Sharp-eyed young Waac saved dredge from disaster

Barbara Pickering and daughter Joy Baker make posies for today's ceremony at the services section of Andersons Bay Cemetery. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Barbara Pickering and daughter Joy Baker make posies for today's ceremony at the services section of Andersons Bay Cemetery. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Had it not been for Barbara Pickering's sharp eye, an unsuspecting sailor and his crew might have been blown out of Wellington Harbour by New Zealand artillery about 75 years ago.

The 94-year-old recalled her time serving in the New Zealand Women's Auxiliary Army Corps during World War 2, where she worked with the artillery as a searchlight operator and range-finder in Wellington Harbour's directing station.

''Whenever a ship came up the harbour, I used to point one light in front of the boat and one behind it, but they weren't turned on.

''I used to follow the ship right up the harbour until headquarters said turn the lights on.

''So I'd press the button and the lights would come on.''

As soon as headquarters had identified the ship as friendly, the lights were turned off again. But if they were foe, the artillery would take over, she said.

''Every time I pushed that button, there was that thought: Could this be an invading ship? I hope it's all right.'' You thought about it all the time.

She said there were a couple of times when it was ''very dicey''.

''One night this commanding officer came up.

''He was just sitting there, chatting away, and then the next minute he was on his feet yelling, 'My God, what the hell's that?'

''A funny-looking ship was coming up the harbour. He was yelling, 'man your guns, man your guns'. He was giving orders all over the place.

''He would have blown it out of the water if I hadn't said anything.''

Fortunately, the plucky young 18-year-old told the commanding officer it was ''just the old dredge from New Plymouth'', and catastrophe was averted.

Mrs Pickering now lives in Dunedin with her daughter Joy Baker.

The pair were among about 50 people at HMNZS Toroa yesterday, helping to make about 4000 posies for today's Anzac commemorations.

The posies, containing a sprig of rosemary and red paper, symbolise remembrance, and will be laid by girl guides, brownies and scouts at the services section of Andersons Bay Cemetery at 9.30am today.

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

 

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