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HMAS Cerberus



After going through the recruiting process I officially became a member of the Royal Australian Navy on the 13th February 1960. I don’t recall what day of the week that was but something tells me it was a Saturday. A crowd of us turned up at ANA House; a pokey little office block on the north side of St George’s Terrace a couple of doors west of Barrack street. We swore the oath of allegiance and all that stuff and signed on the dotted line. We were then given our train tickets and allowed loose with instructions to be on the Westland that night. The Westland was the train to Kalgoorlie that connected with the train across the Nullarbor. It left Perth about 1830 hours and arrived in Kalgoorlie next day.

I was there on time with Mum and Dad and a small case containing the basic items of gear I needed to get to Melbourne. I think there was a sister or two on the platform at Perth Station too. I was cashed up having sold my motor bike a day or two before. (The money was in the bank of course and I had just enough cash for the trip.)

The train was a very old fashioned affair with wooden carriages. We had no beds and had to sit up all night. I think it was drawn by a diesel locomotive but it is possible it was a steam engine. No one seemed to be in charge of us and I recall having a few beers which we bought from pubs in the little towns at which the train stopped along the way. Someone would always make a mad dash from the train to the pub and back in time for the departure. I think the drivers were sympathetic because departure was always heralded by repeated blasts on the whistle.


The train from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta was much the same style as the Westland. The carriages were exactly like those we see in old western movies. Compartments holding four people lined a single corridor. Each person had a bunk, the bunks converted into seats during the day. At each end there was a door opening onto a platform, fully exposed to the elements, and allowing access to the next carriage. There was a dining car that served up reasonable, old-fashioned, meals like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding etc – just what we needed in the heat of February on the Nullarbor.

That train rattled, swayed, jerked and clanked for two days and two nights across the Nullarbor and into Port Augusta where we boarded another, similar train for the four hour run down to Adelaide. From there it was overnight again without beds to Melbourne.

At Flinders Street station we staggered off dirty, tired and bedraggled. Some Navy people herded us into a blue Navy bus that took us on the two hour drive through Frankston and down the Mornington Peninsular to HMAS Cerberus – Flinders Naval Depot to the south east of Melbourne. And then the fun really started.

We got off the bus to be confronted by a bunch of navy people in uniform. One, whom I later learned was a Chief Petty Officer, ordered us to line up while he did a roll call. He began calling out surnames and directing each respondent into one of several groups so formed.  Among us there was a bloke with the surname Brain. The Chief called it out – “Brain? Brain? What a stupid bloody name! Get over there with that lot Mr Brain.”


The Royal Australian Navy played a pivotal role in influencing  my life. I went in to it not knowing what I really wanted to do with my life; where I wanted to go or how I wanted to get there. I left the navy with a clear picture of what I wanted to be and with a course plotted to get me there. The fall back position – Plan B -, in the event I bombed out of medical school, was to return to the navy. Fortunately, I did not have to do that.

The navy, indirectly, taught me how to fend for myself. It gave me a strong sense of right and wrong and taught me how to tell the difference. It taught me how to stand up for myself and defend what was mine. It broadened my personal and interpersonal horizons vastly beyond what life, up until 1960, had shown me. All this it did, not by lectures or class-room lessons but by exposing me to varying experiences. If I am a man then it was the navy that made me a man. And it was only since writing this that I realized I had a comfortable, snug fit with the Navy. That was never to be repeated, after I paid off, in any of the other positions fate cast me into.

There were, as always, significant negative influences. Living in cramped quarters with numerous other males lowered moral standards and social behaviours. Swearing, foul language and personal (verbal) abuse prevailed. I learned to live with it and to a great degree, as was inevitable, adapted much of it.

In the light of many incidents reported in the media in recent times it was probably strange that I was not exposed to any “initiation” ceremonies, sexual abuse or violence. There were such things I was aware of occurring in recruit training at HMAS Cerberus. From time to time we heard of guys getting “nuggetted” That is, they were stripped naked and had boot polish applied, none-too-gently and with a brush, to their genitals. Usually, it was done to someone who had caused a class of guys to suffer some disciplinary action or severe inconvenience. Most often it went unreported because the victims knew what it was about and why it was occurring. Once, I think, a couple of recruits got caught or were dobbed in for nuggetting and were subject to disciplinary action.

Lack of personal hygiene would put one at risk of being stripped off, thrown into the showers and scrubbed with yard brooms. I heard of that happening once and the perpetrators were severely dealt with because they did cause the poor, dirty bugger, significant harm.

Other than that sort of thing we lived harmoniously together. We formed close friendships with kindred souls. Some memorable friends I met in that first six months in the navy were Johny Rae from Sydney, Ian “Bones” Lorimer from Bicton, Perth - and we remain close friends to this day; Alfred “Alf” Allen (now deceased) who came from Banksiadale; Rod Melville-Main from Perth; Bill Elkins also from Perth but who found the navy not to his liking and got out before the first six months was up; “Spike” Jones; Ron Marsh, Steve Ellis, (now a retired lawyer and with whom I had contact while working for Alcoa) and others whose names are shrouded in the mists of time. Throughout the whole nine years I was constantly meeting new people and catching up with others. There were many with whom no rapport developed, others with whom a mutual hatred developed, the majority with whom I got along with quite comfortably and a few with whom close friendship developed.

We had some wonderful times especially in the “runs” ashore. A “run” was a trip into  whichever town or city we were in at the time. It usually involved drinking beer until we couldn’t drink any more and trying to get attached to girls. There was a famous aphorism in the navy called the eternal triangle. It consisted of the sailor, the grog and the women. The grog won every time.

Fred Howley, a close friend from Collie, joined up one month after me. We had some great times ashore in Melbourne while we were in recruit school. We got arrested one night while on a run in St Kilda. We hadn’t done anything other than look askance at some weirdo as we walked into a café. Apparently, he took offence because he went away and returned with a bunch of his mates.                   

Fred and I didn’t know what to do as this crowd came into the café looking mean and nasty. Fortunately the proprietor did know what to do – he called the police. They rocked up in no time at all – must have been a quiet night in St Kilda – and right behind them was a Navy Shore Patrol paddy wagon. Fred and I got chucked in the back, despite our protestations of innocence, and to the delight of the bunch of mean and nasties who were being moved along by the civil coppers. We were carted off to Shore Patrol headquarters at HMAS Lonsdale down on the docks somewhere. We were subjected to a lecture about the booze and the errors of our ways, from a Sub Lieutenant named Lemon, then allowed to leave.  

 Over the Easter of 1960 Bill Elkins and I hitch hiked, in uniform, up to Echuca and across to Lake Eildon  and  Shepparton and other spots. We stayed in pubs and had a lot of fun. We were made welcome everywhere.

The serious side of the recruit experience was our training. The first six weeks were purely “disciplinary” training. We marched and marched and marched and went everywhere between marches “at the double” – running. We saluted everything we suspected was an officer. We did physical training under the guidance of PTI’s – navy Physical Training Instructors. We learned to tie knots, rifle drill, row whale boats, fire Lee Enfield .303 rifles. (I won the trophy for best shot in my division thanks to my shooting history in Collie.) We learned naval history, watched movies about atom bombs and chemical warfare. They put us down into an old, rusting, mock up steel ship for damage control training. This entailed us trying to block leaks through which water poured while staff banged on the walls with sledge hammers and poured smoke into the compartments. We learned how to use gas masks and crawled through tunnels full of tear gas and we had to take off the masks in a room full of tear gas. That was not pleasant.

We slept in hammocks suspended between tubular steel pipes and every morning we took down the hammocks, rolled and tied them up and stowed them away in the hammock locker.  Dormitories were separated by low walls that did not reach roof height. It was not uncommon for condoms full of water to come flying over the wall – drenching the unfortunate, random victims,  startling many others and resulting in a two-way barrage. (They were known as “flying F….”). Condoms were available from Sick Bay Outpatients free of charge.  Very few were ever put to the use for which they were intended.

We washed and ironed our uniforms, polished our boots, did kit musters, got rostered on for extra duties - like galley hand washing dishes, sweeping out the mess and presenting it to the duty officer at “rounds” which occurred every night. We studied, too because we had a lot to learn and we had exams to pass. We wrote letters home and got letters back. Now and then Mum would send over one of her fruit cakes and I would be the most popular bloke in the class until it was all gone.

That was all good fun and I loved it. Early in the peace our class Chief Petty Office Instructor by name of Card, recommended that I be made a class leader. That happened, I sewed a small anchor on the right wrist of my uniform and took charge of the class of about thirty every time we had to move from one place to another which was very often.

Steve Ellis was a pale, skinny little kid not long out from England. One day as I was taking the class, at the double, from one place to another, he threw a gaga attack and staggered out of the class. I grabbed Steve and lay him down on some grass while another kid went off to get the ambulance. I was sitting there consoling Steve when a crusty old Chief came up on a bicycle. “Are you in charge of the class that just went down there?” he demanded with menaces.  

