- Ricketts, D C
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1978 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Mr. Dudley Ricketts was trained in HMAS Tingira and then sent to Williamstown Naval Depot in Victoria in January, 1915, to await draft to a sea going ship. That ship was the small cruiser HMAS Psyche, which was sailing for service in the Persian Gulf. In this article, Mr. Ricketts reminisces about his service in HMAS Psyche.
HMAS PSYCHE WAS OBSOLETE even at the beginning of the First World War. She was rated as a Third Class Cruiser, displaced 2,135 tons, and was armed with eight 4″ guns. She had a crew of 220, and had been built in 1898. At the time I was aboard, she was commanded by Acting Commander H.G. Feakes, later to become Admiral Feakes.
The little Psyche was lying in Sydney Harbour in 1915 when the Admiralty asked that she be crewed up with Australians, and sent to the Persian Gulf, where the British were worried that the Germans might become active. So Psyche commissioned on July 1st, 1915, with a crew consisting largely of untrained ratings.
On August 6th, HMAS Psyche sailed for Singapore. The Admiralty had become convinced that a German conspiracy to cause a rising in Burma and India was now more important than the situation in Persia, and so Psyche would patrol the Bay of Bengal. Her base was to be Rangoon, and she was to haunt the coast of Burma, stopping suspicious vessels and searching them.
At Rangoon, the river is almost a mile wide and ships are secured to buoys, and as we secured to our buoy, the lower booms were swung out in true naval style. But what we didn’t realise was that local barges travel up the river with the flood tide, and down with the ebb tide, and the next thing that we knew was that a number of barges were tangled with our booms, causing considerable panic among the native crews; so from then on, our booms were housed alongside the ship and our boats were not lowered. Instead, we hired a steam launch for our traffic to and from the shore.
The river, being tidal, was a great help in keeping the ship’s bottom free of marine growths, and also provided us with fresh water for washing clothes, as in those days, the supply of fresh water was limited and any extra was very welcome, as only a certain amount could be carried and condensed, and the boilers had first call on that. Fresh water was rationed most of the time and the usual allowance was about five gallons per man per day, and was poured into a wooden tub and used for bathing, then we washed our clothes in it and finally, we scrubbed out the Mess with it. Drinking water was in Mess Deck tanks, and these were filled once a day and had to last for the day for drinking and cooking. In the Psyche class of ship, only the stokers had bathrooms; all the others except the officers, bathed in tubs on the Mess deck.
With Rangoon as our base, we used to cruise the Gulf of Martaban, and all the way down the coast of Malaya to Penang and Singapore.
At other times we went to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, where the garrison was on a small island, Ross Island, in the mouth of a wide bay where we anchored behind the island, anchored stem and stem, so that our guns could command both entrances each side of the island.
When we first arrived, the garrison was composed of men of the Worcester Regiment, and we asked them if there were many sharks in the bay. They laughed and said they often swam across to the mainland, and had never seen a shark, so we were given permission to bathe from the ship, with the usual precaution of men armed with rifles on deck in case of a shark appearing.
While this was going on, our Chief Boatswain’s Mate tried a shark line from the Psyche’s stern and in minutes, he had a fourteen footer on deck. I have never seen men leave the water so quickly! It turned out the bay was full of sharks, but they were all so well fed with waste from a slaughter yard on one side of the bay, that they were not interested in men.
On another occasion we were sent to Calcutta where we were given a concert on board the ship by Ada Reeves, the vaudeville artist, who was on her way to Sydney. On this occasion, we conveyed two troopships of Turkish prisoners, who had been brought across India by train, to be interned in a prisoner of war camp near Ackyab, in northern Burma.
During the voyage, cholera broke out on the troop ships and the dead were buried at sea, and we watched as body after body was dropped over the side.
Then we were sent to Madras and saw the oil tanks which had been shelled and set on fire by the Emden. We were supposed to have our Christmas dinner in Madras, that was Christmas 1916, but we got a call to go to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, where there was a penal settlement of Indian prisoners, and there was danger of an uprising.
So to sea we went, and as all the messes had been issued with poultry for the Christmas dinner, each mess was told to kill its bird for the cook, and many and varied were the attempts of the Cooks of Messes to kill and pluck the birds, many of which revived half way through the process and got away, and our progress across the Indian Ocean could have been followed by the trail of drowning birds we left behind.
At Port Blair we found that everything was under control, so we spent the New Year celebrations in port there.
Those tours of duty seemed to us to be of no great help to the war effort. But the official history of the war says that we did a very good and necessary service under conditions which were difficult, as we went from intense heat to rain and cold conditions, and sickness was rife on the ship, and on one occasion, when our stokers were passing out with the heat, seamen had to assist in firing the boilers, and we had to recruit a number of natives for coal trimming in the bunkers.
Our next visit was to Singapore, where we took aboard two Chinese spies, who were working for Germany, to be turned over to the French in Saigon. They were housed in a small compartment on the upper deck with an armed guard on them. But this didn’t stop one of them from jumping over the side while at sea, and he was lost.
We were then sent to Hong Kong for a refit, and while south of Saigon, we touched the sand, which had banked up at the end of a reef, and lost a blade off our starboard screw. The result was that we vibrated all the way to Hong Kong, where we docked and replaced the damaged blade with a spare. It was while on the China coast that I experienced my first typhoon. We got into the eye of it, and experienced the ‘Pyramid Sea’, where there is no wind, but the seas run in all directions. Our ship was thrown about in a way that is never found in the usual heavy seas when the waves are running in one direction.
While we were passing through the typhoon, those of us on the bridge were unable to get below, and our food and drink was hauled up a ventilator and we were there for 48 hours. I slept when I could, in the canvas cover of a sounding machine.
In Hong Kong we met an American gunboat’s crew, who told us they had come to win the war for us. I guess that most of that crew was tossed into the water at one time or another.
With us in Hong Kong was a Russian battleship and in the mornings, when our colours were hoisted to the sound of a bugle, the whole crew of the Russian ship sang the then Russian national anthem.