- Wright, W Graham, Captain, RAN (Retired)
- Biographies and personal histories, Obituaries
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Creswell, HMAS Cerberus (Shore Establishment)
- March 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Scholastically, although the entrance examination which we had all passed was set at the standard of year one of high school in NSW, differences in State standards of education had to be corrected. As George Orwell might have put it – we were all equal but some were more equal than others. John had to compete with two who had passed the NSW Intermediate Certificate in 1933; another, whose father was a school headmaster, was also the oldest, having been born on the first of January, and he knew everything because of that. After four years, John had levelled the playing field, and with third place and a principal prize winner on Passing Out, had gained some months to shorten the time to be spent as a Sub Lieutenant before promotion.
As Cadet Midshipmen, ten of us joined the Flagship of the Australian Squadron, the cruiser HMAS Canberra, on Australia Day, 1938. John and I were to follow parallel career paths. His bent was to boil sea water to make steam, cool it to make fresh, boil that to make steam and then heat that to make it powerful enough to drive the ship. In other words, he was a marine engineering officer. While John was at the Engineering School at Keyham in Devon in the United Kingdom, both of us came to the attention of the RN by gaining five ‘firsts’ in examinations for Lieutenant and were each awarded a prize of £10 by the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board. I never knew when, or what, John got for his prize but, because of World War II, I never saw mine.
In 1944, John and I were both in England for specialist training in different parts of the country, and again in 1946. At the insistence of the RN, we were forerunners in studies affecting the future of the RAN. John followed his Advanced Engineering Course by becoming the first RAN officer to qualify as a Construction Officer who, in those days, were entitled to wear a grey stripe between the officer’s gold stripes. Indeed, the changes that were to come to ship propulsion after World War II could be likened to the changes from sail to steam, then after World War I from coal to oil fuel, and now from steam turbines to on-board generated electrical propulsion.
In Australia in the early 1950s, we saw one another professionally when, as the Captain of an Australian frigate training National Servicemen for the Korean War, I would seek out the worst weather I could find in order for them to experience warlike conditions. Then, I would bring the ship back to Garden Island Dockyard in Sydney for John’s expertise to make the ship seaworthy again. In 1953, as Master Attendant, I shuffled ships around Garden Island with tugs for John to continue his excellent work.
A boating accident in 1939 and then World War II reduced our numbers by four. The six left were all to become Captains. John was the first to be promoted in June 1959. Cook Year 1934 was regarded as the last of the dedicated men. We had served the 12 years from the age of 18 promised by our parents and had reached the pinnacle of our careers. Two more deaths in the 1960s brought the number down to four.
On 18 October 1962, I transferred to the Emergency List of the RAN. John retired some time after that, as did Ian Cartwright, while Tony Cooper soldiered on to become an Honorary Commodore early in January 1970.
The gospel according to Mark, Chapter 10, Verse 31 was fulfilled: ‘But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.’
Finally, on the 3rd of April 1987, the competition which began 53 years before ended. The four of us, together with our wives, were guests of the Royal Australian Naval College at the Passing Out Parade at HMAS Creswell, Jervis Bay. John organised accommodation for us all at Bomaderry. We sat together for the parade in the order of our seniority but, from then on, we became firm friends, and were to remain so like the words of the solemnization of matrimony: ’till death us do part.’ John was instrumental in turning us from competitors into friends.
Now a word to you, John. As Winston Churchill said:
This is not the end.
It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
May you rest in peace, good friend.