- Cox, Leonard J.
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2, Humour
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The British Fleet that lay at anchor in the harbour at Trincamalee consisted of five battleships, two squadrons of cruisers, four aircraft carriers and two flotillas of destroyers, all peacefully swinging around their buoys. For the past three months they had been continually at sea on operations attacking Japanese occupied harbours and airfields in Burma, Sumatra and Java.
The more relaxed rig of the day on board a destroyer in harbour or at sea is generally shorts and sandals in the tropics. The loser of the toss to see who was going ashore to obtain confidential material from the Fleet Signal Officer happened to be me. The loser naturally had to be clean shaven and properly dressed! Hence the toss!
Later on this particular sunny morning, I stood on the harbour quay with several other ratings including our postman Able Seaman Bob Thomas, Supply Assistant Graham Gibson and a well dressed civilian in a dark navy suit. We were waiting for the destroyer’s small motor boat to take us back to the ship. In the distance, I could hear our motor boat’s Coxswain Able Seaman McConnell, who incidentally was a course book-maker in Melbourne in prewar days, swearing and cursing the E.R.A.s aboard who should have repaired the boat’s gearbox several days ago. He had no reverse gear and was swearing at the Ordinary Seaman in the bows to ‘hold on to the steps’.
The civilian, who we thought a dockyard engineer, asked our coxswain if he was going past the “Queen Elizabeth”, and if so, would he give him a lift. “Hop in”, said Mac in the raspy bookmaker’s voice we knew so well. The five of us sat in the stern with Mac continuing to swear while he kept telling everyone how useless our E.R.As aboard were and I noticed our civilian smiling when we all laughed at Mac’s remarks.
We proceeded past the line of cruisers and aircraft carriers towards the “Queen Elizabeth” at the head of the battleships. At some 400 yards distance, I noticed the Officer of the Watch near the quarterdeck gangway observing us through a pair of binoculars. He then disappeared through a bulkhead door and returned with several officers. There appeared to be much activity on the quarterdecks with a guard of marines marching up and down.
Some fifty feet from the quarterdeck steps, Mac cut the boat’s motor and in his raspy bookmaker voice yelled instructions to the bow hand to hang on to the steps “like hell”, so our “little mate” wouldn’t end up in the “drink”.
We turned away and had a magnificent view of the great ship’s quarterdeck. Then it all began!
A roll of bunting shot up the mainmast and broke to show a large St. George Cross. Our well-dressed civilian was piped aboard with a boatswain’s call and the marines presented arms. We all just gaped at the scene and I remarked to a stunned Mac, that we wouldn’t be seeing much of him for a while, because he would be spending time in the “cooler”.
Nutty Osbourne, the Yeoman of Sigs., and the Signal Officer, the future Rear Admiral Sir Brian Murray, were waiting for me in the Radio Room when we arrived back on board.
They handed me the following signal to read:”To the Captain of the Nepal – Please thank your Coxswain for escorting me back to my ship.
(Signed Admiral Sommerville)”.
To distract attention, high ranking Naval Officers were well known for adopting civilian clothes when going ashore. I observed this in Portsmouth Naval Barracks. Bob Thomas, an Accountant, and Rear Admiral Sir Brian Murray are both deceased. Russ McConnel is a member
of the Victorian Branch of the “N” Class Association and owns a greyhound racetrack in Melbourne.