- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Kanimbla I, HMAS Sydney III
- March 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
After leaving Aden the ship ran into a sandstorm. The sand hit with such force that it hurt, and the sandstorm persisted until we were in the vicinity of Jabal at Tair on the following afternoon.
On 6th July we passed through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean. Here the weather was perfect. Each afternoon we would stop and most of the ship’s company not on duty would go for a swim over the side. It became a contest as to who could dive from the highest part of the ship and when someone dived off the sponson someone else dived off the flight deck. However, when Captain Harries saw a naval airman diving off the island he stopped all high diving. Another day about a dozen chaps dived over the side before the ship had stopped and the motor cutter had to pick them up.
Before arriving at Malta the ship stopped for three hours, and the ship’s company washed the sand from the ship’s sides caused by the sandstorms in the Gulf of Aden.
We spent three days in Malta and then sailed for Gibraltar. A day out of Malta a signal was received giving an aircraft report of a white vessel about to sink. The Sydney altered course and increased speed to 24 knots. The Sydney arrived at the reported position to find a dead, decomposing camel, which stank like hell.
At Fremantle we embarked Captain Edward Mills, a Merchant Navy officer who had cancer and wanted to die in England. However, he died on 16th July and was buried at sea between Malta and Gibraltar.
Two days were spent at Gibraltar. Soon after sailing we passed the Aircraft Carrier USS Midway with an escort of 4 destroyers.
Captain Harries was stricter about the ship’s company being in its dress of the day than was Captain Dowling. Partly because the Sydney was not carrying out flying exercises between Australia and England, Commander Smith had the job of making sure that the sailors were in the dress of the day. When Commander Smith explained in his daily orders the reason why sailors were required to change from their dirty working clothes to clean No. 2s – because it was more pleasant living on the mess deck with everyone in clean clothes – the sailors accepted the dress of the day rules.
As we arrived at Portsmouth, 16 aircraft of the 21st Carrier Air Group flew overhead. We arrived on 24th July 1950 and secured alongside the dockyard wall astern of the aircraft carrier Victorious and ahead of the battleship Duke of York. The light fleet carrier Warrior, cruiser Argonaut and Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert were moored off the dockyard.
Portsmouth was far better than Devonport as from Portsmouth it only took about 1½ hours to get to London.
In the navy, some enterprising sailors start up their own firms. One chap who noticed there was room for a barber started cutting hair. One of his first customers came up and said he wanted a short haircut so the barber cut all his hair off. The sailor told his mates what a good idea it was to have all his hair off and it became the fashion until Captain Harries stopped this practice. One sailor with his hair cut off was mistaken for an escaped criminal by the Portsmouth Police.
During the August Bank Holiday weekend, Navy Week is held in Portsmouth, and 15,000 people visited the Sydney. The Implacable and Vengeance were also open as well as a lot of smaller ships. In the dockyard cinema, very interesting RN movie films taken during the war were shown.
While at Portsmouth the Theseus sailed for Korea to relieve Triumph.
Sydney sailed on Monday, August 28th 1950 for Plymouth Sound. HMS Illustrious sailed soon after we arrived. The advance party from the 21st CAG was embarked and on August 30th commenced deck landing training with six Firefly and six Sea Fury aircraft. We anchored in Tor Bay for the night with our destroyer HMS Wilton. HMS Illustrious and her destroyer anchored inshore from us.
The next day Firefly 208 bounced on landing and entered the third barrier, continued on and went over the bow. The Firefly seemed to be run over by the Sydney and everyone thought the pilot had gone down with his Firefly until he bobbed up 100 yards behind the Sydney. Excellent seamanship by HMS Wilton resulted in the pilot being recovered within three minutes of the accident. The pilot only suffered an injured eardrum. In those days naval aircraft cost between 45,000 pounds sterling and 65,000 pounds sterling each.