Royal Australian Navy
Compelled to Resign: The Story Of Commander Paul Hugill Hirst RAN 1899-1963
by Lieutenant Commander Terry Feltham RAN Ret’d
“Just because something ends doesn’t mean it never should’ve been. Remember, you lived, you learned, you grew and you moved on”. Anon.
Why this topic?
The recent discovery within the Society’s archives of an undated letter from Signalman Donald Fraser, commissioning member of HMAS Toowoomba1 led to my researching the reasons for the resignation in March 1942 of her Commanding Officer, LCDR Paul Hirst and the eventual dispersal of her entire crew.
The following are extracts from undated letter by Don Fraser:
After suffering heavy damage on the passage. Soon thereafter we were ordered back to sea. Our captain ‘Digger Hirst’ was loath to take Toowoomba to sea until major repairs were affected. Apparently Senior Naval Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, directed the skipper – ‘Take your ship to sea or resign’. ‘Digger’ advised the ship’s company, “I’ve resigned and I will be happy to get back to the spuds in Tasmania”. Under a new skipper we sailed to Adelaide for repairs. There, the entire crew received ‘individual draft notes’ sending them to all corners of the globe! Toowoomba then decommissioned, affected repairs and recommissioned. Did ‘Digger’ resign for nothing? Don Fraser.[i]
My First Impressions
Initially, there seemed little to this research task. Paul Hirst was a member of the 1913 Pioneer Class[ii] at The Naval College and HMAS Toowoomba 1 was Paul’s third command (following Tasmania and Success). Clearly, Commodore John Collins and The Naval Board held Paul in high regard. So, in my opinion, all that was required was for me to obtain copies of Toowoomba’s Reports of Proceedings from commissioning date in October 1941 to March 1942, seek out the Naval Board paperwork on the incident, the notes by Commodore Collins immediately before and after his decisions on the incident and access Paul Hirst’s personal reports and then write the story. ‘Wrong’. Despite considerable help from many people (most notably Vice Admiral Peter Jones) many cupboards were bare. However, sufficient veteran’s recollections are recorded to allow us the essentials of the story.
So I chose to go back to the early part of the 20th Century, research the history behind The Royal Australian Naval College and its Pioneer Class and build the story from that point.
The Royal Australian Navy and its Naval College
By the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, KCMG, KBE (‘The Father Of The Royal Australian Navy) along with Rear Admiral Frederick Tickell MID CMG RN and two very supportive Prime Ministers, Alfred Deakin and Andrew Fisher, had begun a concerted push to have our Navy (more a Colonial Force at the time) breakaway from The Admiralty. By late 1905 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board was constituted in Melbourne, and it was clear that ‘The Royal Australian Navy’ (RAN) was close at hand.[iii]
By 1911 many of Creswell’s capital initiatives for the RAN had been agreed and the Australian Government had also signed off on a major recruitment scheme for Australian Naval Officers, specifically:
An Australian Naval College (to be named HMAS Creswell on commissioning in January 1958) would be established at Jervis Bay by 1915. In the interim, young boys from all Australian states, and whose 13th birthday fell in the calendar year 1 January 1913 to 31 December 1913, would be invited to sit an exemplar exam in 1912 for entry to the Temporary Australian Naval College at Geelong in Victoria in 1913. Twenty eight Officer Cadets would be chosen to undergo a rigorous four year education, leadership, sporting and management program taking them to University entrance equivalent. On completion the successful graduates would join the Royal Australian Naval Officer Ranks as Midshipmen.[iv]
Creswell also made it clear to the Australian Government that he expected significant numbers of RN officers (including several of Flag Rank) would be required to fill positions in Australia’s naval command structure for the foreseeable future; probably until the early 1930s. He went further:
‘this fact does not worry me one iota as I am confident the Naval College structure agreed by the Australian Government, with its fine Executive, Educational, Engineering and Electrical training staff, would soon begin commissioning superb Australian Naval Officers’.[v]
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) in his book Australia’s Argonauts expresses best the sentiment of the time:
“For the nation, the calling for the first intake of Australia’s naval college was an important step in forging its own Navy. Yet, for twenty eight 13-year-old boys their decision would forever change their lives. Their careers would decisively shape the course of the Royal Australian Navy”.[vi]
Members of the Pioneer Class[vii]
|Otto Edmund Albert;
George William Thomas Armitage;
Joseph Burnett (later KIA when Commanding Officer [Captain RAN], HMAS Sydney);
Norman Keith Calder;
John Augustine Collins (later Vice Admiral Sir John, KBE CB, Chief of Naval Staff 1948-1955);
Alfred Denis Conder;
Ernest Semple ‘Dick’ Cunningham (lost in HM K17 in 1917);
James Claude Durie Esdaile (the last surviving member of The Pioneer Class);
Harold Bruce (Fearless Frank) Farncomb (later Rear Admiral – CB, DSO, MVO, MID (3) Navy Cross [US] and Commander of the Legion of Merit [US]);
Eric Augustus Feldt (later OBE and Commander RAN – our greatest Coastwatcher);
Frank Edmond Getting (later Captain RAN – KIA 1942 when in Command HMAS Canberra);
|Lloyd Falconer Gilling;
Paul Hugill Hirst (later Commander – 3 Commands – Tasmania, Success and Toowoomba);
Elmer Benjamin Howells;
Peyton James Kimlin;
Frank Lockwood Larkins;
John Valentine Stuart ‘Jack’ Lecky;
Rupert Basil Michel Long;
Hugh Alexander MacKenzie DSC;
Jack Bolton Newman;
Edwin Scott Nurse;
Win Locker Reilly;
Cyril Arthur Roy Sadlier;
Henry ‘Harry’ Arthur Showers (later Rear Admiral, CBE);
Horace John Harold Thompson;
Harry Bertram Vallentine;
Adrian Joseph Beachleigh Watts;
Llewellyn Leigh Watkins.
