- Owen, Commander P.O.L.
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- August 1972 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
‘Hector Macdonald Laws Waller will always remain in my mind as one of the very finest types of Australian Naval Officer. Full of good cheer, a great sense of humour, undefeated and always burning to get at the enemy, he kept the old ships of the flotilla – Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager, Waterhen – hard at it always. Greatly loved and admired by everyone, his loss in HMAS Perth in the Java Sea in March 1942, was a heavy deprivation for the young Navy of Australia.’
Admiral of the Fleet,
Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope
NO AUSTRALIAN NAVAL OFFICER or ex Naval Officer could be more honoured than I to write these notes on ‘Hec’ Waller.
To me he still lives.
As Flotilla Supply Officer, I sailed from Sydney with him (accommodated in HMAS Waterhen with my Staff) on 13th October 1939 and served under him till his departure from the Mediterranean in mid 1941. By a curious set of circumstances, I sailed with him again, as a passenger at his request (to join HMAS Hobart) from Fremantle on 13th February 1942.
What made Waller tick? He was always himself. Most men try to mould at least their exterior personality to their chosen idol or idols: not so Waller. He never failed to be himself. He was humble. He was firm: forthright and to the point, perspicacious and uncomplicated in expression. He was without any frills: always fair and without favourites. He was a definite character with a flair for making the best of the material and conditions offering. How else could the Scrap Iron Flotilla have persisted in its predatory pursuits so successfully and so long? I hear his voice now, as clearly as a ship’s bell striking, saying to me. ‘Polo, it’s the rub o’ the green’.
Not only did he have a sense of humour but also of the ridiculous.
I first met him in 1926 when I joined the RAN as Paymaster Cadet. I was required to Mess in the Wardroom at Flinders Naval Depot. Here were, to me, hard-bitten men barely conscious of my presence. Not so Waller. Freshly back from England where he had topped his Long Signal Course, this unassuming man befriended me on my first guest night, when I was petrified, fearful and lonely. Amongst some 60 officers he had no cause to notice me! Yet he made the effort to seek me out and put me at ease.
I served with Waller later in the Squadron Flagship, I in the Admiral’s Office – he Squadron Signal Officer. He exuded action. His clear, concise reports were produced without promptings. He was quick, alert and always on the ball. Above all he was a delight to work with. He was a busy man. He knew his signal books, manuals and codes almost by heart. Everything and everyone in his department were top line. Signalmen and W/T Operators revelled in enthusiasm and abiding interest in his (and their) specialisation.
In retrospect, perhaps he bore similarities to Admiral Evans (of the Broke) Rear Admiral Commanding Australian Squadron, 1929-1931. He possessed human qualities, almost earthy, reflecting a love of life, people and nature.
His interest in people was genuine and did not stem from the peripheral theory of the Divisional Officer ‘knowing his men’. That quality in him was inherent.
Engineer Rear Admiral Doyle (now in his 83rd year!) recalls Waller, with whom he also served in the Flagship forty years ago, as a ‘White man, such as one rarely meets’. Admiral Doyle could not imagine Waller ever maligning anyone.
Little wonder no ill word was ever spoken of him!