- Capper, Lieutenant Commander
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One day we gave a garden party on the island to quite a large number of our friends, an event in which we included those also of the four families of the staff resident on the island; a band and dancing on the green being one among many amenities.
The landing-place was a sloping glacis alongside which the boats came. One of our guests, a well-known planter, in stepping from the boat to the shore, unfortunately dropped his valuable gold watch, which he had held loose in his hand. As soon as this accident was made known I set one of the seamen to dive for the lost piece of jewellery, and after much effort, and quite half an hour subsequent to the loss, he recovered it. We then, to our great surprise and amusement, found it ticking cheerfully as though nothing had happened. It was then immersed in a basin of kerosene oil for a further hour, taken out and drained, when it was taken away by its owner apparently nothing the worse for its bath.
We very naturally suggested to the planter that it should be designated a ‘Waterbury’.
It was fortunate this accident had not taken place at the moment one of my mischievous children was experimenting with the ornamental piles of round shot placed around the landing-place.
These had been constantly disappearing, and no reason could be discovered for their diminution. When, however, the diver was searching for the lost watch he retrieved all the lost cannon balls, and then we learned that it was an amusement to detach these one by one and see them roll down the slope to splash into the sea.
At Sydney, as at every other place I served prior to the war, there was the inevitable German espionage under way and that subject of the Kaiser, who thought he had wormed out all the secrets of our little establishment by social intercourse with myself and family, must have felt like kicking himself when fourteen years later he discovered in the war what a lot of useless information he had transmitted to his bureau and how completely he had been fooled.
During the third year of our stay in Sydney an officer retired from the Royal Navy and employed as Commandant of the Naval Forces of the (then) Colony of Queensland, Commander Walton Drake, RN, was attached to my office for a month’s course of instruction in Ordnance Stores.
We formed a friendship which resulted later in his suggesting that I should apply for appointment in his stead, as he was securing another post under the same government. He also asked me to recruit for him a few suitable persons for posts as Gunners and Chief Gunners in his force.
After taking the Admiral’s opinion, which was favourable to my candidature, I duly applied, and my claims were considered, the Commander-in-Chief recommending me. I understand the matter was referred to a Committee of five to select one from two applicants, the second being another retired naval officer then commanding a small cruiser of another colony. The officer, Captain Creswell, took the trouble to pay a visit to Brisbane (which I did not), and bringing his personal influence to bear was appointed to the vacancy by vote of three of the five Committee men. He died recently with the rank of Admiral.
I did, however, supply some volunteers for the junior vacancies, one of whom – then a chief petty officer – subsequently rose to be a Commander in the Commonwealth Navy, and served afloat in that rank in the war.
The five years spent at Sydney were full of interest. The post was a responsible one, but all the more appreciated because of the relatively important status given me by both the Admirals who in turn commanded the station. Both of them got into touch with me on my return home, and it is a pleasant recollection that each of these distinguished officers gave me his real friendship, and not the usual recognition between an Admiral and a Gunner.
I was sent to Sydney, not as a Gunner in charge of Stores, but specifically as Ordnance Officer, the difference being considerable both as to privileges on passage and status under the Ordnance Regulations which, at that time, governed the Naval Ordnance Depots. This was important, as on the station was one of the officers trained as Firemaster, whose duty it was to test all ammunition and examine all guns afloat and ashore. This officer – two such served in succession – had an office on the island and was more frequently there than on board the ships, but was not in executive charge of the island and its residents. The position was understood by each of these officers, and we never at any time had even the smallest friction. On the other hand, the various Captains in charge (there were four in succession) could not understand why the usual service rule, that the senior executive must be in command, should not apply where there was a Lieutenant and a Gunner, and some friction with these, who would address my correspondence through the Lieutenant Gun Examiner, resulted, in which happily I was never personally involved, and at the end we parted in the happiest spirit.
My relief arrived in the early months of 1900, and in view of an expected interesting family event arrangements were made for our passage to England by a Blue Funnel vessel, SS Yarrawonga (sister ship to the illfated Waratah), round the Cape, so as to avoid an accouchement in the Red Sea.