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Sailors Speak After 80 Years

The voices of New Zealand sailors serving in the Second World War in the ill-fated Royal Navy ship, HMS Neptune will be heard for the first time in 80 years in a new exhibition opening tomorrow, Tuesday 22nd February at the National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy in Devonport, Auckland.

Neptune Calling commemorates the 80th Anniversary of the sinking of HMS Neptune 19 December, 1941 off the coast of Libya. Neptune struck four Italian laid mines and sunk with the loss of 764 lives, including 150 young New Zealanders, the largest loss of life in New Zealand naval history.

Thirty-six days earlier the crew were in Alexandria, Egypt where 50 of the New Zealanders joined Arch Curry from the New Zealand Broadcasting Service to record greetings to loved ones at home. The recordings were made for the weekly radio broadcast, ‘With the Boys Overseas’.

Eighty years later, the recordings are the focus for Neptune Calling. They have been loaded onto vintage phones for visitors to sit and listen to in a quiet, reflective space.

The 150 New Zealanders ranged in age from 17 to 46 years old and came from towns and cities across New Zealand.

“We feel an enormous sense of responsibility towards these very special recordings. They are a very real, tangible link to 150 young men who never made it home.

“They represent an enormous loss felt at the time throughout the nation, every city and almost every town lost young men they knew and loved. This loss is still keenly felt in many families.

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“We feel very privileged and honoured to be able to make it possible for family members of those who died, and our wider visitors to learn more about these men and the sacrifice they made,” says Jane Cotty, Communications Manager - National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The site of HMS Neptune in the Mediterranean Sea was discovered in 2016 and is an official Commonwealth War Grave. The 150 New Zealanders are remembered on the Memorial Wall at Devonport Naval Base and individually on various memorials around the country. A monument to the 764 men from HMS Neptune and the crew from HMS Kandahar who also lost their lives in December, 1941, was unveiled at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire, England in July, 2005. Services to commemorate HMS Neptune’s loss are held around the country each year on the anniversary.

The Museum would like to invite family and friends of crew members from HMS Neptune to come and listen to the recordings. The exhibition will be available in the Museum from Tuesday 22nd February during opening hours for the remainder of 2022, free admission, suitable for all ages.

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