“Yes, Chief” I replied. I had forgotten all about the thirty blokes I had been doubling down the road toward the wharf and had assumed one of them would take over. “Well”, shouted the Chief, “Your bloody class just doubled off the wharf into Western Port Bay!”

“Oh, shit!” I thought as a picture of thirty recruits floundering in the water in navy boots flashed through my mind. As it turned out they hadn’t gone into the water but had stopped short and just stood around leaderless until that Chief had turned up, put someone in charge then came looking for me.


At one stage I saw an advertisement for the Army Officer Training School at Portsea and put in a request to apply for a position there. It was rejected. (I had previously applied for it while at school but failed.) Then I got the word that Dad was crook and had collapsed with a suspected heart attack. We had, a few weeks earlier, been asked to apply for two weeks mid-winter leave if we wanted to take it. I planned to save my leave until Christmas and take a month in one hit. When I heard about Dad I put in a request to take my leave for compassionate reasons. I had to formally front up to the Divisional Officer to make the request. He was a Lt Commander named Blakey  (later of Voyager fame qv) and he knocked me back despite me telling him my father had suddenly taken ill.

I was more than somewhat pissed off about that but thought that there was nothing I could do and that I might not see my Dad again. Then, later the same day, CPO Card took me aside and told me I could request to see the training Commander, a guy called Schmitzer, and in effect appeal against Blakey’s decision. I did that and Schmitzer approved my leave application. Blakey was less than ecstatic about it and told me I was an upstart and insubordinate for going over his head. I didn’t care and flew home to Collie for two weeks in July. Dad was OK and hadn’t had a heart attack. He was just stressed out with his job anda few other pressures.

(I heard later that Blakey was not much good and ended up getting thrown out of the navy for embezzlement of funds. He was also the supply officer on HMAS Voyager when it was run over and sunk, with the loss of 82 lives, by HMAS Melbourne on 13 February 1964. He is mentioned, in less than complimentary terms, in the book, Breaking Ranks, written by Lt Commander Peter Cabban, who was the First Lieutenant on the Voyager. Schmitzer is also mentioned in Cabban’s book, not critically.  He was the Captain at HMAS Tarangau on Manus Island when I was there in 1965.)

When we finished our disciplinary training we were moved out of the hammock dormitories into modern, two story, brick accommodation blocks with, as I recall, two beds per room plus a wardrobe for each recruit. They were very comfortable compared with the hammock dormitories. During the cold winter months if we had spare time groups of us would gather in a “donga” to play cards, yarn or skylark about. Occasionally we would go to the base cinema to watch a movie. I can’t remember if we had a wet canteen.


At this time we started our medical training. There was a Navy hospital at Cerberus with medical and surgical wards, out patients department, laboratory, x-ray, physiotherapy, pharmacy etc and a Medical Training School. This latter was run by a CPO SBA named Doug Hay – would you believe. We were not directly related. The MTS was where we would spend most of the next few months receiving lectures and demonstrations. When we weren’t doing that we worked in the wards and departments. We still did a bit of marching and other ginning around. I really enjoyed the medical stuff and couldn’t get enough of it.

At the end of the basic medical training we had exams. I was annoyed that Ron Marsh beat me by one mark for dux of the class. I mentioned it to CPO Hay. He said if he had known I wanted to beat Marshie he would have made the necessary adjustments. I think he was speaking in jest.

We had to keep a “fair book” which was a hand written notebook of all our lectures and learning subjects. Periodically we would hand it in to the CPO who would mark and initial each entry. I kept that book for many years and found it among some stuff when I was working at Alcoa. I sent it off to Cerberus MTS offering it to them for their museum. I got a letter back thanking me and to say my fair book was, indeed, now in the medical museum. At the Maroochydore reunion I met the bloke who had received it and written to me. He became a physiotherapist and, more recently has become legally blind and, even more recently – died.

Often we would be rostered on to work in the “scran hall” – (dinning areas adjacent to the kitchens – known as galleys). I have a memory that always gets me giggling of a very tall, heavily built, Duty Petty Officer one evening who came to ensure we were cleaning up properly. I suspect he may have had a beer or two or even more because he came in singing in a loud and none-too-melodious voice – “ If you know any ladies who want to have babies just send ém along to me…..” And the duty Chief Cook that evening was a very stout man who, I understand, was trapped inside Voyager as she sank but helped others escape by pushing them out through a porthole he had no hope of getting himself through.

I had a rush of blood to the brain one day and talked a few mates into coming with me to take out a whaleboat. Permission was granted and away we went. Being the Class Leader I usurped the privilege of being coxswain of the boat. That meant I only had to steer it not row it. They were very heavy, wooden boats in which five rowers did the work – three on one side and two on the other. The coxswain stood at the rear manning the tiller and on the side with two rowers. Some genius in the days of yore, in Britain’s Royal Navy, had worked out this would balance the boat. Strangely enough, despite three oars on one side and two on the other the thing did not go around in circles.

It was quite a pleasant evening and my galley slaves paddled away industriously, with frequent pauses to rest. We all quite forgot we had to be back before sundown and weren’t permitted to go beyond certain markers. We were rudely reminded by a grumpy Chief  Petty Officer who appeared in a workboat and herded us back to the wharf and a thorough good dressing down. Such is life.

Sometime in July 1960 we finished our recruit training, were promoted from ”Recruit SBA” to “Ordinary SBA” and a “passing out parade” was held. This involved a parade and march past the Captain or Training Officer – I forget which – who saluted us in return for our crisply executed “eyes right”. We were advised of our postings – about half remained at Cerberus and the rest, including myself, were posted to Balmoral Naval Hospital at HMAS Penguin in Sydney. I was pretty pleased about that never having been to Sydney. Part of the transition was to take the two weeks leave I had wrested from Lt Cdr Blakey and I flew home to Perth.

The flight was interesting – it was the first time I set foot into an aeroplane which happened to be a Vickers Viscount – a rather small, by modern standards, four engine prop-jet plane.  We departed from Essendon airport – Tullamarine had not been built - and had to land at Forrest, alongside the transcontinental railway, to refuel en-route to Perth. John Landy happened to be sitting a few seats in front of me.


I spent two weeks on leave in Collie then returned to the Navy. I think I flew back to Melbourne then had to catch a train to Sydney. I do clearly recall arriving in Sydney by train and being picked up by a Navy bus at Central Station. Then began the Advanced Sick Berth training course at Penguin.

Perth Station - 13 Feb 1960
Me, Rod, Alf & Schrieber
Recruit School 03.jpg
Bill Elkins & Rod Melville-Main
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Johnny Rae
Balmoral Naval Hospital - HMAS Penguin   

I drafted into HMAS Penguin, Balmoral Naval Hospital, after returning from my first leave in July 1960. I had now risen to the dizzy rank of Ordinary Sick Berth Attendant and was allocated the lower bunk, of a set of two, and two narrow, metal lockers in WM1Mess on the first floor of the Junior Sailor’s accommodation. This was a large brick building some four stories high with a central stair well. All the floors were bare concrete painted green. WM1 Mess was right next door to the wet canteen. We had to walk past it, along the veranda, to get to the showers and toilets.

There were about twenty of us living in that Mess. They included Don Nash, Wally Black, Dusty Miller, Huck Finn, Alf Alan, Johnny Rae, Trevor Roberts, Neil Reid, Bob Noonan, Steve Ellis and more. There were no curtains and, on the south side, there was a row of windows which looked out over the main road to the hospital surgical ward and to the stores buildings in which a lot of Wrans worked. (Wrans are/were female sailors.) Because the entire establishment was built into the side of a hill overlooking Balmoral Beach and Middle Harbour, the road surface was just about at the same level as the windows of WM1 Mess and passers-by had a good view into our home. No one seemed to mind – it was all part of the adventure.

WM1 Mess. Johnny Rae at left, Nero Nash on the bunk. Note flash furniture. There was a Medical Training School (MTS) at Penguin. It was simply an old wooden hut – a relic of World War 11 - half way down the hill. It was divided into a classroom, an office and a display room where models and anatomical charts etc were displayed. We spent quite a bit of time there learning basic nursing including anatomy, physiology, hygiene and how naval sick bays were run. We were lectured by the various Chiefs and P.O.s from the various sub-branches, (e.g. laboratory, x-ray, hygiene, operating theatre, pharmacy etc), as well as by the nursing sisters and the doctors.  I was enthralled by all of that and lapped it all up.

HMAS Penguin

The MTS was run by a Chief Petty Officer Sick Berth Attendant by name of George Powell. He was known as “Powell by name , bastard by nature.” He was ex-Royal Navy and was a strict disciplinarian who did not suffer fools. He was also very fair. If you got a bollocking from George you deserved it. He delighted in telling how he was in Tobruk during WW11 and how a number of men suffered severe burns to their bums while sitting on the toilet there. Apparently, long slit trenches were dug in the desert sand and over which the thunder boxes, (toilet seats), were placed. When the trench was getting towards full they would pour a lot of petrol in and set fire to it. This was supposed to be done when the toilets were not in use but one day some one stuffed up and poured in too much petrol at the wrong time and, when ignited, instead of burning it exploded. Old George, as dour as they come, would crack up laughing for a minute or two then rapidly regain his composure and dignity and tell us how to treat burns.