Captain Bertram Chambers RAN was the initial Master at the College and to anyone interested he would say:
– ‘these young boys were selected on their perceived ability alone; social standing was paid no mind. I guarantee that by the passing of six months it will be impossible to tell the difference between the Cadet who knew the meaning of ‘a silver spoon’ and the Cadet who could handle a stump jump plough’.[viii]
Several of the class proved notable talents and will be well known to many of us: Vice Admiral Sir John Collins, Rear Admiral Farncomb, Rear Admiral Showers, Captain Burnett and Commander Feldt. Commander Paul Hirst proved to be a first-class naval officer and commanding officer, however, he will not be as well-known as those named above.
Boys to Men
The selection process sought to ensure that only the fittest and the physically strong formed the 1913 Entry.
Sadly though, several originals lost their life while serving their initial engagement 1913-1930 and three Cadet Midshipmen were discharged before graduation returning to civil life and uncertain futures. The first to give his life was Otto Albert through meningitis in May 1914. Dick Cunningham, along with 47 other crew members in the RN submarine K17 were KIA following a collision in what was to become known as the Battle of May Island on 31 January 1918; and after the war ended, Frank Larkins accidentally lost his life when swept overboard from the casing of the RAN submarine J2 on the night of 19/20 June 1919 while transiting past Sumatra on his return to Australia.
World War 1 ends
Several of The Pioneer Class saw service during WWI, but by 1920 their lives had returned to a form of normality. A Return of Service obligation tied them to the RAN until 1930 and by then the seafarers blood flowed in the veins of quite a few, many going on to give absolutely outstanding Naval service until retirement; most notable being Vice Admiral Sir John Collins and Rear Admiral Harold Farncomb. The honour and legacy of those two men was settled for all time when the Australian Government gave the names Collins and Farncomb to two of our Collins Class Submarines.
Vice Admiral Collins was not only a name to be remembered by the Australian Government and the RAN; the people of Sydney (maybe even wider Australia) silently offered their thanks to him at his funeral. One woman was heard praising him in this way, ‘You have to understand what John Collins meant to us. When we were losing everywhere in the war he gave us our finest victory. He gave us hope’.[ii]
Paul Hirst proved also to be an outstanding naval officer. During the 1920s he was recognised as such on two occasions by The Naval Board, when given command of HMAS Tasmania and later HMAS Success. The following was written of Paul Hirst during his period In Command of HMAS Success.
“Paul Hirst is a capable, keen and zealous Commanding Officer of HMAS Success”. RAN.[iii]
During that decade Paul was also appointed as The First Lieutenant at HMAS Cerberus, a tough assignment for any Naval Officer.
In 1931, with the world at peace, Paul decided to resign his commission and return to the family home in Carrick, Tasmania. When War raised its ugly head again late in the 1930s, he offered to re-join in July 1939 as a member of the Emergency List and was accepted with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Following service at Cerberus, then Warrego and Brisbane, Paul was appointed to commission HMAS Toowoomba in October 1941. This appointment being further recognition of the esteem in which he was held by his superiors.
Toowoomba at War 1941/1942
Soon after her commissioning late 1941, Toowoomba entered operational service. She was based in Sydney initially, tasked with convoy escort duties along the east coast of Australia until January 1942, when she was ordered to Batavia. Toowoomba was in constant action over the next two months and on 14 February was one of the last ships to enter Singapore Harbour before the Island was captured by the Japanese. Toowoomba’s sailing orders for each of her assignments in 1942 were issued under the hand of Commodore Collins RAN.
Following the outbreak of war with Japan, Captain John Collins was appointed Commodore Commanding China Force, based in Batavia, Dutch East Indies. HMAS Toowoomba under the command of Paul Hirst was stationed in the Dutch East India area early 1942, so throughout that period, Commodore Collins was Paul’s senior officer and as such his reporting officer
During what must have been a quite insane period in the Dutch East Indies early in 1942, Toowoomba was ‘dive bombed’ many times, surviving, it seems, only by the magnificent seamanship of her Captain. Toowoomba’s crew paid tribute to Paul with Signalman Fraser remembering Paul as a ‘Bonzer bloke and a terrific skipper’.[iv]
Toowoomba’s assignments in the Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap areas kept her extremely busy and Tjilatjap became a regular stop off for refuelling. Hirst decided it would be prudent always to track close inshore when escorting convoys and when leading his corvettes.
Early 1942 the RAN decided that as Collins and his staff could not be well protected in Batavia, the office was to be moved to Fremantle,
Early on the morning of 2 March Collins, stationed at the time at Tjilatjap was doing his utmost to find shipboard accommodation for as many as possible in the transfer of his quarters and staff to Fremantle to take up the position as Commodore Commanding Fremantle and Senior Naval Officer, Western Australia
To his delight, over the horizon came Paul Hirst in Toowoomba and the other corvettes he was leading. Collins would have found them a god-send; as they made possible the evacuation of all personnel.
Soon after that evacuation, Toowoomba was ordered back to Fremantle and then commenced routine patrols off the Western Australian Coast. During her last patrol, she encountered heavy seas and suffered major damage to her upper deck structures and sonar and was forced to return to Fremantle. Shortly before arrival, a signal was received in Toowoomba informing Paul that he was to be promoted Commander and that he was to take four corvettes, including Toowoomba to join the British Eastern Fleet. The whole crew were delighted in the announcement.
