Date posted: 03/11/2021

Obituary – Neil Harton CA

World War II veteran, a chartered accountant and CA ANZ’s longest-serving member

In Brief

  • Neil Harton CA passed away on 29 October 2021 at the age of 104
  • A member since 1938, having joined the NZ Society of Accountants just before World War II
  • Loved the sea and coastline, and enjoyed painting, golf, travelling and hosting dinner parties

It is with a mixture of sadness and celebration that Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand notes the passing of Neil Harton CA, with 83 years of membership.

Neil was well-known throughout the Chartered Accountants community, holding strong connections with members across New Zealand, as well as with his former service colleagues in the Royal Navy. Always quick to tell a story, Neil even made news headlines earlier this year, where he summed up his robust approach to all things by saying, "You can't go through life being afraid."

Another example of this approach was Neil's independence later in life, living by himself after he was widowed in Whangaparaoa just north of Auckland. In a 2018 interview with Acuity Magazine, he attributed his seascape outlook to keeping him young, saying, "I daren't leave, as I have such a lovely view of the sea."

Neil started his career as a junior accounts clerk with an engineering company in Wellington, following in the footsteps of his father who was an accountant. At this time, during the Great Depression, he notes that thousands were unemployed and struggling to survive, saying "I was lucky to complete my secondary education, let alone get a job."

When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Navy and served as motor torpedo boat commander in the D-Day landings at Normandy, protecting minesweepers clearing a path for the invasion fleet He returned to New Zealand in 1944 after 4 ½ years of combat, exhausted both physically and mentally.

"I came back expecting to be sent out to the Pacific," he said, "But they found that I was rundown and had a scar on my lung. I was not fit enough. I'd lost two stone [13 kilograms] during the war."

Neil Harton obituary 

A clipping from the Northern Advocate, from 7 June 1943 gives some colourful insight into his life as a torpedo boat commander. Among several mentions, the article notes that on one "dark, bitter night," they saw a plane crash, and that battling through heavy seas, "Harton and four of his crew tied on lifelines and jumped into the icy sea in an attempt to rescue the air-men. They found three Canadians in almost pitch darkness, nearly exhausted."

In 2014, he wrote a book about his travels and wartime experiences, titled "Temporary acting gentleman-seaman," which is available at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Soon after returning to work in Wellington, he was offered a travelling scholarship from the Institute of Accountants, and he and his new wife Christine moved to London.

A clipping from the Otago Daily Times of 23 November 1948, found in the National Library, mentions Neil's return return from Britain after two years on the bursary awarded by the New Zealand Institute of Accountants.

Back in New Zealand, he built a house on a hill in Wellington, intending to settle, "but it [the house] got every wind that blew, it blew everything out of the ground. I'd arrive at the office with my trousers absolutely dripping, it wasn't very pleasant, so I said to my wife, "Let's move to Auckland"."

There, Neil was a manager at Price Waterhouse in Queen Street before being headhunted by a privately owned family business, the Colonial Ammunition Company, where he stayed for 19 years, surviving two takeovers.

He retired in 1977, but remained very active, playing golf, painting and travelling. In 2014 he travelled to France with the NZ Air Force to mark the 70th anniversary of the battle of Normandy. Neil was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2015 at a ceremony at Devonport. More recently, Neil was a Guest of Honour at the 2020 Cup Day races at Addington in Christchurch, where he was flown in by helicopter to the racecourse by Richie McCaw.

In responding to a question in 2018 as to his secret for life, he said, "There is none. You just keep on going and you don't give in to anything. The days follow one another and you suddenly realise you are 100 years old."

CA ANZ NZ Country Head, Peter Vial, a relative of Neil, passes on his condolences to Neil's family and friends. "Neil was an exceptional man who lived by a fine set of values. He really was an inspiration for how we all want to live, active and interested in business, technology and sport - right up until his passing at 104."

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