- Date, John C., RANVR (Rtd)
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I, HMAS Shropshire
- March 1990 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
At the meeting of The Naval Historical Society of Australia, members have enjoyed the magical effervescence of fine art, music and naval jottings by esteemed member Cedric Ashton.
In the company of Cedric one covers a tranquility of life – artist, musician, sailor and a man’s man of capital ship dimensions!
Born at St. Kilda, Victoria on January 25, 1911, the second son of artists Howard Ashton, Melbourne journalist and then editor of the Sydney Sun, and Mary Ethel Ashton (nee Roberts), Cedric began his formal education at Cleveland Street Boys High School in Sydney, followed by musical training at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He studied violoncello under Gladstone Bell and composition under Alfred Hill, graduating with a Diploma of Sydney Conservatorium of Music in 1929.
Cedric spent his teenage years in the beautiful Sydney seaside suburb of Mosman, learning the perfection of sailing on the waters off Balmoral — somewhere there we first met.
From such an artistic family, it was only natural for Cedric, at an early age to show his special giftedness.
Cedric’s keen interest in drawing and painting was evident in his early years, as he studied for five years at the Julian Ashton Art School, which his grandfather Julian Rossi Ashton had founded in the Queen Victoria Markets building in 1890.
However, a mainstream musical career began in 1930 as a founding member of the Sydney String Quartet This ensemble was pre-eminent in the chamber music field for ten years and Cedric was invited to join the famous pianist Arthur Schnabel in a series of concerts in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
In 1940, Cedric married Sonya (nee Johnston) and they had three children, John Howard, a captain in the Dental Branch of the Royal Australian Navy, Peter Julian, a solicitor and Penelope a horticulturist.
In 1940, when the call to arms was so real in World War II, Cedric then playing cello with the Monte Carlo Ballet in Sydney and Melbourne, joined the Royal Australian Navy as a bandsman.
As the story goes, after a period of training at RAN Flinders Naval Depot, Cedric noticed that his fellow volunteers were receiving drafts but he was being by-passed! A request to clear his position with the Commander brought an acknowledgement from the musical director that because of his outstanding musical talent he was being retained to play in the prestigious band of the establishment. However, the Commander understandingly conceded to Cedric’s request and soon he was on draft to HMAS CANBERRA, serving from February 13, 1941 to December 9, 1941, in fulfilment of doing his bit for his country. Cedric was to experience a great deal of action in service as ensuing duties took him to the other two county class cruisers HMAS AUSTRALIA, January 26 1942 to October 27 1942, and HMAS SHROPSHIRE, April 20 1943 to April 13 1945, from the Battle of the Coral Sea to the Battle of Leyte and Surigao Strait in the Philippines.
My next encounter with Cedric was on board the heavy cruiser HMAS SHROPSHIRE in 1943, when as assistant bandmaster he was presenting light classical musical interludes in the ship’s recreational area and torpedo space, much to the delight of the ship’s company and I can assure you that Cedric’s brilliance in both musical selection and conducting always had a crowded audience.
Apart from his naval duties Cedric continually sketched and painted graphic scenes of naval engagements and shipboard life which will forever portray events of our naval heritage. Cedric’s generosity knew no bounds. In 1944, Cedric had completed a beautiful oil painting of the ship at anchor in Humboldt Bay, in the then territory of Dutch New Guinea, and to satisfy my great admiration of the picture I was able to acquire this masterpiece for the princely sum of seven shillings and sixpence!