Damaged Toowoomba arrived in Fremantle on Saturday 19th July 1942.
The Fremantle Meeting
Paul’s naval career ended effectively one week after Toowoomba’s return to Fremantle on Saturday 19 July 1942.
On arrival in Fremantle, I think it fair to assume that Commodore John Collins inspected the damage to Toowoomba[v] and that Paul paid a visit to Senior Officer Western Australia Commodore Collins to further explain the structural damages to Toowoomba and to seek time to affect the required repairs. There are no written records extant of either Paul’s visit to John Collins or John Collins’ visit to Toowoomba. The Naval Board were in Melbourne and would not have visited the ship.
I do not say that Collins suggested to Hirst, ‘resign’, as there is no corroborating evidence such an exchange occurred. What we do know is that Hirst told his ship’s company he had resigned.
What I am suggesting is that there may well be several other parts to this section of the story. In particular I have little doubt that Commodore Collins took in Paul’s explanation of the repairs considered essential before Toowoomba could return to War Time duty anywhere. I think it is fair to assume, Commodore Collins, at this time, was (nearly) out on his feet following those hectic days in Singapore, Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap when all that he was concerned about was the safety of his staff and the prosecution of Australia’s wartime commitments in the region.
There could be only one winner in the apparent disagreement between Paul and Commodore Collins over Toowoomba’s seaworthiness.
Vice Admiral Jones makes a most salient point. “The date was 1942, however Paul’s principled stand then resonates today where there is much greater appreciation on ensuring the material condition of ships ‘ship safe’ regime”.[vi] So I remain bemused that Collins and the Naval Board (apparently) dismissed Hirst’s caution out of hand.
Despite Collins having been closely associated with Hirst’s promotion to Commander and Hirst’s exemplary wartime record in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, Paul would no doubt have given serious consideration to all Collins had to say before he (Hirst) decided ‘Resignation it must be’.
Both men were true gentlemen, outstanding Naval Officers and leaders (particularly in the case of Commodore Collins) and each would have known what the outcome of their disagreement had to be. First and foremost though was that Australia’s Naval Activities in the Dutch East Indies and also in Australian waters would take precedence over personal friendships. Paul would have understood this clearly.
Paul then returned to Toowoomba keeping much to himself until the following day. At an appropriate time, he assembled the ship’s company on Fremantle wharf, advised them of his meeting with The Senior Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, and told the crew (words to the effect) – “I’ve decided to resign my Commission. I will be returning to my family in Tasmania. You have been an amazing crew. I wish you well for the future”.[vii] On Paul’s departure, a period of considerable gloom settled over Toowoomba.
Repairs to Toowoomba were not affected until November 1942. Yes, a new Commanding Officer was appointed shortly after Hirst’s resignation, but the original crew remained aboard until Toowoomba arrived in Adelaide for docking and repair.
The obvious question as far as I am concerned: ‘Why did Paul Hirst feel compelled to resign IF the repairs to Toowoomba were essential and arranged to be completed in Adelaide soon after his resignation’?
On arrival Adelaide, Toowoomba was docked for repairs and her original crew (including all officers) were reassigned (posting notes and appointments) far and wide within the RAN.
Clearly, the Naval Board wanted a lid put on the whole incident. On 22 November 1942 Toowoomba was assigned to duty to the British Eastern Fleet involved in escort and patrol duties across the Indian Ocean reaching as far west as the Persian Gulf operating with the fleet until returning to Fremantle on 3 December 1944 for refit. That refit was completed in March 1945, and Toowoomba joined the British Pacific Fleet, assigned to escort and patrol duties between Australia and New Guinea until the end of hostilities.
Following the end of World War II, Toowoomba spent time in Hong Kong, performing minesweeping and hydrological survey duties; returning to Australia in December 1945. The corvette earned two battle honours for her wartime service, “Pacific 1942” and “Indian Ocean 1942–44”.
Following his resignation, Paul returned to his beloved Tasmania. However, he was not done with service in our Armed Forces. In September 1945 he volunteered for duty as a Captain with the Australian Army and was appointed Master of Craft with the Army’s water transport corps. Paul’s appointment in the Army was terminated (at his request) in January 1947. He then returned to farming in Tasmania. His wife Evelyn passed away in 1963 and Paul was laid to rest in Carrick Church Cemetery, Tasmania, in 1973.
Shipmates attending Paul’s funeral in 1973 at Low Head, Tasmania, recalled: ‘Digger had an uncanny ability to avoid the bombs from Japanese aircraft’. Norm Smith, another shipmate, wrote, Paul Hirst ‘had brought the ship through several close encounters with the enemy of the time so I and 80 or so others revere his memory in perpetuity’.[viii] Vale
HMAS Toowoomba (1)
|Namesake:||City of Toowoomba, Queensland
|Builder:||Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland
|Laid down:||6 August 1940
|Launched:||26 March 1941
|Commissioned:||9 October 1941
|Decommissioned:||5 July 1946
|Honours and awards:||Battle honours:
• Pacific 1942
• Indian Ocean 1942–44
|Fate:||Transferred to Royal Netherlands Navy|
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d); Mr John Perryman Sea Power Centre, Canberra ACT; National Archives of Australia; Signalman Donald Fraser and his family; The Australian War Memorial; The Hirst Family (Tasmania and Toowoomba QLD); Historical Societies of Hobart Tasmania and Carrick Tasmania; Dr Ian Pfennigwerth [Captain RAN Ret’d] and The Royal Australian Navy.
