New Zealand Sailor Turned Star, Vince “Cyclone” McGlone, Passes Away at 97

Navy NST

An old sailor who became a star on television for reciting ‘God Defend New Zealand’ in one of the navy’s more successful recruiting commercials has recently passed away, according to Vince “Cyclone” McGlone was a gunner aboard one of the three Royal Navy ships to pursue the German pocket battleship, Graf Spee to its demise in December 1939.

One of the last remaining survivors in the Battle of the River Plate from either side, he became known last year for his resounding speaking voice while reciting the national anthem. HMS Achilles was part of the Royal Navy’s New Zealand Division and after the battle, it was a founding vessel for the Royal New Zealand Navy. “I extend the Navy’s deepest regrets and condolences to Vince’s family,” chief of navy Rear Admiral Jack Steer said.

“Vince was a great character who loved to visit Devonport Naval Base and yarn with today’s generation of sailors.” McGlone celebrated his 97th birthday last year in a galley named after him at the base, sharing colourful stories from his 14-year career in the navy. He was raised one of three children in Kingsland and enlisted as a boy sailor just shy of his 16th birthday. He was promoted to ordinary seaman two years later and posted to the HMS Diomede as a gunner. He was made an able seaman soon after and boarded HMS Achilles, the cruiser on which he would experience both the glory and brutality of war.

Achilles was patrolling South American waters when it opened fire on the Graf Spee, a battleship far superior in its fighting capabilities, about 6.20am on December 13, 1939. In the 82 minutes that followed McGlone says he and his fellow gunners fired in excess of 220 broadsides at the enemy ship, forcing her to retreat into the neutral port of Montevideo. Her captain scuttled the ship four days later, choosing to preserve the lives of his 1000 sailors rather than re-engage in battle.

McGlone’s memories are marred by the casualties. Achilles lost four crew members and many more were injured. McGlone says he was just four feet away when a control tower was hit, killing his shipmates. “The Spee should’ve blown us out of the water. We were laid down to go 32 knots and in the battle we got up to 35. They weren’t expecting that speed and so we put them off their aim.”

He says the Spee burnt for three days after the battle as they celebrated the triumph aboard the Achilles. “Unfortunately there was no open bar on the ship,” he says. McGlone wore six medals including the Atlantic Star, the Pacific Star, the British War Medal, the New Zealand War Medal, the New Zealand Occupational Medal and the Japanese Occupation Medal.’

He lived alone in Torbay since his wife Patricia died five years ago. He has six children and 12 grandchildren.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE