7 8 9,
Richmonds SO(O), Lt.Cdr L.E.H. Maund, subsequently held a series of combined operations posts in World War II as a Captain and Rear-Admiral, and commanded HMS OAK ROYAL Richmond's Flag Captain and Chief of Staff, CAPT N.F. Lawrence, later commanded the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE, was Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, and served in World War II at the Ministers of Aircraft Production. The Navy from Within p.213. ibid, pp.214-264.
The Royal Oak Incident by Leslie Gardiner.
From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow Vol.4 p.33 by A.J. Marder. The Central Blue by Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor. Later to become Admiral the Hon. Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, KCB, and successively, Commander-in-Chief on the America and West Indies Station, of the Plymouth Command, and at The Nore.
Britannia at Bay 1931-41 by Paul Haggie. Oxford, I981,pp.139-141. Harold Nicholson's Diaries 1930-39.
LtCdrCAR MILLS RANB
1 Alison St
Glenelg Nth SA 5045
Lieut Saia MA FU Tongan Delence Service Box 72 Nuku Alola, Tonga
Mr A 8 NUTT
St Georges College
Crawley WA 6009
Commander Ft F TIGHE RANR 2/19 Murdoch St Cremorne NSW 2090
Lieut B J SZIRT RANR 12 Bernard Ave Bexley Nth NSW 2207
LtCdr RE. SWINNERTON RAN HMASJERVISBAY
Mr Sanson RE 10 544 Church SI Richmond VIC 3121
LtCdrAD JAMES RAN 213 Woodland St Balgowlah NSW 2093
Commander DN PETERSON RAN Embassy of Australia Washington DC USA
Ueul K C MATHEWS RAN 128 Marconi Cres Kambah ACT
SubLtMR NICOLRAN HMAS IBIS
LieulRS PEARSON RAN 42 Jamison Rd Kingswood NSW 2750
Sub LI P K NAUGHTON RAN HMAS SWAN
Mr DA CHAPMAN 4 Orlando Ave Cremorne NSW 2090
SHIPS AND THE SEA _
The mid to late nineteenth century saw an upsurge in ships which were of novel, and at times, bizarre designs. The majority of these were used as merchant ships of various types but one of the most freakish was for use as a warship. These were the circular ships of the Russian Naval Officer Vice Admiral Popoff.
Popoff was a man of considerable professional standing and ability but he had unorthodox views in the field of ship design. In essence his circular ship was to provide the Russian Navy with a stable, manoeuverable gun platform ideally suited for their conscript crews.
One can only imagine their unusual appearance — twin funnels, abreast and armed with two 40 pounder guns Powerec by six compound engines driving six propellors they should have been highly manoeuverable, but in fact were almost uncontrollable. Designed output was 2,400 hp for the first of the class NOVOGRAD. but she required 3,000 hp to attain 7 knots.
The two ships I've managed to research had details as follows:
NOVOGRAD — diameter 101 ft. draft 13 ft 6 in. (all round) 2,490 tons displacement. Armament 2 x 40 pdr. guns. VICE ADMIRAL POPOFF— diameter 120 ft, draft 14 ft. (all round). 3,590 tons displacement.
Armament 2 x 40 pounder.
Bizarre as they may have been, the Popoflka's did have far reaching effects in the maritime world Clark and Sandlield developed an offshoot of the basic floating dock, the Depositing Dock (1876), to handle these strange ironclads. The eventual development of this type of dock became the Hydrolitt in use throughout the world.
A second benefit was that although these platforms were stable they were completely unwieldy. A better method o1 obtaining stability was developed as the S//ge Keel.
NOVOGRAD and POPOFF were failures. However the Russians looked to a derivative and thus LIVADIA came into existance. Build on the Clyde in 1880, LIVADIA was the Imperial Russian yacht Nick-named the Summer House on a Turbot LIVADIA was 235 ft. long with a 135 ft. beam and powered by triple screws.
A better performer than her predecessors. LIVADIA achieved 16 knots during trials and was certainly stable in heavy weather. With her three funnels, abreast, she certainly must have presented a unique picture, Royal Yacht or not!