[i] Undated letter from Able Seaman Donald Fraser – commissioning signalman HMAS Toowoomba.
[ii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geelong 2016. Pp428.
[iii] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[iv] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[v] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[vi] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 17.
[vii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Preface.
[viii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp19
[ix] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[x] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 640.
[xi] Paul Hirst’s personal papers.
[xii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 428.
[xiii] Personal communication Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d).
[xiv] Signalman Fraser interview by Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) for Australia’s Argonauts).
[xv] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 636.
Recently the Naval Historical Society of Australia was favoured with two handwritten letters from survivors of the sinking of HMAS Parramatta (II) off Tobruk overnight 27 November 1941. The first is by Able Seaman Harold Moss is to the mother of Ordinary Seaman Lyall J. Smith who was lost when the ship sank. The second is a somewhat more upbeat story by reporter Reg Greenwood of the Western Mail as told by Able Seaman F.W. Tysoe.
Letter: Able Seaman Harold Moss to Mrs Smith
AB H Moss
29 July 1942
Dear Mrs Smith,
I have been asked by my mother to write to you and to tell you what I know about Lyall. I would like you to understand that I would have written to you months ago, only for the fact I felt that to write then would be to induce more grief to you than you were already suffering; so I thought I would drop in and see you when I return home.
But now as you have asked I will say what I would have said before. First my really deep sympathy to you for his loss. The last four or five months before he died I was one of his real cobbers. He joined up the same time as I did and we both travelled to Melbourne together. That ten days leave in August 1940 we were together. I saw him several times in Adelaide. Then back we went and finally overseas together. Of course, he had his own particular cobbers and stuck to them. We also incidentally used to go out and to the same place to see our girls and his girl knew mine and we sometimes used to go to the theatre together. Anyhow we arrived in England and were sent to depot where we were sent on leave. I went to Scotland (Glasgow) and he went to Edinburgh. I never saw him until we were back on leave. Then we were drafted to the Aurora, we were nearly 9 months on her and then paid off. After some more leave we were split up and 8 of us were drafted to the Parramatta.
He was then separated from his cobbers, one of whom was Alan Roberts. Anyhow we used to get together and talk about the different things we were going to do after we got out of the Service and he was telling me he didn’t think he would marry until after finishing his 12 years. We went ashore together in Durban and Suez. In Suez we had our photos taken in Arab dress. I went back there when I was there last to try and get the photo again but the negative was destroyed. I really was looking forward to getting that photo. We picked up our ship there and later on was to see our first bit of action. A German plane attacked us in the Red Sea but his bombs fell over us. We caught him as he went away and was later credited with shooting it down. I recon we were all rather nervous but none of us new hands said anything and then after that we felt like old hands. Shortly after that we went through the canal to the Med. We went ashore together in Alexandria. After that we had several air attacks and once went to Tobruk at night. Coming back we anchored in Mersa Matruh and had hardly dropped anchor when they started to bomb the shore. They kept us awake for hours. We came back and two days later we left Alex for Tobruk. These were the days of the siege and supplies just had to get through. We took a convoy of small supply ships with us.
Anyhow to get to the night on which we were sunk, we were off Tobruk and this night was rather heavy seas, moon was generally hidden by dark clouds and rain. This rain by the way caused the greater majority of deaths. Every(one) used to sleep on deck and through the rain they all had to go below. Lyall was my opposite watch then and at midnight when I went below he came on deck to keep his watch on the forward gun. It was raining and just before I went down I had a funny feeling. I thought that it would (be) pretty awful to be adrift in that sea. I went right forward to try to get a place to sleep but there was no room so I came back amidships and lay on a stool in a little spare mess we had. My lifebelt was blown up and near my feet. At 12.20 I looked at my watch and then I was just dozing off when she was hit. I never want to hear that noise ever, I was thrown to the deck and the lights were out. I grabbed my lifejacket and was up the ladder and on deck in 10 seconds. I just got on deck when she lurched over and immediately began to sink. I couldn’t tie my belt on and it was swept away. I was then in the water and swam to where I saw a float. I got on and began helping other fellows on. We floated away and soon lost sight of the ship. We were picked up in about 21/2 hours. Although the chaps below who were forward wouldn’t have had a chance to get away there was those on deck who should have been alright. A large party of men were on a big float and the last chap to be picked up said they were still Ok when he left. I can’t possibly help you in definitely saying Lyall went. Because no one I know, who knew him ever saw him. There were lots of men clinging to rafts and pieces of wood. The next morning there was no survivors in sight. The night was bitterly cold and I couldn’t have lasted much longer myself. For myself I can’t believe that everyone who is missing is dead and I feel that there may be some who are in POW camps in Germany. It was hard for me to realise that my friends, chaps who I had known as brothers were gone and it affected me for a long time.
I’m not of a emotional character myself but have found myself close to tears whenever I remember that night.
I’m afraid that all I can tell you. I can give you Ian Roberts address but of course he wasn’t on the ship. I do sincerely hope I haven’t told you anything which may cause you more grief but rather may help you.
Anything more I can do I shall only be so pleased.
A West Australian Survivor of HMAS Parramatta – Exclusive Story
Able Seaman William Frederick Tysoe of Denmark (W.A.) was a member of the crew of HMAS Parramatta which was torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea early this year. Now back home on leave he told his story to Reg Greenwood, The Western Mail representative of Albany.
