- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
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- June 1988 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
AT THE OUTBREAK OF WAR I was organist and choir master at St Andrews Church, Wahroonga. I mention this fact because it has a bearing on the short story I am about to tell.
Exactly one month later on October 3rd, I became a bandsman RAN and remained so until discharge nearly 6½ years later. I joined the navy as a pianist and double bass player (the largest of the string instruments). I was at FND for six months where I was taught to play the BB bass (the largest of the brass instruments) and when considered competent on this instrument was sent to sea on HMAS Canberra on 30th April, 1940 where I remained until that fateful day, August 9th, 1942.
There was virtually no music at sea and for a couple of weeks I was very seasick, homesick, and unhappy but in the Navy one learns to adapt and that is what I did. After Canberra I was pleased to be among the main draft sent to England to man Shropshire, remaining on her until drafted ashore in October 1944.
Routine aboard Canberra was quite different from that aboard Shropshire. Until Japan entered the war Canberra was engaged in long patrols looking for enemy raiders or else escorting fast troopship convoys to the South Atlantic, the Middle East and later to Singapore or thereabouts. We rarely played our instruments, often only getting them out for Church service in the torpedo space on Sunday morning.
Shropshire was a different matter. The war had changed. The island hopping programme was in operation and between hops we were often in one of the great bases such as Milne Bay, Sea Adler in the Admiralties, or Biak, only going to sea for exercises and gunnery practice or for another operation on the long road to Tokyo. There was an easier routine and more leisure to indulge in personal pastimes etc. It was at this time that I conceived the idea of a choir. My memory rather fails me here as I cannot for the life of me remember how I went about recruiting this purely voluntary group of about fifteen seamen, stokers, WT operators and even one bandsman. However I did so and a most rewarding experience it proved to be.
The RC Chaplain gave us the use of his cabin during the first dog watch and the job of teaching the men was begun. With the exception of the bandsman I don’t think anyone could read music and I soon found out that without a keyboard instrument it was going to be an uphill task. Fortunately, shortly afterwards Shropshire had to return to Sydney for docking and a few days leave. I visited an organ warehouse in Castlereagh Street (G.H. Naylor & Co.). There I saw a little pedal organ that was just what the doctor ordered. I told Mr. Naylor what the instrument was wanted for and he insisted on making a present of it and having it delivered on board next day.
In Milne Bay the choir prospered and the chaplain asked if we could accompany him to one of the destroyers for Sunday morning service. From this initial visit came requests from other ships including U.S. destroyers and even a US cruiser where the chaplain gave me a copy of the song and service manual of the US Army and Navy, complete with music. I treasured this little book as I was able to teach the choir several negro spirituals which it contained, and which were always popular.