Eventually LIVADIA proved to be too uncomfortable for the Imperial family and she was handed over to the Russian Navy and scrapped in 1926.
Plan view of NOVOGRAD.
Page 36 — Journal ol the Australian Naval Institute
EARLY DAYS IN FLINDERS NAVAL DEPOT
by Captain SB. de Courcy-lreland FIN (Rtd.)
Captain de Courcy-lreland spent the years 1922 to 1924 on loan service in the RAN at Flinders Naval Depot and subsequently recorded his experiences of that period. This article presents an edited version of Captain de Courcy-lreland's account Of his FND days and also serves to mark HMAS CERBERUS' Diamond Jubilee Year.
On 9th April 1922 I arrived at Melbourne. There I was unexpectedly told to disembark and report at the Navy Office, while the others were to go on to Sydney. At the Navy Office I saw an RN Lieutenant called Paul Bush. You are to go to Flinders Naval Depot he said. Where is that9' I asked.
Well it's about thirty miles from here.' he replied, on an inlet off Western Port. I've never been there myself, but they say it s not a bad spot. There is a train, but it doesn't run at weekends so you'd better put up at a pub until Monday'. What on earth am I going to do there?' I asked. Haven't a clue old boy, he answered
I Arrive At FND
The train on Monday morning was full of sailors and officers (in plain clothes) returning from weekend leave, plus some locals It jerked its way along an uneven track stopping at well over a dozen halts; taking two and a half hours to cover the thirty miles. Clear of Melbourne and its suburbs the country was flat, with poor sandy soil; covered with scrub, heather, patches of gum and wattle, and rather miserable looking homesteads. The houses were little more than shacks and the roads' just dirt tracks. The road' to Flinders Naval Depot had not in fact reached nearer than 3 miles of the place: after which you either had to walk, ride, or drive, literally through the bush. It was not completed (as a dirt road) until I had been there a year. Hence the importance of the train (once daily except for weekends) as a link
I was met at the station by a couple of sailors with a hand cart for my luggage and the one and only car the place then possessed — a tin lizzie called The Girl Annie'. Everybody else had to walk up to three Quarters of a mile.
I was hardly impressed with my first sight of the place, and even less so when I ultimately reached my quarters' — a tent. The Wardroom Mess block it was explained, had not quite been completed: the cabins for example, were not finished. Nor for that matter had one of the barrack blocks and a number of other buildings.
Well nobody minds living in a tent provided one is outfitted and geared for the business But it was not quite so funny when one had to keep all one s belongings — white and blue uniform, full dress, plain clothes — In fact, all one s possessions — in it; plus a camp bed and wash basin etc.
However more was in store. The next morning I dressed up in frock coat and sword and reported at 0900 to the Captain Supenntendant. in the time honoured custom of an officer |oining his ship. He was a senior RN Captain — S.R. Miller — and was pleasant and courteous Welcomed me to FND, asked if I had had a good trip out, and then enquired:-How long ago did you do your Long Course?' Long Course, Sir; what for? I enquired. Why, Gunnery of course, he said. Gunnery.' I replied, I'm not a Gunnery Officer, Sir'.
Good Heavens,' he said, haven t you seen your appointment?'
No Sir. I was just told to report here. They told me in London that I would be appointed first lieutenant of a destroyer out here. I am a Destroyer Officer'.
He laughed. Well youd better forget that', he said. Out here they think you are a Gunnery Officer. And you are appointed Gunnery Officer of Flinders Naval Depot.
Captain de Courcy — Ireland was born on 5 May 1900 He went to sea in January 1916and saw actional Jutland in HMS BELLEROPHON He served in three destroyers during the rest ol the war and in the Baltic and after courses was second Lieutenant in the VENOMOUS September 1920 — January 1922
Whilst in the VENOMOUS, he volunteered tor loan service in Australia The story taxes on Irom there, after he reached Melbourne.
After returning Irom Australia and further sea service in the FROBISHER. he Iramed as an observer and served in most of the carriers and on the stall ol Admiral Alexander Ramsay in the Med He was Commander of NEWCASTLE for the first 18 months of Ihe second World War, and Commanded AJAX in Ihe Med after the war He retired as a Captain in 1952. and now lives in retirement in Painswick. Gloucester
Journal o! the Australian Naval Institute — Page 37
So a Gunnery Officer I became so far as the RAN were concerned, and as they paid me specialist pay for it I had no oojection.
