SMITH, William J L

Display Number:  1002  
Name:  Smith  William J L
Rank:  Commander Service Number:  
Date Joined:   Date Discharged:  

Commander W.J.L. ‘Kiwi’ Smith enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 1940 and became a gunnery officer in the 19th Field Regiment.  Given the option of staying in the Army in New Zealand at a lower rank or joining the RNZAF, Smith elected to sign up for the naval service courtesy of Scheme B in May 1943.

After a short stint at HMNZS Tamaki he travelled to England onboard the SS Ruahine to continue his training at HMS Ganges after which he joined the ship’s company of the King George V-class battleship HMS Duke Of York.  Officer training at HMS King Alfred followed Smith’s mandatory sea time.  He then joined Special Services and was posted to HMS Dolphin where he under went rigorous testing to assess his suitability as a submariner.

After D-Day Smith was drafted to HMS Varbel to train on midget submarines, eventually becoming Commanding Officer of one of the training craft, before being made First Lieutenant of the operational submarine XE6, for which the HMS Bonaventure served as depot ship.  XE6 and Bonaventure were sent south to the eastern coast of Australia.  With the tragic loss of two senior officers in separate diving accidents the submarine flotilla had a complete reshuffle of crew which resulted in Smith becoming first lieutenant on XE3.  On 31 July 1945 XE3 carried out a successful attack as part of Operation STRUGGLE on the Japanese cruiser Takao berthed at the naval base in Singapore, an action for which he received the DSO.

Upon the cessation of the Second World War, Smith was one of twelve selected to train as senior officers for the Royal New Zealand Navy.  He served on a variety of ships before being sent on a sub lieutenants’ course in the United Kingdom.  On completion of the course he joined the commissioning party of the Loch-class frigate HMNZS Hawea as gunnery officer and was to soon volunteer for the Hydrographic branch.  Upon selection for the branch Smith was put in charge of recruiting the ship’s company for the survey ship HMNZS Lachlan (a converted Bay-class frigate) which was in reserve in Fremantle.

After a time on loan to the Royal Navy, he returned to New Zealand and became involved in the setting up of Scott Base at Antarctica.  Later, he was first lieutenant for the first HMNZS Endeavour which took the trans-Antarctica team down to Scott Base.  After another short stint on loan to the Royal Navy, Smith returned once more to New Zealand and resumed command of his old ship Lachlan for a period of three years.  

He was the first Hydrographer to serve in the Royal New Zealand Navy where he served until retirement in November 1972. For his service Commander Smith was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).



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Medal Description (Left to Right):  
  • Companion of the Distinguished Service Order - Was instituted in 1886 to recognise acts of gallantry by military officers for which a Victoria Cross was not considered appropriate.
  • The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire - Was established by King George V in June 1917 for services to the British Empire. In December 1918 the Order was split into two divisions: Civil division for civilian recipients; and a military division for distinguished service in action. The insignia of the award from both divisions is identical, distinguished only by their ribbons. The rose-gray ribbon with narrow pearl grey stripes shows it was awarded from 1936 onward under the military division of the award. 
  • 1939-1945 Star - Recognises service in the Second World War. It was usually awarded for six months service in special operational areas. Those whose service was shortened by death, injury or capture or who were awarded a decoration or mentioned in despatches also qualified for the medal. Those who served a day or more in specified battles or invasions also qualified for this award. The ribbon has three equal vertical stripes of dark blue (symbolising Navy and Merchant Navy), red (symbolising Army) and light blue (representing Air Force).
  • Atlantic Star - Awarded to personnel who served an additional 6 months in Home (United Kingdom), Atlantic or North Russian waters after first qualifying for the 1939-45 Star. The ribbon is water silk coloured blue, white and green. These colours symbolise service in the Atlantic Ocean, and in UK and North Russian waters.
  • Pacific Star (Burma Clasp) - The Pacific Star was awarded for operational service in the Pacific between 8 December 1941 and 2 September 1945.It was also awarded for certain specified service in China and Malaya (8 December 1941 - 15 February 1942), Hong Kong (8 December 1941 - 25 December 1941) and Sumatra (8 December 1941- 23 March 1942). Service in the areas after these end dates was recognised by the award of the Burma Star. Those who qualified for both were awarded both of these awards were given thefirst star they qualified for, with a clasp in respect of the second star. The Green stripes on the ribbon symbolise the jungle while the central yellow stripe symbolises the beach. The outer red stripes symbolise the Army while the dark blue stripe symbolises the Navy and Merchant Navy and the light blue stripe symbolises the Air Force.
  • The Defence Medal - Awarded to British military and civilian personnel for a range of service in the United Kingdom, and to British, British Commonwealth and British Colonial personnel who served outside their home countries in a non-operational area or in an area subject to threat such as air attack. The centre of the ribbon is flame coloured, and the edges are green, symbols of the enemy attacks on Great Britain. Two black stripes represent the blackout in Great Britain.
  • War Medal - Awarded across the British Commonwealth to all fulltime members of the Armed Force for 28 days service between 3 September 1939 and 2 September 1945 irrespective of where they were serving. On one side is an effigy of King George VI. On the reverse is a lion trampling on a dragon symbolising the Axis powers. The ribbon is the red, white and blue of the (British) Union Flag. 
  • New Zealand War Service Medal - Awarded for 28 days' full time service or six months' part time service in any of the New Zealand Armed Forces, the New Zealand National Military Reserve or the Home Guard between 3 September  1939 and 2 September 1945. Eligible part time Home Guard Personnel must have completed their six months' part time service between 16 August 1940 and 1 January 1944 (the Home Guard was disbanded in December 1943). It was the first distinctively 'New Zealand' war service medal, which was emphasised by the use of the fern leaf motif on the suspender and the reverse of the medallion, and the national colours of black and white on the ribbon.
  • New Zealand Operational Service Medal - Was instituted in 2002 for award to New Zealanders who have served in operations since 3 September 1945. The start date is the day after the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, and is also the day after qualifying service towards medals for Second World War service ended. The colours of the ribbon allude to those generally regarded as the national colours of New Zealand, black and white.
  • Naval General Service Medal 1915-1962 (Minesweeping 1945-51 Clasp) - Instituted to recognise service in minor naval operations for which no seperate medal was intended. 
  • New Zealand Defence Service Medal (Regular Clasp) - Institued in April 2011 to recognise attested military service since 3 September 1945. The ribbon reflects the colours of the Navy, Army and Air Force. Light green stripes have been added between these colour stripes to reflect the volunteer and territorial elements of the services.