Service with the Royal Australian Navy from 1960 to 1969
I joined the Royal Australian Navy from Brisbane in April 1960, a month before my 18th. birthday. The Royal Australian Navy basic training establishment was then and still is today, HMAS Cerberus on Hanns Inlet, which runs off Westernport Bay in Victoria. For a country boy from Queensland the temperature change and discipline were something of a shock. Basic training in ship terms, seamanship, mess deck living and of course making up, lashing & stowing my hammock, was carried out in an old WW11 corvette, the Castlemaine which lay alongside and only went to sea (under tow) every other year to visit Williamtown dock in Melbourne for a haircut. My drafts are listed on the left and I would be pleased to receive an email from anyone who served with me in any of the ships or at any establishment.
From basic training at Cerberus I drafted to Watson on Sydney South Head for training in my specialist branch, which was Torpedo Antisubmarine Weapons or TAS (UW3). During this time I had a trial dive at Rushcutter and was accepted to do a diving course, however the draft list came out with me to go to HMAS Quickmatch bound for the Far East and given the choice, I embarked on my first seagoing ship, the Quickmatch (F04) in late 1960, with the rank of Ordinary Seaman. A week before I joined Quickmatch the RAN lost two sailors when HMAS Woomera caught fire and sank off Sydney Heads.
My next draft was to the Melbourne (R21), a light fleet aircraft carrier and the Flagship of the Australian Fleet. Most sailors dreaded serving in the Melbourne, mostly because of the pomp and ceremony that went with carrying the Flag, however I found it OK and was fortunate that some great voyages were made whilst I was in her. After leave from Quickmatch in August 1961, I joined Melbourne from my home port, Brisbane before sailing for New Zealand, calling at Karepiro Bay, Auckland and Wellington, then to Melbourne & on to Sydney for refit. My first job in Melbourne was as a watch keeping "cell sentry" and I lived in "2 Papa Port" mess just under the flight deck and beneath the arrestor wires. The cell flat (brig) with 4 cells and two storage compartments (lockers) where I kept watches was in the bow of the ship and between the hawse pipes which ran through the two lockers. In a heavy sea the anchors and cables rattled and banged and when the ship was pile driving the deck moved as much as 30 feet vertically and was enough to throw one into the air or off a chair. It was extremely uncomfortable and noisy in rough conditions and during flying operations when an aircraft was launched from the catapult this part of the bow shook violently. I was rated Able Seaman on 24th. January 1962.
In February 1962, Melbourne sailed from Fremantle for Singapore and was allocated for duty in the FESR for a period of 17 days and during the passage through the Indonesian Archipelago, the ship was at action stations with two Venoms fully armed on the flight deck, one being on the catapult ready for immediate launch. This was because Indonesia challenged the right of ships to have free passage via Lombok or Sunda Straits and was a prelude to the aggressive Confrontation that followed from 1963 to 1966. Melbourne took part in SEATO exercise Sea Devil in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand before touring the Far East and Japan, passing through the then Straits of Formosa, with the ships company closed up at action stations for the second time, it was the first time since the Occupation Forces that an Australian warship had paid a ceremonial visit to Japan. Ports included Singapore, Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Manilla, Nagasaki, Kure, Kobe, Yokohama, Guam, Manus, Townsville & Brisbane before arrival back in Sydney. As an AB my watch was either seaboat crew, crash boat crew (during flying operations the port seaboat was turned out and fully manned during launch and recovery of aircraft.), lookout or life buoy sentry. Lookouts were kept on the gun direction platform (GDP) on top of the bridge and in full view of all flight deck operations and lifebuoy sentry on the Quarterdeck where one often took cover while watching an aircraft approach, in case a wayward plane missed its landing and hit the stern of the ship.
In December 1962, after 15 months in Melbourne, I returned to Watson for my TAS (UW2) course, which had been renamed Leading Seaman, Underwater Weapons Course. This course lasted until July 1963 when I rejoined Melbourne for a period that included exercises in Hervey Bay and of course Jervis Bay. I returned to Watson in December 1963 as Leading Seaman. I had joined the Royal Australian Navy Game Fishing Club and spent any spare weekends pursuing that sport - I was fortunate enough to capture a World Record while fishing for the RANGFC.
On 10th. February 1964, Melbourne collided with and sank the Daring Class destroyer, Voyager, off Jervis Bay, cutting her in half thus resulting in a terrible loss of life. I knew many of those sailors lost with Voyager as shipmates or friends. I had drafted off Melbourne to Watson only a few weeks previous to this disaster. On 3rd. June 1969 Melbourne was to collide with and cut in half an American destroyer, the USS Frank E. Evans during a SEATO exercise in the South China Sea.
I spent a year at Watson, completed my Petty Officer, Underwater Weapons course and drafted to the Gascoyne (F354) in December 1964. She was a very tired old River Class Frigate, nicknamed the "gas jet", that had been converted to survey work, but retained the grey paint and one single bofors gun so she was technically still a warship. I was back sleeping in a hammock again and loving it. Gascoyne carried a helicopter sometimes so there was a raised deck on the stern for it to land on. A large shelter called the "giraffe house" was built on the aft superstructure above the laboratory, the purpose was to provide a shelter for filling hydrogen balloons for the meteorological ratings. The ship was engaged in Oceanographic Survey work for the Hydrographic Department of the RAN and I commenced my bridge watchkeeping training in this ship, from December 1964 until March 1965.
