Percival Hall-Thompson


Percival Hall-Thompson served as captain of New Zealand’s first warship, HMS Philomel, during the First World War. He was also the naval adviser to the New Zealand government, effectively guiding the dominion's naval policy during and immediately after the war.

Born in England in 1874, Hall-Thompson joined the Royal Navy’s training ship Britannia as a midshipman at age 13. He was a cadet for two years, then served on various overseas stations, including Australia. Having worked his way up the ranks, Hall-Thompson was promoted to post-captain in 1913.

His association with New Zealand resulted from the Reform government's decision, that same year, to begin a locally oriented naval training programme. When approached, the British Admiralty nominated Hall-Thompson to serve as naval adviser and commander of HMS Philomel, an ageing cruiser which would be the embryo of the New Zealand Naval Forces.

A handsome man with a genial and breezy personality, Hall-Thompson arrived in New Zealand in June 1914 to take up his new role. He began Philomel’s shakedown cruise on 30 July 1914, and that same day he was recalled to Wellington and informed that war with Germany was imminent.

Hall-Thompson left New Zealand with the Philomel on 15 August 1914 on escort duty with the force which occupied German Samoa at the end of that month. Following this successful mission, the Philomel escorted the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, which left Wellington on 16 October 1914, as far as Albany, Western Australia. For the next two years the cruiser was deployed mainly in the Persian Gulf: showing the flag, mediating between Arab tribes and harassing Ottoman forces. Hall-Thompson maintained his aged ship effectively and kept up crew morale in trying conditions.

In 1917, with HMS Philomel no longer seaworthy, Hall-Thompson was recalled to New Zealand to advise the Minister of Defence on naval policy matters. After the war, and having returned to Britain, his services were recognised when he was made a CB.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by Ian McGibbon

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