Flinders Naval Depot
This is as good a point as any to describe the origin, set up and surroundings of FND; together with the far from ordinary situation — to an RN Officer anyway — into which I had been plunged.
When the Australian Commonwealth was set up in 1900, each State had its own Naval Militia'. State rivalry had been very intense in many spheres, and they delighted in being different from each other. The classic example was of course the railways; no two adjoining States had the same gauge. Thus you had to get out of one train and into another when you travelled from one State to the next one. So far as the RAN was concerned, the only relic left in my day was the right of ex Naval Militia Officers from, I think it was, South Australia, to continue lo wear moustaches, which they had sported in the past so as to be different from the others. I remember my astonishment when I met one old lieutenant (ex warrant officer) at FND wearing a moustache.
The decision had been taken to set up a Naval Depot, comprising Barracks, Gunnery, Torpedo, Signal and Engineering Schools. The site selected was at the head of an inlet called Hanns Inlet, which led into Western Port, south of Port Phillip. Western Port was a very big bay, most of which was occupied by two large islands: Phillip Island across most of the entrance, and inside that French Island. There was a deep water channel between Phillip Island and the north shore, and a few miles along it was Hanns Inlet.
It was not a prepossessing spot. The islands and mainland were low lying; covered with bush and scrub, and where the shore was muddy and
shallow, mangrove swamps. There were a few scattered settlements and homesteads, but most had been abandoned — the soil was too poor.
It was said that the Federal Government paid £105.000 for the 7000 acres plus that was included' in the purchase of the site. The actual area covered by the Depot was about 100 acres. The centre piece was a very large parade ground, which had been levelled and grassed. On the north side of this were two barrack blocks with a third under construction, a laundry. Petty Officer s Block etc. On the west side was the Wardroom Block with the Sick Bay, Signal School and Torpedo School to the South West On the south side were the Drill Hall, Gunnery School and Administrative Offices; while bordering the top of Hanns Inlet behind them were the Engineering Section, Power House etc. The Warrant Officer s Block was on the east side: and finally a road led away in the south east corner past the Guard House and Married Quarters to the railway station. Very simple really
As for Hanns Inlet; well there were grandiose plans for dredging out a straight channel leading to a large basin, with even a picture of a cruiser lying alongside a quay. They got as far as building embankments along one side of the creek and dredging about 100 yards of channel; and then the whole scheme collapsed. It was even argued that there was no point in dredging a straight channel, because an enemy would be able to fire a torpedo up it against any ship lying alongside, so why not make it crooked!
In the end, Hanns Inlet remained much as it had been; a fine stretch of water at high tide, a muddy creek at low water: with a shallow channel meandering down to the sea, bordered by salt marsh, crumbling embankments, and a large
Flinders Naval Depot 1921. These workers living huts were located behind the present Victualling Store from 1912 to 1922 when up to 800 workers were employed on building the establishment.
— HMAS Cerberus Museum
Page 38 — Journal ol the Australian Maval Institute
mangrove swamp on one side of the entrance. The basin at the top end had been dredged out to allow a small ship to lie alongside the quay, and other small craft to have moorings; thereby disturbing an oyster bed and annoying the locals, and a flock of about 2000 black swans who inhabited the mangrove swamp and took a dim view of the proceedings.
The rest of the 7000 acres consisted of marsh, ti-tree scrub, thick bush and poor pasture. One of the first acts was to establish the boundary. This was done by a character called Mick Hurley, who lived locally; supplied the Depot with firewood and owned a team of 18 oxen. Mick Hurley's contract was to plough 3 furrows right around the landward perimeter, through bush, scrub, swamp and what have you. It took him three months, dragging out trees, and ploughing his furrows with the most enormous plough I have ever seen. The strength of those oxen had to be seen to be believed, as did the strength and skill of the man himself. There was no one else in the whole district who could crack his great hide whip, let alone do it exactly above the back of any animal that wasn't pulling its weight. It sounded like a pistol shot and was always followed by a volley of Irish oaths. From which you could judge his whereabouts.
