- Stephen, Kerry
- History - post WWII
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Creswell, HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Voyager II
- June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The seriously injured Petty Officer who was rescued from the life raft actually recovered from his horrendous injuries, and continued to serve in the RAN. There is no doubt that had he not been taken ashore where he received specialist treatment, it is highly likely he would not have survived. I have since been in contact with him but he recalls little of that fateful night.
Memory ‘a blur’
I also recently established contact with a further two sailors who were rescued by Air Nymph, Petty Officer Sick Bay Attendant (POSBA) ‘Tug’ Wilson and Leading Seaman Photographer (LSPhot) Rick Reynolds. It was of interest that both of them said their most vivid memory of the rescue effort was Air Nymph going alongside Melbourne and the radio aerial on top of the tripod mast being snapped off by the sponson. To them the rest of the rescue operation was a blur, apart from the fact they remembered their life raft was only partially inflated. They were very relieved when the decision was made to go back to Creswell; particularly for POSBA ‘Tug’ Wilson who had a broken shoulder and said there was no way he could have climbed up the cargo net.
Rick Reynolds joined Voyager on 6 February, four days before the collision! We finally met for lunch in October 2008 and were able to discuss and compare our experiences that night. He told me that he was in the ship’s cafeteria playing bridge 10 minutes before the collision. At that time he decided to go back to his bunk in the after mess deck accommodation as it was piped that they were going to play ‘tombola’ in the cafeteria. Had he not done so, there is no doubt he would not be among the survivors.
After the collision he made his way out to the upper deck of Voyager’s stem, but prior to departing the ship checked the after section with another sailor, Chief Petty Officer Cameron, to ensure there was no-one left there. He assured me at our lunch that there was no-one else left onboard the stern section, which finally put to rest my long held concern that I should in fact have gone alongside the stern to check for survivors.
It is hoped by both of us that, sometime in the future, it might be possible for the crew members of Air Nymph to get together with those survivors of Voyager they picked up, for a belated reunion.
It has taken some 44 years for me to write the story of the part that Air Nymph played in the Melbourne/Voyager tragedy, and only after much persuasion by former naval colleagues. My only regret nowadays is that the passage of time has not allowed me to remember the names of all the crew members of Air Nymph that night so that they could receive the public recognition that they truly deserve. It is my hope that if those who are still alive read this article, they can be assured that the exceptional manner in which they all performed their duties will never be forgotten.
Note: At the request of D.D. McNicoll of The Australian the following line should be inserted at the end of the story in any magazine that publishes this article: ‘An edited version of this article appeared in The Australian on Wednesday 11 February 2009.’