August 2018 | Written by R. J. Nelson
I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy as a Reservist in 2013 after a chance encounter with the Musical Director of the RNZN Band while I was busking on the main street of Devonport. I was asked to tour around the North Island with the band and before I knew it I was signing the dotted line. I had never considered joining the New Zealand Defence Force but now I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I have had so many incredible opportunities including singing at major commemorations in Gallipoli, France and Belgium.
In March this year I travelled to London to sing with The Band of the Welsh Guards for their St David’s Day concert. While in London I arranged to meet up with Roy over a cup of tea and a scone. He casually mentioned that he was arranging an old ship mates’ reunion for Prince Charles later in the year. Half joking, my husband piped up and said “Do you need a singer for that?” We all laughed and then carried on chatting without giving it another thought.
On my return to New Zealand I couldn’t believe my eyes when an invitation arrived, inviting me to sing at Highgrove, the private residence of His Royal Highness Prince Charles for his old ship mates’ reunion. I immediately contacted the team at NGAPONA to share the news and plans were underway to return to the UK.
I was lucky enough to be in London for the RAF100 fly over to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Royal Air Force and what a sight! We had the best view in London watching from the spectacular terrace on the top floor of New Zealand House. Some highlights included 22 RAF Typhoons flying in formation as the number “100” and of course the Red Arrows flying over Buckingham Palace.
The day of the reunion finally arrived and I was so nervous, I think I must have ironed my uniform four times! Once all the guests had arrived at Highgrove we were invited on a tour of the gardens which were just incredible, it was like walking into a fairy tale. The gardens are a culmination of 38 years of imagination and passion from Prince Charles and are maintained by 11 gardeners. I wish I had pictures to share but cameras and phones were strictly forbidden. We then had a champagne reception where I sang for the guests, including Pokarekare Ana. I then met HRH Prince Charles who said he remembered meeting me in France at the Battle of the Somme centenary and was extremely grateful that I had made the trip over from New Zealand. The rest of the conversation is all a bit of a blur, I think I was a little overwhelmed.
A quartet from the Royal Marines provided the entertainment for the rest of the reception and I was able to meet some amazing people including a First Sea Lord, a gentleman who worked as a police officer for HRH, and some wonderful veterans. Many recalled visiting New Zealand on ship in 1974 for the Commonwealth Games. It really was a historic event having personnel from nine ships together: Britannia Royal Naval College, Dryad, Bronington, Jupiter, Norfolk, Minerva, Hermes/845 Squadron, Hermione and Fox. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the day and it was such a privilege to attend.
Who would have thought, from busking on the streets of Devonport to singing for royalty at their private estate? And all thanks to the Royal New Zealand Navy. I must make a very special thank you to the team at NGAPONA who helped make this all possible. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have had since joining the RNZN, I have so much respect for all those that serve and I am always so proud to wear the uniform.
Author: Rebecca Nelson
Rebecca is currently serving as a member on the Devonport RSA Executive Committee.