- Tonson, A.E.
- History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The station today has a total complement of some eighty personnel, including four officers and two warrant officers. About forty radio operators are now borne on the station, some twenty-four being female.
Female operators were reintroduced about three years ago, for the first time since World War II. At any one time, during the day, about twenty-four people will be working at the receivers and about ten at the transmitters, these numbers being reduced at night to about ten and three respectively.
During the war years there was no accommodation for families within the naval camp, but later on, to make service more attractive, four flats for officers and twelve for ratings were provided. Sailor accommodation was actually in the old Wrennery quarters used in the war years. All the flats were basic and sub-standard, being converted buildings or adapted accommodation blocks with minimum facilities. In 1952 a housing programme was commenced at the Waiouru Military Camp and a number of houses for naval ratings were provided. A house for the commanding officer of Irirangi and four houses for officers were built on receiver’s land adjacent to the establishment.
The barracks and administration offices have, since 1971 and 1973 respectively, been situated within the Waiouru Military Camp and their constant high level of external neatness and internal cleanliness set the standard by which others in the area are judged. Married ratings live in the army housing area while the officers still retain the houses opposite the old naval camp. About half an acre of the land on which the old camp stood at Hihitahi has been retained, the one building on it, the former quartermasters’ lobby, duty watch accommodation and cell block complex, situated just inside the gate of the camp, being used by Irirangi as a sports and social club. The interior of this building was stripped down by Lieutenant-Commander Davies and his crew, being officially opened by Commodore K.M. Saull, then Commodore, Auckland and now Chief of Naval Staff, on 9th November 1979 during his inspection. The sports field across the road, known as Thorne Park, remains an Irirangi asset, being named after Rear Admiral E.C. Thorne, CB, CBE who was the captain from 1953 to 1955 and responsible for the field being developed. Several past officers have risen to flag rank, additional to Rear Admiral Thorne being Rear Admiral L.G. Carr and Commodore R.H.L. Humby.
A major incident during the period when Rear Admiral Thorne, now retired, was commanding officer was the Tangiwai railway disaster on Christmas Eve 1953, when a train laden with passengers plunged into the Whangaehu River. This happened after a bridge had been swept away when a crater lake burst its bank on Mount Ruapehu and released thousands of tons of water. There were 285 people on the train at the time; the dead numbered 151, and 20 bodies were never found. The ship’s company of Irirangi was greatly involved in the initial rescue operations and then in searching the river and recovering victims. Being the busiest time of the year, with Christmas ship telegrams being handled, each watch was fully required both at the receivers and transmitters, but those not watchkeeping all took part in the searches during daylight hours. There were many instances of untiring effort, and one leading rating, who had retired from the police force before because of flat feet, would turn to at 0500 hours to cook the ship’s company breakfast and then its midday dinner. In the afternoon he would join a search party until dark and from then until after midnight would assist the police at Waiouru with much of the paperwork involved.
At the time of the disaster Her Majesty the Queen was visiting New Zealand and arrangements had been made for her to broadcast her Christmas message to England and the Commonwealth from Government House, Auckland, using landlines and the main DS13 transmitter at Irirangi for the actual transmission.
In those days the station had the most powerful transmitter in New Zealand fitted for voice transmission. Despite the fact that alternative landlines routing had been provided from Auckland to Ohakune the final pair to Irirangi came over the Tangiwai bridge which, having been swept away, cut off the station from Auckland. Post Office and navy technicians worked feverishly all Christmas Day to provide an alternative link, and the transmitter went on the air some fifteen minutes before the Queen was due to speak and just in time to transmit Sir Edmund Hillary’s introduction. There was no time for trials and tests with the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, but all went well and reception proved to be excellent.