Could a Captain of the Rivers of Rum be one of our ‘Mystery Voices of Gallipoli’?

A distinctive accent may be the key to matching a second of the mystery voices of Gallipoli to an identity: Hawke’s Bay navy veteran, Captain Alexander McLachlan.

 Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s ‘mystery voices of Gallipoli’ are five unnamed men interviewed by the late Napier broadcaster Laurie Swindell in January 1969. Swindell used the interviews to create a powerful radio documentary, simply called ANZAC. 

[ANZAC (1969). Archival audio from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, please contact us.]

In ANZAC, the anonymous veterans recalled the brutal conditions they experienced in Gallipoli. The first speaker describes his service as an officer aboard the Saturnia, the Royal Navy vessel that transported ANZAC troops to Gallipoli in 1915. The man’s rich Scottish accent adds to the weight and emotion of his story, which describes how poorly prepared they were to receive the unexpectedly high number of casualties that had to be evacuated to hospitals in Greece and Egypt.

Fast forward to March this year, when Sarah Johnson, Client Services Coordinator – Radio, invited the public to help us identify the anonymous veterans in ANZAC.   The interest in our search led to the successful identification of Joe Gasparich, who’s great-niece contacted us in April .

Meanwhile, audio preservationists at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision continued their ongoing audio digitisation projects, and… jackpot.

While digitising and researching another 1960s Swindell documentary,  Rivers of Rum, staff came across an accent that sounded very familiar.

Rivers of Rum features three retired sea captains talking about their early careers in the days of sailing ships. The second speaker,  Captain Alexander McLachlan, fondly recalls listening to the stories of the fishermen of the small boats he worked on as a young man in Scotland,  and how the men could spin a yarn over 3am breakfasts of hard tack and herring.

After comparing Captain McLachlan’s  account from Rivers of Rum with the first speaker in ANZAC, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision staff were fairly certain they were listening to the same man.

Further evidence supports our theory. Staff at the Port of  Napier confirmed that the Captain McLachlan from Rivers of Rum was the town’s Harbourmaster from 1938 until he retired in 1948. It’s likely that Napier’s Harbourmaster would have been known to the staff of the local radio station, including Laurie Swindell. It follows that Swindell would have been aware that Captain McLachlan was a veteran, and therefore an excellent candidate to approach for her ANZAC documentary.

“Obviously we would still love it if someone who knew Captain Alexander McLachlan came forward and confirmed that it is him in the ANZAC recording” says Sarah Johnson, “but at this stage we are confident enough to attach his name to this valuable record of Hawke’s Bay men who served in the Gallipoli campaign.”

The Port of Napier delved into its archives and located this picture of Captain McLachlan, who served as Harbourmaster from 1938-1948
The Port of Napier delved into its archives and located this picture of Captain McLachlan, who served as Harbourmaster from 1938-1948

If you have any information about Alexander McLachlan or any of the men  in ANZAC, please contact Sarah Johnston at info@ngataonga.org.nz.

In preparation for the World War One centenary, Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision has digitised all its sound recordings relating to the war. Staff are researching the recordings in the hope that the anonymous men and women who recalled their memories of the conflict can be identified.

 

Many of these recordings will be available online in a dedicated World War I audio-visual website, which will be launched next year.  Recordings can also be heard in Radio New Zealand’s World War I programming.