Captain ‘Hec’ Waller DSO and Bar RAN
Captain ‘D’ of the 10th Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean 1939 to 1941
A personal appreciation of By Richard Noel (Jerry) Garrard, S3376 RANR
I joined HMAS Stuart on 9 October 1939 as an Ordinary Seaman at Garden Island, Sydney.
After scraping off rust and welding patches over holes all over the ship’s sides, painting, then carrying out exercises off the coast with other ships, we left Sydney on 14th October 1939 and went to Singapore to have many other repairs done before we could be called seaworthy.
‘Cold and very windy nights … skipper caught a six foot shark – good fun … On horseflesh for dinner with ship’s biscuits…’ (Genuine 1918, couldn’t even be softened with boiling water).
We were in the Red Sea. I was sent below to get a lump of meat, a shark hook, a length of chain and a five gallon drum. Connected it all up and threw it overboard. Within a few minutes a shark took the meat, and as the drum moved away, the Skipper said to First Lieutenant Robison, ‘Take over the ship, follow the drum and pretend it is a wharf, bring the ship alongside, then go round in a circle and do it again’, which was done several times. Good practice. Finally the shark was hauled aboard, killed and skinned.
The skin was dried and used as sandpaper on the Skipper’s boat. This was an 8 ft sailing dinghy, always lashed to the guard rail on the end of the quarter deck. I can’t remember how I, an Ordinary Seaman, was chosen to be the crew, but on numerous occasions for the next two years I was ‘piped’ to report aft, to go sailing with the Captain.
HMAS Stuart ‘signal received’. ‘Breaking all records for distance for this type of destroyer. Four in a row. Sydney – Darwin – Singapore – Colombo – Diego Suarez … Almost 14,000 miles in first eight weeks of war…’
Our Skipper volunteers for every job that comes up, and being the Boss, he always gets them.
‘Enormous seas – Capt’s skiff washed along the deck – lockers torn away etc. – only just have steerage way – 4 knots all day…’
‘Wind 50MPH – more gale warnings – no plates left on mess deck (all broken), mess decks flooded – no fires lit (in coal galley) – baggage everywhere. Sub Lt. Jan Ley’s cabin flooded (my job to clean up) … Mess stinks – dampness and dirt – everybody wet and shivering.’
Then; ‘This is your Captain speaking (apologizing for conditions etc.). It’s the worst winter they have had in the Mediterranean for eighty years.’
We sailed from Malta 8pm. Whenever possible the Captain advised us on what was happening! ‘Ship is proceeding on patrol. One pound will be paid to the first person who sights a ‘certain ship’ – very secret (actually was SS – [Secret Service]) and I hope we have some luck.’
Action stations all day at 26 knots searching for this ship continuously till 2.00am – Captain spoke again re secrecy and NO LEAVE will be given till this finishes.
At 4.00am ‘Order, clear lower deck – lower whaler.’ Ship was boarded and its Captain brought over at 5:00am – up whaler and at 32 knots back to Malta – quarantined re secret service – loaded up water, oil, 70 tons of machines and food – left at 8:00pm with 60 SS men, dressed as civilians with all their gear – at 30 knots again – met Altenia at 10:00pm and followed slowly.’
‘…followed ship till noon – then secured alongside and unloaded all gear and SS men, cargo and luggage at sea in two hours! – said goodbye to cobbers – to Malta at 8:30pm. Everybody tired – Captain speaks again, ‘No leave or tucker, but you’ll have to put up with it.’
So ended our Secret Service Mission. Once again ‘Hec’ had showed his skill and determination to accomplish a difficult task.
‘…Asdic exercises all day with submarine and Glorious and Westcott’ – still eating bully beef as no provisions because of SS operation. Received SOS from an oil tanker (SS Trocas) Big swells running – very full and exciting day.’
‘Up at 6:00am – I am now a Special Sea Duty man on engine telegraphs – below the bridge and stayed closed up till 12:30pm. Waves washing clean over the tanker – big seas – got towing line aboard with floats – coston gun lines fired– but snapped! – lost in fog till 4:00pm – fired rocket and line from foc’sle – attached 4” wire and went astern at 2 knots into a stern sea – most uncomfortable. Fog impenetrable and very cold – handed over to a tug from Malta at 10:00pm. So a hard, exhausting day’s work was done. (Captain claimed salvage rights – granted – I got 125 pounds Sterling – on demobilization 5 years later.’