- A.N. Other
- Biographies and personal histories, History - Between the wars
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2016 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As told by his son William Douglas Nye
The last (June 2016) edition of this magazine contained an article relating to the life story of CPO William Henry Nye. In this edition the story continues with that of his son Able Seaman William Arthur Nye.
Young William Arthur Alfred Nye was the first-born to newlyweds CPO William Henry Nye and his New Zealand wife Daisy Gertrude Nye (nee Moore). He entered this world on 16 April 1904 when they were living in rental accommodation in Pyrmont, not far from the navy’s new superstore the Royal Edward Victualling Yard; coincidentally, construction of this then huge six storey brick structure also commenced in 1904.
At this time CPO Nye was serving with the Royal Naval Squadron on the Australia Station but when his engagement expired in 1907 he elected to remain in Australia and the next year he joined the NSW Public Service. Here he was stationed at Garden Island Dockyard, involved in the transfer of assets and administration from the Royal Navy and State Governments to the new Commonwealth Government.
As CPO Nye was offered a new position as Warder of the Port Hunter Powder Magazine and as part-time training instructor at the Newcastle Naval Depot the family moved to Newcastle in about 1909. Originally they lived at Queens Road, New Lambton, a small coal mining township about 6 km west of Newcastle. They later relocated to much improved quarters in Nobbys Road (afterwards renamed Military Road) on the heights overlooking Newcastle’s famous beaches. Another addition to the family, a daughter also named Daisy, was born here on 3 May 1912.
The Nyes prospered in Newcastle and William, too old for active service in WWI, was busy training recruits and, post-war, threw himself into ex-servicemen’s associations. Always socially active, he became an alderman for the Stockton Ward of the Newcastle Council. In summary the Nye family were well known and respected members of the community.
Young William gained his first taste of naval life with the local Sea Cadet Corps and then joined the RAN on 4 May 1920 as Boy Second Class in the training ship HMAS Tingira, moored at Rose Bay. On his 18th birthday, 16 April 1922, he entered into a seven year naval engagement. By what we read from his letters William had a bold hand and was imaginative with a sound knowledge of English grammar and expression; it is therefore quite surprising that his service records shows he twice failed the naval educational test – but evidently he was third time lucky.
After two years in Tingira William was first posted to the cruiser HMAS Sydney and then the famous battle-cruiser HMAS Australiafor a few months before she decommissioned in December 1921. There were courses at the Flinders Naval Base (HMAS Cerberus) before promotion to Able Seaman and a posting to the Royal Australian Naval College (HMAS Creswell). As with most of the navy he sought a plum posting to the new cruiser HMAS Adelaide as she prepared for a dream-like worldwide cruise. He was not chosen but just before Adelaide was due to depart William had a pier-head jump to replace a sailor who had fallen ill.
HMAS Adelaide– Marriage and Family
William had become romantically involved with Miss Lydia Elizabeth Dempster from Cessnock. In November 1923 Lydia fell pregnant and a hasty marriage was arranged. While he was indeed lucky with his posting to Adelaidethere must have been considerable anguish in leaving his new bride behind to have a baby when he would be absent for a year.
Adelaidehad been laid down at Cockatoo Island Dockyard in 1915 but completion was so seriously delayed that for a time she became known by the nickname HMAS Long-Delayed. After trials and workup she joined the fleet and on 18 April 1924 became part of the Royal Navy Special Service Squadron on the final leg of its worldwide cruise (New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Canada, United States, the West Indies and England) where she became the first RAN ship to transit the Panama Canal. When in Halifax, Canada, on 5 August 1924 William received a cable from his parents telling him baby Lorna had been born. After three months service in British waters Adelaide departed Portsmouth in January 1925 and returned home via Suez, finally arriving in Sydney on 7 April 1925. The cruise lasted 12 months, but nevertheless was full of excitement and a wonderful experience for any young man.
Submarines – a fateful decision
It is difficult to fathom what encouraged William to volunteer for the submarine service. Was it again the adventure and excitement of overseas travel, a new and novel form of naval warfare, or possibly the lure of additional pay rates to support his young family?
