Ronald W. (Ron) Kirkwood

Ron KirkwoodFrom Kirkwood, Warrant Officer R.W. - National Museum of the New Zealand Navy

Ronald W. (Ron) Kirkwood joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy as a stoker in 1932. After service in the cruiser HMS Dunedin he was sent on loan to the United Kingdom in early 1936, serving in the destroyer HMS Hostile transporting civil war refugees from Spain after which he was posted to the battleships HMS Ramillies and HMS Resolution.

In early 1939, Kirkwood returned to New Zealand in HMS Achilles and was immediately sent for mechanician training in Australia. He rejoined HMS Achilles on completion of his courses and describes the bombing of HMS Achilles X turret in the Solomon Islands area. Kirkwood spent the remainder of the war in the cruiser HMNZS Gambia. He was a member of the commissioning party that brought the cruiser HMNZS Bellona out to New Zealand.

Ronald Kirkwood retired from the RNZN in October 1949 having attained the rank of Warrant Officer.

This newspaper clipping was on the original HMS Gambia Association website but there were no other details about it. HMS Gambia was commissioned into the the Royal New Zealand Navy in May 1944, as these men were celebrating the 55th anniversry of that, I think this article was published in 1999.

A Rum Start to Peace
A Rum Start to Peace

A Rum Start to Peace

By Mathew Dearnaley

Former shipmates will this weekend recall a narrow escape from a kamikaze attack

On Deck: Ron Kirkwood is looking forward to a weekend of reminiscences.

Ron Kirkwood was poised to celebrate the end of a long brutal was as he clambered out of the HMNZS Gambia's engine room for his daily tot of rum.

The ship was abuzz with a signal that hostilities had ceased at 11am on August 15, 1945, after weeks of naval bombardment of the Japanese mainland. The mechanic-technician, now 83 and living in Milford, was on the forenoon watch and had to wait to be relieved before climbing up to his mess to celebrate at 11:20.

Before getting there, the former Whangarei man heard a mighty bang followed by a burst of machinegun fire, and had a nasty feeling the war was not quite over.

Seaman gunner Jack Stuart was on the quarterdeck with 150 of the ship's 730 crew when the screaming roar of a kamikaze bomber sent most of scrambling under gun turrets. "But I realized there was nowhere to go and thought the best thing to do was turn around and look at it," said Mr. Stuart, now a 74-year-old honourary Navy Commander. "I saw it explode in the air and called to the others, 'It's okay, she's gone'."

A United States Corsair fighter had shot the Japanese plane into the sea about 50m short of the Gambia, although some metal fragments hit the deck. It was one of 17 kamikazes downed from a squadron that refused to acknowledge defeat and made a last-ditch attack on the Allied fleet off Japan.

Commander Stuart, who lives in Holkitika, has plenty of company this weekend as he hosts his friend Mr. Kirkwood and 80 other old shipmates at their fourth reunion on the West Coast. They are celebrating the 55th anniversary of the commissioning into the Navy of the 8,000-tonne Gambia, on loan from Britain while the smaller cruises Achilles and Leander were out of service.

The Gambia lost only one crew member, despite being one of the hardest-worked warships in the Pacific, and that was to an accidental drowning.