In March 1965, I was drafted to the minesweeper Curlew (M1121), allocated for deployment to the FESR during the Confrontation of the Federated States of Malaysia by the Indonesians. This was a most enjoyable time in my seagoing career as I was buffer on the ship (responsible for the maintenance of the outside & decks of the ship and deploying and recovering sweep gear) and I kept my watch on the bridge as 2nd. OOW, with Bill W, the Captain. Before leaving Sydney, I and several others of the crew completed a cuff divers course (compressed air & 66 feet depth limit), which was put to good use in the months that followed in the waters of Singapore, Malacca and Borneo & later on in other ships. The ship was engaged by the enemy on one occasion in Tawau, Borneo and was involved in several other incidents in Borneo and Malacca/Singapore Straits. In April 1966 the crew was changed in Singapore using fly in, fly out with civilian commercial airlines. Of the 6 minesweepers only the Curlew enjoyed a long career in the RAN, as she was converted to her designed role of minehunter in 1968 and served many more years in that role until paying off in 1990.
After returning to Australia, I drafted to Lonsdale in Port Melbourne (June 1966) to standby (work) on the Queenborough, a sister ship to the Quickmatch. Queenborough (known as Queenbee) was to recommission as a training ship for the RAN and she was in a deplorable state of disrepair, but made the deadline for recommissioning and sailed for Sydney. On the run up the NSW coast the old scow managed 36 knots during speed trials. Queenborough was a pig stye to live in, so my time in her was not a happy one and I was pleased to draft off to Cerberus (January 1967) however on arrival I found I was to be an instructor at the Recruit School and I did not relish the thought of training civilians to be sailors, so after a few weeks I requested to be sent back to sea and some months later, returned to Melbourne.
I was back in Melbourne as a Petty Officer and in charge of the torpedo workshop. A soft number if ever there was one however as I was being trained as potential officer material I had a heavy workload. I had been training in Officer of the Watch (OOW) duties at sea since joining Gascoyne and had to fulfill my daily work load as well as keep two sets of watches, as PO of the watch on deck and then 2nd.OOW on the bridge, sometimes going from one watch to another without any break or meals. The Captain, Tony S took pity on me and allowed me to wear clean working dress on the bridge instead of formal whites. I really enjoyed the bridgework, navigation and ship handling of this aircraft carrier.
Melbourne sailed from Australia in May 1967 for a visit to the Far East, Japan and SEATO exercise Sea Dog. I kept 2nd. OOW watches with the Gunnery Officer - "Guns", for the voyage, with a reserve Lieutenant Commander as 3rd. OOW (we met many years later and he told me he never got over being ordered about by a Petty Officer during that voyage) and was awarded my Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate by Captain Tony S in August 1967, after being highly recommended by the Navigator (Commander T, a Queens Navigator). On most ships the bridge was called just that but on Melbourne the bridge was called the "Compass Platform" - which was quite small for a big ship, with the chart table behind a curtain next to the radars and of course, the Captains Chair. There were two navigation radars one above the other - of course the resourses of the operations room with their many radars and running plotting tables were on the other end of the voice pipe on side of the binnacle. Ports included Rabual, Manus, Subic Bay, Yokohama, Miya Jima, Kure, Hong Kong, Singapore & Fremantle before arrival back in Sydney.
In 1967 the RAN purchased new aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm from the USA and HMAS Sydney was to sail there to bring them back, however after years on the milk run to Vietnam, the aging ex-aircraft carrier, ex-troop transport was found to be unseaworthy when dry-docked and was hastily replaced by Melbourne for the voyage. After a very quick dry-docking at Garden Island, we sailed from Sydney Harbour in September 1967 for Pearl Harbour, Vancouver, Seal Beach, San Francisco, San Diego, Pearl Harbour, Suva & Jervis Bay. In Seal Beach the ship loaded new generation torpedoes and armaments and in San Diego the ship loaded Douglas Skyhawk A4Gs and Grumman Trackers. Entering San Fransisco Harbour with me, as Chief Quatermaster, at the wheel. The trouble with being at the wheel is one could not appreciate the scenery entering a port, as the wheelhouse was fully enclosed. Melbourne was a good ship for me and I have fond memories of her.
In May 1968, I drafted from Melbourne to Watson as TAS Instructor and stayed there until my engagement was almost up, when I had to decide whether to continue in the RAN, attending a knife & fork course at Plymouth in England, to become an officer and a gentleman or to look elsewhere. I opted out in April 1969, after nine years of service in the grey funnel line and joined the Merchant Navy, where I continued to travel the world (Europe, Japan & the Far East), enjoying single berth motel style accommodation, good food, excellent wages, conditions and leave, that compensated for long voyages and time spent away from home. In the late 1970s leave entitlement in the Merchant Marine was a days leave for every day worked (signed on articles).