The worst part of that time at Penguin was the fact we were in two watches. That meant we were rostered to work in the hospital wards every second weekend. It worked out we would start work on Friday morning and knock off  at mid-day Monday. We did call it a day at about 2000 and hand over to one SBA to look after each ward through the night. The next watch would be Tuesday night and then Thursday night. We would knock off at 1530 on the Friday and catch the bus from the main gate into Sydney where we would raise Cain in the pubs. The bus was single decker from the gate and took us to Spit Junction where we changed to double deckers that crunched and ground their way through the gears, lurched and swayed across Sydney Harbour Bridge and eventually dropped us off at a park behind Wynyard Station is the Sydney CBD. From there it was a short walk to the Kings Hotel in King Street or we could catch a train to the Bognor Hotel down towards Central Station or a cab to The Rockers at Woolloomooloo.

These would be the starting points for imbibing umpteen beers, laughing, joking and sometimes fighting with whom-ever. (Being a card carrying, certified, physical coward I usually managed to avoid involvement in the fisticuffs.) Dusty Miller was pretty to watch defending the honor of all us SBA’s against the abuse of the odd stoker or seaman foolish enough to describe him, or any of us for that matter, as “Poofter SBA’s”. 

Late in the evenings we tended to gravitate to Kings Cross to stagger into “night clubs” or to swallow half a freshly cooked chook bought from sleazy joints in the Cross – or both. On rare occasions one or two of us would win the heart of some “fair damsel” and escort her home to be rewarded by a kiss or, more often, a curt dismissal and no contribution to the cab fare.  I got abandoned in Parramatta one night after a civvy gave me, my lady friend and her off-sider a lift home to the nursing quarters at Parramatta Mental Hospital. He had promised to run me back to Penguin. Ever the gentleman I offered to alight from his vehicle and wait for him, with my lady friend, on a park seat while he took his chick further along. Of course he tooted and waved as he roared past me on his way home. I slept on the station and got the first train out of Parramatta next morning.



One night I have never forgotten,  I was in uniform, alone in a Kings Cross pub and was approached by a young woman and invited back to her place for “a drink”. I got a cab and away we went with me stammering and stuttering in anticipation. She took us to some place out near Kingsford Smith (Sydney) airport. I paid the cabby and followed her into a house where I was confronted by two or three particularly nasty sorts of bastards all pumped up and agro and waving pistols around and another bloke lying on a lounge chair and looking the colour of pale shit and in agonising pain. The upshot, excuse the pun,  was the bloke on the couch had been shot while they were attempting to rob a service station or something – they weren’t particularly interested in detailing events to me. All they wanted from me was that I fix up their mate.

Now this was a bit of a challenge. I did have a look at him and asked them for some scissors with which I cut away one leg of his trousers up to the groin. This revealed a bruised and bleeding hole in the front of his thigh. I could not find an exit wound. I bandaged the wound with some rudimentary materials and told his mates he had a bullet deep inside his thigh and needed to be operated upon by professional surgeons. By the grace of God they had little enough common sense to understand me and agreed to my suggestion that they just drive him to Royal Prince Alfred and drop him off at the entrance. He agreed too and swore to his mates he would not speak a word about the circumstances of his being wounded.

They took me with them but dropped me off somewhere short of Camperdown after assuring me that they knew where HMAS Penguin was, (the tally band on my cap clearly showed that was where I was based), and that if ever they came to suspect I had spoken to anyone about the night’s events I would have all of them, plus their pistols, to deal with. I took them at their word and have never spoken a word of it until now. (I say so in the hope and fairly reasonable assumption they would all be now dead, one way or another, or decrepit beyond the ability to track me down.) To date, touch wood, I have suffered no consequences of that evening except profound fear and anxiety in the first few months post event. And I never went to Kings Cross in uniform again.

We would return aboard from our runs ashore at ridiculous hours around Oh Dark Hundred in the mornings and gain entry to the establishment by climbing over the fence in front of the surgical ward. There was some sort of curfew by which time we had to be back aboard but we didn’t take much notice of that. Usually we arranged for someone else to collect our leave cards from the gangway, which was pretty easy to do, before the curfew time.  We would have a sleep and get up to do it all again on Saturday but we would start before lunch then. Sundays were often spent getting over Saturday. We would do things like visit Taronga Park zoo, take long ferry rides around Sydney Harbour, go to the beaches at Bondi or Manly and that sort of thing. We would usually be back aboard for Sunday night dinner after which we would crowd into the TV room to watch the Flintstones on the black and white TV set. The screen was barely visible through the cigarette smoke.

On at least two weekends Johnny Rae took me home to his parents place in, I think, Sutherland – down near Cronulla. We travelled by train. They were very nice people and made me most welcome. Johnny’s Dad had seen active service in a Field Ambulance unit in the Australian Army in WW11. I’m not sure, now, what we did on those weekends but I do recall going to Cronulla  Beach and having a drink in the odd pub or ten. There were no Lebanese there then and the thought of racial violence was never entertained.

On other occasions, John and I would find our way to a little pub somewhere in North Sydney where they played old time music and we could dance the Barn Dance, the Pride of Erin, the Gay Gordons, (nothing to do with Gays), or the Waltz Oxford with our choice of a few young and more not-so-young ladies. It was all above board and decent. Over beers John and I would lament what fate had, to date, delivered us and mourn the fact we had been born too late to participate in WW11. Looking back on it now I shall be eternally grateful I was born when I was and was spared the ravages of war be it WW11, Vietnam, the Gulf or anywhere else. And my heart bleeds for those who were not so lucky.

The hospital’s surgical ward, with operating theatre, outpatients, medical stores and administration was at the top of the hill. The medical ward – which had previously been the warrant officer’s mess, was at the bottom of the hill and right alongside the WRAN’s quarters. When we worked down there we always stopped what we were doing when groups of WRANS came back from working at HMAS Watson, or elsewhere, or left in the mornings. I took a liking to a tall, blonde WRAN whose name, was, shall we say – Mary. I mentioned this to one of the WRAN SBA’s and a few days later she reported that Mary had checked me out and was interested. I summonsed up the courage to ask her out and she accepted.

Through the retrospectoscope, it was a bit hilarious when I drove my VW beetle down to pick her up for the date.  She came out carrying a stainless steel sick-bay bucket. I asked her what that was for and she replied, “It’s for you to stand on when you kiss me goodnight.” There was a bit of humour in Mary. In the event we didn’t need the bucket because after dinner, when I drove to a romantic spot near North Head, she started crying and told me she was just getting over a relationship with some Petty Officer or other. That threw a damper on the evening and I took her back to the WRAN’s quarters. The bucket didn’t get used and I didn’t take her out again. A sequel to that occurred a few years later when I was Kellick of the Mess at Tarangau and that is detailed in that chapter of this missive.

Anyway, I have, yet again, digressed. Life at Penguin was fairly stressful particularly because of the two-watch system. At one point we were all talking about what we could do about it. It was suggested by some that we refuse to work some watches but, fortunately, that didn’t happen because it would have been mutiny. The main bitch was we were working these intolerable hours and there seemed to be no prospect of getting posted anywhere let alone to a ship. It was just one grinding work shift after another.

One weekend four of us, including Dusty Miller and Mick Walsh, went to Melbourne just for the hell of it. We drove down in someone’s decrepit Ford Prefect sedan. We stayed at the White Ensign Club which was part of the northern end of the Exhibition Buildings. I don’t recall what we got up to in  Melbourne but I do know that we got a blow-out late on Sunday night on the way back to Penguin. We returned about mid-morning on Monday and were promptly charged with being absent without leave and fronted up to the Officer of the Day. He passed the buck and we had to attend the Commander’s offender’s parade the next Thursday morning – meanwhile being on stoppage of leave. We all lined up outside the Commander’s office at 0800, Thursday and waited – and waited and waited. The word was the Commander had not turned up for work and so we waited. Eventually he did arrive


We were marched in by the Master At Arms and obeyed his order to “Off Caps”. The charges were read out and we told the Commander what had happened. We were flabbergasted  when he declared “Case Dismissed”. He then told us he could not uphold the charge against us when he was late that day because he had got a flat tyre on the way to work. He did give us a bit of a bollocking for going to Melbourne but that was all. We marched out jubilant. That Commander’s name was “Butch” Haines. He was a good bloke, a Naval Aviator, and, rumour had it, had enjoyed a degree of notoriety for flying a navy plane under the Sydney Harbour Bridge at some time in the past.

