alan Meihana, “Skinny” McKinney, Michelle Hunt, Wildermoth, Mike Richards and the many other instructors whom I cannot remember, but had the privilege to work with and alongside.

Anzac day 1999 I was given the opportunity to take a contingent of sailors from Tamaki to Gisborne to form the firing party for the Dawn service, as a platoon for the 28th Maori Battalion service at Te Poho O Rawiri Marae and to march in their civic parade. An honour and experience to be in my home town for such a very poignant occasion. As always the sailors performed brilliantly for all three services and lasted the distance. I was ably supported by CPOGI Tony Lewis, who just added that much needed organisation and management required when you travel with groups of matelots.

The other two times that I visited Gisborne as a sailor was on Rotoiti in 1961 and for Lt Commander “Pop” Pokai’s funeral in the late 1970’s. Joe Murray was the Officer in charge, Percy Pou our Kaumatua and I had the Funeral Firing Party. It was such a sad and eventful time for all of us. From what I can remember Joe’s brother used his hearse to transport ‘Pop’ down to Gisborne. After the funeral service held in the Philomel chapel we had several delays for various reasons before finally headed south, then the bus took the wrong turnoff, the hearse got a flat tyre in the Waioweka Gorge, it was pouring with rain and we finally pulled into Te Poho O Rawiri Marae at about 0100. It was just good to have ‘TK’ Mark Te Kani’s mum and dad, Tokorua and Rawinia Te Kani in charge of the Marae at that time and we were welcomed onto the Marae at that late hour in true Ngati Porou fashion. Then we had the problem with our L1A1 rifles which we had transported down in the hearse. After much discussion with the local Police we were able to leave them in their “Lock up”.

The tangi itself went really well except that “Pop” once again intervened!!  As the Funeral Firing Party prepared to fire the first volley at the grave side one sailor had not secured the body locking lever properly and the whole inside mechanism which consisted of top cover and bolt carrier came out falling to the ground, very luckily for him he carried on as though nothing had happened went through all the drill motions and recovered well, except that the GI saw what happened and he was awarded a suitable punishment which was carried out while the rest of the team enjoyed the “Hakari” (feast) and “after match” function. I did however let him have a feed later! Whenever I am home and get the opportunity, I visit “Pops” grave, a lovely human being.

As my career was beginning to come to an end I started to look once again at “life on the outside,” I was now 56 years old with no recognised trade or certificates for civilian employment. What was I going to do? Both Alan Meihana and myself went for an interview for Parole Officers, I managed to get down to the final 4 in which they only required 2 officers, but sadly I missed out. Then I got a break with Lt Commander Noel Easton a medical officer who was actually seconded to the position as GTO (Gunnery Training Officer) a few years prior asked me if I would like to be a prison officer at Paremoremo. I jumped at the idea, did the interview, passed the initial exams, and was accepted for the position to start one week after I would leave the Navy.

During my time back in the Navy I saw three of my whanau follow me into the RNZN. My son Jack joined as a Sonar man, although not following his father into the “World of Guns” I was so pleased that he decided to challenge himself and look at another career in the Navy. My sister’s son, Aaron Blake also joined up as a Radio Operator and Waaka Donnelly my brothers son became a Chef. All three didn’t have long lengthy careers in the Navy but what it did achieve was to give all three of them an excellent broad base of discipline, organization and work ethics which has stood to them as civilians. I will always be proud of all three of them.

The final week of my life in my beloved Navy was one of sadness, reflection and saying “goodbye” to the many officers, colleagues, shipmates and friends. I was invited to both senior and junior rates messes, and visited ships alongside for departing drinks and farewells. On Thursday, Tamaki put on a farewell luncheon for me in the JRDH (Junior Rates Dining Hall) in which our CO (Commanding Officer) Greg Buchan, Officers and ships company had formal speeches and a chance for people to say their farewells. It was a wonderful occasion.

On the Friday my final day the NES had set up a fitting and wonderful farewell for me which was organised in secret. The mood around the NES was quiet, somber, almost eerie, everyone was courteous, said little and I could feel that something was missing from a normal day, or not quite as it should be, even the BCT’S (Basic Common Trainees) looked and acted rather subdued. Just prior to lunch I was finishing packing up my personal items in my office when Alan Meihana came in to say, “Jack, coming to lunch?” “ Yeah mate”

As we came out of the NES entrance and onto the court yard I was greeted by George McGarvey and members of the RNZN cultural group who immediately broke into a haka!! I stood there at attention, my lower lip quivering, tears rolled down my face as I looked around to see the whole of the NES trainees and staff formed up. They then invited me to unveil a beautiful Kowhai tree with a plaque next to it which was inscribed; This Kowhai tree was planted by the staff of the New Entry School HMNZS TAMAKI on 16th December 1999 to commemorate the retirement of Warrant Officer Fredrick “Jack” Donnelly BEM.” It just blew me away to think that I would have a tree planted at the NES in my honour. Then, as a final salute the whole of the school gave me 3 cheers!

My final ‘address’ to the NES that day was one of reflection on a career which I had fully embraced and enjoyed. My personal message to the trainees was to take a look at the cannon with the Maori warrior on it and remember the Tamaki motto of “Ake Ake Kia Kaha” (Forever and ever be strong) my interpretation was; “As a trainee stay strong to meet life’s challenges.” After many handshakes, kisses and verbal farewells I was on my way from the military into life as a “civvy” Goodbye my Navy. As I drove outside the gate that day, one of the security guards simply said, “Good luck Jack, and all the very best.”

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