- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In 1946 Captain Armstrong broke an arm and it was found that his bones were brittle; this made him unfit for sea service and ended the good chance he had of reaching flag rank. Victor used to say ‘Black Jack, he is a white man.’
Commander H.C. Wright, DSC, RAN, assumed command on 6th August 1945 from Captain Armstrong. Commander (E) Clarke, OBE, DSC, RAN (later rear admiral) returned to Australia to become Acting Captain and General Manager of Williamstown Dockyard. The First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Tom Morrison, OBE, DSC, RAN, (later Rear Admiral) left the ship to do a staff course. Lieutenant Commander J.M. Ramsay, the youthful 28-year-old navigator and now Sir James Ramsay, also left to do a staff course, but returned to the ship in December 1945. Lieutenant D.J. Hamer, DSC, RAN, left the ship to go to Germany. A brilliant officer who had won prize after prize for coming top of his courses, everyone expected him to become an Admiral. Instead he became a politician and is now Senator Hamer. Lieutenant Ashley Brown left Australia soon after the war ended and did a tour of Germany before taking command of an LST.
The gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander Shaw, RANR (S), became the first lieutenant. Lieutenant B.S. Murray (later Rear Admiral) stayed with the ship.
Commander (S) Hathereel, the supply officer, had transferred from the seaman branch when he was a lieutenant, an unusual event. A number of the RANVR officers left Australia before the ship sailed for Sydney, but there was still some serving in the ship at the conclusion of hostilities, in fact most of the radar officers were RANVR.
Three midshipmen, Baker, Vaughan and Mclnerney, left Australia in England to do courses and spend time in RN ships, rejoining the ship in December 1945. Midshipman Mclnerney, who retired as a commodore, served in the battleship Queen Elizabeth while Australia was in dockyard hands.
The chief buffer was CPO Bob Beaven, who was always telling stories about his life in the navy. Everyone’s friend was AB Bob Haskell, the three badged torpedo office writer whose son was an RANR lieutenant in HMAS Kiama. Bob Haskell was many a sailor’s ‘sea daddy’, and was always ready to give advice, even to the extent of writing love letters for the sailors.
Most of us expected the Japanese to fight to the end as the Germans had done. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, followed by the Russian entry into the war against Japan, and then the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki on 9th August, changed everything. The ship’s company listened to every broadcast eagerly. The Japanese haggled for terms that would keep Emperor Hirohito on his throne. Sometimes it seemed as though the Japanese would never surrender.
About midnight on 14th August 1945, at Devonport (UK double daylight saving time put us 10 hours behind time in Australia) we in Australia woke to air raid sirens, hooters, whistles, followed by yelling and then an announcement over the ship’s loud speakers that ‘the war was over’ – ‘The Nips have had it’ – ‘Out all Rockies’.
It was raining, but that did not stop about half the ship’s company from running through the dockyard and heading for Plymouth Hoe, where servicemen and civilians, many only in pyjamas, were gathered in the rain.
On 15th August, VJ Day, after cleaning up, leave was granted from 1000. The RN ships ‘spliced the main brace’ with an extra tot of rum, but as the Australia did not have a grog issue the wardroom supplied the ship’s company with beer.
In the evening just about everyone who was able to headed for Plymouth Hoe. Many had been drinking all day, and really let their hair down. Many groups were doing the hokey pokey, and you would see ATSs, WRENS or WAAF girls having exchanged jackets and caps with servicemen. I remember seeing an ATS girl doing the hokey pokey with an RAF cap and a lieutenant commander’s jacket. A Vice- Admiral was walking through the crowd with a girl in his arms. Squealing schoolgirls, their faces smeared with lipstick, were kissing anyone they saw. Anyone getting close to the baths or Sound risked being splashed or pulled into the water by clothed or partly-clothed revellers.