Veteran reflects on World War Two

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 04/09/2013
Bill Slater
JOHN HAWKINS/ Fairfax NZ

IN QUIETER TIMES: Former Merchant Navy seaman Bill Slater, 94, of Bluff, enjoys a beer and morning tea with his fellow sailors to commemorate Merchant Navy Day yesterday.

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Bluff man Bill Slater clearly remembers things around him burning.

It was during World War II and he was an able seaman in the Merchant Navy at the time.

"I remember ships being blown up. I lost friends. Everything just went down around me."

Speaking to The Southland Times yesterday before a ceremony in Bluff commemorating Merchant Navy Day, Mr Slater said he was deployed from Liverpool, where he was born, at the outbreak of Word War II.

"We went everywhere, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, even into Stockholm."

Everything was kept secret, even from crew members, to prevent the enemy from intercepting any cargo, he said.

"We didn't know where we were headed until we got there."

Mr Slater said he was part of convoys that carried everything from troops to supplies for the war effort.

His duties on board included steering the ship, cleaning the decks, and everything in between, he said.

"You worked all the time, seven days a week."

There were three watch shifts, with three men on each shift.

A shift lasted eight hours.

In service for between six and eight months at a time, the now-94-year-old served for the duration of the war, jumping ship at Lyttelton Harbour when the war finished and finding work in North Canterbury.

Love brought him south, after he met his wife, who was from Bluff, while in Nelson.

Settling in the port town in the 1960s, he has lived in Bluff ever since. He has never returned to Liverpool.

Mr Slater was one of about 20 people at yesterday's ceremony, held at the Bluff Marine Centre.

During the ceremony flags representing New Zealand company vessels that sank during World War II were raised, and a minute's silence held.

In 2010, 65 years after World War II, the New Zealand government recognised the Merchant Navy's contribution to the war effort by marking September 3 as Merchant Navy Day.

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- The Southland Times

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