Tag Archives: H.M.S. Andes

The Homecoming – 75 (NZ) Squadron and the S.S. Andes

Many thanks to Chris for another fascinating post, this time about the trip home for the New Zealand and Australian Aircrew after the ending of hostilities.

There is another picture of the Andes here – taken at the Suez Canal on its way home.

I only recently found out that a very fine gentleman who I have known for many years, had a connection with 75 (NZ) Squadron.

George, a Chartered Accountant before the war, had originally served in the Army Signals Corp in New Zealand, a motorbike despatch rider in the Far North.

As the war progressed he decided to volunteer for the RNZAF, and he and a mate, both university-qualified, had managed to short-cut the usual initial training process, and soon found themselves off to Canada to train as Navigators. By the time he reached England, the European war was drawing to a close, and the changing requirements for heavy bomber aircrew meant that he was trained for the new role of Second Navigator (Nav 2), responsible for radar and electronics, as well as bomb aiming.

Finally he received his posting to a bomber squadron, 75 (NZ) Sqdn RAF, but as it turned out, the posting arrived on the day that the war ended!

So he never made it to the Squadron, but fortunately didn’t have to wait around for too long, and was shipped back home on the S.S. Andes only a few weeks later.

The Andes, “one of the world’s most modern liners”,  left Southampton on 23rd of September 1945:

AIRMEN ON WAY HOME
Rec. 11 a.m. LONDON, Sept. 23.
A band played the R.A.F. march as the Andes sailed from Southampton with 1500 New Zealand and 1000 Australian homeward-bound airmen, whose decorations testified to the great part they played against the enemy. An aircraft escort from 75th Squadron, in which many New Zealanders served, roared overhead in a farewell salute.

75 (NZ) Sqdn had received its first three brand new Avro Lincolns only a week or two earlier, intended as replacements for their Lancasters. Two Lincolns flew from RAF Spilsby to salute the departing ship, one of them flown by the Commanding Officer, W/C “Mac” Baigent. The flypast was to honour the large number of RNZAF aircrew on board, about 1500 of them.

23.9.45 Non-operational flying: Cdr. C.H Baigent and F/Lt JA McDonald flew two Lincoln aircraft to Southampton as escort to S.S. Andes. A salute was given by the two aircraft to the New Zealand personnel aboard the steamship as she left the dock on her long voyage to New Zealand.

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W/C “Mac” Baigent’s Lincoln on the way to Southampton. NZBCA archives

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The Lincolns fly over the Andes at Southampton. NZBCA archives

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The Lincolns fly over the Andes at Southampton. NZBCA archives

The Andes was out to break the record (Southampton to Melbourne), which she did, arriving in Melbourne on the 17th October:

TWO SHIPS AT MELBOURNE
FAST VOYAGE BY ANDES
MELBOURNE, Oct. 17
Two large vessels, the Andes and the Stratheden. carrying more than 2000 New Zealand soldiers and airmen from Britain, arrived at Melbourne today. In addition, a large number of Australians were aboard. The Stratheden has 1479 New Zealand airmen and 370 soldiers, and the Andes has 160 New Zealand soldiers. The New Zealanders on the Stratheden are transferring here to the Andes, which is leaving tomorrow for Wellington. The Andes, 25,680 tons, is one of the world’s most modern liners. She was built in 1939 for the Britain-South America service. She left Britain a week after the Stratheden. Steaming an average of 21 knots and stopping only at Port Said to refuel, the Andes arrived at Melbourne two hours ahead of the Stratheden. There was great cheering on the Andes when the ship overtook the Stratheden off the Victorian coast late on Tuesday afternoon.

She sailed for Lyttelton on the 18th.

According to George, during the crossing to Lyttelton, the troops awoke to see flying fish overtaking the ship … apparently the Captain had received word that the Lyttelton watersiders were arguing conditions for unloading her on the Sunday, and the Monday wasn’t suitable either as it was Labour Day, a public holiday!! She had to slow right down and wait until Tuesday (the 23rd) to dock, spending an extra two days sitting out in the Tasman Sea.

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They finally docked at 7.30 on the Tuesday morning. Infuriated by the delay, George says the boys hung out a large sign “Welcome Home, except on Labour Weekend”.

According to others, “the shower of coins and tomatoes/eggs was enough for the band to seek shelter, while the wharfies took off as the airmen disembarked – we hunted them like vermin, anybody who was caught had a quick swim.”

