Tragedy at Tikao Bay

Today Tikao Bay is a calm, peaceful little bay with a laid-back holiday vibe hidden away in Akaroa Harbour with few clues remaining of its military use and the tragic drowning of two Ordnance soldiers.

During World War Two, with the threat of invasion by Japan just over the horizon, the isolated Akaroa Harbour would be fortified to deny its use by the enemy. However, by the time the battery of 6-inch guns,  Naval Armament Depot and controlled minefield was completed in 1943, the threat had diminished, with the defences becoming an expensive white elephant. In early 1944 The controlled minefield was fired, and all the navy stores at the Tikao Bay Naval Armament Depot were transferred to other installations and facilities offered to the army.[1]

Akaroa Harbour Defences. Peter Cooke Defending New Zealand 2000

The extensive facilities at Tikao Bay, including a mine magazine, examination room, primer magazine wharf and accommodation buildings, were taken over by the Southern District’s Ordnance Depot at Burnham Camp in 1944 as a satellite storage depot for Gun and Artillery Equipment.[2] With an initial establishment of seven men in 1944, this had been reduced by 1955 to two soldiers responsible for the storage and maintenance of the equipment held at Tikao Bay.

Former Defence buildings Tikao Bay. Suff.co.nz/Ewen Sargent

Staff Sergeant Frederick Hastings Kirk aged 52, was married with three children and had been the Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of the Tikao Bay depot since 1950. Staff Sergeant Kirk had joined the Ordnance Depot at Burnham in 1939 as a civilian before enlisting into the 2nd NZEF early in 1940. As a Temporary Warrant Officer Class Two in 23 Battalion, Kirk was taken prisoner at Crete in 1941 and would remain a Prisoner of War for four and a half years. On his return to New Zealand, he joined the temporary staff and was posted to the Ordnance Depot at Burnham. In 1948 he became a member of the Regular Force and transferred to Tikao Bay in 1950. 

Private Donald George Dixon was aged 28 and was married with three children. Private Dixon would initially serve with the ammunition inspection branch after his 1953 enlistment and was transferred to the Tikao Bay Depot in October 1953.

On Tuesday, 10 March 1955, on completion of their daily duties, Kirk and Dixon left the depot at about 7 pm to check a set net approximately 200 yards (183 Meters) from the Tikao bay jetty. Having not returned by 11 pm, the police were notified, and Constable Egan of Akaroa and Mr G Brasell undertook an initial search. At 3 am Wednesday, Egan and Brasell located the missing men’s upturned dingy at the high-water mark near the set net, which was still in position. Reinforced with a party from Burnham Camp, local residents, and the police, the search for the missing men, would continue for the rest of the week.[3]

Private Dixon’s body was located and recovered from the harbour on Saturday morning.[4] The search for Staff Sergeants Kirks body would continue with his body found on 18 March.[5] It was assumed that a southerly wind had risen after the two men left the depot, causing the dingy to capsize with the coroner’s report ruling the deaths as asphyxia by drowning due to misadventure.

Tikao Bay would remain as an Army installation and training area into the early 1970s; however, its role as a storage depot would cease in the 1960s as the army progressively disposed of the remaining artillery equipment held there.[6]


Notes

[1] Sydney D. New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs War History Branch Waters, The Royal New Zealand Navy (Wellington, N.Z.: War History Branch, Dept of Internal Affairs, 1956), 229-36.

[2] “Establishments – Ordnance Corps “, Archives New Zealand No R22441743  (1937 – 1946).

[3] “Two Soldiers Missing,” Press, Volume XCI, Issue 27606, , 12 March 1955.

[4] “Unsuccessful Search for Body,” Press, Volume XCI, Issue 27608, , 15 March 1955.

[5] “Soldiers Body Recovered,” Press, Volume XCI, Issue 27612, , 19 March 1955.

[6] “Army Sells Guns,” Press, Volume C, Issue 29469, , 22 March 1961; “Tikao Bay Depot,” Press, Volume XCIX, Issue 29331, , 10 October  1960.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.