Obituary: Fighting sailor’s funeral for Tauhei farmer

Roy Waide with Rear Admiral Jack Steer at the 75th anniversary of the Graf Spee scrap in 2014.
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Roy Waide with Rear Admiral Jack Steer at the 75th anniversary of the Graf Spee scrap in 2014.

OBITUARY: Waide, Roy William Brodrick, BEM, Service Number NZ1588, July 4, 1919 – May 5, 2017

Roy Waide was one of those farmers content with his lot – except for necessary trips into town, he rarely travelled far from his Tauhei farm outside Morrinsville.

He would explain to visitors who asked that he felt he had seen the world, and what it had to offer, had not always been impressed, and could think of nowhere that was worth shifting for.

Roy Waide when he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy.
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Roy Waide when he was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy.

Those who knew a little of Roy understood his answer.

When Roy died earlier this month, there was not a gumboot in sight. Naval chaplain Colin Mason presided over the service; the coffin was draped in the national flag, Roy's bosun's whistle, and two round sailor's hats. His pallbearers were not family – they were young naval ratings from HMNZS Philomel and in awe of the task assigned to them.

It was a fighting sailor's funeral: the hymn Eternal Father; Psalm 23 (the seafarer's psalm); the Last Post, Ode, and Reveille; and Perry Como's Red Sails in the Sunset.

It was the tally, or hatband, on each of the old caps on Roy's coffin that provided the clue to the pallbearers' presence. They read HMS Achilles and HMNZS Leander respectively.

Those hatbands meant Roy was a veteran of two significant WWII sea battles: those of the River Plate off Argentina, and of the night time battle of Kolombangara in the Coral Sea.

Before he died in his 98th year, Roy was one of the last three men known to be alive who had fought at the battle of the River Plate. At the time, the Achilles was a Royal Navy cruiser crewed by New Zealanders, the enemy was the Nazi pocket battleship Graf Spee, and when the Achilles opened fire early on the morning of December 13, 1939, the men aboard were the first fighting unit from this country to go into action in the six-year global conflict.

As a result, for the navy, Roy the Tauhei farmer was a man of huge mana, for he was among the first who fought under the New Zealand white ensign. As Roy later told it, the fact the Achilles went into battle flying the New Zealand, and not the Royal Navy, ensign came down to over-excited boy sailors raising the incorrect flag as they steamed into battle.

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Not that he saw much of the scrap, mind you. He was a stoker engineer, and fought his battles in the bowels of ships, where he felt the reverberations every time one of Achilles' 6-inch guns fired. He was in the engine room of the Leander four years later when it was torpedoed in the Coral Sea, killing 26 seamen, many of them trapped in engine rooms.

Born on the Ahurangi station on the Whanganui River, Roy grew up in Nelson. His father deserted the family and, at age 12, Roy was an apprentice butcher supporting his mother through the Great Depression. When his employer explained that he would have to lay off Roy's older brother Sidney, who was married, Roy took the fall instead, and joined the navy in 1938.

It was to be one of those decisions that change the course of a person's life. Roy spent the following 20 years in the navy and became its welterweight boxing champion; earned the nickname of "Punch"; fought through the war's duration; and, almost incidentally, saw the world (including Antarctica).

Mostly, says daughter Troy, Roy enjoyed his life at sea, but, like most sailors, hated marching. He managed to get out of the victory parade up Queen Street after the scuttling of the Graf Spee, but was less fortunate, to his mind, some years later when he oversaw a naval squad at Queen Elizabeth's 1953 coronation. It was here, during a naval review, he received the British Empire Medal from the Queen.

He was to meet the Queen several times after that, and was part of her escort during the royal visit to New Zealand.

A few years later he was aboard HMNZS Pukaki, but this time on deck, as a live guinea pig during the atomic bomb test at Christmas Island. By now a chief petty officer, daughter Troy remembers her father saying he had been asked by a young crewman why they had been issued with strips of litmus paper. Roy, who had seen the nuclear wasteland of Nagasaki immediately after the war, reportedly replied: "If it changes colour lad, you're buggered."

Roy was discharged in 1959, and moved with his family to Napier. It was a new chapter for his wife Troy and five children. His daughter Troy remembers how unusual it was, at first, to have their father home. "We used to go down to meet him when he came home from tours of duty, but we were never allowed to go wave goodbye. We'd wake in the morning, and he'd be gone."

Roy bought a small holding near Clive, and milked about a dozen cows. To supplement his income, he worked nightshift at the Whakatu Freezing Works, minding the boilers. And to supplement that income, he joined the Prison Service.

"He worked all three jobs at the same time. He'd come home from Whakatu, milk the cows, have a nap, and then head off to the prison," Troy remembers.

Roy set up one of the first rehabilitation programmes while in Napier and had a low reoffending rate. Troy remembers men used to come up to him on the street and shake his hand, thanking him for putting them straight.

The family moved to the Waikato in the early 60s when Roy bought his Tauhei farm. He used to host the Waikato Hunt on his land, serving them meals and coffee. He milked until his late 80s and died on the farm.

His last "official" engagement was in 2014 when he attended in Auckland the 75th anniversary of the Graf Spee scrap. An old and tired man, he was looked after by Rear-Admiral Jack Steer, and met the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae.

A prodigious reader, Roy loved poetry and the written word. Perhaps ruing his own lack of formal education, he taught each of his grandchildren to read and write and wasted no time telling them how important it was to be able to do so. He made sure they could do their maths and tell the time on an analog clock.

Well into his 90s he could recite many poems from memory. He was particularly fond of a Marty Robbins song – Down Where the Trade Winds Blow –and could quote it to the time he died.

Down where the trade winds play
​Down where they lose the day
​We found a new world
​Where paradise starts we traded hearts
​The night I sailed away.
When it is May again
​I'll sail away again.

Roy got the month right, and did sail away again, this time for good.

Roy was father to Rio, Coral, Roy, Troy, and Timothy and granddad, great-grandad, and great-great-grandad to many.

  • A Life Story tells of a New Zealander who helped to shape the Waikato community. If you know of someone whose life story should be told, please email Charles.riddle@wintec.ac.nz

 - Stuff

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