Gordon Harold (Bill) Andersen (1924–2005)

Hans Andersen was born in Esbjerg (or Esbjoerg) on the south central coast of Jutland, in 1883 in Denmark. Giving his occupation as a seaman, he naturalized as a New Zealand citizen on 2 May 1910. He qualified to become a Master Mariner in 1912.

In a newspaper report (N.Z.Herald 5 February 1964) he re-called first going to sea at the age of 16. One of the square rigged ships he served on brought him to New Zealand in 1903, where he worked for the Union Steam Ship Company and later on coastal scows. Following two smashed jib booms in 1918 while mastering the scow “Wanderer” for the Ford Shipping Line, he received the nautical nickname of “Jib boom Jack”, but was also known as “Captain Jack”. A jib boom is a triangular shaped stay sail from the bowsprit to the masthead.

For seven years he was master for the timber scow “Rangi”, built in 1905 and owned by the Leyland-O’Brien Timber Company which traded between Mercury Bay and Auckland. He averaged around two voyages a month and also traded to Tauranga and the West Coast. He also sailed the tug “Lytellton” towing rafts of kauri logs. During the Second World War he sailed vessels for the United States Army in the South Pacific, and after the War returned to the coastal trade, including passenger and cargo ships around the Waitemata Harbour to Coromandel and Waiheke. He retired from the sea in the early 1960’s.

In 1912 he married Minnie Boneham, who was born in 1891, and they had four children. They lived for a time in Grey Lynn, but in 1926 his three eldest children were all fresh enrolments at Panmure Primary School. He lived in a Californian style bungalow on the corner of Mountain and Panmure Roads (later the Panmure Highway) for the rest of his life. The house was built on a rise above Panmure Road with a balcony in the centre. The large section stretched up Mountain Road.

By the mid 1930’s he was known locally as Captain Andersen, and had by then grey fair hair, was around 5 feet 10 inches in height and mostly wore a white cap. Minnie on the other hand was shorter, well built and with a round face. She is described on her headstone as a “devoted mother” and always ensured her children came to school clean and tidily dressed. After all in depression ravaged New Zealand Hans had a job, and could afford to ensure the children were well clothed.

Panmure itself didn’t even qualify as a township in the 1930’s. To 1938 it was part of the Manukau electorate, and from 1938 to 1946 in the Otahuhu electorate. From 1946 it was in the Tamaki electorate. Thus from 1922 to 1949 it was always part of a Labour Party held electorate and returned to Labour in Otahuhu in 1954. Nevertheless Panmure was not a solid working class area.

Hans and Minnie’s only daughter was Dorothy Edna Mary Andersen or Dolly, who married Alan Richard McElwain in 1940. Described as good looking, he was a Panmure local, and died in 1976.

Their oldest son Roy Norman Andersen was born in 1914 married Joan Miream Daniels in 1938 and served in the Second World War becoming a Sergeant in the R.N.Z.A.F. He followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a Master Mariner. They had 5 children. He died 24 March 1963 aged only 49.

Their middle son was Jack Andersen.

Minnie died young, on 19 November 1941 aged just 50 years, while Hans died 4 August 1967. There was a service for him at the local Lutheran Church on the corner of Harris Road and the Panmure Highway, and he was interned with Minnie at the St Matthias’ Anglican Church cemetery in Panmure. Nearby was the grave of his son Roy, and Minnie’s mother (?) Annie, who had died on 18 November 1943, aged 72.

With Minnie and Hans was also buried Sharyn Gail Andersen who had died 1 April 1950 aged 5 months. She was listed as a daughter of the youngest of their children Bill and his wife Flora (nee Cameron). Bill and Flora had married in 1948.

Gordon Harold (Bill) Andersen was born in 1924, and was enrolled at Panmure Primary School in 1929. He obviously loved growing up in Panmure. “Our playgrounds were the mountain and swimming in the Panmure lagoon. I had my own little boat which I spent hours in” (Metro, May 1988, page 118). At events such as Guy Fawkes he would be part of the local children gathering sticks for a huge bonfire. Nevertheless he recalled that: “it was depression time. … father had work but … (the family) … were hard up. We went to school in bare feet, we were short of beds, but we never went short of food” (ibid).

He also became absorbed with Communist literature. In 1935 the Headmaster of Panmure Primary School, Roy Kelly (the author’s grandfather), found Bill reading what Kelly termed “Red Fed” literature in the school playground. This was when the school was still in the Panmure village near Pilkington Road. Kelly had studied to become a teacher in Auckland around the time the “Red” Federation of Labour was in full stride, and always referred to Left wing literature, and Left wingers as “Red Fed”.

When the matter was brought to his attention Hans Andersen didn’t seem surprised or concerned about what Bill was reading, although he expressed concern that he had taken the literature to school. He told Kelly he would keep an eye on young Bill’s reading matter and affirmed the “offending” literature wouldn’t be taken to school again. Kelly recalled the meeting was a pleasant one, and, both he and his daughter Beryl recall Bill as being well spoken, good mannered and intelligent. She also had to on occasion hurry him up to catch the school bus.

In the early 1970’s when the retired Kelly remarked to his daughter that none of his pupils had attained any real status or notoriety. He daughter replied “what about Bill Andersen”? Kelly looked surprised, gave a wry smile and said “I guess I have to agree with you”.

Bill left Panmure Primary for Form One at Otahuhu College in 1936/7, and left that school in 1940, worked in an office and at Mason Brother’s engineering works, and then like his father went to sea. He later told an interviewer that his father had been “a seaman” (Metro, May 1988, page 118), rather than correctly a Master Mariner. He worked on scows, then on the four-masted baque “Pamir” and then on Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and English merchant ships.

He also joined the Communist Party in Britain in 1944. He was expelled from the New Zealand seafarers' union for his union activities and became a watersider in Auckland, and a life long opponent of Fintan Patrick Walsh and his methods. Following his "blacklisting" from the wharves after 1951 he became a driver, an executive member of the Auckland union in 1953, an organiser for the union in 1954 and from 1956 was the Auckland union secretary. At his death he was a longtime national president of the NDU (National Distribution Union), the successor national organisation.

He also represented the union at Auckland Trades Council meetings, was on its executive from 1966, vice-president from 1975 and its president from 1976 to 1987, when he became district convenor of the new Council of Trade Unions. He retired from that position in 1995. He also became a national councillor of the Federation of Labour from 1974, and from 1981 to 1986 was a member of its executive. From 1970 he was also secretary of the Auckland stationary engine drivers' union. His son, Karl, later took over as secretary.

An active member of the Communist Party, he left in 1966 with others to form the pro-Soviet Socialist Unity Party. He became its national secretary in 1986, but resigned in 1990. He later chaired the Socialist Party of Aoteaoroa, and was a member of the latter until his death. He was arrested on several occasions during union campaigns, including a spell in Auckland's Mount Eden prison in July 1974.

He died 19 January 2005. His heyday was from the late 1960's to the mid 1990's when his Northern Drivers' Union and later the NDU was (and is) a leading force in progressive New Zealand unionism. The consequences of the anti-union 1991 Employment Contracts Act made his job so much harder. Honest, sincere and committed, a real "working class hero".

Main sources: New Zealand Herald 12 May 1971, New Zealand herald 20 January 2005 A 26.

© David Verran 2005