One memorable change to the monotony of Penguin occurred when HMAS Woomera, a small wooden ship used to dump redundant ammunition off Sydney Heads, was doing just that on 11 October 1960 when it blew up! Rumour had it, later, that the sailors down in the hold were pulling the silk parachutes out of flares when  one ignited causing a fire which detonated shells stacked around the hold. One bloke who survived was blasted out of the hold into the sea. Two others were killed. We were in the medical training school listening to a lecture when someone rushed in and ordered us to double down to the wharf and board a workboat. We did that - wondering what the hell was going on. A seaman officer and a couple of doctors got on also - one of them Surgeon Commander John Mitchell. There were a few able seamen as well. We set off at full speed, which wasn’t much, and headed out through Sydney Heads. Navy workboats were not supposed to do that. On the way Commander Mitchell told us what he knew – that Woomera had blown up some twenty miles out and we were to rescue and look after the survivors.

That was a bit daunting given we were only partly trained -still struggling on Bandaids 101 - and we didn’t have any medical equipment either. How we were supposed to manage multiple blast casualties was beyond my comprehension but I trusted our worthy doctors would know what to do. Lady Luck was on our side however because, after a while, we could see one of the Q class frigates – HMAS Quickmatch, I think – steaming towards us at a cracking pace. We had no radio, of course, so one of the Able Seaman got up onto the roof of the workboat cabin, with another couple of blokes hanging onto his legs. He had a navy cap in each hand and semaphored Quickmatch as she bore down on us. (Semaphore meant he waved the hats around all over the place. The various positions of the hats designated letters of the alphabet and a message was sent basically asking what the hell was going on.) Quickmatch responded with her signalling lamp – something like a huge spotlight – frantically flashing on and off . Then she roared past us heading for Sydney Heads. The seaman officer told us the message was that they had picked up all survivors and was taking them into HMAS Kuttabull at Garden Island.


So that was that. There we were, ten miles or so off Sydney Heads in a navy workboat, with nothing to eat or drink and not a single fishing line aboard. We turned around and headed back to Penguin. By the time we got there it was all over bar the shouting. One or two sailors from Woomera had been admitted to Penguin hospital with minor injuries. The more serious stuff had gone to Concord repatriation hospital.


Later, over a few beers in the wet canteen, we all recounted the adventure and talked it to death. Little did we know that the Royal Australian Navy was more than capable of producing far more dramatic and monumental disasters than that of ill-fated HMAS Woomera. And we wouldn’t have too long to wait for it to happen. Next day everything returned to its usual state of monotony. Although, I must say, I was fascinated with and thoroughly enjoyed the medical training.

After six months at Penguin we were moved up to EM2 Mess. This was on the second floor of the building and had ablutions immediately adjacent. There were about thirty of us living there. We still had the double bunk beds but were afforded the luxury of a large wooden locker in which to store our uniform, civvy clothes and other worldly possessions. Pin-up photos of family and/or female celebrities of the time adorned the inner face of most locker doors.


Mum and Dad came over to Sydney at one stage. I took them to the races at Rose Hill and down to Canberra for look around plus spent a fair bit of time driving them around Sydney in my Volkswagon Beetle.

One memorable change to the monotony of Penguin occurred when HMAS Woomera, a small wooden ship used to dump redundant ammunition off Sydney Heads, was doing just that on 11 October 1960 when it blew up! Rumour had it, later, that the sailors down in the hold were pulling the silk parachutes out of flares when  one ignited causing a fire which detonated shells stacked around the hold. One bloke who survived was blasted out of the hold into the sea. Two others were killed. We were in the medical training school listening to a lecture when someone rushed in and ordered us to double down to the wharf and board a workboat. We did that - wondering what the hell was going on. A seaman officer and a couple of doctors got on also - one of them Surgeon Commander John Mitchell. There were a few able seamen as well. We set off at full speed, which wasn’t much, and headed out through Sydney Heads. Navy workboats were not supposed to do that. On the way Commander Mitchell told us what he knew – that Woomera had blown up some twenty miles out and we were to rescue and look after the survivors.

One of our duties was that of Duty SBA in “The Tent”. The Tent was the unofficial name given to the venereal Diseases ward in Balmoral. Naval Hospital. Its official name was the Infectious Diseases ward. It consisted of two old WW11 huts - one for accommodation and one containing the office and treatment room. It was rarely empty and, after ships returned from a Far East tour, was often full. The duty SBA had to give the antibiotic injections morning and evening. Mostly it was cillicaine penicillin – a thick, gunky, white stuff injected through a 19 gauge needle – which is a pretty thick needle. We learned to give these without causing pain. We had to – there were some very big, tough sailors among the patients at times. (Some, of course, fainted at the sight of needles.) To this day I occasionally prescribe cillicaine penicillin, for such ailments as suppuratives tonsillitis or scarlet fever, [saw a case just recently] but I teach the nurses to inject it the way we did in The Tent rather than by the cruel methods they are trained to use these days.

There was an unwritten tradition in The Tent. Somehow, the patients managed to get hold of beer every evening. Never enquired how but it was arranged under the supervision of the sailor with the most senior rank among the patients. I am not aware of it ever being abused. Part of the deal was that two cans or stubbies of  beer had to be left in the treatment room fridge for the duty SBA when he turned in for the night. This arrangement, of course, was kept secret from the surgeon captain and other senior officers. I am given to understand that, long after I had left Penguin, the whole ceiling of the main accommodation building in The Tent came crashing down under the weight of all the empty bottles hidden up there.

For me, relief from the boredom came late in 1962, when I was selected to do a medical laboratory technician’s course. That entailed working in the hospital laboratory at Penguin for three months. If the Petty Officer in charge was satisfied and made appropriate recommendations to the Surgeon Captain, I would then be seconded to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney for eleven months rotating through the haematology, biochemistry, bacteriology and histology laboratories. The Petty Officer was Tom Bourke who was not generally very popular but I got on very well with him. I was fortunate enough to be recommended.

By this time I had started going to night school trying to get my matriculation and I had developed the idea that I could, perhaps, become a doctor sometime. I had discussed it with a couple of the young Surgeon Lieutenants and they encouraged me. I brought my first VW Beetle to enable me to get to night school at Ultimo in Sydney and in North Sydney. It came in handy for driving in to Royal Prince Alfred from Penguin every day. (Not to mention going to the beaches and out to parties). There was an option to live ashore but I chose to stay at Penguin. There were other blokes doing other courses at RPA. Wally Black was also doing the lab course, Ian Lorimer was doing x-ray as was Curley Craig – I think and Johny Rae was doing Operating Theatre Technician.

We would all pile into the VW every morning and roar off through Sydney’s northern suburbs, over the bridge and duck and dodge through back streets to the hospital. After work we would head back again or, occasionally, spend a few hours in the pubs or see a movie or whatever. There were some gorgeous girls at RPH. I took a couple out but nothing ever came of it all. One of the nicest was a pretty little blonde  who was the image of Olivia Newton-John. (Olivia, of course, at that time, had not danced her way to fame with John Travolta. In fact I doubt she had even been born). Another was a chubby but pretty brunette . Another was a real stunner. I sometimes wonder what became of them.

One very nice lass invited me home for drinks on Christmas morning to be followed by joining the family for Christmas lunch. I dutifully attended at 1000 only to discover she had gone to pick up some relative or other and got delayed. I spent a couple of very uncomfortable hours with the other members of the family. They were all hoi poloi, upper crust etc and I was a very unsophisticated kid from the bush way out of my depth. Eventually, I left before my host got back and returned to Penguin where I had missed out on Christmas Dinner (lunch). I managed to scrounge some left-overs from the duty cooks. The girl was very apologetic at work the next week. She also announced her engagement to a rich kid.

There was no formal educational activities associated with this laboratory “training”. We just learned what the civilian technicians taught or showed us. There was no curriculum, certainly no lectures and no exams. The Navy relied upon the charge technicians reports on our abilities. That was not good enough for me and I brought a whole stack of books on the relevant subjects and plagued the technicians with questions. The haematologist at the time was Dr Harry Kronenburg. He was a really good guy and was not above sitting down with me and discussing the finer points of haematology. He went on to become a highly respected senior haematologist and transfusion medicine specialist. His senior technician was Alex Wilson, a firm but fair and friendly bloke whose son later joined the RAN as a sick bay tiffy. In bacteriology there was an elderly female doctor Phyllis Rountree. She was very approachable. Dr Rountree went on to become a world renowned expert in “Golden Staph” – aka staphylococcus aureus. The head technician was cut from a different cloth and I did not like her at all – the feeling was mutual. The Biochemistry department was run by Brian Watson. He was a very pleasant, very intelligent young bloke for whom nothing was too much trouble. I can’t remember who the biochemists were.

I thoroughly enjoyed those eleven months at Prince Alfred. The work was fascinating and stimulating. The people, for the most part, were wonderful and we occasionally went out to department functions. I obtained permission to attend the casualty department on Saturday nights to observe what went on. I was able to witness a delivery in the obstetric wing – first baby I ever saw born. I spent a bit of time in the operating theatres too.

