- Book reviewer
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- RAN Ships
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- June 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Flinders Year 1947
Presents the stories of twenty four young men who joined the Royal Australian Navy at age thirteen by entering the Naval College at Flinders Naval Depot, HMAS Cerberus, Victoria in 1947.
Reviewed by Kevin Rickard, AM, RFD Captain, RANR, (Retd.)
Note: This book is not available through commercial outlets. Enquiries may be made through the Naval Historical Society.
By any standards the Flinders year of ’47 had a remarkable `batting average’. Three of the graduates became Admirals, three became Commodores and several became senior officers.
Among the group was a future Chief of Navy, a future Vice Chief of Defence Force, as well as a future Governor of NSW and a future Administrator of the Northern Territory. The service and retirement activities of many of the other men were also of paramount importance to this country.
As judged by their stories the majority of the year appeared to enjoy their time at the College and the educational opportunities it offered. Many mentioned how fit they were at the College because of the sporting and training activities, not to mention the requirement to `double’ everywhere whilst on College grounds. A number of men also mentioned the unfortunate practice of `bastardisation’ which took place at the College.
The lives of the twenty young men who graduated were certainly exciting. There was first class sea travel to the UK to train as midshipmen in major British Fleet units – whilst sailing to the West Indies, Scandinavia or in home waters. Some actually helped to put down an insurrection in the West Indies, but there were also great opportunities to explore Britain and Europe while on leave. Thereafter it was back to the RAN for further Fleet training, then often back to the UK for training as Sub Lieutenants..
Often there was yet another return to the UK for specialist training as junior officers. During this time some were involved in the Korean War whilst later many were involved in the war in Vietnam.
Later, whilst following their chosen specialities, their careers followed an amazing variety of stimulating and challenging postings and opportunities.
In all of this an aspect that does emerge is the demand made on family life by loyal and prompt obedience to the postings of the RAN. There are many examples of rapid upheaval of home, family and children at often no more than a few hours or a few days notice. Accordingly, the nation owes a debt of gratitude not only to these men but also to their wives and loved ones who supported them and managed the home environment during these upheavals.
Another positive contribution of the Flinders Year ’47 was their part in the introduction to the Navy of a number of major war vessels and weapons systems, electronic and hydrographic programmes as well as sailor and officer training in the RAN.
The stories told suggest answers to the long and detailed process that led to the evolution of senior naval officers. It is intriguing to realise that university degrees were not in evidence at that time. Several attained senior ranks and six of their number achieved Flag rank holding their own in the tough commercial and business environment of senior Defence Force positions.
It is pertinent to mention some of the Flinders Year ’47. Mike Hudson, AC went from King’s Medallist to Chief of Naval Staff and on retirement was promoted Admiral. He was Captain of HMA Ships Vendetta, Brisbane and Melbourne and as Chief of Navy was deeply involved in the introduction of the Collins Class submarines and the Anzac ships.
Ian Knox, AC became Vice Admiral and Vice Chief of Defence Force. He was a clever young man: obtained First Class honours on the ‘Subs’ courses and won the Ogilvy medal on the long TAS course. His academic feats at RN courses had not previously been achieved by an Australian. He became Captain of HMA Ships Torrens, Hobart and Melbourne.
David Martin, AC after retiring as Rear Admiral became a much loved Governor of NSW. He had been Captain of HMA Ships Queenborough, Supply and Melbourne and Chief of naval personnel.
Eric Johnston AM – The Big E – was a larger than life personality. He had a Spanish mother who fed him well. As Commodore he became Administrator of the Northern Territory and a hero of Cyclone Tracey and in its aftermath, there were many requests to ‘keep the Commodore’.