- Armstrong, David, Professor
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Read at the funeral service at St. Brelade’s Church, Jersey, January 6th, 1989 by Michael Marett- Crosby.
JOHN MALET ARMSTRONG, Jamie to his wife and friends, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on January 5th, 1900. His father, Dr W.G. Armstrong, was the first Director General of Public Health for the State. His mother Elizabeth (Bessie) was a Garnsey, a well-known clerical family in NSW.
Jamie was originally educated at Sydney Grammar School followed by a year at All Saint’s College at Bathurst. But at the end of 1913 he successfully sat for examinations for the fledgling Australian Naval College at Jervis Bay. 189 applied, 31 were accepted as naval cadets, forming the second class to go through the college. Passing out as Chief cadet, he was posted in 1918 as a midshipman to the battle-cruiser HMAS Australia, based on Scapa Flow. The crew and the midshipmen were Australian, the officers British. He recalled hearing the sub- lieutenant in charge of the midshipmen saying to a friend that his snotties were not a bad bunch of chaps but ‘not one of them could speak like a gentleman’.
After the war he continued his career as an Australian naval officer, specialising in gunnery. Postings frequently took him to England. The result had a profound effect on his life, because in Jersey he met Philippa Marett, one of the daughters of La Haule Manor. They were married on the island on July 7th, 1924, and began a long and good life together, interrupted though it was by the frequent separations, travel and change of above enforced by naval circumstance. They had three children, David, Philip and Suzanne.
The outbreak of the Second World War found Armstrong the Commander (executive officer) of a second HMAS Australia. In October 1940, once again in the North Sea, off Scotland, he led a party of men who dived over the side to rescue crew of a Sunderland flying-boat down in the water.
In 1944 he was the Australian naval officer in charge of New Guinea. But towards the end of that year Captain Dechaineaux was killed on the bridge of the Australia by a Kamikaze (Japanese suicide plane) at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. Armstrong was flown up as a replacement, in time for the battle at Lingayen Gulf where, between January 5th and 9th 1945, the large cruiser was subjected to no less than five kamikaze attacks, all of which hit the ship in different places.
This action earned Armstrong a DSO and, since the Australia was operating with the US fleet, the United States Navy Cross. Later that year, he took a patched-up Australia to England, via New York and a parade through its streets. He received his DSO at an investiture at Buckingham Palace.
A civilian who travelled to England on that voyage to England was the Labor Premier of New South Wales, Mr. W.G. McKell. The time had come to replace the Governor of New South Wales, and McKell, on the basis of what he saw during that voyage, put forward and vigorously supported Armstrong as a candidate. It was still customary at that time for British appointments to be made to Australian Governorships, and the authorities in Britain were not enthusiastic. Neither was the Australian Navy, and the matter lapsed. (However, McKell did finally secure the appointment of a distinguished Australian soldier).
After the war Armstrong was briefly in command of the aircraft carriers Ruler and Vindex. Afterwards he served for a term in the very responsible position of Second Naval Member of the Australian Naval Board, with the rank of Commodore. His last appointment was in 1955 to Washington as Australian Naval Liaison Officer.
In 1962, carrying out a promise that he had made to his wife at the time they married, the two of them returned to live in Jersey, in the house at La Haule she had inherited from her father. There he lived in a long and peaceful retirement, cultivating his garden and attending to the affairs of the Jersey Sea Scouts, a little homesick at times, perhaps, for his native Australia. A serious illness in 1980 greatly restricted his activities, but he died peacefully on December 20th, 1988. Philippa survives him.
He was a man who had many friends, and remarkably few enemies. Able, hard-working, and entirely upright, he had a directness and simplicity about him that put anybody who had dealings with him at their ease, and inclined towards him. Widely respected and liked in his profession, he was a loving husband and father. There was extraordinarily little in his life for him to be ashamed of, and, but for his instinctive modesty, much that he could be proud of.
Grateful assistance was received from Captain L.M. Hinchliffe, DSC, RAN (Ret), P.O.Phot. Peter Simpson and Alan Zammit.