BY GEORGINA KEKEA
IT was a cool quiet morning and the sea in Tulagi harbour was calm and peaceful when we arrived in the Central Islands Province on board the Patrol Boat Lata. Only a few canoes can be seen with smiling faces from the locals probably on their way to their gardens or doing some other Saturday chores.
It was so calm and peaceful that during the memorial programme when the last bugle call was played, one can even imagine how it must have been for the seamen on board the HMNZS Moa when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft 75 years ago.
It was on April 7, 1943, while refueling from an American oil barge Erskine M Phelps at Tulagi Harbour when the anchorage came under attack. Both vessels were caught by surprise and Moa suffered a direct hit and sank within four minutes. Five seamen died and 15 were wounded.
On this occasion for the memorial service, family members of one of the late seamen, travelled over from New Zealand to attend this memorial service. Four siblings who were late John’s nephews together with their spouses, took this trip to remember their late uncle who was their mum’s eldest brother.
“She took it really hard our grandmother. Because she lost at that time, her husband and then her only son,” Robert Utting, nephew of the late leading Seaman John Moffat, muses.
John Chilton Oliver Moffat from Whangarei was a leading seaman in the HMNZS Moa T233 and was only 22 years old when he died. He joined the New Zealand Navy just before he turned 16 and had been serving in the navy for six years already before he met his fate onboard the Moa.
“The wreck of Moa to this day remains a war grave and memorial for the men who served and died. As a nation, New Zealand is proud to be a part of the operations in the Solomon Islands and to help their neighbors in navigation areas and skilled crew in the Pacific’s time of need,” Captain Dave McEwan of the Royal New Zealand Navy said.
Meanwhile, before the last post, Robert Utting in his remarks presented this ode.
‘They have no grave but the cruel sea. No flowers lay at their head. A rusting hulk is their tombstone. Afast on the ocean bed. They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them. Lest we forget them.’
Tulagi is now a renowned spot for scuba diving. Beneath the pristine calm seas, lies the wreck of HMNZS Moa including other wrecks from USS boats.
Whilst the memorial service was specifically for HMNZS Moa, one couldn’t help but reflect on the events 75 years ago and the war that took place on our shores then. The laying of wreaths was a solemn occasion as everyone on board the boat remember the young men who lost their lives and for the many others who fought in the battle of Guadalcanal for the sake of Pacific peace.
However the five young men who died on board the HMNZS Moa were Kenneth Bailey from Epsom, Auckland, John Buckeridge from Waihi, Hugh Dobson Crawford from Onehunga, Auckland, Collin Duncan, from Takapuna, Auckland and John Moffat from Whangarei.
“And as for those that have gone before us, we continue to remain committed to ensure our region is peaceful and prosperous,” Captain Dave McEwan says.
The memorial service was officiated by Father Hillary Anisi, Chaplain Honiara Port, Mission to Seafarers.
The occasion was held on Saturday, April 7, 2018.