- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
During the day conditions were not as bad as at night because the mess decks were not nearly as crowded and the hatches were open, although the scuttles and deadlights were closed.
Far more canteen stores had to be carried in wartime than in peace, due to the larger crew carried, and not knowing where or when more stores could be obtained, and canteen storerooms were located all over the ship. Quite often stores had to be carried from one end of the ship to the other. Each compartment had watertight doors, and those on the lower decks and mess decks had two feet high coffer dams set into the doorways to confine flooding, so carrying stores up to the canteen was like being in a hurdle race.
Off Balboa we were challenged and identified by the US Navy and one hour later passed through the boom gates. After passing through the Panama Canal we berthed at Cristobel, and on leaving that port the Captain announced that we had been invited by the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Fleet to visit New York.
We berthed at the Canal Street Wharf in the Hudson River. The four funnelled cruiser, USS Cincinatti, completed in 1923, was berthed on the other side of the wharf, and we were invited over to see the film ‘Sweet Rosie O’Grady’. In return the crew of Cincinatti came over in their hundreds to have a look at Australia’s war damage. Captain Armstrong gave a press conference in New York and, for the first time, gave a full account of the Japanese suicide attacks on the ship during the invasion of the Philippines six months earlier, January 1945.
In New York we stocked up with American cigarettes, chocolates and other provisions still thinking that we were to commission Ocean, but before we sailed the buzz got around that the RAN had changed its mind and that the transfer to Ocean had been cancelled.
We left New York with the then Premier of New South Wales, William McKell, who was so impressed with Captain Armstrong that he wanted to make him the Governor of New South Wales after the war ended.
Off Plymouth, England, we were met by a squadron of RAF Sunderlands from No. 10 Squadron Coastal Command who escorted us into Plymouth Sound to show that they remembered Captain Armstrong’s daring rescue of one of Coastal Command’s Sunderlands in 1940. After our arrival at Plymouth Sound, the RAAF from No. 10 Squadron based at Mount Batten, Plymouth, came out to the ship in everything from airsea rescue boats to inflated rubber rafts, Australia’s own boats sometimes could not get near the booms or gangway.
The attraction was Vie Zammit’s canteen, which was well stocked with Australian tinned food, soap and other provisions the RAAF personnel had not seen for years.
Ashore in Plymouth and Devonport some streets did not have a house left standing as a result of the German air raids. All the centre of Plymouth was flattened, with most of the theatres and entertainment centres in the city destroyed, so Plymouth was not a very exciting place to be stationed.
It took five hours to get to London by express train, but the long train journey was well worth the effort. London had just as much bomb damage as Plymouth and Devonport; however in London there was so much to do. There were queues for buses, standing room only on trains, long waits to have a meal, and if that meal included meat there was a good chance it was horse meat.
With hundreds of thousands of servicemen and servicewomen on leave at once the service clubs always seemed full. The good people running the servicemens’ accommodation could usually squeeze you in even if it meant sleeping on a palliasse on the floor. Free theatre tickets were issued from service clubs and the Nuffield Centre.
The sailors used to complain there were too many parks in London, but with double British daylight saving time it did not get dark until after 9 p.m., so it was not much good taking their girlfriends to the park.
After de-ammunitioning, the ship proceeded to Devonport Dockyard where the battleship Valiant was being repaired after a floating dock collapsed when the ship was under refit in Trincomalee. The old French battleship Paris was being used as a stokers training ship, the cruisers Newcastle and Colombo were alongside, while the cruiser Norfolk and the battleships Revenge and Resolution were moored off Devonport.