55: Souvenir magazine The Klink tells of the soldiers who sailed to the UK on the troopship Turakina in 1917.

For five anxious years the troopships set sail from New Zealand, carrying her men in uniform away to war.

Vessels which in peacetime ferried migrants, freight and curious visitors were refitted as hospital ships, freighters and above all transports to carry hundreds of men and horses.

Painted in naval grey, the ships steamed in large convoys across thousands of kilometres of open ocean, initially below Australia and north across the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal. When the United States entered the war in 1917, the transports crossed the Pacific to the Panama Canal and onwards to the Atlantic Ocean.

For the soldiers the journey was invariably their first beyond New Zealand's shores. Many had never boarded a ship. They were treated to rousing farewells before lines were slipped and a course set for remote and uncertain destinations.


The travel was tough. The Athenic, which left Wellington in October 1914 in a convoy of 10 ships, had five basins and four toilets for 500 men. Stifling heat in the tropics drove soldiers to sleep on the upper decks.

Enlisted men chafed at the sight of commissioned ranks dining on first-class meals while they had to make do with mess rations. There were some perks: soldiers used shipboard dentists to get rotten teeth pulled on the state.

Officers arranged diversions for the rank and file to relieve the boredom of the journey. Soldiers were required to attend exercise classes and keep their eye in with target practice. Concerts, boxing competitions, church services and hobby clubs were arranged to pass the time.

Souvenir journals and magazines were compiled, and distributed to the troops when the trip ended.

One of these was The Klink, an account of the Turakina's journey to Britain in 1917. Loaded with infantry reinforcements, the vessel - HMNZT 84 - set sail from Wellington on April 26 in the company of another troopship, Tofua. Together they carried 2127 soldiers and crew.

The Klink is laced with accounts of shipboard life, descriptions of the officers and reports of exotic layovers - the route took in Sydney, Fremantle, Durban, Cape Town and Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. At Durban, teams from the two ships played a rugby game. The Turakina side won 9-3.

The Klink's report of Freetown offers an insight to the prevailing attitudes of the time.

"Freetown is almost unadulterated nigger. The white man there is an anomaly, an excrescence, an anachronism. There are, to be sure, a railway of very narrow gauge, a general, a post-office, a bank, an hotel, a governor, a club, a bishop, and some other features of English life, but these things do not obtrude themselves."


The Klink writer concluded: "The total impression created by the capital of Sierra Leone was that it is a desirable place to be away from, and nobody was sorry when we raised anchor on Saturday morning and set off for the last lap."

On July 20, nearly three months after they left New Zealand, the ships berthed at Plymouth. The 8200 ton Turakina, requisitioned from NZ Shipping Co, made just one voyage as a troop ship. A month after it disembarked the troops, it was sunk by a German U-boat as it steamed to New York from London. The Tofua survived the war. She was cut up for scrap metal in 1934.

The magazine reports that one soldier did not survive the voyage.

An entry in The Klinknotes: " It was not given to Private A E Thomson to reach the battlefield, to take part in the glory and pomp of war; but he died none the less in the execution of his duty, and in answer to his country's call."

The soldier was buried at sea after a "touching and beautiful service".

Archives NZ spells the name as 'Thompson'. It would appear to be the same soldier because military records say that Aubrey Edward Thompson, a cheesemaker from Barrys Bay on Banks Peninsula, died on board the Turakina on May 28, 1917. The cause of death is given as pneumonia and heart failure.


The obituary in The Klink concludes: "Our comrade's grave is marked only by the Southern Cross, his sole requiem is the call of the wheeling sea-bird, his sleep is in the everlasting waters."