Of course the whole thing wasn’t worth a pinch of billy goat poop as far as outside recognition was concerned. The civvies did a three year course at technical college to gain their qualifications. The navy was happy for us to do fourteen months hands on training without formal education and then considered us capable of running hospital laboratories. It is all different nowadays. The navy guys must do the same training as the civvies and it is a university course. Even worse than that, now I believe, is that the navy does not have any specialised sick bay staff.

I studied each of the laboratory subjects as much as I could, often staying back in the labs at night to transcribe laboratory methods into my own methods book and reading the text books available in the labs. I was also attending night school at Ultimo studying English, history and maths as a start towards gaining university entrance. There was nowhere at all at Penguin where one could study properly. The lights went out in the mess decks at, I think, ten pm. Anyway they were always a hive of activity. For a long while I would return aboard from evening classes and go to the hospital medical ward and study in the tiny little dining rooms adjacent to the galley on the ground floor. That all came to an end when, one night, a Sick Bay Petty Officer named Tug Wilson found me there. Brim full of his own importance, supplemented by a generous dash of arrogance,  topped off by a few beers he demanded to know what I was doing there without his permission. He, like every other Chief and PO, knew I studied there but this particular night he decided to impose his authority upon me and ordered me to get out and never come back when he was duty. Thereafter I found other places to study. The world is full of hand-brakes like Wilson.

In the Easter of 1963 we decided to drive to Surfer’s Paradise in my VW, Ian Lorimer and a civvy who worked in biochemistry at Prince Alfred knocked off work at 5 o’clock on the Thursday and set off. We didn’t really know how long it would take and certainly didn’t know the road. At one stage, very late at night we hurtled around a tight bend and just missed another car hurtling in the opposite direction. He was really flying and I said to the others, “There’s no way he will get around that bend.” And he didn’t. In the rear vision mirror I saw the car keep going straight on then disappear in a cloud of dust.

We stopped and went back. Fortunately, all those in the car got out all right. It didn’t roll over but was pretty severely damaged.

 We pressed on, finally arriving in Surfers the next morning. We went surfing, drank booze and tried our luck with the bikini-clad chicks without success. We went to a dance one night then camped out in the hills somewhere where the mozzies were so bad we packed up and went back to the beach to sleep. To this day, Ian reckons he had latched on to some sweet young thing but I wouldn’t drive her home. I vaguely recall her and that she lived in some God-forsaken place umpteen miles from Surfers. The next night I had some sort of allergic rhinitis and went to casualty at the local hospital. I didn’t get much sympathy or help. I don’t remember the trip back to Sydney.

On another occasion Ian and I decided to drive down to Kosciusko so that I could see snow for the first time. Ian had his leg in plaster after his wife-to-be, Jan, had broken it for him while playing beach rugby. (Which anecdote they both now describes as false.) He also had a walking stick. We got to Kosciusko all-right and were sitting in the snow on top of a huge hill. Ian put the walking stick down alongside him on the snow. It promptly started sliding down the hill. He couldn’t walk much without it and I had to follow it all the way down the hill then struggle back up with it. He still owes me for that one.

On that same trip we drove back along the coast. We arrived in Bega early one evening and were walking up the main drag looking for a café when the local police bailed us up. We were dressed in Number Eights - navy jeans and black pullovers. The coppers took an instant dislike to us and ordered us to get out of town. I don’t know why. I always reckoned it was because Ian looked like a criminal or an escapee in his number eights.

On another occasion, I was on duty in the medical ward for a weekend and asked one of the Wrans if she would bring my VW in from the parking area so I could wash and polish it. Sailors had to park their vehicles in a crude parking area outside the depot. Some of the officers made no secret of their opinion that sailors should not have cars. Anyway, this Wran, one Joyce Corkery, agreed and I stood outside the ward awaiting her arrival. I saw a VW coming down the road but didn’t think it was mine because this one had no bumper bars, with over-riders, as mine did. Sadly, it was mine. Some thieving bastard had knocked off front and back bumpers. The Navy was not interested and neither were the civilian police. Fortunately, insurance covered the cost of replacements and I hammered flat the threads on the bolts. Dunno what I would have done if the bumpers had to be removed from then on – but it must have deterred thieves because they never got stolen again.

One Saturday night Dusty Miller and I, after imbibing one or two in the mess, rang the nurses quarters at  Royal North Shore Hospital – we knew quite a few nurses there. We arranged to pick up a couple in my VW and take them to a party being thrown by some SBA’s at a flat in Cremorne or somewhere nearby. On the way to RNSH we got pulled over by two coppers – one riding a motor bike and the other, a sergeant, in the side car would you believe? I had a king brown in my hand and passed it to Dusty but he dropped it as we stopped. I had the window open preparing to feign innocence at the constabulary but was thwarted by Dusty loudly complaining that he had dropped the bottle and couldn’t find it on the floor. We were persuaded to turn around and go back to Penguin. They followed us to ensure our intentions were honourable. Luckily, breathalizers hadn’t been invented and  we weren’t chucked into the slammer!

I finished the  laboratory “training” in August 1963 and returned to work at Penguin. Fortunately, they put me into the laboratory working with Chief Petty Officer Ron Josey. He was a good bloke and, years later,  organized the bi-ennial Sick Bay re-unions. He was also a long-time secretary of the Naval Association. (Unfortunately he died early in 2008).

I thoroughly enjoyed working in the laboratory. Taking blood for white cell counts and making blood smears on glass slides, then staining them and examining them under the microscope. Similarly with pus from infected wounds and penile discharges – doing Gram stains to identify pathological bacteria. I can still remember the standard format in which we reported gonorrhoea – “Gram negative intracellular diplococci morphologically resembling N. gonorrhoea.”  and setting up cultures on blood-agar to grow and identify bacteria in wounds or sputum etc. Doing simple biochemistry on blood and urine; glucose tolerance tests and so on.

A short while later I was told I had to take all the leave I had accumulated.  I took the front passenger seat out of the VW and stowed it behind the back seat replacing it with five jerry cans of petrol and my battered old suit case. I then undertook the epic drive from Sydney via Mildura and Port Augusta, across the Nullarbor to Collie. The road from Port Augusta to about Balladonia was dirt/gravel. I called into Bruce Rock for a night which coincided with Trevor McPhee’s buck’s night and was a story in itself.

It rained cats and dogs from Balladonia on and, just east of Merredin, water was running across the road about two feet deep. Traffic was banked up and only the trucks were going through. Being completely knackered from lack of sleep I was keen to get to Bruce Rock.  I noticed that as the trucks went through they created a bow wave in front and a shallow wake behind. Full of cunning I drove the VW right in behind a truck as close as I could get and followed him into the water. About half way through the VW started to bump and tried to float. Another six inches of water would have seen me swept off the road into deep water – in more ways than one. But I made it and pushed on to Bruce Rock.

After a month’s leave I drove back to Sydney. The jerry cans didn’t explode which was fortunate and lucky. (I didn’t smoke in those days.) They didn’t get used either.

I don’t think I had to go back into the two watch system again. I do recall being the on-call laboratory technician fairly frequently. One night the duty medical officer called me out to do a full blood picture on an Army officer with a fever of unknown origin. While taking the blood I casually asked him if he had been overseas in recent months. (The doctor had not asked him.) He told me he had just recently returned from time in the jungles of New Guinea. I took a bit of extra blood and tested it for malaria – it was full of malarial parasites. I got the doctor down to the lab and showed him but he said we had better wait until Chief Josey came in next morning to confirm the diagnosis. Ron immediately confirmed my findings and gave me a pat on the back. Not surprisingly the Army bloke got fairly crook overnight and was moved out to Concord as soon as the doctors accepted my diagnosis. I remember another time, a Saturday afternoon, lying by the swimming pool when my name came over the loudspeakers ordering me to report to the surgical ward, “at the rush.” That was a bit of a bugger because, for one, I was engrossed in the latest James Bond novel and, for another, the swimming pool was at the bottom of the hill and the surgical ward at the top. I managed to get there in pretty good time but out of breath. There was a patient vomiting blood all over the place. I had to cross match and prepare blood for a transfusion as he was being prepared for theatre.

The swimming pool, by the way, was available to us to use out of hours, but its primary function was for diver training.  It was just a big, long concrete hole pumped full of sea water from the adjacent harbour.

Then there was the day I had to do a glucose tolerance test on a sailor from one of the ships.  The process was to take a blood sample then give him a drink of glucose solution after which we took blood every half hour for a total of five samples.  Problem was I had a shameful hangover from a big night the night before.  I forgot to give this guy the glucose.  He was a real smart-arsed bastard, had had the test previously but said nothing until he returned to his ship, saw his Captain and stated a complaint against me. It all finished up in Tom Burke's lap and he had to give me an awful bollocking but I didn't get charged with anything.  That was probably because of my pitiful but genuine remorse and embarrassment.

