BERNARD CECIL WIDDON ~ Medals dropped by burglars in Geelong Park make a double trans-Tasman crossing.

515226 – BERNARD CECIL WIDDON    

I received a request from the Victorian Police on 5 October after a set of WW2 miniature medals belonging to a New Zealander had been found in a recreational park at Bell Post Hill, Geelong and had been handed in to local police in the town of Corio.  Checks of were made of all the RSL Clubs in Geelong and enquiries also made at Anzac House in Melbourne did not provide an answer. 

The medals were in excellent condition, court mounted and fortunately, had a sticker on the back with the name of the owner.  Without this there would be absolutely no chance of identifying the owner or family.  The medals were named to: 515226 Pte WIDDON B.C. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernard Cecil Widdon was born in June 1914 at Devonport, Auckland to Charles Widdon and Leona DAY.  Pre-war Bernard was labouring in Riwaka, Motueka and then took work as a fisherman in Wellington.  He married to Valda Myrl DALLEY and together they resided in Lower Hutt, Wellington for the remainder of their lives.  By the time WW2 had commenced they had a son – Barry Charles (1935-1939) and later would have two daughters, Leona Myrl and Bernice Gail Widdon. 

Bernard Widdon enlisted in Wellington in April 1944 as 515226 Private Bernard Cecil WIDDON, NZ Army Medical Corps, 2 NZEF.  Pte. Widdon was assigned to one of the New Zealand hospital ships, NZHS Maunganui No. 42.   His service on the HS Maunganui would encompass service between NZ, Australia, Europe, the UK, India, North Africa, South Africa, Italy and the Pacific Islands.

Awards:   1939/45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939/45, NZ War Service Medal, 1939/45

2 NZEF Service:   02 Apr 1944 – 

After being ‘demobed’ in 1946 Bernard returned to Lower Hutt and his family.  A series of jobs followed after the war as a munitions worker in Petone in 1946,  a painter in 1957, welder in 1949, and finally a factory supervisor/foreman from 1963 until his retirement at 65 years of age in 1978.

515226 Pte. Bernard Cecil Widdon died in Lower Hutt on 12 April 2010 aged 95 and is buried in the Taita Lawn Cemetery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TSS Maunganui  – WWI Troopship

The TSS Maunganui was first requisitioned on August 23, 1914 for war service, was converted from a passenger liner for trooping duties and designated HMNZT No. 30 (His Majesties New Zealand Troopship). When completed Maunganui departed Wellington in convoy with the Tahiti and the Limerick on October 14, 1914 heading for Egypt with part of what was the first contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force of 8,427 men and 3,815 horses. The voyage took 49 days. 

TSS Maunganui – HMNZT No. 30  

Having completed countless trooping voyages, the Maunganui’s final one was in June 1919 after which the ship was returned to her owners, the Union Steam Ship Company, New Zealand and refitted for passenger service.  Maunganui’s postwar refit included conversion to oil burning.  In June 1922 the SS Maunganui’s refit was completed and returned to service for the NZ-Australia-San Francisco run as well as trans Tasman operations.  Later Maunganui was cut from the San Francisco run in favour of the UK, Canada and the very popular trans Tasman and Pacific routes. 

SS Maunganui – NZHS No. 42

For the first eighteen months of World War II, the SS Manganui replaced those liners on the trans Tasman runs that had already been taken out of service for war duties as troop and hospital ships.

The Maunganui was again requisitioned for war duties in January 1941.  Once again Maunganui underwent a refit in New Zealand and was stripped of its elegance as a passenger liner to re-emerge as a hospital ship.  Upon completion the ship had a capacity for 364 patients, 112 medical staff and 118 crew.  As a Hospital Ship the colour scheme included a broad green band with three large red crosses on both sides of the otherwise white ship as well as on the white funnel. The ship was designated as NZ Hospital Ship No.42.

HS Maunganui

Sistership HS Maheno with colour scheme

For most of the next four years the HS Maunganui was engaged in bringing wounded soldiers back to New Zealand from Egypt but she also made some voyages to South Africa as well as India.

She was staffed by Union Company deck and engineer officers with New Zealand merchant seamen and a large staff of stewards. New Zealand Army doctors, nurses and other personnel from the Medical Corps attended to the surgical and medical needs of the patients. The ship was mainly engaged in carrying sick and wounded New Zealanders back home from Suez but was often directed to transport British, Indian, South African and Australian sick and wounded servicemen on special voyages.

In February 1942 HS Maunganui made the first of nine visits to Lyttelton in her current capacity as a hospital ship. Then in June 1942 during one of her voyages to South Africa, she rescued the survivors from lifeboats of a ship sunk off the coast of East Africa.  In November 1942 HS Maunganui and the Australia Hospital Ship Wanganella gallantly came to the aid of a Dutch tanker MS Ondina that had been attacked by two Japanese commerce raiders and set on fire.

In May 1945 HS Maunganui was attached as part of the British Pacific Fleet stationed at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines while the British forces mounted attacks on Japanese air bases in the Sakashima Islands and Northern Formosa (Taiwan).  When the Japanese capitulated in August 1945 HS Maunganui was immediately sent to Hong Kong and then Keelung in Formosa (Taiwan) to evacuate prisoners-of-war back to New Zealand.

HS Maunganui departed Wellington in April 1946 carrying the official New Zealand contingent to the Commonwealth victory celebrations in London, and when the celebrations had completed the ship brought them back home again. HS Maunganui arrived back in Wellington on August 14, 1946 and was officially handed back to the Union Line.

The end of the HMNZT No. 30 ~ NZHS Maunganui No. 42

At thirty-five years old, the Union Steam Ship Company felt it not worthwhile refitting the Maunganui again for passenger duties and therefore was laid up.  From the ships launch she steamed some 2,184,081 miles.  Placed on the market a Greek company bought, refitted and re-launched Maunganui  again as a passenger ship, the TSS Cyrenia.  The ship that had served New Zealand so well as both a troop transport and hospital ship through two World Wars was officially handed over to her new owners in January 1947, departing Wellington under a Panamanian flag.  The ship was broken up for scrap in Italy in 1957.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

NZHS Maunganui – Medical Orderly, Pte. Widdon

Having located Bernard  Widdon’s working life start point at Riwaka, Motueka I surmised there was always a possibility there may have been other Widdon family members who remained in the Nelson-Tasman district.  A quick canvas of the White Pages proved my hunch right – a single entry for R. Widdon of Motueka.  Rodney Widdon answered the phone – he turned out to be Bernard’s cousin.  Rodney was able to advise me his niece, one of Bernard’s daughters, Leona B., was living in Lower Hutt and was able to put me in contact.  A call to Leona confirmed her relationship to Bernard and when I mentioned the medals, she told me that her son Lance, who resided in Newtown, Geelong, had recently been burgled and that the medals were among many valuables taken.  It would seem that in their haste the night time burglars had dropped the medals whilst in or crossing the park.  They were later found by a member of the public who handed them in to the Corio, Geelong police.

I called Lance to give him the good news.  He said the medals were a treasured possession from his grandfather Bernard and thought they were lost forever – he was very happy to hear they had been found.  Not so happy though that nothing else that had been stolen had yet been found.  The medals were on there way back across the Tasman the next day.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As this story goes to press I have just received an email from Senior Constable Susi of the Victorian Police’s Corio Station to say the medals have been received and will shortly be delivered to Lance. 

My thanks to Brendon and Susi from the Corio Police Property Office for referring the medals to MRNZ – a pleasure to be of service in reuniting these medals.

The reunited medal tally is now 173.

Speak Your Mind

*