At this time the basic pay for an Able Seaman was 7 shillings per day but submariners received an additional 3 shillings per day, plus 7½ pence per day submarine kit upkeep allowance. In other words submariners received over 50% more than their service brethren. Of course there were no Australian submarines yet but two were on order and the thought of the additional pay would have been enticing. In William’s case he would also receive an extra 2 shillings and 6 pence per day as a married man with one child.
The die was cast when William volunteered for service in the two new submarines building for the RAN in England. After already suffering a separation of 12 months, another separation of perhaps a longer period seemed a poor personal decision and something that naval authorities should have paid more attention to during their selection process.
On 27 January 1926 RAN crews were sent from Sydney to undergo training in England and standby the new submarines now building at Vickers Yard at Barrow-in-Furness. Originally planning was for an RAN flotilla of six but this was scaled back to only two boats.
They joined TSS Hobsons Bay in Sydney and sailed a circuitous route via Hobart, Melbourne, Fremantle, Colombo and Suez. When ashore in Colombo, William who appears to have unwisely been alone, was set upon and robbed by some locals, losing some clothes, his gold wedding ring and 10 shillings; while uninjured, he was half an hour late getting to the wharf and found his ship a speck on the distant horizon. He immediately made contact with naval authorities and a few days later he was given passage in HMS Calliope (not his father’s old ship but a later version of the same name). This Calliope – a light cruiser built in 1915- was being used as a troopship between England and the Far East. She arrived back in Portsmouth on 15 April 1926.
The slightly late arrival William met with his shipmates at the submarine depot HMS Dolphin in Portsmouth. After initial shore training they joined the training squadron of 12 boats. William qualified for submarine pay on 7 May 1926 when they started extensive sea training. In home waters he served in H25, H52 and L22. One of his duties was opening the conning tower hatch after surfacing; when the boat rolled he slipped off the ladder and suffered a broken ankle and heavy bruising to his ribs, resulting in a short-stay at the Royal Naval Hospital at Portland.
Now qualified submariners, the Australian crews left the training squadron behind in Portland and in early March 1927 travelled north to Barrow-in-Furness to standby the new O-class boats OA1and OA2now nearing completion at the famed shipbuilder Vickers-Armstrong. The boats were expected to leave England in August and reach home by November 1927.
The O-class of two slightly modified RAN boats followed by seven RN sisters, were formidable vessels. They were 275 ft (84 m) long with a beam of 29 ft 7 ins (9.02 m) and a draught of 13 ft 3 ins (4.04 m) displacing 1,350 tons surfaced and 1,870 tons submerged. Driven by diesel engines and electrical motors, submerged they could achieve maximum speeds of 15 kts surfaced and 9 kts submerged. Armament comprised eight 21-inch torpedo tubes and one 4-inch deck gun plus two machine guns. The complement was 54 officers and men.
The crew were responsible for finding their own lodgings and William shared with a shipmate, receiving a living-out allowance of 31 shillings and 6 pence (31/6) per week. They had comfortable digs with a widow at 33 Ramsden Street, Barrow for which they paid 27/6 per week, with only a five minute walk to the shipyard.
As William reminds us, 1 April 1927 was April Fool’s Day but an auspicious occasion when with suitable pomp and ceremony OA1 was commissioned. For the first time submarines which had traditionally been known only by an alphabetical letter and sequence number were given names. His Majesty’s Australian Ship Oxleyofficially joined the RAN but was temporarily allocated to the RN 5th Submarine Squadron. HMAS Otway commissioned two months later on 15 June 1927.
Australian authorities had sought Admiralty assurance of experienced loan officers to captain our new submarines. Oxleywas under command of Commander Hugh R. Marrack, DSC, RN (later Rear Admiral) but the majority of officers and crew were Australian. The First Lieutenant was Lieutenant Frank Getting, RAN. From initial RANC entry he had served with the RN at the end of WWI, and while not then a submariner had returned home with the flotilla of J-class submarines presented to the RAN by the Admiralty in 1919. Frank Getting was the first RAN officer to pass the Royal Navy’s demanding submarine commanding officers’ course. One seaman officer, Lieutenant Fowler, came from the lower deck and was ex RN and the two engineers, Lieutenant Hodgson and Warrant Engineer Le Provost, were RN, as there were no Australians with necessary experience.