The design of the buildings was unimaginative, but in general they served their purpose Proper Works and Bricks staff and they hardly vary throughout the world. There was however, one extraordinary feature which was pure Australian'. It was said that the architect came from Aberdeen in Scotland, where you are taught to put your water and sewer pipes deep enough to be clear of possible damage from frost. Without giving a thought to the Australian climate he put them at the bottom of 6 foot trenches Apart from the labour involved it was not a success; there was something in the subsoil that corroded the pipes. They all had to be replaced. Stung by caustic comments the architect then proceeded — believe it or not — to place them 6 foot in the air on trestles. Under the hot Australian sun they buckled and sprang leaks in every direction. It was months before things were put right.
It would be fair to say that the RAN in 1922 was made up of a very varied assortment of officers and men. The officers were made up of a few relics of the old State Naval Militia, a considerable number of ex RN or RNR officers and warrant officers (most of whom had been given a step in rank or in the latter case commissions), an equal number of RN officers like myself who had volunteered for service out there or were on exchange, and finally the output from the Naval College at Jervis Bay. The senior of the latter were
about my seniority; after graduating from College they served their midshipman, sub lieutenant and specialist training in the RN. There were also various Reserves known as Citizen Naval Forces, Sea-going and non Sea-going. I have a Royal Australian Navy List of October 1922 which makes quite interesting reading.
As for the ratings, the majority of the senior rates were ex RN pensioners, or on loan; and with very few exceptions fine chaps and the backbone of the Service. The men themselves were very mixed Some were of good material, intelligent, keen, and as one might expect produced some first class sportsmen'. But many had only joined up because they were out of work, were lazy or misfits, or were wanted by the Police It could hardly be expected that many young men would want to join up when the minimum weekly wage ashore was by law £5; unless they were extremely dedicated or were out of a job etc. Those that did, generally deserted as soon as they had saved up a bit of pay. There was nothing to stop them; they only had to walk off into the bush and make their way up to Melbourne. At the beginning of my time at FND the CID used to come down from Melbourne periodically; we would line up the new entries' and they would pick out wanted men. The desertion rate was 86% in the first year of service; after a year we got it down to 17%. But the deserters' troubles only really began after desertion. The Police got a bounty of £5 for each deserter recovered. If they got on to one — and often it was women that gave them away — they would take no action provided the man paid them hush money. If the man refused, or couldn't pay through being out of work, or couldn't keep up the payment, they roped him in and collected the bounty
Actually we had our own Police Force at FND; a sergeant and two constables. They had originally been posted there to keep order among the workmen building the place; and then forgotten. Or maybe it was that no one wanted them back. I forget the sergeant's name, but the constables were called MacCarthy and MacSweeney; both huge Irishmen. They spent most of their time drinking, arguing and being separated by the sergeant.
I think I have already indicated that this was, at any rate to begin with, a problem. Some of the Australian rates saw no reason why they should salute an officer, call him 'Sir' or in fact carry out an order if they didn't fancy. The Depot had also been run on the principle that cum Friday, everyone who wanted to, shoved off on weekend leave, returning by the Monday train.
I realised almost at once why I had been sent, together with another RN lieutenant John Cobby. John was an ex lowerdeck chap, who had worked his way up to Warrant Officer and been promoted
Journal of the Australian Naval institute — Page 39
to lieutenant for gallantry at Zeebrugge A wonderful chap who became one of my great friends.
Over us was the First Lieutenant who was also Drafting Officer and utterly useless at both; and temporarily, a Commarder called Blackwood.
Maurice Baldwin Blackwood came of a great naval family, born into the trad tion of the Service. His father had been a Captair, his grandfather a Rear Admiral and his great grandfather an Admiral who had served with distinction under Nelson as Captain of a frigate at Trafalgar.
Blackwood was small, tough and a disciplinarian; If a man is brought before me charged with an offence, he announced. I will find him guilty or not guilty. If there is any doub at all the case will be dismissed: if it is proven, the minimum sentence will be 14 days extra work and drill. Dismiss the Ship's Company Mr Ireland'.
