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From 'boiler room tiff' to Fleet Engineer Officer

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on April 20, 2023

Born on 11 March 1941 in Christchurch, Ron Longley joined the Royal New Zealand Navy as an Artificer Apprentice straight after leaving Papanui High School.
Nearly three decades later, he retired as Fleet Engineer Officer, responsible for all marine, weapons and electronic operational engineering matters for the whole fleet which included 12 ships.
But there were plenty of peaks and troughs along the way.
His first New Zealand ship posting was to HMNZS Royalist which ended up being for nearly four years – only one other person served longer on that ship.
“They put me on there and forgot about me! I was posted on ship as a leading hand, promoted through Petty Officer (PO), then Chief PO before I passed my exams for Warrant Officer – no one else got close to doing that in one posting.”
As a Dido class cruiser, the ship was originally designed for a crew of 450. But following modifications the crew was swelled to 550.
IMG_6697 (1) HMNZS Royalist (Large)

HMNZS Royalist, Ron's home for nearly four years!

“It was cramped!” says Ron, who nonetheless looks back on those years with fondness. “The mess deck I lived in for the first 16 months was not much bigger than the bedroom of my townhouse here and there were between 12-18 men living, eating and sleeping in there but there was only seating and sleeping places for six. So the rest had to sit on the deck and find somewhere else to stow and sling their hammock.
“However that was just our normal living and working environment so you just make it work.”
Living in such close quarters conversation was kept light, and the topics to avoid were politics, religion and sex – or anything involving emotions.
There were still incredibly close friendships with all manner of personal confidences shared.
“You’d sometimes have closer talks than with any of your family. But then they would post off and you would develop new friendships. That was just the nature of it, changing jobs all the time.”
As a ‘boiler room tiff’, Ron experienced a couple of near misses, both involving extreme throat-searing heat in the boiler rooms and passing out!
The Royalist took Ron to Pearl Harbour twice, a North America tour, three Far East tours plus patrols in Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1963, 64 and 65.
He was posted to Singapore for six months in 1967 as a member of the Base Support Party for the Borneo Minesweepers.
Ron was then the Squadron Engineer for NZ coastal patrol craft and was then posted to HMNZS Blackpool for a year.
In 1968 Ron was commissioned to officer rank with a stint in the UK at the Royal Navy Engineering College in Plymouth and more training courses in Portsmouth.
More promotions followed, from Assistant Marine Engineer Officer on HMNZS Blackpool, then Lieutenant and then Deputy MEO on HMNZS Canterbury.
Ron also spent two years seconded to the Republic of Singapore Navy, responsible to their Head of Engineering for advice on all technical matters, and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
Ron’s engineering skills were clearly in demand, and saw him posted to HMNZS Waikato for four years which included a 21 month extended refit and modernisation, which he says was’ the longest and most comprehensive refit undertaken by our Dockyard’.
The Two Rons (Large)

Ron is proud to still fit his uniform, 38 years after leaving the Navy (top picture) and (above), Ron in 1987 (left) and 1957 (right).

Later, Ron was promoted to Commander and sent to the UK for nearly 18 months.
For this role, he was the senior NZ representative responsible for the commercial refit of HMNZS Southland in Southampton, which was the first commercial warship refit in the UK and cost over $100 million in today’s dollars. Ron was awarded an OBE for this achievement.
“I had a team of 12 Royal Navy Overseers working for me. On completion I wrote up the full process and procedures for the Royal Navy to use for future commercial refits of their warships.
“It was a very interesting and challenging job.”
On his return to New Zealand he was appointed the Fleet Engineer Officer role, responsible for all operational engineering matters concerning the Fleet, which included 12 ships and then retired in September 1985.
He is proud of his Navy career and everything that the ‘senior service’ represents, and says he wouldn’t change a single thing about it. He still regularly meets up with the men from his class of 1965 apprentices who lived and trained together in Scotland from 1959-61.
“I loved the Navy. And the three main tenets of service, sacrifice and commitment.
“You’re a team, the ship’s company, and you all have to work together and play your part in that team. 
“So there’s a lot of self-discipline and making sure you do the job you’re meant to do because everyone else is relying on that.”

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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