- Birch, Albert
- Biographies and personal histories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
HUGH DAVID STEVENSON was born in The Valley, a suburb of Brisbane on 24th August 1918 to the Reverend William Henry and Katherine Stevenson. His father was the Rector of Holy Trinity Church and later became Anglican Bishop of Grafton, New South Wales.
His paternal grandfather was master of a sailing vessel, Chevert, plying between Sydney and Pacific Island ports and his maternal grandfather was William Saumerez Smith, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney.
Young Stevenson was educated at Southport School and participated in most sports, athletics, football, cricket and represented his school in rowing. There were three boys and one girl in his family. The boys all joined the services and the girl became a ballet teacher.
The ultimate decision to choose a naval career was entirely his own although it was no doubt influenced by the stories of the sea related to him by his paternal grandmother when he was a young boy.
His naval career began when he joined the Royal Australian Navy on 13 September 1932. His ambition from that day forward was to be captain of his own ship. Included in his class of cadets were such names as Bassett, Grabbe, Brown, Dollard, Dovers, Gay, Fenner, Mears, McMurray, Mussared and Penny. He was the smallest and shortest of that august company, measuring 4 foot 10½ inches.
The class of 1932 was known as the ‘Jervis Year’ for the very good reason that in later years it was to produce a greater percentage of officers of high rank than any other class in the history of the Naval College. Details of the class are shown at the end of this article.
Upon graduating from Naval College David was Dux of the year and received colours in swimming, tennis, cricket and Rugby. He was appointed, with the rest of his class, to HMAS Canberra in January 1936. In later years when serving as Flag Officer Commanding, Australian Fleet, he said ‘When we joined Canberra Sub Lieutenant V.A.T. Smith was in charge of cadets and later Sub Lieutenant R.I. Peek.’ Both were destined for high rank and knighthoods. ‘Lieutenant Commander Dechaineux as Torpedo Officer was our ‘Snotties’ nurse.’
Late in 1936 Canberra visited Adelaide on the occasion of the city’s Centenary Celebrations. Also in that year young Stevenson was promoted to midshipman. He left the ship in the beginning of 1937.
Midshipman Stevenson was posted to the Mediterranean where he joined the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. The Spanish Civil War was raging at this period and the fleet found itself involved in a passive role. He served also in the cruiser Devonshire and the destroyer Garland. The Abyssinian War required patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean and young Stevenson obtained valuable knowledge of the area, which was to become a principal theatre of naval war in World II.
The period May 1938 – January 1939 passed in courses in the United Kingdom. On his return to Australia he was posted to HMAS Hobart. He was serving in the cruiser when promoted to Lieutenant early in 1940. The War brought new dispositions to the Australian Fleet and Hobart served in the Red Sea area in the second half of 1940. Her involvement in the Somaliland Campaign is well documented but suffice to say it introduced Lieutenant Stevenson to war.
In August 1941 he joined the new N class destroyer, HMAS Napier, leader of the 7th Destroyer Flotilla. The destroyer arrived in the Mediterranean at the most crucial period when the Greek and Crete Campaigns were drawing to their unhappy conclusions. Napier joined the Tobruk Ferry and participated in the desperate convoys to Malta.
While serving in this ship he had the opportunity to meet the troops who fought it out ashore. Napier served a short period with the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean and was then detached to support the Allied invasion of Madagascar. One of the interesting operations of this latter campaign was the landing of Commandos at Morondava, halfway down the west coast of the island. Stevenson went ashore with the Commandos.
In March 1943 he joined HMAS Nepal as First Lieutenant, still with the rank of Lieutenant, which he held until after the end of the war. With Nepal he served again in the Indian Ocean. In 1944 he returned to Australia en route to the United Kingdom for his Long Navigation Course.
Before he sailed he took one of the most important steps in his life and one that no doubt had a steadying influence on his naval career. On 18 April 1944 he married beautiful Myra Clarke of Melbourne. The ceremony was held at St. Peters Church, Eastern Hill in Melbourne. His best man was Robert Reid Brown, a fellow cadet of his ‘Jervis Year’.