- Collins, Vice Admiral Sir John
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Old timers are quite critical of the modern generation, and particularly in service matters. Whenever we see a parade or a ceremonial, we always seem to compare the show with ‘our days’ and usually decide that ‘We did it better in my day’. In his book As Luck Would Have It, Vice Admiral Sir John Collins tells of an incident that happened in the ’20s, when he was the Officer of the Guard for the Captain Cook celebration at Kurnell.
The guard were all permanent service, and very well drilled, but the band was supplied by the naval reserve.
The signalman detailed to break out the Union Flag was also a reservist. The VIP for the occasion was the Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales.
The navy has a range of musical salutes played by the band, each different ranker gets his own special tune. The Musical Salute for a VIP not being governor was a few bars of an air from Norma. Sir John lined his guard up and had a few friendly words with the naval reserve bandmaster, asking did the band know the ‘Air From Norma’. The worthy ‘bandie’ admitted that this particular tune was not known. Unfortunate though this was, there was an alternative salute, known as ‘A Flourish’. Could the band play a flourish? Yes, they could. Sir John was ready for the big event, his guard was smart, and a destroyer was standing by to fire the 21 gun Royal Salute. The day was pleasant, a nice crowd in attendance, only waiting now for the VIP.
The guard was standing ‘at ease’, with the guard commander resting the point of his sword on the ground. At last the great moment arrived as the VIP took up his position ready to receive his salute, and from this moment things started to go wrong. Sir John noticed that when resting his sword, he had picked up a fig leaf on the point, but this was of no great problem, as a quick flick of the wrist would soon dislodge the offending leaf. He brought the guard up to the slope and then gave the order to present arms. A quick flick of the wrist had the desired effect. The fig leaf came off the sword, and hit the VIP squarely on the chest. Boo Boo Number One. But more was to come.
The reserve band struck up their ‘flourish’, which happened to be the march Colonel Bogey, played in full with all the gusto they could muster. Boo Boo Number Two. The signalman tugged the halyard to break out the Union Flag. Nothing happened. Boo Boo Number Three. Three minutes later the flag broke free, coinciding with the 22nd gun of the 21 gun salute. The destroyer evidently suffered a ‘hang fire’.
Boo Boo Number Four. Sir John was now convinced that he had about as much bad luck as he could stand and was very relieved when the rest of the ceremony went off as planned.
The ceremony completed, the guard was marched off and returned to the destroyer by boat. Nothing can go wrong now, was Sir John’s firm conviction. But fate stepped in once more. Going up the gangway on the destroyer, one of the sailors dropped his musket in the drink. Losing a rifle is about the third most serious crime in the navy, coming directly after mutiny and murder.
Forty-two years later, Sir John attended another ceremony at Kurnell and was pleased to note that everything went off ‘All Sir Garnett’. The band played the correct salute, the flag broke at the first tug, the officer of the guard did not have a fig leaf on his sword, the correct number of guns were fired, and no rifles went overboard. As Sir John says ‘For once the old retired officer could not say, “We did things better in my day”’.