Over a five-decade teaching career Syd Massey taught a range of subjects to his students, but the end of World War 2 wasn’t just from a text book – he could tell them much more.
Syd was on the HMNZS Gambia, which was in Tokyo Harbour when the Japanese surrendered and an end to World War 2 was declared.
This Saturday, the 70th anniversary of that day will be commemorated in Nelson with an event at Rutherford Park, next to the Trafalgar Centre.
Syd now lives in Stoke and has spent much of the past 60 years living in Nelson, as well as the West Coast, Golden Bay and Marlborough.
During the start of WW2, Syd was living in England. In 1941, aged 18, he was called up to serve and initially applied for the Air Force before moving to the Royal Navy.
There he served in various parts of Europe, Africa and the Pacific, before returning to the UK to train as a radio operator. In 1943 the British gave the Gambia to the Royal New Zealand Navy, but there wasn’t a New Zealander, who was a trained seaman, to operate the wireless communications onboard. So Syd, who had experience and had trained with the American frequencies and codes, was deployed from the Royal Navy and told to serve with the Kiwis.
He says the Gambia made its way to the Pacific and was active in the area for several years. While on a break from duty in New Zealand, many of the seamen went home to visit their families, but Syd was miles from his so he joined his fellow officer and friend Doug Mabin on his trip to Nelson.
There Syd met and fell in love with Doug’s sister. After the war he married Lorna, returning to the UK to train as a teacher before moving to New Zealand for good in 1953.
He says, although a long time ago now, he does remember parts of his time in Japan at the end of the war. “One morning at about 11 o’clock they sounded the alarm call on the loud speaker to say, ‘the war is over’. A couple of minutes later they sounded the alarm again and said ‘this is not practice’ – and there was a Kamikaze plane coming right for us. An American plane shot it down before it got to us.
“One minute they were telling us the war was over, the next they told us to look out.”
The Gambia was the New Zealand fleet’s official representative at the formal surrender, and after the signing Syd went ashore to Tokyo and remembers seeing devastation, with the only buildings left standing being the Emperor’s palace and a bridge to it.
Syd says he hasn’t thought much about his unique look at the historic surrender apart from days like VJ Day. “You just get on with life, don’t you.”