There was a rating who decided to challenge this ruling. He waylaid the Commander behind a building There was no witness and a minute later Blackwood emerged, stopped another rating and remarked There is a rating benind that block who requires medical attention; see to if They found him flat on his back and right out. The word got round and there were no further challengers. The effect on discipline was remarkable
Now for my general duties John Cobby and I were the only Divisional Officers permanently borne for general duties, though we were both down as Gunnery Officers and John was supposed to be in the Gurnery School. The Specialist Schools of course had their own Officers and Instructors and were responsible for
their own buildings, workshops, material, programme of instruction, courses, etc. In other words they ran their own show for which they were responsibile for the general administration of the barracks, discipline and welfare of between 1000 and 1500 men, the routine and co-ordination of work and a thousand other things; working directly under the Commander In addition we were responsible for the initial training of New Entries. John concentrated on Parade Ground work, squad drill, kit, seamanship etc., while I gave a series of lectures on the RAN, the ob|ect of discipline, esprit de corps, leadership, morale etc. and dealt with orders, regulations, advancement, personal matters etc. I was also in general charge of the training and advancement of Officers Stewards and Cooks and Ships Cooks; with an ex Corporal of Royal Marines for the Stewards and a Warrant Instructor in cookery (aptly called Mr Honeybun) to give the expert instruction.
I had no staff training or experience, and had literally to start from scratch writing my own lectures. I had no text books to refer to and |ust had to rely upon my own training and experience I still have the precis of those lectures, and looking through them I think I can claim that for a young lieutenant of 22 years of age they are not bad.
One of my major tasks however, was to compile the Depots Standing Orders Orders on every subject had just been written on odd bits of paper and stuck on a notice board. There they remained until they fell off. blew off. or were taken down to make room for another order. They were then stuck in a scrap book, or just stuffed in a drawer, or thrown away. It took me four months hard work to compile the book and get it printed. I began to feel that we were getting somewhere
Flinders Naval Depot 1922 showing the workshops, powerhouse ano stays ot the 250ft high wireless mast.
— HMAS Cerberus Museum
Page 40 — Journal ol the Australian Naval institute
Under this heading I would like to list a few of the characters that helped to make my time at FND such a memorable experience.
(i) Sefton. A Stoker 2nd class who had joined the RAN for no reason that either he or anyone else was ever able to explain. He had a rich uncle who owned a chain of cinemas in Sydney and Melbourne; and had not only trained him as a projectionist but supplied him with a projector etc. and all the films he wanted.
Sefton travelled up to Melbourne once a week, collected his films, brought them back and gave a show every night in the Drill Hall. All we paid were his travelling expenses. He was also a conjuror' and once or twice a year would put on a remarkably good turn for the local children. There was a major crisis when the authorities reluctantly decided that Sefton must go to a seagoing ship for a spell and to pass for Stoker 1 st Class. But we got him back after six months, and he continued as before. During my time at FND I saw all the Charlie Chaplin films then current.
(ii) Stewart. Another Stoker 2nd Class. We had made a 9 hole golf course just outside the Depot and at the head of Hanns Inlet. This chap came up to me one day and asked my permission to play on it. Of course, I said, get your clubs and III take you round'. We fixed a day, and when we arrived at the first tee I said, On you go. His drive was 283 yards — I measured it afterwards. When — somewhat shattered — I asked him where he had learnt his golf, he replied that he had picked it up from his brother, who was Open Champion of Australia. We put him in charge of the golf course.
(iii) Corporal Bayliss. Strictly speaking he was a Petty Officer Steward, but 22 years in the RMLI had stamped him as a Royal Marine to the end of his days. And to show it he insisted on retaining his moustache He was Instructor in charge of the training of Officers Stewards: a marvellous character of the old style When he overheard a young RAN lieutenant remarking at dinner one night, Why do we have to pass the port clockwise; this is the southern hemisphere and this is Australia. Why must we do as the Pommies do?', he was so outraged that he marched all the stewards out of the Mess and refused to allow them back until an apology had been made for the insult to His Majesty.
(iv) Prideaux. The ordinance lieutenant (ex ordinance artificer). A marvellous gardener who created the Wardroom gardens with the help of a civilian gardener; and his roses and chrysanthemums won many prizes in Melbourne. A keen sea fisherman too.