On a recent evening a sturdy bright-eyed sailor lad, with a fine crop of light wavy hair, brushing by, rose to his feet on the crowded floor of the Denmark Public hall. In a few halting sentences he expressed thanks to hundreds of well–wishers of the town and district for the goodwill and congratulations showered upon him and his respected aged parents on his return to the tiny naval home which he left nearly 3 years earlier, in search for adventure, and with keen desire to serve Australia in her hour of need.
In his hands he held, a collection of gifts as tangible evidence of the esteem he enjoys throughout the district where he grew to manhood, worthily playing his part in varied vocations until he heard the call for duty. Nearby sat his parents Mr & Mrs Roger Tysore, who had come from Staffordshire (England) over 30 years ago to face with stout hearts the vicissitudes self-pioneering days in the then sparely settled Denmark bushlands. Their hearts swelled with pride as various speakers eulogised the good qualities of the sailor son young Fred now his 23rd year.
He is one of the survivors of the complement of 172 of HMAS Parramatta, a unit which played a glorious part for our navy until she fell a victim to an enemy submarine in the Mediterranean Sea about 1 o’clock in the morning of Thursday November 27th 1941.
In the intervening four weeks young Tysoe – mourned as lost by his parents and eight sturdy brothers – endured suffering and encountered adventures in Northern Africa such as seldom falls to the lot of those with a craving for thrills.
There was however little trace of privation on his erect and sturdy frame when he stepped over the threshold of his home a week ago, to enjoy to the full 23 days of leave granted, after two years and nine months of service with the boys in blue.
Seated on the veranda of his home, a mile from Denmark young Tysoe modestly related his experiences, and a note of pathos occasionally intruding, as he spoke of many gallant comrades and Commander Walker, who went down with his ship. “In fact, we lost the whole of our 10 officers said Tysoe.”
“I was posted to Flinders Naval Depot on August 4th 1939”, he continued “and drafted to the Parramatta 10 months later as ordinary seaman. Some months of patrol was followed and on June 30th 1940, we sailed from a West Australian port for overseas. We had Aden for our base for nearly a year doing convoy duty in the Red Sea to Port Sudan, Our ship transferred to the Mediterranean about July of last year, and we ran from Alexandria to Tobruk. Things were pretty warm in that section just about this time and we frequently had to beat off air attacks. A quite spell on the Port Said – Cyprus run followed.
A Hellish Night
We left Alexandria on November 24th, with Commander Walker (just promoted) in charge of the Parramatta, our complement being 172 officers and men. The first day out was uneventful but on the 2nd day a Junkers plane flew over our convoy of four ships. We opened fire on it but did not contact. It was raining at nightfall, and there was a choppy sea. About 1am we were hit by two torpedoes from a submarine whose presence was unsuspected. One of these exploded by the wardroom, under the off gun blowing the turret to blazes and causing some casualties. The sloop of 1,060 tons reeled like a drunken man with the impacts and then broke in halves & capsized. Our position at this time was about 25 miles from shore 120 miles north of Bardia. Her bow and stern were projecting. There was no time to launch boats and some of the crew were trapped below. Discipline was however excellent despite the pitch blackness of the night and a rough sea. I had just came off watch at midnight and was asleep in a motor boat on the upper deck. The impact jolted me off my slumber and I secured a cork lifebelt which I just draped under my arms, not having time to don it. I had to climb the upper deck midships and then walked down the sloping side, and entered the water which was coated with oil. I swam about for some time, and contacted two mates, but later lost touch with them. I then swam back to the ship and was pulled on the stern by another man to join nine others. One chap near the water slipped, but we stayed there about half an hour. The stern part then tilted and put us back in the water. This would be about 1:45 am. One of the convoy was standing by, about a quarter of a mile away and we swam towards her, but she did not remain, fearing the submarine might also get her. She did pick up 19 of our chaps. I then swam with a mate to a Carley Float about 4ft 6ins long and 3ft wide. There was another chap – Signaller Miller of Glenelg, South Aus. on the float and my mate was another “crow” Alec Sadhams of North Walkerville, Adelaide, SA. It was now 3am and pretty cold, I was fully clothed except shoes, and Miller was pretty right also, but poor Sadhams only had a pair of shorts on. The float had no provisions and only one paddle. We drifted until daylight, and often heard calls but could do nothing for those less fortunate than ourselves.
That’s the End
That’s the end of it; we’ll try and make shore said Miller next morning, when a ship about 10 miles off failed to see us. About midday we saw a whale boat, dropped from one of our ships. It was about a mile closer to shore, which was just discernible. Miller, with one paddle managed to get our float close to it, and we boarded only to find it half full of water- somebody had forgotten to put in the plug. We found plenty of bully beef, biscuits and water on her and also a tin hat, with which we baled. Poor old pal Ladhams was feeling – and looking pretty blue owing to lack of clothes and we used to snuggle him between us at night and let the whaler drift closer to shore. At times two of us would row and the other steer.
About 5pm on the day after we had lost our ship we landed on a little beach between two reefs about 20 miles north of Bardia. We beached our craft high and removed the provisions and plenty of water. On an adjacent ridge we could see trucks passing occasionally and thought they were some of ours. We were making towards them when we ran across an Arab camp of about 30 tents. They first took us for Italians, our bodies being discoloured through swimming in the oily water when the ship went down. Believe me the fumes were pretty crook. We were taken before the chief who spoke broken English, having been a native policeman. We were allowed to wash and given clothes. I had an issue of a pair of British Army trousers, and the rest was of Italian make. We were not given footwear, as they thought we might run away. Our feet were too sore for that however having been cut by barnacles, and we had no desire to do so. Our first meal comprised a boiled egg each, coffee and Arab bread, which isn’t the best in the world. We were given a tent and had dropped off to sleep about 6:15pm.