The story does not end there, either.  Not long after that, a bunch of SBA's organised a big party on one of the nearby beaches.  I was nominated to pick up a 10 gallon keg from somewhere.  I removed the front passenger seat from the VW, put the keg there and took it to the beach. While we were getting it out, there was a rough grab at my shoulder - it was the glucose tolerance bloke all full of booze and belligerence and itching to rearrange my dentition.  He was about to take a swing at me even though I had the weight of one side of the keg but, another very large matelot intervened.  He told the aggro bloke that if he lay a hand on me he would have to deal with him and that he ought to be grateful that i'd delivered the keg for them.  I don't know who he was but I was grateful and the other bloke didn't bother me again.

On the 1st November 1963 I was promoted to the rank of Acting Leading Sick Berth Attendant.  I was now able to wear a Leading Hand's anchor on my left upper arm and to have the letter 'L'  denoting laboratory, under the red cross of my right arm badge. Wacko!!!!

I was on night duty in the surgical ward on Friday 22nd November 1963.  At 0600 on Saturday 23rd I turned on the radio, situated in the ward office and with speakers in each of the wards. This was our way of rousing the patients.  It was then that we learned that John F. Kennedy, President of the United States of America had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. We were all shocked and there was none of the usual boisterous waking patients' antics.

Earlier that same week, I think, I had a nasty altercation with a Chief Petty Office Stoker by the name of Wolff and known as Zeke.  He was a patient being treated for a broken leg with a plaster of paris cast.  Along with a few others ambulant patients he had a bed on an enclosed veranda.  He was a loud mouth, always shouting and yelling and annoying other patients.  This particular morning he was at it as usual and I just lost my cool and shouted at him, "Shut up, you loud mouthed bastard!!" That was a huge mistake.  Wolff leaped from his bed, bounced over two intervening beds and had me by the throat and slammed against the wall in an instant.  This, despite his broken leg and plaster cast.  He held me like that for what seemed like a couple of eternities, his face an inch or two from mine, his eyes blazing wide in anger and a fist under my nose.  There wasn't a thing I could do even if I wanted to.  He would have loved to have re-arranged my face, but I could see the hesitation in his eyes - he would lose a great deal if he struck a sailor.  Fortunately for both of us, Ron Josey, the Chief Petty Officer SBA turned up along with a few others and got Wolff to let go.  After some palaver I was persuaded to apologise and nothing more was heard of it all.


Given our living conditions it is amazing that we all lived together in relative harmony.  Fights among ourselves were extremely rare, although from time to time, there would be flares of temper.  Ozzy Ring was kellick of the mess for much of my time there and he did not tolerate any stupidity.  Naturally we did tend to form what might be called cliques but really were just a  a phenomenon whereby each individual moved toward others of similar interests and personalities.  My clique consisted of John Rae, Alf Alan, Bones Lorimer, Dusty Miller, Keith Keft and a few others depending on the time frame within 1960-63.


Shortly after driving back from my leave in WA I received notice of a draft to Leeuwin - back in WA.  I drove back across the Nullabor again and joined Leeuwin officially on 1st March 1964.

What follows now is an extract from the memoirs of Trevor (Tammy) Roberts, one of my fellow SBA's at Penguin and a fellow West Australian.  He sent it to me a few years ago.  It reads as follows :

"Ken Hay was pound for pound (even though he was a little bloke) the smartest lad in our group.  He was endowed with a neat  blend of wickedness and maturity, stood his ground on important issues, mixed with the hoi poloi and plebs with equal levels of panache.  Surrounded by biggish buffoons, his was the voice of reason, even for Dusty, and many a potential bust up was hosed down by his logic.  Still, he wasn't beyond darting around the pubs and trying his luck with the girls.  One of the WRANS he took out arrived at his car with a bucket.  "What's that for?" he asked.  "That's in case you want to kiss me goodnight," she replied.  She was a good six inches taller than Ken - in fact, everyone is."

Building - Junior Sailor's Mess
Front - Nash and Rae
WM1 Mess
Sydney Run 02.jpg
HMAS Woomera 1.png
HMAS Woomera
Leave 1963 01.jpg
HMAS Leeuwin

©2019                                                                            HMAS LEEUWIN                                               Dr Ken Hay MB BS D(Obst)RCOG


I officially drafted into HMAS Leeuwin, in Fremantle, on 1st March 1964. In fact I was already living there in a cabin shared with Alf Allen. I had driven down from Collie the day HMAS Melbourne hit Voyager and the disaster hit the media, 11 February 1964, and participated in a “clear lower deck” when the Naval Officer In Charge, Western Australian Area, a Commodore , addressed the assembled ranks. I don’t remember much about it except that his main message was, “We must close the ranks and carry on.” Yair!

I was an Acting Leading Sick Berth Attendant, Laboratory Rate. The other sick bay staff were Surgeon Lieutenant Mick Tiller of Voyager fame; a Nursing Sister; Chief Petty Officer Sick Berth Attendant Jack Nash, Sick Berth Attendants Alf Allen, Ian “Bones” Lorimer and one other who shall remain un-named.

Tiller was serving the final year of a four year engagement in the navy. He had joined Leeuwin from HMAS Voyager leaving that ship at the end of 1963 after it completed a six month tour of duty in South-East Asia. It was an epic journey with the ship under the command of Captain Duncan Stevens – generally known as Drunken Duncan! Tiller was a big man and quite pleasant to work with. He rocked up to work one day with a duck under his arm. He had found it, injured, alongside the road on the way to work. He was fairly cynical about the navy but didn’t knock it. I think he was grateful that, in return for his four years service, the navy had financed his final three years at medical school. He went on to become: a) a star witness at both the Voyager royal commissions.

                            b) a very popular orthopaedic surgeon in Fremantle.

                            c) president of the Royal Australian College of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

I worked with him again, as a resident medical officer at Fremantle Hospital, in 1975 when he was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon.


The Senior Sister was not easy to get on with and did not have a great deal of time or respect for me or the other sick bay staff. One of her peccadillos was to state and enforce that sick junior recruits admitted to the sick bay should not be served full meals and certainly not sweets (duff as we called it). For reasons she never bothered to explain she reckoned that if they were sick enough to require admission then they were too sick to eat. It meant that the Alf and Bones and I had to go to some lengths to feed the kids when she wasn’t around. That wasn’t all that hard because she served no useful purpose in the sick bay and spent most of her time in the wardroom.

Jack Nash was a very good CPO. He knew the ropes and was fair, firm and friendly as all good leaders should be. He was President of the Chiefs and Petty Officers Mess which took up a great deal of his time. Bones earned some little fame when he described Jack as being a “baggy arsed Chief”. Alf and I took great pleasure in advising Jack of this at a function Mick Tiller put on, at his home at Blackwall Reach, when Jack was posted out to somewhere. He took it in good humour.

Jack’s absence from the Sick Bay meant much of the day-to-day running and organising of the duty watches etc was left to me.

Jack left later in the year. He was replaced by another Chief Petty Officer who spent most of his time in the mess drinking. At least he left us alone. The only other thing I can distinctly remember about him was assisting Mick Tiller to remove a massive great sebaceous cyst from his back. It was leaking infected sebum and stunk to high heaven. How he put up with it for the years it must have been there is beyond my comprehension.

Alf had joined up in the same intake as me and also went to Penguin at the same time. He trained as an Operating Theatre Attendant at Royal Prince Alfred, (a six month course), and was posted to Leeuwin before me. We shared a cabin in an old, wartime wooden hut at Leeuwin. Ian, “Bones” did x-ray training and was posted to Leeuwin shortly after me. We were great mates and got on very well with each other. Bones was married to ex-WRAN Jan and lived ashore but he kept his work gear in our cabin.

The sick bay was also a relic of WW11. There was an administrative wing containing the doctor’s office, nursing sister’s office, a desk for each SBA, out-patient treatment room, a portable x-ray machine, store and toilets and a room where the duty SBA slept. This wing looked out over the parade ground and was linked to a parallel ward containing about a dozen beds where sick kids or sailors could be admitted. (Those with anything serious went to Hollywood Hospital.)

The sick bay stood opposite the main galley and mess halls. Every morning we could hear the Chief Cook shouting and yelling and abusing the chefs. He was an alcoholic and pretty nasty when full – which was always. He never bothered us at all though. A year or two later he gave up the grog completely and permanently and, when I later returned to Leeuwin, we worked together in Divisional Staff and became quite good mates.

We did hundreds of routine medicals at Leeuwin and just about every one of them entailed the patient having a chest x-ray. These were all done at the WA Public Health Department’s Fremantle Chest X-ray Clinic. We were in daily contact with them. After a while Alf started doing all the CXR arrangements and going into the clinic to pick up the x-rays. It wasn’t long before we discovered what the attraction was – Val. Val was a rather large girl but very pleasant. One thing led to another and before we knew where we were Ian and I were, respectively, best man and groomsman at their wedding. The ceremony was performed by the Leeuwin Chaplain in the Leeuwin chapel. Alf, Ian and I were all dressed up in our best, (Numer One), uniforms with white tassels in front.