(vi) Huckstip and mate. Huckstip was the bricklayer on the Works staff. He lived in a shack made out of old packing cases and flattened petrol tins. A character who was also a keen sea fisherman. We always took him out fishing with us
as he knew every good fishing ground in Western Port. His mate had been a jockey, but had been banned for life for taking bribes.
There were of course many others I could mention, but I think the above section is enough.
Fun and Games
There was plenty to occupy oneself with. Tennis on the Mess hard courts, golf on our 9 hole course, and cricket (to watch): the Depot First XI could have matched many English counties. And for those who kept horses — riding.
The local country race meetings were great occasions and everyone turned up. The racing was as crook as could be and most races were fixed beforehand. Some of the fiddles that took place were almost unbelievable. I remember one meeting where a well known flat-winner from Melbourne was introduced under another name, and having been dyed black over its chestnut coat. Unfortunately a heavy shower of rain before the race it had been entered for, gave the show away. At another meeting to which we had received an official mvitiation, we were given three winners by the stewards, two by the starter and fiver fixed the last race. We only put on small stakes but I cleared £13. Hospitality at its best
I helped Prideaux and the civilian gardeners — we had two during my time — with the Wardroom garden. We had to build a strong ti tree fence round it to keep out the bush cattle and brumbies (wild horses) during the dry season We had to do a lot of watering, and animals can smell water miles off when it is scarce. We had great trouble with the herd bull. The herd remained in the thick bush during the day. and only came out at night. Then he would load them up very quietly, smash through the fence, and havoc would be let loose. I volunteered to sit up and deal with him I took most of the shot out of some twelve gauge cartridges, filled them up again with salt petre and sat up on the verandah one night. He was so quiet that he was in the garden before I realised it. I could just make out his outline in the dank and getting behind him let him have both barrels in the backside. The result was quite shattering; I would not have believed one animal could make so much noise. He went down the garden steps, and through the cast iron gates at the bottom as if they were paper; and set off across the Parade Ground bellowing fit to waken the dead, with the herd following behind. The din woke up half the Depot, and for some reason that he was unable to explain satisfactorily afterwards, the Quarter Master sounded off Fire Stations. All he could say was I didn't know what else to do'.
It was said that the bull ran twelve miles non stop, and was found next morning by the Police at Dandenong. surrounded by his ladies and still very angry and sore. Salt petre propelled into your behind (and elsewhere) by pellets can be very
Journal ol the Australian Naval Institute — Page 41
irritating I was told. The Police had the uneviable task of impounding him and the herd. Of course the story grew into quite improoable proportions in more ways than one; but I felt that I had made my mark locally. Anyway we had no further trouble from intruders.
I spent many hours on my own exploring the thousands of acres of bush belonging to the Depot There were a few wallaby and bandicoots many birds of every kind, koala bears, big lizzards, snakes etc.; and of course rabbits everywhere. At some time foxes had been introduced to dry and keep down the rabbits, and the foxes had become almost as big a nuisance. It never does to introduce non indigenous animals or birds to a country; they upset the balarce. Snakes were a menance. There were various sorts; but brown, black and death adders were the really dangerous ones The latter were said to be the worst: they were small, apt to s un themselves on a path and didn't move or get out of your way. We always wore trousers and gaiters in the bush, and carried a snake outfit. I use to watch the kookaburras killing and eating snakes. They would seize a snake behind the head, fly up and drop it from a height and continue until it was stunned or dead. Then they would eat it.
We caught a koala bear, by cutting down the gum tree it was up, and kept it as a pet for six months. It was a funny little thing, quite tame, and lived in a disused laundry building with a good supply of gum branches of the particular sort whose leaves were its sole diet. We never house trained it, but if it wet you and you smacked its bottom, it would cry like a child, tears running down its lace. Folk said that they never lived in captivity but ours appeared to thrive When we decided to release it in the bush, it cried the place down for an hour or so. After that it turned to the task of eating and soon settled down
Fishing was good sport The best eating fish were flatheads. the best fighters schnappers, which were also very good eating. And of course there were sharks and barracuda etc. I had a scar on my finger for years when a schnapper I was hauling in was taken by a shark. I had taken a turn of the thick line round my finger while I got out the gaff, and before I could flick it off the shark took over and his pull cut the line irto my finger. There were also big stinger rays in the creek, as I learnt one day when we caught one in a seine net. It lashed out with its deadly spiked tail and nearly got me in the leg. I was more careful after that.