Hid by Arabs
We stayed with the Arab camp about a fortnight. The Arabs had some women in their party, and the old chief seemed to have about 10 wives. One of these gave Ladhams the “Glad Eye”, and we told him he was in the boom. The weather was still bad, and we were flooded out one night having only grass mats for bedding. We just sat like shags on a rock and awaited daylight –pretty wretched and miserable. One day the chief got word of a likely move from a big German camp about 2 miles away, so he removed us to a big cave for the day. We came back at night.
About three miles off a big tank battle was in progress and at night planes could be seen dropping bombs. Our ration was now mainly bully beef from the whaler. When this gave out we went back to Arab fare. We tried to get a letter through to the English lines by an Arab messenger, but we never saw, or heard of him again. Frequently Italian and German soldiers came to the camp, and had a meal before going on. We were hidden in a nearby tent under blankets and could hear their conversation very plainly. Luckily the old chief never gave us away. He was a great diplomat and maintained neutrality, at least outwardly.
A South African force broke through the enemy lines one day and the Arabs welcomed them with open arms – so did we. The scouts at first took us as Italians; owing to our colour and a sentry challenged as we advanced towards him, I said” You’re a sight for sore eyes” and he lowered his rifle and grinned. They took us to trucks and fed us with tinned sausages, biscuits and coffee. I was given cut away sandshoes and the other two received books. We then went to headquarters off Bardia and were given fine treatment. Our next move was a field hospital. We had been dressing our cuts and abrasions with a compound called “Razorquick” found in the Arab camp and this turned out to be shaving cream. Anyhow it was effective, having healing ingredients.
It took us a week of travel with many stoppages to reach Alexandria. Our first move was to send cables to our folks telling of our safety. We spent two very happy months in that city, doing the sights in great style with a new issue of white shorts and singlets .
We sailed from Alexandria on January 20th for Bombay and arrived in Melbourne on March 28th. A Tasmanian lad named Smith had also been picked up in the desert after getting ashore from the Parramatta. He had a rougher spin than we did before the Arabs found him. He came home from with us and is now well.
Miller, Ladhams and I were all good pals in the Flinders depot being in the same class and we were drafted to the Parramatta together. Miller is 19 and full of courage, while Ladhams is 20 and a great scout also. I guess we will all enjoy our leave before reporting for duty again.
I know the old bed at home felt good to me after nearly three years absence from it. Still when one goes to sea, he cannot look for a luxury existence. My experiences to date have well fitted me for anything the future might hold. But it is sure great to see the parents and brothers at home rejoicing that I have returned safely. I have a brother somewhere in Singapore, I hope his luck will equal mine.
This paper was developed after locating a 1970 HMAS Cerberus Wardroom mess dinner menu. The menu included observations by prominent citizens about HMAS Cerberus and its location at Westernport amongst others. These are reproduced in this paper along with the menu for the curious. For more detailed reading on the history of HMAS Cerberus, visit the Society’s website heritage page on HMAS Cerberus.
The site for HMAS Cerberus was recommended by Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson KCB RN after an extensive search of the Australian coastline for suitable locations for major Naval bases. He proposed that a base be established on Hann’s Inlet between Sandy Point and Stony Point on Westernport Bay.
The base was to include a Torpedo School, a Destroyer Base and a Submarine Base, and be capable of accommodating up to 2000 personnel. The site, covering over 1500 hectares (nearly 3600 acres), was purchased in 1911. The first sod was turned in 1913. The old wharf and hospital were erected first, followed by A, B and C Blocks. The Wardroom, Warrant Officers’ Mess, Captain’s and other Officers’ residences were built between 1915 and 1917. The Drill Hall, Gunnery School and Torpedo School (now part of the Technical Training Centre) were established in 1917 at the height of building activity. The power house and other residences were built between 1918 and 1920.
The base was officially opened in September, 1920, under the command of Commander FC Darley RN. The idea of using it as a Fleet Base was soon abandoned and it became known as Flinders Naval Depot in 1921. The Depot was commissioned HMAS Cerberus on 1 April that year.
HMAS Cerberus: Quotes
The Henderson Report — 1911:
“In addition to its use as a Destroyer Base and also as a Submarine Base, Port Western will be the training base for the Western Fleet.”
Rear Admiral Creswell, 1917:
“One great advantage of the Flinders Naval Base is the climate. Of course, we can get willing work anywhere, but I have in the course of my work experienced every climate in Australia……and I think there is no place where you can stand so much drill without fatigue as in a bracing climate like that down here.”
Rear Admiral Creswell – (First Naval Member) 21st February 1917:
“Generally speaking, my view of the place is, and always has been, that it should be the main place for the producing of trained human war material for the Navy in Australia……One of the most important features to be realized in connection with the establishment of FNB is the suitability of the climate for the purpose for which the Base is chiefly proposed. I consider that we can get 50% more work out of a man, and with less fatigue, at Westernport, that we would get from the same men in almost any other locality that might be selected. Climatic conditions at Jervis bay are good……but the climatic conditions at Westernport are pre-eminently fine and bracing. At Jervis Bay, during a portion of the year, the climate is rather relaxing.
