Takaka veteran cheated death
Ninety-year-old Bob Papps, of Takaka, is one of the few veterans of World War II who served in both the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
The Royal Navy ships that he helped stoke dodged Luftwaffe bombs off the Syrian coast and fought kamikazes while they shelled Japanese factories at the end of the war.
He was spared from death several times during his years of service, most notably by getting a last-minute change of orders from the doomed HMS Neptune in 1940.
‘‘I was scheduled to join the HMS Neptune in Alexandria,’’ he recalls. ‘‘I got a last-minute transfer to join the HMS Leander instead. Only a few months later the HMS Neptune was sunk off the Libyan coast and there was only one survivor out of 750 men on board.’’
On the HMS Leander Mr Papps made his way back to New Zealand passing through the Suez Canal, up the Persian Gulf and back across the Indian Ocean. He served on smaller ships escorting United States troops into Australia and American shipping liners to Hawaii throughout 1943.
Later in the war Mr Papps served on the HMS Tui hunting Japanese submarines around the Solomon Islands.
‘‘Our ships were not fast enough to get away from our own depth charges,’’ Mr Papps said. ‘‘Whenever we would throw a charge all the lights on the ship would shatter. We did sink one Japanese sub in the Buca straits.’’
His final posting of the war was onboard the bigger HMS Gambia which assisted the US Pacific fleet and shelled the eastern coast of Japan. In August 1945, Mr Papps’ ship was the last to come under attack by kamikaze pilots and narrowly avoided disaster.
‘‘When the war ended we were there in Tokyo harbour alongside the USS Missouri for the Japanese surrender,’’ Mr Papps said. ‘‘I will never forget all that we went through to get there and all the men that died.’’