- Weston, Bert E.
- Letter to the Editor, Humour
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Swan II, HMAS Australia II
- December 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The September 1987 issue of the Review contains an article by the late Rear-Admiral J.S. Mesley giving a run-down on the activities of the sloop HMAS Swan during the period following its commissioning in January 1937 until November 1938 and while he was its navigating officer. I can add a little to his story.
He recounts the ship’s visit to Salamaua in New Guinea in company with the cruiser HMAS Australia and having as passengers the Governor-General Lord Gowrie, Lady Gowrie, Lord Ranfurley and the Administrator of New Guinea, Lieut-General Sir Walter McNicoll together with the Director of Public Works, Colonel Field.
Following the 1937 eruption at Rabaul it was decided that the capital should be shifted to a less shaky location and among the several places on the short list was Salamaua, eighteen miles across the Huon Gulf from Lae on the New Guinea mainland.
The only thing in its favour was its sheltered harbour and anchorage otherwise it was limited in area and hemmed in by malarial mangrove swamps; however the Prime Minister of Australia, Billy Hughes, although he had never seen the place, was obsessed with the idea that Salamaua should be the new capital and this was the main reason why the ViceRegal party was sent to make an on-the-spot inspection of the place.
I had been a resident of Salamaua for almost ten years prior to their visit; Guinea Airways had the job of flying the party to various places in that district and also providing motor transport when necessary. At Salamaua, apart from a few trucks, I had the only sedan car available, this being a new 1937 Chevrolet imported direct from USA at the then price of 320.0.0. pounds sterling.
I was hired to drive the visitors about inspecting the area during their two day stay in port and they were very soon convinced of the unsuitability of Salamaua as the site for a future capital.
On the first evening the navy was invited to send a party of sailors ashore to attend a dance in the newly built court house and as Australia was under quarantine due to an outbreak of measles aboard, the Swan provided the sailors under the care of two of its officers, Lt. Cmdr W. Harrington and Sub-Lt. R. Kerruish; the former later to become Adm. Sir Hastings Harrington.
The sailors, with sly grins, warned us that Harrington was in a foul mood as while attempting to lay Swan alongside the cruiser that morning he had hit the cruiser an almighty thump to the great glee of both ships’ companies. Apparently he was a man who did not take kindly to being laughed at.
Before the ships left we locals played a soccer match with a team from Swan led by a bunting tosser named Pretty and with me as our captain. Played in rain the ball was as heavy as lead and it was nil-all until the final minute when I headed it into the net.
I ended up with mild concussion and spent the next two days in hospital where from my bed of pain I watched both warships sail away unknowing as to the active service that was soon to come their way.
For several years thereafter I perused the Imperial Honours List for some evidence of recognition of my service to Vice-Royalty, others had been knighted for less. However, I was doomed to disappointment, I thought that perhaps I would have been permitted to have “Under Vice-Regal Patronage” emblazoned on the doors of my car but this did not eventuate.
Bert E. Weston