- Turner, Mike
- Biographies and personal histories, RAN operations, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Minister for the Navy forwarded the recommendations to the Minister for Defence, J.J. Dedman, who rejected the recommendations in March 1949 with:
Service in the post-war period, whether or not in activities directly or indirectly arising out of a war (as in the case of minesweeping) is in a different category from operational service in war time which alone, under Government policy, establishes eligibility for operational awards.
The Minister for Defence also commented that:
It is not a ground for reconsideration of the Government’s policy on honours and awards that it is different from the [logical] policies adopted by other Governments and should be varied for the sake of uniformity.
The Minister for Defence left the door partially open for three ‘non-operational’ awards for RMS when he added:
In relation to the alternative proposal of recognising the services of the personnel concerned by the bestowal of non-operational awards for heroism, courage and brave conduct, the Minister would observe that awards in this category have in the past been granted for personal acts of bravery etc.
The Minister wishes that the personal act or acts of heroism, courage or bravery for which recognition is proposed be fully stated [author’s emphasis] in each citation.
However the Minister sounded a warning by giving an example of the grounds for the rejection of a recommendation for the award for bravery:
A proposal for the award of an OBE to an officer for outstanding services and devotion to duty whilst in charge of Chemical Disposal Operations, which were described as ‘difficult and dangerous’ was not regarded as coming within the category of awards permitted under Government policy for heroism, courage and brave conduct. In this case no personal act of bravery was involved.
The Minister provided an example:
The award of a George Medal to a Corporal attached to the 10th Australian Bomb Disposal Platoon BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Force] for bravery, with total disregard for his own safety, in rescuing six persons when a boat loaded with high explosives and pyrotechnics exploded, causing severe injuries to himself.
The Naval Staff decided to raise three RMS submissions based on ‘personal acts of bravery’. The Director of Ordnance Torpedoes and Mines (DOTM) was keen to raise a submission, and prepared a list of six operations which he considered indicated ‘acts of bravery’. But he was restricted by a cryptic initial recommendation and the lack of a staff officer with RMS experience to flesh out a submission. He appreciated the true significance of the two examples of submissions provided by the Minister for Defence, and informed CNS:
It would seem that unless an accident occurs in which someone does a dramatic and resourceful act it is difficult for a well-trained and efficient RMS team to qualify for outstandingly brave acts.
The Secretary to the First Naval Member considered letters of commendation to be adequate, and advised the First Naval Member against forwarding submissions. The Secretary seemed to ‘opine from afar’ regarding RMS operations at Rabaul:
From the RMS reports, it would appear that the officers and men were aware of the mechanisms etc. of the mines, traps, etc., knew the measures necessary to combat them and were experienced in their use. It required further only extreme carefulness for the operations to be successful. The operations therefore became a matter of routine, albeit risky ones, but not involving heroism, or bravery, or courage of an exceptional nature.
Few RMS operations are a matter of routine, since there is unknown damage to the mechanisms in the ordnance and there are unfavourable variations in the environment. A booby trap can be ‘routine’ when intended for ‘non RMS’ personnel, however the booby traps intended for RMS personnel at Rabaul were anything but routine. The weakening of a mine horn is no trivial matter, and indicates the extreme anti-RMS measures taken by the Japanese.
It was quite apparent that a submission would suffer the same fate as the Chemical Disposal example, and CNS advised the Minister for the Navy that he was
. . . .unable to submit any recommendations for awards in respect of personal heroism, courage or bravery.
There was a change in Federal government at the general election in December 1949, and the Naval Staff apparently hoped that the new government would have a more enlightened policy. In April 1950 CNS (still Rear Admiral John Collins, CB, RAN) forwarded the original list of 14 recommendations to the new Minister for the Navy (J. Francis), and the recommendations were forwarded on to the Minister for Defence (E.J. Harrison). The new Government also considered wartime mine clearance as operational and identical post-war mine clearance as non-operational. The whole matter was brought to a close in December 1950, after the Minister for Defence consulted Prime Minister Robert Menzies who rejected the submissions.
Commander M.S. Batterham, RANVR (Sp.) was awarded an OBE in 1952, and its Charter of Dignity in 1953, for ‘sustained courage and devotion to duty’. He was the ‘father’ of the RAN Clearance Diving Branch when it was formed in 1956.