- Zammitt, Alan
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Australia II
- December 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On October 21st, 1984, the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Leyte, the Naval Dockyard Chapel at Garden Island had standing room only, as ex-Naval men and their families (some from as far away as Perth), attended the dedication and unveiling of the beautiful HMAS Australia‘s and HMAS Perth‘s stained glass windows. The HMAS Australia‘s window was crafted by Phil Handel whose father, 50 years earlier, completed a stained glass window in this same Chapel. The HMAS Perth‘s window, a more modern design, is the work of Mr. Peter Campbell.
HMAS Australia‘s window was unveiled by Captain Peter Dechaineaux, AM, RAN, whose father, the outstanding Captain E.F.V. Dechaineaux, DSC, RAN, then aged 42, died of wounds on the Australia exactly forty years before the day of the unveiling. At the time Peter was six years old. He now spoke of the Australia‘s 26 years of service, her steaming probably more miles and seeing more action than any other RAN ship in World War II.
Rear Admiral David Martin, RAN, unveiled the Perth‘s window. His father, Commander W.H. Martin, RAN, the Executive Officer and Second in Command of HMAS Perth, lost his life when the Perth was sunk on March 1st, 1942. David Martin was then eight years old and did not know of his father’s fate until after the war ended. Rear Admiral Martin joined the Navy at 13 years, and his only son, William, is now in uniform too, following the family tradition dating back to 1776. Admiral Martin spoke of Perth‘s short life – 2 years and 9 months service in the RAN. This included the Atlantic, evacuation of troops from Greece and Crete, the Battles of Matapan, the Java Sea and the heroic finale in the Sunda Strait with that indomitable Captain Hec Waller. Commander John Waller, Captain Waller’s son, was unable to attend the unveiling, being in the USA.
The principal Naval Chaplains, John Jones and Ian Dempsey, took part in the dedication service with Chaplain Wesley Llewellyn. During his inspiring sermon, Chaplain Llewellyn, RAN (Rtd.), told of the 300 year tradition of the Navy and spoke of his life as an Able Seaman on the lower deck of the Australia during the war.
It was sad to see only some twenty Perth survivors at the service from her complement of 681. Four hundred and sixty-three did not return and of the 218 who did, many were in very poor health. Lieutenant Burgess, Perth‘s Assistant Navigator, died on the very day of the unveiling. CPO Bob Bland, BEM, a p.o.w. survivor of the Burma-Siam Railway, was not well enough to climb the spiral staircase to the upstairs Chapel so remained inside the Chapel entrance.
There were many ‘Aussie’ veterans at the service, some not having seen each other since 1945, but most looked fit and well. Commander H.C. Wright, DSC, RAN (Rtd.), who assumed command of the Australia after Captain Dechaineaux died, was present. CPO Wal Sampson recalled that at Leyte when helping bring Captain Dechaineaux down from the battered bridge, he heard the mortally wounded Captain (his thoughts only on his men) say ‘We need more doctors for the wounded.’ Thirty of the crew were killed and sixty wounded.
A sad loss at Leyte was Commander John Payment, DSC, RAN, the Squadron Navigating Officer who died of wounds after spending 5 years of war navigating the Australia in thirteen actions. His son, Mike, entered the Naval College in 1947, became a Navigator, and is now Commodore M.B. Payment, AM, RAN.
Vice Admiral Sir John Collins, KBE, CB, still suffering from the effects of wounds he received on the bridge of the Australia at Leyte, sent a message to the dedication service.
Two sprightly ladies together at the service were Mrs. Jean Farncomb, widow of the late Rear Admiral H.B. Farncomb, and her friend, Mrs. Buchanan, whose late husband, Rear Admiral H.J. Buchanan, CBE, DSO, RAN, was Commanding Officer of the Australia from 1947-1948, and he also had a long pre-war association with the ship. Rear Admiral Farncomb, CB, DSO, MVO, RAN, had been nicknamed ‘Fearless Frank’ by sailors. At 39 years of age he had taken command of HMAS Perth in 1939. Between 1941 and 1944, while in command of HMAS Australia, his skilful handling saved the ship on more than one occasion, narrowly avoiding torpedos and bombs during the Coral Sea Battle.