With fitting out delayed, Christmas was spent in bitterly cold Barrow covered in two feet of snow. The crews were granted leave with many including William seeking the brighter lights of London and also visiting an aunt and uncle living in Watford. However others were making themselves more than comfortable with Lancashire lasses, with at least seven having tied the knot since coming to Barrow. William was a good correspondent, always ready to dash off well thought through and interesting letters but here in Barrow letters from his wife Lydia were becoming infrequent.
In warmer weather enjoyable jaunts were made into the countryside on a mate’s motorcycle, which William learnt to ride. In July 1927 they finally left the dockyard and headed for Chatham where, paraphrasing William’s words, they expect to be for three months to have a ‘certain invention installed’ and ‘when this is completed will go around to Portsmouth for another two or three months, eventually leaving for Australia in January or February 1928, by which time I will have been in England nearly two years’. While at Chatham he is again temporarily hospitalised with laryngitis.
William now reaches a low point in his personal life. He complains about his ship ‘the worst I have ever served in, all of the crew are discontented and the officers are unbearable’. And in another letter to his parents from Chatham dated 4 October 1927 he thanks them for photos of baby Lorna, noting it is twelve months since he last received a letter from Lydia. Here he is clearly miserable and exasperated saying: ‘I will never write to her again, or go to her, as it is evident she does not wish me to.’
In December Oxley is undergoing trials working between Portsmouth, Devonport and Portland. William notes continuous problems with something or other breaking down. There was however an exceptionally good dive in the English Channel to 300 feet when they remained under for five hours. Otwaycould only reach 150 feet and had to come up. There are more minor medical problems with an eye infection requiring hospitalisation. There is a hint of hospital becoming a substitute for an unhappy man in an unhappy ship.
A letter home dated 31 December 1927 mentions one of England’s most severe winters with snow and ice and bitterly cold weather. He went ice skating on the local football pitch. Their intended departure from Portsmouth is again postponed this time because of a visit by the Australian High Commissioner, Sir Granville Ryrie. The boats are now intended to depart on 8 February and conduct one of the longest voyages ever undertaken by un-escorted submarines. They are expected to arrive at Thursday Island in early April where they will be met by HMAS Platypus, their future depot ship.
The return voyage did not start well as the two boats encountered very rough conditions in the Bay of Biscay resulting in practically the whole voyage to Gibraltar being made submerged. Severe damage was suffered to their engine room columns and at slow speed they proceeded to Malta for repairs. As extensive repairs were required a decision had to be made on whether to have the boats towed back to Vickers or to dock them and have the work carried out in Malta. The latter option was chosen which meant they would be in Malta for many months. The long suffering Australian crews were given choices, those who have been absent from Australia for more than two years can choose to return home by passenger ship, remain on standby in Malta, or return to England for further training until the boats are ready.
Another unfortunate decision
For some unexplained reason William, who is clearly depressed, and thinking it may take up to a year to complete repairs, decides to opt for return to England. While all this is going on, in a letter dated 9 April 1928 William receives terrible news from his parents that his wife Lydia had died ten weeks earlier on 23 January 1928 following complications after an operation at Newcastle Hospital. A tragedy of forbidden love, which haunts forever, but goes unmentioned.
On 6 May he writes to his parents grieving at the loss of his wife and the circumstances of her death. He also feels remorse as many of the crew are now leaving for home aboard the P & O liner SS Mooltan. Commander Marrack now leaves his ship and command is handed to the newly promoted Lieutenant Commander Getting. His new CO decides it is best that William remain in Malta where someone can keep an eye on him. William now writes to his parents asking them to write to the Naval Board seeking support for their son’s immediate return to Australia following his wife’s tragic death. He stresses however that the request needs to come from them and it has not been made on his behalf.
The Naval Board’s response was a timely compromise agreeing to Able Seaman Nye proceeding to England to join the new cruiser HMAS Australia shortly departing for home. Given the circumstances there was one uncharitable provision that Able Seaman Nye would pay £20 covering the cost of his passage from Malta to England and the return fare of another sailor to relieve him in HMAS Oxley. When his parents wired this surety a Temporary Passport from the Office of the Rear Admiral Malta dated 24 July was issued to Able Seaman William A. Nye, RAN authorising him to proceed to the United Kingdom on duty via Tunis and Marseilles.