“If you have a good Naval officer, you should provide him with the best house you can possibly give him. The Naval officer has practically no home life, and the positions filled by the officers at the Naval Base should be regarded as prizes given to those who have risen to eminence and shown special capacity. They deserve to be generously treated in the matter of the houses provided for them.”
Rear Admiral Clarkson CMG – (Third Naval member) 5th February 1918:
“The place has already been spoilt, to a certain extent, by the erection of towers Babel (B and C blocks). Our idea was to keep all the buildings low on account of the aviation school, and it is altogether against our proposals to have three-storey buildings. We opposed them very strongly ……. We have always had the idea that there would be an Aviation School at the base. That is why we laid out a huge parade ground. These things are not made public as a rule.”
Mr Gregory – (Minister for the Navy) 3 December 1918
“When the work started, I do not believe that it was ever intended that it should be in Hann’s Inlet……I believe that work was started……just before an election, for the purpose of gaining favour, and it has just kept on.”
The Argus, 2nd September 1920 – On the day after commissioning:
“The depot will be used as a training establishment for training in torpedo, gunnery and other exercises, and its further development with a view to putting it on similar lines to its great contemporary, HMS Excellent, the training school for naval gunnery, is receiving the consideration of the Naval Board.”
Dr Earle Page (MP — later knighted) 18th November 1921:
“Unfortunately, there is at Flinders Naval Base, one of the most striking object lessons of the way in which public money can be wasted when it is badly handled and the works are not properly planned.”
Captain G F Hyde, RAN – (Second Naval Member) 5th March 1924:
“I have never been able to discover any particular reason for the selection of Flinders as a naval training depot, but so much money has already been spent there that there would be no justification for shifting the Depot. The buildings are not suitable for any other purpose and, of course, we hope that twenty years hence, when a township has sprung up in the vicinity, the Flinders Settlement will have become a national asset.
“The existing instructional staff at Flinders is reduced to such an extent that it is impossible to cut it down further without destroying the efficiency of the establishment.”
Mr Marks (M.P. – Federal) 15th) May 1924:
“It is a pity that the Admiral who recommended that Flinders should be a sub-naval base did not, on the way down, slip on a piece of orange peel or a banana skin, because Flinders is the worst place in Australia for such a purpose.”
Captain Hyde (Second Naval Member) 1924 — about Flinders Naval Depot:
“The existing and proposed buildings provide as much provision for recreation as the Board can afford. We provide rooms for reading and smoking, concerts, lectures and billiards. Of course, gymnastic training is part of the instruction course. Generally speaking, we are very much worse off in respect to recreational facilities than are similar establishments in England, where the Admiralty is exceedingly generous in the provision it makes for recreation and amusements.”
Mr Crouch (MP Federal) 1929:
“The position at the Naval base at Westernport is even more unsatisfactory than the position of Duntroon. Everything possible is done to anglicize the staff there. The men who play Australian Football are seriously prejudiced in regard to advancement. The English officers are doing their utmost to encourage English customs and English games. Soccer and Rugby are played in preference to the Australian Rules game.”
Senator O’Sullivan (Qld) – (Minister for the Navy) 13 June 1956:
“What is wrong with Flinders as a site for a naval college? The fact of the matter is there is nothing right with it……whoever bought the site……must have done so when the tide was in, because one can scarcely see the sea from the shore when the tide is out. It is altogether unsuitable as a site for a naval college.”
50th Anniversary of the Commissioning
Of H.M.A.s Cerberus
Tuesday 1st September 1970
Supreme Dry Sherry
|Chateau Leonay Hock||Lobster Thermidor|
|Wynns Coonawarra||Fillet of Beef – Mushroom Sauce|
|Estate Hermitage 1967||*|
|Minted News Potatoes
Baby Carrots – Green Peas
|Hardy’s Reserve Bin
Show Port 1943
|Cheesi – Eggi – Hammi Topside
|Yalumba Madeira||Dessert Coffee|
During WWII ships of the RAN were painted in a number of different colour schemes as these photos of Voyager illustrate and information on both peacetime and wartime camouflage paint schemes can be found in Appendix 1 and the accompanying papers. During the early years of the war, Voyager may have remained in peacetime livery without camouflage as this picture taken from the RAN ships histories page showing her in the Mediterranean dated 1940 suggests.
Brett Morrow, a member of NHS who is currently updating our records, studied RAN paint schemes and provided the information leading to the Appendix. He also provided these two photos, the first taken in early 1940 showing Vampire in a very different paint scheme, which would have been identical to Voyager for this time period. The 2-tone scheme shown is 507B for hull, and 507C for upperworks. (N.B. For ease of reference, the various shades used in ship’s paint schemes are described by alpha-numerical codes)
And then Voyager in camouflage in dry dock in Alexandria in late 40, early 1941. In this later case, she wears the `D` flag superior in her pennant number. This was changed to the letter `I` sometime before mid-41, but it is unclear exactly when.
This photo of her with the pennant number I 31, was taken off Suda Bay, Crete during the evacuation of the island in May 1941.
It appears that all ships were under constant painting whenever possible, and Voyager’s colour changes were normal when compared with other ships in WWII. When the RAN V/W`s first served in the Mediterranean they were painted in the darker hull, with light upper works, and served in this 2-tone scheme until mid-40, when a directive was issued concerning the application of camouflage to all admiralty destroyers. This being the case, it is possible that the picture of Voyager from the RAN ships histories page is in fact pre-war in origin. Voyager then wore her familiar Mediterranean scheme until returning to Sydney for refit in September 41.