The newspapers of the day probably offered a sanitised version of events:

COINS AND EGGS
SOLDIERS INCENSED
ANDES’ LATE ARRIVAL
P.A. CHRISTCHURCH, this day (23 October).
“Welcome home except on Labour Day. We are going to the races.” These words painted on a canvas sign which hung over the side of the troopship Andes when she berthed at Lyttelton this morning expressed the grievance felt by the returning servicemen aboard the vessel. When the Andes left Melbourne at 7 a.m. last Thursday the men expected to reach Lyttelton on Sunday morning. On Friday, however, they were told there would be no labour available to work the ship at Lyttelton on Sunday or Monday and she would therefore not berth before this morning. “We broke the Mauretania’s record from Southampton to Melbourne, doing the trip in 23 days and six hours,” said one soldier who has returned to New Zealand after four years in German prison camps. “We had a day’s leave in Melbourne last Wednesday and left there about 7 a.m. on Thursday. We waddled across the Tasman like a dirty old duck.” When it was announced that the Andes would not berth until today. he added, everyone became very “edgy.” There was much dissatisfaction at what the men considered an unnecessary delay. As the ship drew alongside the personnel voiced their disapproval. Shouts of “Did you enjoy your holiday yesterday?” “How was Labour Day?” “Are you going to work today?” were addressed to those on the wharf. Showers of pennies with occasional shillings and half-crowns were apparently an incentive to those ashore to do something to hasten the berthing. There were uncomplimentary references to “wharfies,” although there was none on the jetty. In spite of their gibes, however, the Servicemen were in good spirits, and there did not seem to be any real rancour behind their remarks. An egg sailed down with one shower of coins before the ship berthed, but failed to register a hit. Shortly after the ship berthed the official party which had gone out to her by launch went down the gangway. More eggs fell about this party, which included the Minister of Defence, Mr. Jones, and the Minister of Supply, Mr. Sullivan.

The Andes sailed into Wellington the following day, to disembark the North Island contingent, and the boys still weren’t too happy:

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EGGS THROWN FROM ANDES
Evening Post Wellington 24 Oct 1945.
The demonstration as the official party, including the Minister of Finance (Mr. Nash) and the Minister of Defence (Mr. Jones), went on board was to express the grievance of the men at the length of time which has passed since the Andes left Melbourne last Thursday. The ship made a record trip from Southampton to Melbourne in just over 23 days. After the vessel left that port, according to one of the men seen by a “Post” reporter, a message was put over the ship’s loudspeaker system telling the men that the Andes could not get to New Zealand earlier, as the watersiders would not unload the ship. The tattered canvas sign “Welcome home except on Labour Day. We are going to the races,” displayed at Lyttelton, still hung from the ship’s side, weighted down by a beer bottle. “Twenty-three days to Aussie, then four and a half to get to New Zealand!” said one of the men disgustedly. .”It’s a good job for the wharfies there were none on the wharf yesterday. We would have thrown them into ‘the drink!'” “Welcome home to New Zealand, but not on holidays,” added another. “The wharfies must have their holidays, but never mind the man that has been fighting for them.”

WILL FIND OUT FACTS
MR FRASER SURPRISED QUESTION IN PARLIAMENT
(S.H.) WELLINGTON, Wednesday
A request to the Government to set up a special committee to inquire into the reported grievances of the servicemen who returned to New Zealand by the Andes was contained in a question of which Mr D. C. Kidd (Opposition— Waitaki) gave notice to ask in the House of Representatives today. The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, said he did not yet know the full facts, but he would hunt them out. In his question, Mr Kidd said that the men on the Andes were reported to have been required to spend two needless extra days crossing the Tasman so as not to arrive in New Zealand on a Sunday or a public holiday. Many of the men had been prisoners of war for long periods, and were entitled to the most sympathetic consideration by the Government. “I want to be quite frank about this matter.” said the Prime Minister. “If I had been on board the Andes, I know I would have been one of the impatient ones.” Mr Fraser added that, without passing any reflection on the ship, it had come as a surprise to him that the Andes had travelled so speedily for the greater part of her voyage, and yet should have taken so long to cross the Tasman.

And that wasn’t the only problem for the fly-boys on their trip home – they had been made to wash their own dishes!!

AIR OFFICERS’ COMPLAINT
CONDITIONS ON TROOPSHIP
P.A. WELLINGTON, Wednesday.
Hundreds of Air Force officers returning in the Andes from Britain held an indignation meeting while the ship was crossing the Tasman and decided to send a telegram to Air Headquarters asking for hard living pay. They complained that although they were officers they were forced to travel under conditions that were unsatisfactory, even by third or four-class standards. Their case is to be taken up officially with the Government. The officers objected to being quartered on the lower decks in hammocks by the hundred and to having to do cleaning and general duties which, as officers, they would not normally be required to do. The Andes carried 1500 airmen to New Zealand, of whom 1000 were officers. The officer commanding the Air Force draft, Wing-Commander J. K. Maling, of Christchurch, said it had been decided some months ago that because of the shipping position all officers would have to be prepared to accept reduced standards of accommodation. That was agreed to by the various chiefs-of-staff and Governments concerned. He said he intended to carry the men’s representations to the authorities.

As always, thanks to Peter Wheeler and the NZ Bomber Command Assn., for permission to reproduce the photos above.