The bell of the M.V Rangitata

Hidden in an alcove under some stairs at New Zealand’s Army’s Trade Training School is a surprising item of memorabilia not generally associated with the Army, a Ships Bell belonging to the M.V Rangitata.

With no labels or tags identifying its origins, its mounting cradle indicates that it was mounted in a social club or smoko room and used to call the room to attention for important announcements.

The journey of this bell and why it now rests at Trentham has long been forgotten. However, it does hold a surprising place in the whakapapa of the Royal New Zealand Army Logistics Regiment.

Established in 1873, the New Zealand Shipping Company (NZSC) helped pioneer the trade-in frozen goods from New Zealand to England and became one of New Zealand’s premier shipping companies with domestic and international routes.

In the late 1920s, the NZSC undertook a significant investment in its fleet for the Wellington to London route and had the three modern diesel-powered passenger/cargo ships built, the Rangitane, the Rangitiki and the Rangitata.

MV Rangitata

Known as the “Rangi” ships, from 1929, these 16,737-ton diesel-powered vessels would dominate the service between England and New Zealand with a four-weekly service, making the voyage via the Panama Canal and Pitcairn Island in 32 days.

All three Rangis would serve in various war-related roles from 1939.

The Rangitane

whilst transiting from New Zealand to England, was sunk 300 miles east of New Zealand by the German surface raiders Komet and Orion on 27 November 1940.

The Rangitiki

In November 1940, as its sister was facing German raiders in the Pacific, as the largest vessel in the 38 vessel Trans-Atlantic convoy HX 84, the Rangitiki would encounter the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, and although eight merchant vessels were lost, the Rangitiki completed the voyage. In December 1940, as part of Trans-Atlantic convoy WS 5, the Rangitiki would survive an encounter with the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper. In 1945 the Rangitiki would return to the New Zealand -England route as it undertook repatriation voyages returning Servicemen and War brides home from Europe. Following 87 peacetimes return voyages between New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the Rangitiki was retired and broken up as scrap in 1962.

The Rangitata

In 1937 the Rangitata would transport troops to England for the coronation of King George VI, and in 1939 would be requisitioned for war service.  During the war, some of the Rangitata’s eventful voyages would include transporting 113 child evacuees from England to New Zealand and later in the war. It would transport United States soldiers from the USA to England. Following the war, the Rangitata would be fitted out as a war-bride ship and in 1947 would transport the first post-war draft of immigrants to New Zealand. Returning to peacetime service with its sister ship, the Rangitiki, the Rangitata would also be scrapped in 1962.

The wartime voyage of significance to the RNZALR is the Rangitata’s participation in carrying the First Echelon of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2nd NZEF) from Wellington to Egypt in January/February 1940.

Six merchant vessels would make up Convoy US.1 sailing from Wellington on 4 January 1940, carrying 345 Officers and 6175 other ranks of the Second Echelon of the 2nd NZEF.

As part of Convoy US.1, the Rangitata would transport the following units to Egypt.

  • Divisional Cavalry: A and B Sqns (369 men)
  • NZANS Nursing Sisters (3)
  • Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve ratings.
  • 2 NZEF Overseas Base
  • 13 Light Aid Detachment, New Zealand Ordnance Corps (1 Officer + 12 Other Ranks)
  • 13 Light Aid Detachment, New Zealand Ordnance Corps (1 Officer + 12 Other Ranks)

The following members of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps have been identified as sailing on the Rangitata. As the war progressed, several of these men would hold significant positions in the NZOC, and from November 1942, the New Zealand Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (NZEME). A small number would continue to serve in the post-war NZ Army.

  • Lieutenant Donald Edward Harper, NZOC, Base Depot
    • Would finish the war as Lieutenant Colonel and the 2nd NZ Div Assistant Director of Ordnance Services.
Lieutenant Colonel Donald Harper Bull, George Robert, 1910-1996. Lieutenant Colonel D E Harper – Photograph taken by George Bull. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-05919-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23233849
  • 2nd Lieutenant John Owen Kelsey, NZOC, 13 LAD
    • Would serve as an Ordnance Mechanical Engineer (OME), Senior Ordnance Mechanical Engineer (SOME), Assistant Director of Ordnance Services (ADOS) and acting Chief Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (CRÈME). Completed the war as a Colonel and was awarded an MBE and MID
  • 2nd Lieutenant Robert Hassell England, NZOC, 14 LAD
    • Would be promoted to Captain and serve as OC 3 NZ Field Workshop and NZ Divsional Ordnance Field Park
  • Warrant Officer Class One Kevin Graham Keith Cropp, Base Depot
    • Would remain in the RNZAOC post-war and retire as a Major in 1955
  • Warrant Officer Class One Francis Reid, NZOC, Base Depot
    • Would be commissioned and serve throughout the war. Would remain in the RNZAOC after the war and as a Lieutenant Colonel would be the Director of Ordnance Services from November 1949 to March 1957.
  • Warrant Officer Class Two Andrew Gunn, NZOC, 13 LAD
    • KIA Greece. 18 April 1941
  • Corporal Randal Martin Holmes, NZOC, 14 LAD
  • Corporal Robert William Watson, NZOC, Base Depot
  • Private Rodger Langdon Ashcroft, NZOC, Base Depot
  • Private John Noel Shadwell Heron, NZOC, Base Depot
  • Private Mark Edwin Ivey, NZOC, Base Depot
  • Private Edward McTavish MacPherson, NZOC, Base Depot
  • Private Lionel Edward Campbell, NZOC, 14 LAD
  • Private Lionel John McGreevy, NZOC, 14 LAD

Although this list is not exhaustive, the few highlighted names indicate the logistical talent onboard the Rangitata during its voyage as part of Convoy US.1. Officers such as Harper, Kelsey and Reid would go on and play a significant role in shaping the future of New Zealand Military Supply and Maintenance Support trades.

Although the journey of the MV Rangitata’s Bell and how it ended up in Trentham may never be known, the hope is that given its relationship to the Logisticians of the First Echelon, in the future, the RNZALR will place and display this bell in a position of significance.

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