During the dry season th€' threat of bush fires was never far from the surface of one s mind. It is difficult to imagine the havoc end the devastation, often over vast areas, that bush and grass fires in Australian can cause, until one has seen and experienced them for oneself. The misery and hopelessness left behind when years of struggle
and hardship go up in flames and smoke; and all that is left is a black and charred landscape, the smouldering remains of homesteads, the gaunt skeletons of trees, the burnt corpses of livestock, and the terrible toll of wildlife and birds. Drought and bush fires — those twin afflictions always present or threatening in some part of that vasl continent — the former part of the inscrutable laws of nature: the latter alas, often, though by no means always, started by mans carelessness or lack of thought.
We had two minor fires at FND in 1922; one caused by stupidity and the other a controlled outbreak that got out of hand. In the first incident an AN lieutenant newly appointed to the Gunnery School decided to burn off the long grass on the Parade Ground. He lined up a squad of recruits, issued them with torches and started to burn off the grass from up wind. It was all over in a few minutes; a grass fire moves at an incredible speed. The fire roared across the Parade Ground and in a minute or two the Clerk of Works wooden-frame house was a mass of flame. His wife saw it coming and got out in time, but she was lucky I got there iust in time to see the whole place go up like a rocket. The house was built on stilts (to avoid white ants) and apart from a chicken house, there was obviously a store of petrol underneath (illegal I suspect).
It exploded and half a dozen hens were propelled into the air, blazing like fireworks poor things, to fall to earth as black lumps as their feathers burnt off So far as the Clerk of Works was concerned no one was all that sorry; we had suspected him of fiddling for some time Luckily, the fire stopped at the road and no further damage was done.
The second incident resulted from a praise worthy attempt by John Cobby to burn out a patch of bush the opposite side of the road from the married quarters, and bordered on the far side by Hanns Inlet. This patch harboured snakes which used to come out on to the road at times John was frightened that some of the children might get bitten playing on the road. What none of us realised was that a bed of brown coal came to the surface in the middle of this bush. This caught alight and burnt and smouldered on the surfaced and underground for nearly 3 months. It was impossible to put it out and we had to wait for the rains to do the job. In the mean time when the wind blew their way, the married quarters lived under a pall of smoke.
But the dry season at the end of 1923 and beginning of 1924 was the worst. For weeks the whole countryside was covered by a great pall of smoke. It was almost impossible to tell where the fires were and as fast as we got one under control, others would break out. At the peak I had a hundred men under me and a lorry to move them around We tried to co-ordinate with the civilian
Page 42 — Journal Ol the Australian Naval Institute
Flinders Naval Depot 1921 with the Gunnery School in the foreground.
The Victualling and Naval Stores buildings and 2 cottages near the ornamental
lake have all gone. _ HMAS Cerberus Museum
fire fighters and had a man with each group who knew the country, but communications were continually being cut. There was always a danger of being cut off. We were at times half blinded and choked, scorched and dehydrated Once we were forced into the sea. Another time we cleared the contents of a farm house which was in the path of a fire and heaped the furniture etc. the other side of fire break we had made. There was a sudden shift of wind, the house was left intact and all the contents reduced to ash.
The women were wonderful. Through all the dangers and discomforts, the struggles and the heartbreaks, they supplied us with tea and food, guarded the younger children and kept the livestock fed. We must have consumed gallons upon gallons of tea to keep ourselves going. And sweated gallons.
Of course once a fire got into thick bush there was nothing one could do. It generated its own wind, and the heat was so fierce that trees up to 100 yards ahead of the mam fire would suddenly burst into flames, going up like gigantic Roman candles.
How I remember the day when standing in a group of men who had succeeded in beating out a new outbreak and were watching to see it didn't start up again, we felt a change in the air. The smoke had thinned but the sky was if anything darker. And then we were breathing fresh air, air from the sea, and there was suddenly a terrific clap of thunder and the sky was lit up. There was a ragged cheer; but it was drowned by the elements. Nature had at last relented.
