Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997


By C W Malcolm

Wilfrid Parker was a classmate and friend of the writer at the Paeroa District High School. Much of his story has been recorded in Journal 7 of May 1967 but a recent event calls for its brief re-telling with added facts of deep significance.

On 14 December 1996 at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Paeroa, a Service of Unveiling and Dedication of a Memorial Tablet to Wilfrid's memory took place. Among those taking part were the Rev. P A Scaife, Vicar of St. Paul's, Commander Owen Young RNZN, Commanding Officer HMNZS Philomel, and the Rev. Pauline Law RNZN, Principal Chaplain (Navy).

The address was given by the Rev. P A Scaife who fully traversed the life of this heroic man, his birth in Wellington in 1905, coming with his widowed mother to Paeroa in 1910, his father having been lost at sea. He was educated for the Church at St. John's College, Auckland, gained his L.Th. there and his M.A. at University. He served as curate at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral in Wellington until he left for England in 1931.

Before that, when visiting friends in Napier, though himself injured in that fatal earthquake, he assisted with relief work and came into contact with men of the Navy engaged in the same grim task.

Involved in Church work in Britain he, however, joined the Royal Navy as a chaplain and later came into historic prominence on HMS Prince of Wales when that ship had joined in the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. At the request of the ship's captain, Wilfrid performed a duty immediately before the guns crashed. His fine voice was heard over the intercom, in every corner of the ship, offering that historic prayer, "O God, Thou knowest how busy we must be today; if we forget Thee do not Thou forget us, for Christ's sake, Amen."

The HMS Hood, also engaged in the battle, was tragically hit and sank with the loss of almost her entire crew of 1500 but Prince of Wales, gravely damaged, limped slowly home, but not before she had put paid to the German Bismarck.

At that great Atlantic Meeting between President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales, which had crossed the Atlantic for the occasion, a memorable Divine Service attended by a vast gathering of vitally important people and the ship's company was conducted by Wilfrid and his counterpart, the US Navy chaplain. As Churchill described it, this was one of the most moving events in history.

The final chapter in Wilfrid's all too short life came when the Japanese sank both HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse on 10 December 1941. Wilfrid was tending badly wounded men at the bottom of a shaft passage when the order came to close the hatch at the top. The men could not be moved and their Chaplain refused to leave them. The hatch was closed. The heroic and devoted "boy from Paeroa" went down with the ship.

The speaker mentioned Wilfrid's other memorial (which the writer of this article visited in 1967 and again in 1973). It is the altar in the chapel of the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, England on the banks of the Thames. It had been refurbished as a Memorial to those Naval Chaplains (including Wilfrid Parker) who had lost their lives in the Second World War. Before that altar in that chapel the body of the great Nelson had lain in state after the Battle of Trafalgar and before its transfer to St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

Just before Queen Elizabeth's Coronation in 1953, Wilfrid's mother had been enabled to be present at the dedication of the Memorial to her son. She will be better known in Paeroa as Mrs Capill from her second marriage which ended her widowhood.