- Ellis, John
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Voyager II
- March 2017 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By John Ellis
Queen Victoria instituted the Albert Medal in 1866 to recognise those civilians who had attempted to prevent the loss of life at sea. A year later the warrant was amended to create two levels of the award, with the very Victorian wording:
Whereas We, taking into Our Royal consideration that great loss of life is sustained by reason of shipwrecks and other perils of the sea; and taking also into consideration the many daring and heroic actions performed by mariners and others to prevent such loss and to save the lives of those who are in danger of perishing by reason of wrecks and perils of the sea; and taking also into consideration the expediency of distinguishing such efforts by some mark of Our Royal favour ….
Several clauses followed describing the two medals and ribbons. The Albert Medal of the First Class was of oval form, made of gold and bronze, and suspended by a dark blue and white striped ribbon 35 mm wide. The V and A monogram, interlaced with an anchor, is on a dark blue enamelled background surrounded with a garter inscribed ‘For Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea’. The Albert Medal of the Second Class was in bronze with a ribbon 16 mm wide. Ten years later the warrant was amended to create the Albert Medal in two classes for saving life on land. The ribbons were crimson and white, the monogram was without the anchor on a crimson background and the wording was for ‘saving life on land’. Those serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines became eligible for the award in 1891, and in 1904, ribbons for all medals became 35 mm wide. In 1917 the medals were restyled the Albert Medal in Gold and the Albert Medal. The standard of gallantry qualifying for an award has always been very high, and it seems that the criterion adopted has been that the recipient’s risk of death had to be greater than his chances of survival and, in the case of the gold medal, the risk had to be altogether exceptional.
The institution of the George Cross and the George Medal in 1940 added two further awards to those already available, making it difficult to decide which was the most appropriate. In 1949 the King gave approval that awards of the gold medal should cease in favour of the George Cross and that in future the medal in bronze should only be awarded posthumously. In 1971 the award of the medal ceased and all living recipients were permitted to exchange their medals for the George Cross. The Albert Medal was a very rare award. In 105 years only 69 medals in gold and 491 medals in bronze were awarded. Of these, three medals in gold and five in bronze went to Australians.
Two posthumous awards were made following the Voyagertragedy in 1964. One was awarded to Electrical Mechanic W.J. Condon and the other to Midshipman K.F. Marien. William Condon’s citation was: In recognition of his outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty in saving life at sea when HMAS Voyagerwas sunk after collision, in remaining at his post to the end in the sinking ship, holding an emergency lantern to show others the path to the escape scuttle and losing his life thereby.Kerry Marien’s citation was: In recognition of his gallantry in attempting to save life at sea when HMAS Voyagerwas sunk after collision. In leaving the safety of a life raft to attempt a rescue, he thereby lost his life.
In 2006 LCDR Peter Churchill, RN, retired to Blackheath where he found an aluminium plate amongst his memorabilia of his life of 85 years. He forwarded the plate to the Naval Officers’ Club with a short note:
I came across this in my souvenirs – long ago it was given to me by a chap who now suffers from Alzheimers. So we may not get very much help from him. It would be nice if you could trace the Mid’s parents – if they are still about. It is a long time ago now. I always remember the date, 10 Feb – it was my mother’s birthday.
Brian Seton, whom he had come to know well through the Probus Club of Double Bay, had given Peter the plate. Brian had been a senior partner with a leading firm of Sydney solicitors. The plate had the following inscription:
This Medal was presented to the Royal Australian
Naval College in 1965 by the parents of the late Midshipman
K F MARIEN, RAN, who, in receiving this medal posthumously
in 1964, became the first Midshipman of the Royal Australian
Navy ever to receive an award in peace time.
The citation inscribed on the reverse of this Albert
Awarded by the Queen (Posthumously) to the late
Midshipman Kerry Francis Marien, Royal Australian
Navy, in recognition of his gallantry in attempting to
save life when H.M.A.S. VOYAGERwas sunk on 10th
I was able to make contact with Mrs Yvonne Marien, now widowed and living in retirement in Kiama. When I visited her in April 2006, her son, Michael, was visiting from Wagga Wagga and they were intrigued with the plate that seemed as though it had been made to accompany the medal. Years ago Mrs Marien worked with a Sydney legal firm and recalled the name of Mr Seton, although she could not see how he might have come by the plate.
On a visit to HMAS Creswell in June 2006 I met SBLT Jim McDonald, the curator of the historical collection and he allowed me to photograph Midshipman Marien’s Albert Medal. It is in a glass topped wooden display case above a polished aluminium plate engraved with the very same wording as that forwarded by Peter Churchill. The case is prominently displayed with brass plates commemorating the loss of the lives of Midshipmen Cunningham and Larkins. Both were in the first entry into RAN College in 1913. Ernest Cunningham was drowned in 1918 when the submarine in which he was serving was rammed, and Frank Larkins was lost overboard from HMS J2in 1919. Commemorative medals struck by the Australia and New Zealand Medal Society recording the Voyagertragedy complete the display.
It would seem that two plates were made to explain the Albert Medal. At this distance it is unlikely that the story of the second plate will surface. Yvonne Marien has it displayed on a small stand on an occasional table.
The Queen made another ten awards for gallantry to members of Voyager’s company:
- The George Cross to CPO J. Rogers. ‘Buck’ Rogers, the Coxswain, was awarded the DSM in 1944 for courage and skill in MTB 698in several actions in the Dover Straits. His GC was awarded posthumously and his group of medals is on display in the Hall of Valour in the Australian War Memorial.
- The George Medal to PO D. Moore. ‘Pony’ Moore was awarded the BEM for a deep dive in Lake Eucumbene in 1961.
- The British Empire Medal to PO G.P. Worth, LS R.E. Rich, LSBA J.R. Wilson, LEM B.V. Longbotham and AB E.N. Robson
- The Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct to POM(E) E.J. McDermott, LM(E) H.F. Gilvarry and EA2 A. Page. Harry Gilvarry and I served in HMAS Perthduring her first two deployments to Vietnam.