Decorated Lifetime of Service at Sea

Rear-Admiral Ted Thorne, who has died aged 89, was a New Zealander who was on hand when female naval personnel suffered their greatest loss of the Second World War.

Wellington-born Thorne was under training in the cruiser Hawkins off the Maldives when, on February 12 1944, he saw “a sheet of flames and grey smoke” rising from one of the ships of the convoy, the Khedive Ismail. The ship sank within two minutes; the 1511 aboard included 19 Wrens, 54 nurses and nine members of the First Air Nursing Yeomanry; only 208 men and six women survived. The Japanese submarine I-27 was depth-charged as the survivors were still struggling in the water.

For three decades after the war Thorne helped to forge close links between the Royal Navy (RN) and the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). He served in the Mediterranean with the RN’s 2nd Minesweeping Squadron, which sometimes blew up a dozen mines in a single day. In New Zealand he served in Taupo, Bellona and Kaniere, and in 1951 helped to break a 151-day long strike by waterfront workers.

Thorne was promoted to rear-admiral and Chief of Naval Staff of the RNZN in 1972.

As Chief, Thorne was involved in sending frigates to Mururoa as part of his government’s protest against the testing of French nuclear weapons in the Pacific.

Thorne was appointed CBE in 1972 and CB in 1975. In retirement he was appointed the first commissioner of the newly unified New Zealand fire service.

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