45-year navy service recognised

Published on by John and Mei

45-year navy service recognised

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Lieutenant-commander Bruce Walker (centre front) inspects the divisions at HMNZS Toroa in Dunedin this week during his final parade before retiring as a naval reservist, after a lifetime with the navy. To the left is Lieutenant Ray McLellan. Photo by Rosie Manins.
Lieutenant-commander Bruce Walker (centre front) inspects the divisions at HMNZS Toroa in Dunedin this week during his final parade before retiring as a naval reservist, after a lifetime with the navy. To the left is Lieutenant Ray McLellan. Photo by Rosie Manins.
Saying goodbye to his lifelong passion is understandably emotional for Lieutenant-commander Bruce Walker, of Dunedin.

The 64-year-old naval reservist spent his childhood dreaming of a life in the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and became a cadet with TS Waireka at age 11.

His retirement from the navy and Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNZNVR) after 45 years' service was officially acknowledged this week with a final parade at HMNZS Toroa, Dunedin's naval reserve division.

Lt-cmdr Walker spent five years as commanding officer at Toroa and this week was given the honour of conducting Captain's Divisions one last time.

He said it was the right time for him to retire as a reservist, but doing so was nonetheless emotional.

Attending this week's ceremony was the naval reserve's top brass, including Captain Clive Holmes and Commander Frank Rands.

Toroa personnel, TS Waireka and TS Nimrod cadets, and ex-reserve personnel of the RNZNVR Association (Otago) were also present.

Lt-cmdr Walker said being a reservist was his life outside his work at Port Otago, where he had been in full-time employment for more than 20 years.

As the team leader of harbour control, he worked about 48 hours each week and so would not be left twiddling his thumbs.

As a young lad, Lt-cmdr Walker spent four years as a cadet, then left secondary school at age 15 with the intention of joining the navy.

"At the time, the minimum joining age was 15 for whatever reason, so I had a few months before I was eligible," he said.

He found employment at Smith and Smith, where he remained for four years, later as manager of the company's South Dunedin store.

"I realised my dream of joining the navy was diminishing and I had to do something about it, so it wasn't until I was 19 that I joined," he said.

In his 11 years with the RNZN, Lt-cmdr Walker served on various international deployments, particularly in Southeast Asia when New Zealand had a frigate based full-time in Singapore as part of the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve.

His best voyage was in 1970 when he and other members of the ship's company were involved in Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan.

But Lt-cmdr Walker's RNZN service ended after he got married and had children.

"It was always a wonderful job, but there is a saying that it is a married man's pay and a single man's life. Ten months away is hard when you've got responsibilities at home," he said.

Within three months of returning to live and work in Dunedin, Lt-cmdr Walker was asked to consider joining the naval reserves and it proved a great compromise.

"It was wonderful for me and it also worked out well for the family," he said.

In his 31 years as a reservist, Lt-cmdr Walker watched the division's role change considerably, from being a pool of trained personnel ready to serve alongside regular forces if required, to being responsible for fisheries protection and mine countermeasures in New Zealand's main ports.

Toroa commanding officer Lieutenant-commander Rob Tomlinson said Lt-cmdr Walker had been a great asset and would be sorely missed.

The pair had served together for more than 20 years and Lt-cmdr Tomlinson was Toroa's executive officer before taking over from Lt-cmdr Walker as commanding officer last year.

"The navy meant a lot to him and that came out in the way that he commanded," Lt-cmdr Tomlinson said.

rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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