Commanding Officer TOROA: 1964 – 1975
Commander N.G (Neil) Howard, VRD*, MA(Hons), RNZNVR
Commander Neil Gerard Howard was born on 19 December 1930 in Dunedin and educated at Christian Brothers. Attended Otago University from 1950 to 1953 graduating with an Honours Degree in History – his thesis was a 154 page “New Zealand Naval Defence Policy, 1885-1921, a Study of National and Imperial Defence”. It was expected that he would go to Oxford or Cambridge to become a history don but because of his experiences in the messdecks of ships he had become an admirer of the “ordinary” blokes of this world and turned to secondary teaching.
He joined Otago Division in November 1949 as an Ordinary Seaman. From November 1951 to February 1952, Able Seaman Howard was sent to HMAS CERBERUS for a gunnery course and with a request for them to “toughen him up.” The Second Naval Member of the Naval Board thought it was a necessary step before commissioning him.
On December 9 1952 he passed out for Leading Hand after 6 weeks on HMNZS KIWI and was immediately commissioned as a Probationary Sub-Lieutenant along with 6 other candidates.
The period 1953 to 1956 was spent with fortnight promotion courses in Divisional, Navigation, Gunnery and Torpedo-Anti Submarine. In 1955 he undertook sea training on HMNZS TUI. LtCdr. J.F. McKenzie “drove him hard” but he finished up with a flimsy with “A young officer with marked professional ability.” To earn this he was in turn navigator, gunnery officer training sea cadets in gun drill so they could carry out alive shoot, Signals officer for exercises with TUI, and TAS officer for a depth charge exercise. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1955.
April 1956 he commanded the Guard of Honour for Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten in Dunedin. When he reported the guard he must have paused surprised by the wrinkled face. A not unkindly voice said “Young man, can we get on with the parade".
In August 1956 he flew, with three other Reserve Officers, to Britain for the delivery voyage of HMNZS ENDEAVOUR (1), where he was the Captain’s Secretary, a Watchkeeper and Engineers’ Divisional Officer.
In 1957 he passed his SDML Command examination, and had SDML to sea three weekends out of four doing local cruises. In 1958-9, the first Christmas Cruise to Oamaru, Timaru, and Akaroa. He was a foundation member of the annual Christmas Exercises and he ran them in 1968-9. Admiral Ross was so impressed he wanted to bring all the SDML’s to Auckland so that Cdr. Howard could train junior RNZN officers in Fleet Maneouvres.
March 1962 he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant Commander with the instruction from his captain to “rebuild the Division.” In 1963 he was confirmed in the rank of Lieutenant Commander, and was also placed in charge of security of royal enclosure for the Gardens Party during the Royal Visit to Dunedin.
August 1964 he was promoted to Acting Commander and appointed in Acting Command of HMNZS TOROA – the first CO with no wartime experience. In August 1965 he was confirmed in his appointment in command of HMNZS TOROA, and in 1968 confirmed in the rank of Commander, RNZNVR. In addition to his responsibilities in Command of HMNZS TOROA, he, at times, acted as Resident Naval Officer, Dunedin, and was also the Officer in Charge of the Taieri High School closed Sea Cadet Unit. He remained as Commanding Officer TOROA until his retirement in 1975.
In his educational world in 1954, he joined the staff of King’s High in Dunedin where he stayed till 1959 when he was appointed to the District High in Milton where he did his country Service. Then, in 1962, he moved The Taieri High where he stayed till 1989 having been the Librarian, then Head of the Social Studies Department from 1972 and Senior Master from 1978 responsible for the pastoral care of 1000 pupils and 50 staff.
Between 1987 and 1991 he was President of the Otago Navy League, and in 1993 he was elected Curator of the RNZNVR Association Museum (with no time off for good behavior). In 2011, a Hocken Library review found it was impressive for its interest and as an Archival Centre. In 2004 he was appointed as Advocate for the Montecillo (War) Veterans’ Home.
He is married to Margaret Ann and has two daughters, a son and three grandsons.
For his services, he was awarded the Volunteer Reserve Decoration (VRD), and a Clasp to that Decoration.