- Wrigley, Ian (Peter)
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2013 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Ian Wrigley
With a proud sporting heritage we surprisingly hear little in the way of naval sporting activities and achievements in these pages. This short article looks at some memorable historic achievements on sporting fields during and post WWII.
The first whistle
I entered the RAN as an Ordinary Seaman at HMAS Cerberus just short of my 19th birthday in August 1942. An interest in sport was important to shaping my future naval career and may have helped influence my selection for Officer Cadet Training.
As a newly promoted Midshipman RANR I was posted to the Bathurst class minesweeper HMAS Deloraine, then conducting east coast convoy and anti-submarine patrols. It was during this time that she rescued survivors from the torpedoed United States merchantman Lydia M. Child. She also assisted in towing into Sydney Harbour the torpedoed Liberty ship Peter H. Burnett.
Deloraine had previously gained fame while patrolling off Darwin carrying out a successful attack with her sisters Katoomba and Lithgow against the IJN Submarine I-124, having the distinction of being the first ship to have sunk an enemy submarine in Australian waters. After some time learning the ropes in Deloraine and now a Sub Lieutenant, I needed some big ship experience to gain my Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate, with a posting to the heavy cruiser and flagship HMAS Australia. So it was that I took the troop train from Sydney to Townsville, a seven day journey, and there joined the sloop HMAS Swan for a short passage to Palm Island to join my new ship. At this stage of the war, in June 1943, the cruisers Australia and HMAS Hobart, the destroyers HMA Ships Arunta and Warramunga and US ships Flusser and Ralph Talbot were based in the excellent anchorage off Palm Island. It was safe because Japanese submarines did not venture inside the Barrier Reef. From here the cruisers, accompanied by destroyers, rotated on patrols of the Coral Sea.
Palm Island, with an area of 55 km2, forms part of the Great Barrier Reef and is only 57 km from Townsville. It should be a tropical paradise but has a troubled past with greatly increased Aboriginal population of so-called troublemakers brought from the mainland. The population prior to WW II of this small island was about 1,600 and this was further increased when in July 1943 the USN constructed an air station to operate Catalina flying boats.
One of my duties in Australia was as the ship’s Physical and Recreational Training Officer and it was my job to find an outlet to improve upon the restrictive shipboard exercise routines. This included when at anchor, organising deck hockey, boxing and wrestling matches in the starboard waist and smallbore shooting matches on the forecastle. Palm Island had a sports field on which it was possible to have a game of rugby against teams from the other ships but, just as importantly, against a number of teams from the local indigenous community who thoroughly enjoyed the friendly competition. It was here that I managed to gain a place in the fiercely competitive Aussie First 15. The team captain was Leading Seaman Baldwin and another player was Engineer SBLT Norman Alexander in the back row with me, in the photo taken under the Y turret 8″ guns with our Captain H.B. Farncomb and executive officer CDR W.H. Harrington in the centre.
The final push
We were now committed to the real purposes of war and thoughts of games ashore quickly faded. Shipboard physical exercises however were necessary to maintain fitness. As the Pacific war moved north and west, Australia was frequently in action and at Leyte Gulf. Here she suffered from a devastating kamikaze attack. I was then sent to England to do the Long D Course and returned to Australia and HMAS Watson after the war ended. Whilst at Watson I was selected to be lock forward in the Navy Rugby Team.
The RAN, despite being numerically the smallest service, was determined for the first time to go all out and win the Rugby Services Premiership. Engineer CAPT McMahon, centre of the back row of the photograph, aided by team manager CMDR Power on the left and CMDR Anderson on the right, assembled a team of enthusiastic players. We had a great coach PO Bill Coleman, a 1938 Wallaby, in civvies on the left of the photo. All these years later, sadly, it is difficult to recall the names of many of my team mates. In the center of the middle row were two unforgettables: team captain Paymaster LEUT Kevin McLean, next Engineer LEUT Tiny Shultz and COOK Paul going to the right. Being a lock forward I do remember those in the photo front row: from left AB Moulder, AB Peter Johnson, AB Gibb Wood, here I am (LEUT Ian Wrigley) and CPO Tommy Lea.
We were a happy band of post war “Rah Rahs” where rank or rating meant nothing in our determination to win the premiership because those of us who were ‘hostilities only’ had been told that we would not be demobbed until we had done so. With that challenge in mind we played and beat the Army by 23 to 14 at Victoria Barracks in Sydney on 9th July 1946, having beaten the RAAF at North Sydney Oval a week earlier 8 to 6 in a tough, very hard fought game. The Navy was fairly chuffed that we had in fact for the first time ever, won the Australian Services Rugby Premiership. This was a time of post war euphoria when the Victory test cricket matches were being played, so our finale as a team was to do our country tour ending playing Northern NSW at Armidale, which I think we won 23 to 16. After this we dispersed and were demobbed. Those days on the sporting fields were happy times with a great sense of camaraderie and team mates are sadly missed.