We tied up outboard of HMS Consort in the city of Auckland on the evening of 23rd December 1956. Danny and I were off duty on Christmas Eve and Christmas day and headed ashore just before noon. Auckland was quiet with few people about. This was probably because it was Christmas Eve. Many businesses were closing or already closed. We found a small café and decided to stop in for a bite of lunch. Spotting two pretty girls at one of the tables, we sat at the table next to them. Before lunch was over the four of us were sitting together.
After lunch we decided to attend a matinee at one of the local cinemas. The girls wanted to see “Oklahoma” a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Not into musicals or love stories I suggested we see “Battle of the River Plate”. After much discussion the sinking of the German pocket battleship Graff Spee won the day.
It was dark when we re-emerged from the cinema. It appeared the city had rolled up the sidewalks and gone to bed. The four of us wandered the empty streets, devoid of ideas of what to do next. On a back street we happened upon a brightly lit Italian restaurant. Music blared from within and the place seemed to be crowded. Danny tried the door but it was locked. We were moving on when it burst open and we were invited inside. I never found out if it was a family, staff or local Italian club holding the party. But we happily joined in. Around midnight we rolled back onto the street with our girlfriends. We told the girls we had no place to stay, except of course aboard ship. We went to great lengths explaining how difficult it was to sling a hammock. Especially when full of Italian wine. Eventually they said what we’d been hinting at all along. Forget the hammocks and come back to our place. They shared a room in a private home. Sneaking us in undetected was no easy feat. Outside the front door we removed our shoes then tiptoed up stairs, whispering and giggling. The room was at the back of the house and furnished with two single beds. Still whispering and giggling we undressed in the dark. Danny said “Hey its Christmas Eve. We better get into bed before Santa arrives.” Our laughter almost gave the game away. The following morning I’m suddenly and roughly shaken awake. I’m told to get under the bed fast. Still half asleep and bleary eyed from last nights Chianti, I struggled under the bed. A hand swept my clothes under the bed with me. I was barely under when the door opened and a cheery voice said “Merry Christmas girls.” “I’ve brought you up some tea and toast. Did you have a good time last night? You must have been out late. We didn’t hear you come in.” While she chatted with the girls I was holding my breath, hoping not to be discovered. I looked across the floor between the landlady’s ankles and saw Danny under the other bed. It took all of my will power not to burst out laughing. Danny was looking at me and making silly facial expressions. Allowing time for the landlady to get downstairs, we quietly emerged from under the beds. The girls were anxious for us to dress and leave. Things looked a bit different sober and in the cold light of dawn. I needed to use the toilet but it wasn’t going to happen in the house. It was essential we considered a way to escape without discovery. We certainly couldn’t leave the same way we’d arrived. The bedroom window looked out on a back porch. It looked possible to leave via the window. Hopefully we’d lower ourselves onto the roof then down to the ground without making a noise. It was successful and we made a hasty and undiscovered escape. That was my Christmas in New Zealand in 1956 when I was just 17 years old. A very different Christmas indeed!!! but hey it was still great fun.
God Bless and Merry Christmas