- Watt, Robert M
- History - general
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1979 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
It was only too apparent that an appalling disaster had occurred and the officers and men of the sloop quickly rose to the occasion. Commander Morgan took charge of the situation and relief parties at once went ashore to give aid. Their appearance in the stricken town was a heartening sight to the distressed citizens, and it was emphasised later by officials of the town that without the help that the officers and men of Veronica gave, the situation would have been much more confusing. The sailors restored the first sign of confidence to the people by their very presence.
They collected what medical supplies were available from destroyed buildings and took them to dressing stations, also food and clothing for the shelters which were set up. They toiled for long hours assisting the police and fire brigade to rescue people from the crumbling buildings and wreckage and to fight the fires that broke out.
Surgeon-Lieutenant-Commander McVicker of Veronica established a first aid headquarters at the police station where stretcher parties brought a great many casualties. Destitute women and children were taken on board the Veronica and by the end of the day there were some 200 on board the ship. There was no sleep for the sailors that night.
The men of the Veronica were greatly assisted in their rescue work by men from the MV Taranaki and SS Northumberland who also brought ashore what medical supplies the ships carried. The two merchant ships had been anchored in the Napier roadstead when the earthquake occurred. The marines from Veronica took over police duties and did a splendid job. One fortunate thing about the Veronica’s presence at Napier was that Commander Morgan could immediately contact the naval base at Auckland by radio and describe what had happened. If the ship had not been there it might have been many hours before the rest of the country had received any news of the disaster as telegraph communications had been destroyed.
As soon as Commander Morgan’s messages had been received by Philomel at Devonport the rest of the country was informed of the disaster and speedy preparations were made for the dispatch of medical supplies, food and other items that would be needed for the comfort of the stricken inhabitants of the town.
The two cruisers Diomede and Dunedin were at the Naval Base preparing to sail for the Bay of Islands, from where the Dunedin was to carry on to England for an extensive refit.
They were quickly loaded with medical supplies and provisions, fifteen doctors and eleven nurses were embarked and at 2.30 p.m., only 3½ hours after the earthquake had occurred, they were on their way to Napier. A speed of 24 knots was maintained most of the way down the coast and they arrived at the Napier roadstead at 8.20 a.m. the next morning (Wednesday). During the run down the coast radio contact was maintained with the Veronica and a preliminary relief organisation was worked out. The bakers on the two ships were hard at work baking as much bread as they could.
A relief committee had been set up immediately after the earthquake and on the arrival of the cruisers a meeting of the Committee was held on board the Veronica. A programme for future action was discussed and an executive committee was set up to bring about a co-ordinated effort. Commodore Geoffrey Blake was placed on this Committee.
The three warships remained at Napier for a week during which time the sailors helped in the rescue and cleaning-up work. Many partially wrecked buildings and dangerous chimneys and walls had to be demolished for reasons of safety and the bluejackets put in long hours on this work.
Before the ships finally left Napier the Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, and Lady Bledisloe went aboard them and personally thanked the officers and men for the splendid work that they had done.
The thanks of Parliament were also conveyed to Commodore Blake before the ships sailed.
The Veronica left Napier on Wednesday February 11th. Moving the ship from the jetty was easier than expected and she set a course for Auckland escorted by the Diomede as a precautionary measure.
On arriving back at Auckland the Veronica entered Calliope Dock for repairs. It was found that although the hull was strained no serious damage had been done to the ship. At the end of February the two cruisers sailed for Russell where Commodore Blake transferred his flag to the Diomede and the Dunedin finally left for England for her refit on February 23rd.
Commander H. L. Morgan was informed on the King’s Birthday, June 3rd 1931, that he had been made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, in recognition of his services at the Napier earthquake. The investiture to Commander Morgan was made by the Governor-General in the evening following the Auckland Regatta in January 1932.
The Veronica remained on the New Zealand Station until February 24th 1934, when she left Auckland for the United Kingdom to be broken up. A plate that had been presented to her by the Navy League in commemoration of the work done by her officers and men at Napier was placed in the trophy room at the RN Barracks at Chatham to await the building of another Veronica. This has not occurred as yet.