For many years now I have had a hobby, or rather - passion of photographing graves and family memorials of servicemen, women from WW1, WW2 and other skirmishes.  I then write up quick biographies with what I can find on the internet.

I then add these photographs to my flickr account and where I can, I send these photographs on to relevant organisations interested in or researching their former members.  The HMS Gambia Association was one organisation I contacted in the course of my searching.

Over the past few years I have sent photographs to Ernest (Bill) Hartland, web master of the site.  One day in 2012 he emailed me to say that their Secretary Mr John Andrews would be making a trip to New Zealand and did I want to meet up with him?  I most certainly did!
john andrews
John Andrews, Secretary of the HMS Gambia Association beside the HMS Achilles bell

When the cruiser HMS Achilles opened fire on the German ‘pocket battleship’ Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic, at 6.21 a.m. on 13 December 1939, it became the first New Zealand unit to strike a blow at the enemy in the Second World War. With the New Zealand ensign flying proudly from its mainmast – as battle loomed, a signalman had run aft with the ensign shouting ‘Make way for the Digger flag!’ – Achilles also became the first New Zealand warship to take part in a naval battle. [1]

john andrews John's story:

"I served in Gambia from Nov '58 until Dec '60 as a very young Leading Stoker. We 

commissioned in the Nov and visited ports all round Europe and the Meditereanean  before passing through the Suez canal as the Flag of the East Indies Station. We visited Aden, Mogadishu, Monbassa, Dar e Salam the Seychelles, Karachi Columbo and  Trincomalee in what was then Ceylon. Whilst there, the island of Mauritius was damaged by a cyclone and we gave relief.  While in Mauritius we cleared the airfields, fixed the reservoir for freah water and the ship's medical staff did wonders.

We sailed from there to Gan where we took the Sultan round all the Maldive Islands to celebrate their independence. Our reward for this was a trip to Singapore and Hong Kong and Singapore again. We then sailed for Durban, Port Elizabeth and Capetown. From there to Sierra Leone and the Gambia. We sailed up to the then capital Bathurst and celebrated with the locals. It was the ships only visit to the colony she was named after. Then to Gibraltar, Vigo and home in July 1960 when I got married!!!!

We did a few trips round Europe and our final visit was to Liverpool and we had a big meet up with the people of Huddersfield who had raised 40k sterling towards building the ship in '41. We then paid off in Portsmouth in Dec and I served on in her to put her in reserve in March '61.   The info I have is she was always a happy ship in her 8 commissions and she was always "top of the shop in every thing she did.

My cousin was Petty Officer Harold Dove  who was the petty officer gunner of the B turret in Exeter at the battle of the River Plate [December 13, 1939]. [SEE 2 in sources below - this would have been Gilbert Henry DOVE not Harold].

It is reported that a shell from Graf Spey hit the base of B turret and the concussion killed all in the turret and the barbette.  A rider to his death ( which is recorded on the war memorial on Plymouth Hoe and St Georges Chapel in Chatham) is that his only sibling a brother also a Petty Officer Gunner was lost when Prince of Wales [SEE 3 in sources below - this would have been Leading Seaman Harold Lesley DOVE] was sunk off Malaya at the time of the fall of Singapore. [Battle of the Denmark Strait May 24, 1941 ]

john andrews

John was very emotional standing infront of the Ensign that had flown on the HMS Achillies at the Battle of the River Plate.  Especially as he had lost a cousin on the same day, in the same battle that the flag had flown in.

These are the wonderful aspects of my work within the museum - acquainting and watching people connect with our artefacts - the tangible links that keep the past alive.

A rewarding experience all round.



I have, since this first meeting, caught up with John once again at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and he has given us some items for our reference collection relating to HMS Achilles.  I am taking an extended holiday in the UK in May 2015 after visiting Turkey for the centenary Dawn Service at Gallipoli on Anzac Day and intend to catch up with John in his home town of Aberystwyth during this visit.














Gilbert Henry DOVE

HMS Exeter Roll of Honour






Harold Leslie DOVE

HMS Prince of Wales Roll of Honour








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