Leading Seaman Arthur Norman Capon was born at Ashburton on February 24, 1921 to Arthur Capon Jnr and Lily Frances (nee Inwood), who farmed at Winchmore near Ashburton.
Norman was the eldest of six children. He started his primary education at the Lyndhurst school and, after the family moved to Ashburton, attended the Allenton school where he obtained his proficiency certificate and was awarded a John Bell Memorial Scholarship.
He then attended the Ashburton High School. While there he was a junior member of the Ashburton Silver Band. Hunting and amateur boxing were among his other interests.
Prior to his sixteenth birthday he left home to join the New Zealand division of the Royal Navy at Philomel, Auckland on October 29, 1936 with the rank of Seaman Boy Second Class. By June 1938 he had progressed to Boy Bugler and on October 1, 1937 he was drafted to HMS Leander where he qualified as able seaman (AB). He spent the next three years on Leander until undertaking a course at the shore base HMS Canopus, a training station at Alexandria. From there he was drafted to HMS Neptune on October 20, 1941 with the rank of Leading Seaman.
HMS Neptune was supposed to sail to New Zealand to become part of the newly named Royal New Zealand Navy but was diverted to the Mediterranean due to a Royal Navy cruiser shortage following the Crete campaign.
On the night of December 19, 1941 HMS Neptune ran into an uncharted minefield in the Mediterranean off Tripoli and sank with the loss of 764 officers and men – one of the worst naval disasters of the war. Just one man was rescued, by an Italian torpedo boat, after five days in the water. Norman was among the 150 New Zealand crewmembers who perished.
During Neptune’s time in the Mediterranean, a number of the crew recorded Christmas messages to be broadcast on New Zealand radio. These recordings were never played but have subsequently been used on Jim Sullivan’s historical programmes. Norman’s voice is one of those recorded. His name is on the Roll of Honour at the Ashburton Baptist Church along with those others who were on active service.
The Capon family have a long association with the Ashburton Baptist Church. Norman’s parents were married in the church soon after World War I and were office bearers.
Many of the family married in the church and have also followed on as office bearers. Today his sister is in Christchurch and his sister-in-law, a niece, and great-niece are still actively involved in the church at Ashburton.
Peter Capon serves overseas with tranzsend and other family members are active in various church works around the world.
• Tony Goodwin continues his series on NZ Baptist chaplains and servicemen.