Alf later did a tour of duty with a Navy helicopter squadron on the ground in Vietnam and was never the same again. He got out of the navy and lived in Nowra where he worked as an orderly in theatre at the local hospital. He spent most of his time at home sitting at his bar drinking coffee and smoking. He suffered several heart attacks and eventually succumbed to one in about 1995.

The other SBA took the view that, as he had joined the navy a couple of years before me, he was senior to me and that my rank of Leading Hand didn’t mean much. He was cunning enough, though, to never make an issue of it or to put his own situation in jeopardy by refusing to do as I told him. He was lucky enough to escape court-marshal too as I shall later describe.


Life at Leeuwin was pretty good in general even though we were in about three watches but that was better than two. We had to attend Junior Recruit sporting events just about every afternoon acting as “zambuck” or first aid person. I also went on “OXPs” – Over Night Expeditions to Garden Island, the bush in the hills near Perth or further afield. One was spent in Pemberton.

One afternoon I attended the boxing matches which every JR had to participate in for at least one bout. The referee was Lieutenant Commander Bill Storey – one of the good guys – and also the Training Officer. He suddenly collapsed in the ring during a bout and we thought he had suffered a heart attack. It turned out to be a severe anxiety attack after he was whipped of to Hollywood Repatriation Hospital in our ambulance driven by yours truly.

The war in Vietnam was in full swing and Australia’s relationship with Indonesia was a bit strained to the extent that RAAF aircraft could not fly over Indonesia. This meant that the RAAF Hercules planes flying between Australia and Vietnam had to fly via Christmas Island. They often came back full of wounded soldiers and occasionally we had to take the ambulance up to RAAF Pearce to help unload the poor buggers who, seriously wounded, had endured endless hours in those noise boxes. They would spend the night in the sick bay at Pearce then be loaded up again and flown east.

The exercise turned into a shambles one time when the Commodore  promised to send us up to help out with a particularly serious consignment of wounded. Trouble was, no one told Tiller or us about the deal. An indignant RAAF type informed Marks who climbed down out of his tree and gave Tiller a bollocking even though he was entirely innocent. Ah well, that was the way of things and Commodores were, in their own minds at least, something akin to gods.

The Commander was not a nice guy. He was, yet another, drunkard officer. The Sick Bay overlooked the parade ground and I witnessed him one hot summer afternoon stagger, drunk, onto the parade ground where the “men under punishment” were being drilled by the Duty Regulating Petty Officer. He dismissed the PO and took over, shouting at the JRs to raise their rifles (the old Lee-Enfield .303) over their heads and double around the parade ground. He kept them going until they literally dropped then he would stagger over and viciously kick those lying on the ground all the while shouting abuse at them. Eventually he tired of it all and staggered off after handing the group back to the disgusted PO. We took a while to get the kids rehydrated and back onto their feet.

In about September of 1964 Mick Tiller called me into his office and told me the Training Officer and Commander would like me to leave the sick bay to move into Junior Recruit training by joining the staff of one of the “Divisions”. (A division was a large group of recruits.) At that time there were about four hundred recruits at Leeuwin divided into four divisions. Each was named after some senior RAN officer of days gone by. Tiller didn’t like the idea and neither did the SBA’s – it meant one less person on the duty roster.

Anyway, I leaped at the chance to do something different and was allocated to Rhodes Division run by a Lt Cdr McCarthy and  CPO “Kit Carson”. I loved the job acting as father, mother, big brother, policeman and so on to a hundred  or so 15 year old recruits. I carried a cutlass at formal parades and would lead the class in all marching drills. We also organised weekends away at Garden Island for the kids to have a bit of R & R. In those days there was a collection of wooden huts around Mangles Bay left over from WW11. The island was isolated from the mainland and we could give the kids free reign. It made an ideal place for an informal camp. It was on one of these camps, while we were all sitting around a fire on a Saturday night that one of the JRs asked if he could clarify something in respect of what had happened to him during a visit to the sick bay out of hours. It turned out that he had been sexually molested by the unnamed staff member.

We took him aside and got the details from him - sordid as they were. When asked, he advised us that he would have no objection to giving evidence if the perpetrator was court marshalled.

We returned to Leeuwin on the Sunday afternoon and I immediately contacted the Officer of the Day. The accused lived ashore and it was decided that he would be confronted when he came aboard next morning. This happened and he was immediately charged and brought before the Officer of the Day who referred the case to the Commander. The Commander referred it to the Commodore, as was expected, and on the Thursday he fronted at Commodore’s defaulters parade.  Tiller had to defend him. I gave my evidence, such as it was, and purely hearsay, then returned to work in the Divisional Office. The JR gave his evidence.


Later that day I happened to visit the Sick Bay after giving a first aid lesson and was astounded to find the accused sitting at his desk as if nothing had happened. Incredulous, I asked him what the hell he was doing there. Nonchalantly he replied that the Commodore had told him that he, the Commodore, was leaving the navy within a few months and had a career planned in politics. (He had won pre-selection as the  candidate for a state parliament seat.) He did not want to leave with a scandal on his plate. He therefore did a deal with the SBA, who was due to re-engage a few weeks later, that if he elected to not re-engage nothing more would be said or done about the sordid affair. I just could not believe my ears! Unfortunately it was true and within a day or two he left to use up accumulated leave and was then out of the navy.

There are several sequelae to this saga:-

 One is that in about 1985 or 1986, not long before Leeuwin was decommissioned and the base handed over to the army, I visited the Chief’s & PO’s Mess. I was having a drink with some old mates when the Duty Petty Officer entered and brought a coke. I became aware that he was staring at me and eventually he approached me and said, “You’re Hay aren’t you?” in a not-too-friendly tone of voice. I told him, “Yes, I am. Do I know you?” He told me he didn’t care if I knew him or not but he would be pleased to take me outside to give me a hiding.

I was a bit taken aback by this and asked him if he would care to explain what I had done to upset him. To cut a long story short, it turned out that he was the JR who was molested by and had given evidence against that SBA. What upset him, and had screwed him up considerably ever since, was that no one had explained to him why the SBA suffered no apparent punishment for his foul deed. I must give him credit for listening while I explained what had happened. I also apologised because I had not given any further thought to his situation subconsciously assuming someone, such as a Divisional Officer, would have enlightened him at the time. In the end he brought me a beer and we had a good yarn.

Also, in 2003, when I attended the first of the big Sick Bay re-unions in Maroochydore, a mate and I would take long exercise walks each morning. One day we were striding along talking about the that affair when my mate dropped a bombshell. He told me that even before I had had that SBA charged with molesting that boy another JR had approached Alf Allen with a similar story. Alf didn’t know what to do and did nothing but much later confided in Ian.  Apparantly, Alf  decided that if he told me about it I would want to run in (report) the offender immediately. Damned right I would have. So that means there is at least one other, and probably dozens more, JRs who have carried the burden of unpunished molestation for goodness knows how long.

That SBA didn’t seem to want to get out of my life. He continued to live in Perth somewhere and at one stage was deeply involved in a restaurant in Northbridge. He was a clerk in the Emergency Department at Royal Perth Hospital when I was a medical student. He was featured in a satirical column in The West Australian in 2008 when he retired from running a gay sauna and baths in Northbridge. I heard on the grapevine that he endeared himself to the gay community by nursing those afflicted with AIDS. He attended the sick bay reunions in 2003 and 2005.  He even had the audacity to nominate himself, via a notice in The West Australian  newspaper’s re-unions page,  as the West Australian contact for organising the reunion held in Adelaide in 2008.

The Commodore  never achieved his goal of a political career. After paying off he did get  endorsement for a seat in state parliament but died of a heart attack before the election was called. The SBA died of pancreatic cancer.

Back to me and my naval career. Late in November 1964 I received notice of a posting to HMAS Tarangau, a navy base on Manus Island 100 miles north of Lae, New Guinea. I was still working in Rhodes Division at the time. Lt Cdr Storey approached me one day and told me he had heard of my posting and asked if I would be interested in becoming an officer. I said I would as long as it was in the seaman branch of the navy not the medical branch. The only commissioned path in the medical branch was to become a Wardmaster – a medical administrator. I didn’t want that but would have relished the seaman role. Anyway, Storey told me to give it some thought and he would make some enquiries and get back to me.

I heard nothing more and just before Christmas, prior to taking annual leave and departing for Tarangau, I went to see Storey. He was a bit embarrassed to confess that he had been too busy to do anything about it. I learned a bit from that exercise. Never depend upon others to further your career no matter how sincere they may appear. That lesson was repeated in later years. So I left Leeuwin, went home to Collie on leave and, after selling my trusty VW beetle got on a plane for Tarangau.

The trip was not uneventful. I flew first from Perth to Sydney on the midnight horror and had a day to spend in Sydney before catching a plane leaving about 2200. I had arranged to meet a few ex-JRs in a pub and was surprised to find a big bunch of them there. They got me plastered but did the right thing by putting me on the plane. I woke up when we landed in Port Morseby next morning. I had slept through landings at Brisbane and, I think, Cairns. I was not feeling flash at all. We flew on to Lae where I was to spend the night in a pub. I checked in, had a feed and crashed not waking until dawn next day. Feeling better I got up, showered and went for a walk through the town returning in time for breakfast and an admonition from the hotel staff who told me I was lucky not to have had my throat cut in the area I was walking through.

