- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III
- June 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN JUNE 1955 the ship’s company of HMAS Sydney fell in on the flight deck, and Captain George Oldham, DSC, RAN, presented to Vie Zammit, the ship’s canteen manager, a beautiful barometer inscribed: –
‘Presented to Mr Vie Zammit and Staff in appreciation, from the officers and men, HMAS Sydney.’
Captain Oldham said that he had served with Vie Zammit a number of times, firstly when he (Oldham) was a young officer and later in Australia during the war. Captain Oldham said the officers called him ‘Zam’, the sailors called him ‘Jesus’, and his friends called him ‘Vie’. He went on to say that Zam was always popular, helped many a sailor in trouble, and doubted if any man in the RAN or any other navy, had spent as much time in warships as Victor had. These ships included the Great War in Encounter, twenty years in Australia, and from 1948 Sydney. Including the Korean War, Victor had earned ten war medals.
Vie Zammit’s father, Joseph Zammit, came to Australia from Malta at the end of the last century and, together with his brother, bought a horse and cart as well as a boat, and started a business supplying RN ships and establishments with provisions. From 1902 to 1907 they ran the canteen at Garden Island.
In those days Lipton’s, the tea company and department store proprietors, ran most of the canteens in the Royal Navy, as well as on the Australian Station. Being so far from England, Lipton had a lot of problems, so they transferred the canteen tenancy of HMS Pioneer, a 3rd class protected cruiser of 2,200 tons, to Zammit Brothers. Joseph Zammit became the Pioneer’s canteen manager, and because he gave such good service, by 1910 the Admiralty had approved of Zammit Brothers conducting most of the RN ship’s canteens on the Australian Station, including both Encounter and Challenger.
Vie Zammit left St. Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, Sydney in 1914 and joined HMAS Encounter as a canteen assistant. In Encounter Victor received the nickname ‘Jesus’ because he was the son of Joseph.
Encounter was a 2nd class protected cruiser of 5,880 tons, armed with eleven 6 inch guns, and was completed in 1905. Victor’s pay in 1914 was one pound ten shillings per week, approximately the same as an AB of that time.
In the Great War Encounter operated in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, often under hard tropical conditions, conditions such as the ship was unsuited for in peacetime, let alone wartime. There was little refrigeration, tinned salmon and salted meat were used quite a lot. Coaling ship was a major evolution and all hands were employed, dressed in all sorts of clothing.
The coal was tipped into the bunkers through manholes in the upper deck, coal dust making the ship and the sailors very dirty.
In 1915 Encounter grounded on a coral reef, and had to be docked in Singapore for underwater repairs. In early 1916 the ship patrolled off Malaya.
July 1917 saw Encounter rendering assistance to SS Cumberland, mined and aground off Gabo Island. After assisting Cumberland the ship joined in the search for the missing SS Matunga which had, in fact, been captured by the German raider Wolfe. Commanded by Captain Nerger, Wolfe was the only German warship to enter Australian waters during the Great War.
In September 1917 Encounter patrolled the Pacific hunting Von Luckner’s crew, and the wreck of his German raider Seeadler. The last year of the war was spent in convoy escort and patrol duties in Australian waters.
After the war Encounter was sent to Samoa and other Pacific Islands on a medical relief mission due to the influenza epidemic.
June 1920 saw Encounter taking part in the visit of the Prince of Wales to Australia in HMS Renown. Soon after the Royal Visit Encounter paid off and Victor left the ship.
The years from September 1920 until the commissioning of Australia in April 1928, Victor spent in either of the light cruisers Sydney or Melbourne with a brief time running the canteen on Garden Island. On Garden Island the canteen was situated behind the barracks and the canteen staff had adopted a monkey, left behind by a visiting warship, as a pet. The monkey used to raid the Garden Island residents’ gardens, steal eggs, and even hop through the windows of the naval officers’ houses and take their gear.