- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- History - WW1
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Protector I
- December 1983 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
This verbatim account of life in the old gunboat HMAS Protector was found in the editorial files of the late Harry Adlam, but unfortunately it lacked the author’s name. It is included in this issue because it is an excellent description of life in the RAN in 1918.
WE WERE STATIONED at Williamstown after paying off from the cruisers Melbourne and Sydney when we noted a consignment of action minesweeping gear being offloaded at the wharf. It was 1918 and the war in Europe was drawing to a dull finish, we had suffered three weary years of it, and naturally we were curious as to what the Naval Board was dreaming up for us.
The answer came next morning at Divisions when Captain Eardly Wilmot called for volunteers for minesweeping duties. Naturally, not a man stepped forward. The Old Chief Bosun, we called him ‘Leather Lugs’, immediately saluted the Captain and said: ‘I knows the ones that knows all about sweeping, sir. Heard them talking about it yesterday, sir.’
‘Thank you, Chief.’ smiled the Captain. ‘I will leave the volunteers to you.’ Old Leather Lugs then marched along the rows barking ‘You-You-You’ and when he had selected the required number roared:
‘Volunteers, one step forward, march!’ So we were drafted to HMAS Protector.
Our officers were Lieutenant Hayes and Warrant Officers Montgomery and Roid. A gallows was erected on the stern of the ship for the kite and the work of streaming was Pusser’s power – by hand.
We joined the ship on 20 February and next day we proceeded to sea to patrol between Cape Otway and Cape Schank to look for German minelayers. As was expected we found none and in the lower deck we wondered what we would do if we found one.
Our first patrol ended on 23 February and when we arrived at the entrance to Port Philip towards sunset we were informed we could not enter because no one in authority was available to clear us. The 9 to 5 boys had gone home. It was Friday so we continued patrolling in rough seas until Monday.
On 28 February we embarked a Gunnery Class for 3 pdr. and 12 pdr. practice using 1 inch aiming. The Captain ordered me to the rangefinder to spot the fall of shot. The officer in charge of the Gunnery Class immediately questioned my qualifications. My answer put him back somewhat: ‘If I was good enough to spot for the Grand Fleet I should be good enough for a Gunnery Class.’ The Captain was still within earshot and ordered the officer to get on with the shoot.
Protector was docked at Williamstown between 4 and 17 March and we caught up with our shore connections.
Our next assignment was the towing of Hopper Dredge No. 2 to the Westernport Naval Depot. We secured the barge with 4 inch hemp and headed down the bay. Approaching the Rip we doubled up with a 2½ inch wire. At 11am the 4 inch hemp parted and twenty minutes later the wire went the same way.
The Captain knew his business and by 12.25pm we had secured the barge with two more lines. These should have held but at 5.20pm we lost our tow again.
At 8.50pm the two lines were hauled in and substituted by an 8 inch hemp. For some hours we made 6 knots and at 2.15am, while still in the Rip, the towing hemp parted, injuring Petty Officer T. Twist and striking me across the rump, taking off a parcel of skin.
We anchored and Petty Officer Twist was landed at Queenscliff. A 4½ inch hemp and a 3½ inch wire were secured to the dredge. At 10.40am the Rip won again and both lines parted. The Captain signalled the dredger to proceed under her own steam, it was not possible to tow her in the rough sea. At 5.53pm on 19 March we entered Westernport Bay and Protector anchored off the naval depot.
Protector was under way again at 6.30pm steaming at 9 knots. Early next morning Cape Lip Trap was sighted. We arrived off the signal station at Refuge Bay, Wilsons Promontory at 6.35am on 21 March.
The crew were exhausted with their efforts over two days and nights and the Captain gave a make and mend. A sanding party was put ashore and the guns cleaned out.
At 6.30pm we moved along to Cliffy Island and a recall signal was made by searchlight to the shore party. The anchor was weighed at 3.45am on 22 March and we headed back to Port Philip. Early next morning we were off Norman Island exercising fire stations when a signal was received to intercept an unidentified steamer.
By 5.10pm we were under way again and three hours later came up with the darkened steamer Wyralla. Next day we re-entered Port Philip and received orders to take under tow Hopper No. 4.
Our minesweeping career had become a towing career and we had not made great shakes of that. We secured the tow to Hopper No. 4 at 6.18 pm and two minutes later our port engine blew up, luckily without casualties.
Lieutenant Hayes was not deterred and we proceeded on one engine. We cast off the hopper at 1.45am and were back alongside the Pier coaling at 8.10 am. We took in 72 tons and commenced refit of the ship assisted by a working party from Williamstown.
The Starboard Watch was sent off on seven days leave and I was pleased to take train to Ballarat and leave Protector in other hands.