Very recently Brett has unearthed a very rare and historically significant find – the only known photos of the ship in a new camouflage. This picture of the construction of the Captain Cook Dock and the enlargements following show the starboard side of Voyager in the background, and the accompanying sketch drawn by naval photographer A.C. Green in 1942 illustrates this paint scheme. Note there are subtle differences to Green`s original drawing and the actual scheme applied.
As Voyager exited Sydney Heads, the port side, different again, can clearly be seen. This unknown camouflage scheme for Voyager has gone un-noticed and unregistered for the past 76 years, and has also been held unknown and undetected until now, within NHSA records.
Further evidence has emerged that strongly suggests she may have been initially painted in the starboard scheme shown, identically on both sides, and subtle changes to the pattern continued after leaving refit in late Feb/early March 42. At this time Voyager appears to have been used as a pattern for camouflage tests. The port pattern shown has probably been applied over the initial scheme sometime early April as part of the test programme, and unless further evidence appears it is unknown if her starboard side followed suit.
The colours of both schemes shown are likely to have been made up of 507A, 507B and 507C, but the possibility also exists that it may only have 2 colours contained of 507B and C. A white false bow wave was applied to both schemes. By early May 42 thru to Sept 42 she had been repainted in Home Fleet Dark grey 507A overall.
It seems that Voyager remained in this guise until she ran aground on the beach in Betano Bay during operations on 23 September 1942.
When one considers the number and variety of paint schemes applied to Voyager (and other RAN ships) during her short life from commissioning on 11 October 1933 until her loss barely 9 years later, there is little doubt that she epitomised the female attributes of ships. One cannot help but sympathise with her – and many other First Lieutenants as they were called upon to paint ship so frequently.
An Analysis of HMAS Voyager`s Unrecorded Paint Schemes
February to April 1942
A concise analysis of HMAS Voyager`s unrecorded paint schemes between late Feb 1942 and early May 1942.
In relation to colours listed in this report, I will refer only to them in their commonly known numbers, the true nature of these colours can be dealt with at a later date. Comments made in the article pertaining to new evidence, suggests that at the time it was recorded, the starboard pattern was applied to both sides, and was identical. These observations were probably recorded late Feb or early March, they indicate that subtle changes may have been ongoing between that time and 23.03.42 when the starboard photo was taken.
It appears that her secondary armament was still being relocated at that time and the 12 pdr gun was in a different position as opposed to its final location behind the aft funnel in the late March photo. The ongoing weapons changes also indicate that her refit at that time was incomplete and still in progress, whilst she had been pressed into trials and also used at this time for convoy duty. As ROP comments note, her bridge flag deck single Oerlikons and A290 RDF fitting were not completed until late April.
This would have been a perfect time for the camouflage directorate to do some testing of schemes, whilst she was still undergoing protracted fitting. I believe Voyager was part of a test program being conducted at that time. This would then point to possible subtle ongoing changes to the starboard scheme, to evaluate effectiveness, and also a strong indicator why the port side had received a completely different pattern painted over the initial scheme, to then observe its effectiveness against results observed on the starboard pattern.
April`s ROP notes for the 3rd whilst at Jervis Bay, `Paint ship A.M. Exercises P.M.` The new port pattern may have been applied at this time, a large team could probably paint almost the full side of a destroyer the size of a V/W class in one day, we have no other official indicators. The colours used in the makeup of the schemes are not officially recorded, the fore mentioned evidence specifically points to combination 507B and 507C, but this may also pertain to the specific time this recording was made. As stated previously, subtle changes may have been made to the first applied colours, as part of the assessment process.
Our visual perception of tones can be governed by a number of factors, which include light, angles, glare, reflection and position of observation. The position of Voyager within the photo of Dry Dock reclamation shows she is anchored with bow pointing ESE approximately, the shadows thrown by objects ashore indicate a westerly sun between 1500 and 1600, for that time of year. Her starboard face is therefore receiving full sun not much above horizontal, but at a stern quarter aspect.
In referral to the large forward camouflage swatch, and taking into account the flare of the forecastle edge and curvature of her hull at that particular location, it cannot be stated categorically whether this particular swatch is the same colour as the trailing swatches of 507B, or is the darker colour of 507A. The same principle can be applied to the small triangle swatch on the bow peak.
As stated in the article, the colours applied could comprise 507A, B and C, but the scheme could also be built with 2 colours only of 507B and 507C. Until solid evidence appears, and by using the variables listed, this is left to the reader’s interpretation.
The same can be said for the new port pattern, the image is of rather low quality, and we do not know if it was full sun or overcast at the time the photo was taken. The midship section rise to forecastle level at the bridge superstructure, shows what could be a darker patch, compared to the other dark patterns, but this could also be a photo imperfection. Therefore, the same approach is made to the port scheme colours and left to the reader’s interpretation. We have no official records and the darker swatches could all be 507A, 507B or a combination of both, with the overall lighter colour being 507C. We do not know if the starboard pattern was repainted again the same as port, but my opinion is that it was left intact.
The white false bow wave was an integral part of the port and starboard patterns and was incorporated frequently in camouflage schemes around that time period.
Therefore in mid-April it firmly appears that Voyager was dressed in 2 separate distinct schemes at the same time, which is confirmed by weapons fit. By early May these patterns had disappeared, and she had been repainted in 507A overall, she remained in that colour until her demise at Betano Bay, Timor.
This short lived sequence of camouflage patterns applied to Voyager have remained hidden away from view, and unrecorded for 76 years. It is astounding that no records had been kept. Evaluation results of camouflage tests would have been recorded, but it is unknown if they are stored somewhere deep within the archives or disposed of long ago.