- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Some of the ship’s company had very high point scores and would be soon due to be demobbed and were getting fed up with ‘Kipperland’, as England was called by the sailors. The food was rationed in the navy just as it was to civilians ashore. Our canteen stocks of tinned food had all gone. One thing that kept us going was that we were able to get a large stock of Bovril in the canteen so the sailors would make a beverage from Bovril and put bread in as a filling.
Jesus noticed one evening when we were walking along the wharf at the dockyard that there were large schools of small fish that looked like whitebait. We made some fishnets out of mosquito netting and some of us lived on fish about one inch long.
Commander Wright was a real gentleman, everyone called him ‘Shiner’ as Wrights are nicknamed in the navy. He had served in HMS Royal Sovereign from 1939 until February 1942. He commanded Australia after Captain Dechaineux was killed at Leyte, and was awarded the DSC for the Leyte action, also receiving a Mentioned in Despatches for Luzon. While Commander Wright was commanding officer of Australia at Devonport, the sports teams won most of the games they played against the Royal Navy. Commander Wright arranged for some of the ship’s company to go on War Effort and War Savings Loans lecture tours, where the sailors gave lectures on the Pacific. These tours were like leave with all expenses paid.
Sightseeing tours of Cornwall and Devon were arranged in RN buses and for those who did not go ashore records were obtained for the SRE equipment. The ship’s company’s favourite record was the then banned ‘She lost it at the Astor’. When the weather became cold, Commander Wright was able to issue the ship’s company with winter clothing, including sheepskin vests.
In November Victorious arrived with her huge hangar fitted out to carry war brides. The cruiser Frobisher, being used as a cadets training ship, visited Plymouth. Other ships to arrive were the cruisers Nigeria (still carrying X turret), Phoebe, a ‘Dido class light cruiser, and the escort carrier Campania. The ex-RAN destroyer Napier was one of many destroyers to enter Devonport. The dockyard was so full of warships that when Cumberland arrived she had to be berthed alongside Australia. It was interesting to compare Cumberland with Australia. Until Australia had 5 feet cut off her funnels in 1945, she had taller funnels than the RN Counties. Australia had her 4 inch guns on the upper deck, whereas the RN County class still carried theirs on a 4 inch gun deck above the upper deck. Australia was the only County without an aircraft crane, as hers were damaged beyond repair in Lingayen Gulf in January 1945. The boats stowed forrard had to be lowered and hoisted by hand from 1945.
At Devonport we received new 1945 model motor boats fitted with Kitchin rudder gear. This equipment consisted of two curved plates working on a vertical axis around the propeller. Thus, when the plates were closed behind the propeller the boat would go astern by the thrust of the wash on the plates, even though the propeller would be still turning ahead. Our old motor boat was sent to the dockyard boat pound, where old boats and those under repair were moored, boats of all types, pinnaces, cutters, gigs, etc., with many ships crests and names on them. Many of these boats ended up as firewood, whilst today they would be worth a fortune.
At the dockyard there were compounds where anchors, propellers and other equipment removed from ships or carried as spares, were stored. Each part taken from a ship had the ship’s name printed on it, and it was sad to see such names as Repulse, Barham, Calcutta, Dorsetshire, Penelope and Exeter, all Plymouth-based ships lost during the war.
Below decks Australia was much more bare than the RN ships. On the mess decks some of the RN ships had corticene (editor: Corticene was a linoleum-type decking. On larger ships it was an alternative to wood on high areas such as the bridge and bridge wings, where men had to stand for long hours on watch. This was to protect their feet from the cold of metal decks. ) whereas Aussie had bare steel decks. The RN ships had far more wooden doors and fittings than Australia had. Most of Australia’s ship side scuttles were plated over, some being replaced at Devonport after the war, whilst the remainder were replaced in 1946 at Garden Island.