The final letters from William are from HMAS Australia which he joined in Portsmouth in late July 1928. The new 8-inch cruiser Australia was commissioned at Portsmouth on 24 May 1928 under command of Captain Francis H.W. Goolden, RN (later Rear Admiral) and wore the flag of the Officer Commanding His Majesty’s Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral George Francis Hyde, RAN (later Admiral Sir Francis Hyde).
William is by now in a much improved state of mind and looking forward to seeing the sights in Canada and America, many of which he had previously visited in Adelaide. In New York they visited Coney Island and later the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis which held a ball in their honour. He was even part of a select group taken to Washington and escorted on a tour of the White House.
The return was via Panama to New Zealand. On 15 October Brisbane came into view where they were officially greeted by the Prime Minister Mr. Stanley Bruce (afterwards Lord Bruce). Most importantly, Daisy was also on hand to meet the ship and was reunited with her son after an absence of nearly three years. After a week in Brisbane they finally made their home port of Sydney on 23 October. Only short-leave was granted as the ship was to be shown-off in Melbourne during Cup Week and it was not until 16 November 1928 they were finally berthed back in Sydney and long-leave granted.
Coincidentally Oxley and Otway departed Malta in November 1928 and finally reached Sydney on 14 February 1929. They had a very short life on the Australia Station: due to the economic problems of the depression era they were laid up and eventually returned to the Royal Navy in April 1931. Oxley’s CO later commanded HMAS Canberra; on 9 August 1942 at the Battle of Savo Island in the Solomons he was seriously wounded when his ship came under attack from Japanese forces and subsequently sank. Captain Getting died of his wounds on an American hospital ship and was buried at sea.
Captain Goolden was sympathetic to William’s circumstances and informs him that following leave he is to be posted to Garden Island to see out the last few months of his engagement. During this final stage he is made an Acting Leading Hand and employed as a senior officer’s driver. William is finally discharged ashore on 15 April 1929.
The final chapter
With the onset of the Great Depression, when jobs became scarce Newcastle in 1929 was not a happy place. William managed to find a berth in coastal shipping and remained there until a vacancy became available as a rigger in BHPs vast steelworks.
The last entry in William’s service record is dated 25 April 1940 when living at 48 Robert Street in the Newcastle inner suburb of Wickham; it shows that he was selected for re-entry into the RAN. However nothing came of this with a further annotation of employment in a ‘Reserve Occupation’. Shortly afterwards William married Alice Maude Adamson and they had one child, William Douglas Nye who was born on 25 November 1941. Unfortunately the marriage did not last and they were divorced in April 1952. In 1962 William married for a third time, to Pearl Nye, and there was no issue. Despite all the travails of his naval service, in later life William always thought well of the RAN and was an active member of the local ex-Naval Men’s Association. He poignantly named his house in Wickham ‘Oxley’ and it was here that William Arthur Alfred Nye died in 1974.
There are undoubtedly messages in this sad story relating to our management of those operating in ships far removed from home for lengthy periods. In the noise and confusion of commissioning and acceptance trials of a new class of ship was a faint cry for help unheard? A common factor in broken relationships is loneliness which can affect both parties, and sympathy is due to the young wife and mother Lydia Elizabeth Nye, the victim of abandonment and loneliness, who unwisely sought the wrong kind of companionship.
The current generation
Little Lorna Nye, who was born in August 1924 when William was serving in Adelaide, was brought up by her maternal grandparents. She married Bruce McKinnon and they moved to Eden, NSW where for a number of years they managed the Fishing Club. They have four children.
Her step-brother William Douglas Nye attended Newcastle Technical High School, gained an electrical apprenticeship with BHP and later worked for the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electrical Authority.
Doug’s only attempt to follow a seafaring tradition was in 1967 when he joined the Norwegian owned phosphate freighter MV Nidar as an electrical engineer. Off Christmas Island she was caught in Cyclone Doreen resulting in a broken propeller shaft and jammed rudder. Eventually they were towed to Singapore for repairs. He next sought adventure in the highlands of PNG where he established a successful electrical contracting business, remaining there for ten years. His final position was as Technical Sales Manager for Pirelli Cables.
Doug, who had married previously and has three children, is now happily married to Anne Marie nee Criminale, a lady originally from Malta, and between them they have nine grandchildren.