New Zealand Embassy Tokyo, Japan

The men of the MV Hauraki

The story of the Merchant Navy vessel MV Hauraki during World War II is one that involves men who now lie in the New Zealand, Australian and British sections of the Hodogaya Commonwealth War cemetery.

The MV Hauraki was built for the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand Ltd in 1921 and was their first diesel powered vessel. She was used in the Trans-Pacific cargo trade, mostly between Sydney, Fiji and Vancouver. Requisitioned for war service in 1940 by the British Ministry of War Transport, the ship was placed under the command of Captain A.W. Creese, an Australian. Staffed mainly by New Zealanders and Australians, the Hauraki became part of the Merchant Navy and was involved in the transport of wartime supplies.

In July 1942 MV Hauraki was en route from New Zealand to the Middle East carrying supplies when it was captured in the Indian Ocean by two Japanese armed merchant cruisers. The crew of 56 men were taken prisoner. This was the largest group of New Zealand personnel to fall into Japanese hands during the war.

The crew were taken to Singapore where they were interned with civilians in Changi prison. (Merchant navy crew were classified as civilians) Subsequently, 24 of the men, mainly engine room staff, were taken on the Hauraki for the journey to Japan. One survivor recounted how the crew gradually dropped spare parts overboard although they were closely watched by the Japanese crew. They disposed of the engine room plans in the same way and by the time they reached Yokohama the ship was stripped bare.

Prisoner of war camps in Japan were usually attached to some industry – a shipbuilding yard, a steelworks, a coal mine or the wharves of a large port. It seems that many if not all the Hauraki crew were sent to the Mitsubishi Dockyard at Yokohama. Records show that two of the crew died while at this camp. Lewis Hughes, a motor mechanic from England, died of pneumonia on 27 February 1943 and is buried in the British section of Hodogaya. William Todd, a New Zealander married and living in Australia, also died of pneumonia on 19 April 1944 and is buried in the Australian section.

By early 1945 the American bombing of Tokyo was becoming so intense that it was impossible to continue ship building work at the Mitsubishi Dock. In February many of the POWs were sent north by train to Kamaishi. A camp list shows the names of many of the remaining Hauraki crew, including the captain and the chief engineer, in this group that transferred north.

William Brodie from Lyttleton was also in the group going to Kamaishi steelworks on the North East coast of Honshu. One of the largest steelworks in Japan, Kamaishi became the target of concentrated Allied bombing in July and early August 1945. On 9 August, the day the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, aircraft flew from American and British carriers and attacked numerous targets along the coast of Honshu. Kamaishi was shelled by Allied warships and casualties among POWs were high as the prison camp lay between the coast and the steel plant. William Brodie suffered severe burns during this raid and died the next day, 10 August 1945. He is buried in the New Zealand section at Hodogaya.

One other Hauraki crew member died in captivity in Japan. He was William Holland who died on 12 July 1945 in Tokyo. His name appears on a camp list for Yokohama where he is listed as being a New Zealander but his next of kin were from London and he is buried in the British section.

Finally, what happened to MV Hauraki after she reached Yokohama? One Hauraki survivor said the ship could be seen from the camp where they worked and it took a long time for the refit because the engines were old. Possibly a year later, under the name Hoki Maru, the ship began a new life as a transport vessel, supplying Japanese troops in the Pacific. In February 1944, the Hoki Maru was sunk by U.S. carrier-based aircraft at Truk in the Caroline Islands. It now lies on the seabed near another wreck – one of the Japanese cruisers that had ambushed the MV Hauraki in the Indian Ocean in 1942.

Margaret Pointer, Tokyo, 2008

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