- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia II
- September 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
We left England with the most modern and best radar in the world, the radar fitted to Australia being better than the equipment fitted to most of the ships of the BPF. However, Devonport Dockyard had not completely finished the installation and we sailed without any of the sets working. Our technical staff worked around the clock and one radar was working before our arrival at Freetown.
As the ship moved into warmer weather all the running noses and ‘flu disappeared. The ship was in peacetime routine, and instead of exercising action stations the crew went to evening quarters and exercised ‘away seaboat’s crew’ when the weather permitted.
On 28th December we entered Freetown, arriving at 0700, and were immediately surrounded by a fleet of black boys in boats with bananas, oranges, monkeys, owls plus many articles made by the natives themselves. The young Royal Marines who had not had experience with natives, and who had not seen fruit for six years, bought bananas for one penny each, quite different to the Pacific where we were getting huge bunches of bananas for one packet of cigarettes, which we then sold for sixpence.
After taking in oil and water, we sailed at 1600, heading down the coast of West Africa. There were uncleared mine fields off the coast, so paravanes were used frequently.
Captain’s Rounds were held on 29th December, the first time for about nine months. The steel mess decks were wiped over with dieseline, brightwork was polished, the upper deck holystoned. Although the ship did not look as clean and gleaming as she did pre-war, there was a big improvement since leaving the dockyard. The Royal Marines worked well cleaning the ship. One RAN Officer who had a Royal Marine as his steward found his trousers under his mattress, and when he had a go at the ‘Bootneck’ about his trousers he was told that that was the way the Marines pressed their trousers. The Marines called their mess deck ‘The Barracks’.
Pay for the Marines was quite small, 3/6 per day, whereas in the RAN an AB was receiving 8/6 per day.
We arrived at Durban on 9th January 1946. The Lady In White, who was always on the wharf singing when ships arrived or departed, was there to greet us.
One day after leaving Durban we made a rendezvous with the aircraft carrier Formidable. A draft of ten RAN sailors was received from Formidable, the men being transferred by one 27 foot whaler from either ship. The whaler was the standard seaboat in those days, pulled by five oars – they had no engines.
After crossing the Indian Ocean we arrived at Fremantle to a welcome of about 1,000 people, including some of the old crew of Australia, some of whom had been demobbed and were back in civilian life. In Fremantle at that time were HMS Devonshire, an escort carrier and four Dutch submarines.
Another big welcome was given to Australia in Adelaide, with a repeat performance in Port Melbourne. Since the light cruiser Sydney had been lost, the Aussie had taken Sydney’s place as the glamour ship. Her arrival would usually be broadcast on the radio, and there would be a story and photos in the newspapers. The ship’s company would march through the city with the salute taken by a VIP, such as the Governor.
In Melbourne 350 marchers from Aussie were joined by men from Bataan and Shropshire.
Off Sydney we met up with the battleship Anson with the Duke of Gloucester onboard, being escorted by the cruiser Bermuda. Australia followed the two RN ships into her home port and secured to No. 1 Buoy, where we remained until March.
One of the first people to join the Aussie was David Zammit, who at 15 years of age took my place as the youngest person onboard. The ship’s company went on leave, and many were demobbed. Some ended up very well in civilian life, eventually becoming judges, barristers, university lecturers as well as many other types of leading citizens.
The BPF was scaling down, and from No. 1 Buoy we would watch HMS Pioneer, its decks loaded with brand new Corsair and Hellcat aircraft, go to sea to dump the lendlease aircraft off the New South Wales coast.
On 6th April, Captain Harries left Australia, and for the third time Commander H.C. Wright assumed command of the old fighting ship.