Six weeks later the land was clothed in young green shoots, and, though the scars would remain, the healing process had begun.
Here and there
Life at FND was inevitably somewhat constricted. We were an isolated community in a
sparsely populated area, and although we generated our own amusements, a weekend in Melbourne was a welcome break. There were parties, private dances and Government House functions and balls. I had written my name in the Governor General's and State Governor's books and so was on the official list. I am not being snobbish when I say that in those days RN officers were in far greater demand than the locals
Melbourne was not lacking in culture and amenities. Collins Street had the atmosphere of Princess Street, Edinburgh. There were three 5-star hotels, theatres, one or two good restaurants and of course beautiful botanical and other gardens, sports grounds etc. I heard Melba sing (though she had retired); saw Pavlova dance; and generally had a good time within my limited financial resources.
Melbourne Police Strike
I also had some pretty odd experiences. There was the Melbourne Police Strike for example, when the entire uniformed force went on strike for better pay and for pensions. They chose Melbourne Cup week as being the worst time for the authorities. The standard of law and order in Australia was, and probably still is, more on American lines than British. The Australian likes to think himself as a big pioneer type, a tough he man, aggressive and always ready for a fight. He speaks of Pommies' with genial contempt, though in many cases he started as one himself or his parents did. There is a very militant, noisy and articulate minority who run the Trade Unions, use strong arm methods, and are too often corrupt. They live in the big cities, and with a coterie of labour politicians and a hooligan fringe, stir up trouble from time to time. The real' Australians, the outback and country folk; and the bulk of urban population are straight forward easy going and friendly. And very hospitable.
Journal ol the Australian Naval Institute — Page 43
Anyway the Police Strike in Melbourne in 1923 caused serious problems. The Government introduced a state of emergency and asked Sir John Monash — one of the Wartime Generals of the AIF to raise a force to restore law and order He called upon the old soldiers, and they responded. They were sworn in, issued with arm bands and coshes, formed mto squads under leaders and patrolled specified areas. Anyone caught looting, breaking the law etc. was arrested and handed over to other squads, who took them before special courts which had been set up with emergency powers. Most of those arrested were given 3 months hard work without any option Before they got organised, nearly all the shops in Colins Street had been looted It took over a fortnight to restore full order. Every policeman who went on strike was dismissed and the whole force rebuilt from scratch. It was most effective. Our role was to guard the banks and public buildings for a few days until Sir John Monash s boys took over. They didn't trust the Regular Army. We had no trouble or opposition. I remember talking to one CID plain clothes man — they didn't go on strike. You must be having a hell of a time, I said. Lord no,' he replied, I've had the time of me life. I got a copy of wanted mens photographs (the rogues gallery), went out, and when I saw one of them. coshed them. I've settled quite a few scores'.
A Little Brush Over Tax
I always felt very sorry fo- the RAN Officers. They had no pension in those days, but just a gratuity on retirement based on rank and length of
service. When I say that a lieutenant commander would only get about £900 after twenty years service, it spoke for itself. It was some years later that they finally brought in a pension
However this little tale is about income tax. We paid both State Income Tax and Federal Income Tax. It occurred to someone that FND was federal territory and therefore we should not be liable for State Tax. The same applied, we reckoned, to all naval establishments. We raised the matter and were turned down. So we all paid in 10/-, hired a barrister, took the case it wasn't much, but for some of the Australians it amounted to a considerable amount. But perhaps the most interesting thing which came out of the case was that Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, on which was situated the Naval Dockyard, didn't belong to Australia. It was still a British Colony. Someone had forgotten to turn it over to the Commonwealth. Consternation. It was solved by an Order in Council, signed by the King in Privy Council.
Return to England
Towards the end of April 1924 I sailed for England in the Blue Funnel liner Aeneas Some of my friends had already gone: others remained including of course, all the Australian friends I had made. But I was ready to leave. It had been a great and unusual experience: but I had been away from the proper' Navy long enough
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Journal of the Australian Naval Institute — Page 45