Thus began my year in New Guinea.

HMAS Tarangau

©2019                                                                     HMAS TARANGAU                                              Dr Ken Hay MB BS D(Obst)RCOG

                                                Tarangau is the New Guinea native word for Sea Eagle.

I flew from Perth to Sydney on the midnight horror. I had arranged to meet a bunch of ex-junior recruits and others in Sydney and we all did a pub crawl for most of the day. I woke up in Port Moresby with no recall of getting on the plane, the stop-over in Brisbane or the trip in general. After a few hours the plane, (a  Lockheed Electra I think), flew on to Lae where I stayed over night.  I was up early and went for a stroll around the place – it was like nothing I had ever experienced but was a taste of what life would be like on Manus Island. I had breakfast in the hotel and was told I was a bit of a dill for walking around the area I did. I was lucky I didn’t get into trouble even at that time of day.

Then it was out to the airport to board a DC3, (these were a twin, piston-engined World War 11 transport plane). There were no seats as such, just a bench with canvas seats down each side. There were a heap of natives on board all with their belongings heaped up in the centre of the cabin along with a couple of pigs and crates of veges. The aroma was a little daunting .

We first flew west to Madang and this entailed flying between mountains and I distinctly recall looking UP at palm trees and rocky crags as we flitted between the peaks. Thank God it was a cloudless day – a rare event to all accounts. After Madang we flew north, over the Bismark Sea to Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands. I was impressed by the tropic island beauty of the place from the air.

Disembarking from the plane I was met by Aussie Ring, the Leading SBA I was replacing, and a bunch of others. (I knew Aussie well from Penguin days. He was as camp as a boy scout’s jamboree but always kept that side of his life out of the navy.)  They were a bit the worse for wear because they had a send off for him at the airport. Aussie told me they had expected me the day before and had all come to the airport  to greet me. Anyway, he boarded the plane I got off and away he went. I was driven the ten miles to HMAS Tarangau and shown to my “donga” – navy for living accommodation.

This consisted of a low bed with a wardrobe and bedside cupboard in a room with three others. It was a big room with open spaces where windows would normally be. There were no doors, just openings. One such opening led to a concrete veranda; another through to a mirror image of my four bed accommodation. There was a row of about a dozen such rooms in the building. Midway was a common room containing a fridge, tables and a couple of lounge chairs.

The toilets and showers were in another building but immediately adjacent and up a short flight of concrete stairs. We would wear only a towel around us when going for a shower. It was not uncommon to find green tree snakes in the showers, especially at night. Despite the fact the island had its fair share of snakes it was said that none were venomous. We never had a case of snake bite while I was there.

The accommodation was only twenty meters, across a lawn, from the junior sailor’s mess (wet canteen). The junior sailor’s dining hall was a further 100 meters away on the other side of the main road through the base. On the other side of the wet canteen was the dry canteen – i.e. the base’s supermarket. (You could still buy packaged beer, wine and spirits there.)

After unpacking my kit and personal belongings I was taken up to the hospital –about a kilometer away, to meet the other medical staff:

                                                                Surgeon Lieutenant Brian McDonnell

                                                  Sister Eileen Lawrie (Replaced later by Patty Vines.)

                                                  Chief Petty Officer Don (Shakey) West – a Navy pharmacist

                                                            SBA John Cavanette – operating theatre technician

                                                     These were all good people with whom I got on very well. 

There was also a bunch of PNG natives including John Waki and Tommy who were SBA’s in the PNG Navy – such as it was. There a dozen or so others employed as civilians. They were a mixed bunch mostly from the mainland and mostly very nice people.

I say mostly because there was one Papuan I didn’t take to very well. He impressed me as being a sly sort of cove. About half way through my year at Tarangau it came to my notice that he was up to no good. He was using part of the native hospital as a brothel on weekends. The native hospital was next door to the native employee’s compound and this had a bar open every night on weekends. It wasn’t hard for my boy to drum up a bit of business after the others got a few beers into themselves. The women were Manus Islanders.

Anyway, I sought advice from Dr McDonnell as to what I should do. “Simple,” he said. “Sack him.” I did sack him but it wasn’t easy. He was the first of only two people I ever had to sack. He had to go back to his village on mainland New Guinea. He begged me to let him stay but I did not. I dare say he would have been able to set himself up fairly nicely on his ill-gotten gains.

{I only recently discovered that the hospital itself was built by Japanese prisoners of war who were at Manus awaiting repatriation to Japan.}

But I have digressed again. After meeting the others and doing a tour of the hospital it was knock off time and I returned to the mess and had to have the mandatory umpteen beers while meeting all the other junior sailors. I started work formally the next morning and soon settled into the routines of Tarangau and began to enjoyit immensely. The enjoyment never stopped although I didn’t enjoy Sunday mornings much - until I had a brain wave.

Every Sunday morning the captain, Commander Schmitzer, believe it or not, would hold church parade. It was a real pain in the you-know-what. It was always as hot as hell and the humidity was unbelievable as we stood at ease while the captain read from the bible in a not terribly convincing manner. The only good thing about it was that the bar was opened as soon as the parade was over. I hadn’t been in Tarangau long before a way out of church parade dawned upon me. At the start of every church parade the Master-at Arms would announce, “Catholics and agnostics – fall out.” The Catholics would go and huddle under a palm tree and have prayers – or so they said. There were never any agnostics. Well, not until after I went down to the captains office one Monday and had a yarn with the captain’s writer, “Polly” Perkins. He informed me that in order to change my religion I merely had to fill in a form which he would pass on to the Captain to sign in approval. He did say that there was a good chance the captain would call me down and ask me to explain.

I filled in the form, declaring myself an agnostic, and Polly shoved it in among a pile of other stuff for the captain to sign and all was well. I didn’t get invited to the captain’s table.

The next Sunday I fell out with the Catholics and stood in the shade under another palm tree by myself. There was silence for a short while then the Master-at –Arms shouted across the parade ground, “What are you doing Hay?” I replied, shouting, “I have changed my religion to agnostic, Master. It is documented in the Captain’s office.” There wasn’t much more they could do. I got shouted a few rounds of beer in the mess after church parade.

Next day Polly got a bollocking from Schmitzer for not drawing his attention to my bit of paper. An edict was issued, in daily orders, that, henceforth, any sailor wishing to change his religion would have to make a formal request to the captain. I never attended a Navy church service again.


I wasn’t in Tarangau long before the kellick of the mess – a stoker who liked curried ice cream, do-you-mind – finished his time there and went south. I was elected kellick of the mess in his place. It didn’t require a lot of time or work but did have its  responsibilities. One of these was to ensure the wet canteen was run effectively and in a civilised manner and to organise the occasional function. I also chaired a monthly mess meeting. I also had to captain the junior sailors cricket team! Annually, the PNG Navy Junior Sailors challenged the RAN Junior Sailors to agame of cricket. As the Senior Hand I was automatically the captain of the

Australian team. I didn’t have a clue what was expected of the captain of a

cricket team.

The local rules were that every person on the field had to have a stubby of beer with him and no one could get out until they had made at least one run. Anyway, I had to open the batting and faced up to a huge, strapping black man whose name escapes me. He bowled the first ball slowly and I managed to hit it far enough to make two runs and I felt pretty chuffed. For the next ball the huge, black man went half way back across the field to start his run up. He then thundered down towards me and for some reason an image of fat Gordon Trembath flashed before me. I never saw the ball as it left the black man’s hand, hurtled the length of the pitch, sent my middle stump spinning high into the air and smashed the stubby I had carefully stood behind the middle stump.

That was the only formal game of cricket I ever played as an adult.


We had a record player in the mess – it played the then state-of-the-art vinyl 33&1/3 records and those we had had suffered dreadfully and were practically useless. At a mess committee meeting I moved that we buy some new records and the motion was passed. Selecting and ordering the new music was left to me and, with the passage of time, a box full arrived. My selection did not meet with unanimous approval of the mess members. They had expected stuff like The Beatles and other popular head banging garbage. I had purchased stuff like Los Indios Tabajaras and similar music more suited, in my opinion,to providing civilised background music in a gentlemen’s club. I made a blue there but most of the blokes forgave me and enjoyed the quiet ambience the music imbued. (Well, sort of!). I recently saw a CD of Los Indios Tabarajas in a music shop, it brought back memories and I could not resist buying it.

The only trouble I had, as kellick of the mess,  was with a big, obese Stores Assistant with a grog problem. One night I was on my bunk reading when someone came to get me because he was causing trouble in the wet canteen. I went over and found him drunk and obnoxious at the bar. I told  him he had had enough and instructed the barman to not serve him any more alcohol. I then asked him to leave the canteen and go to bed. He placidly agreed and was staggering back towards our accommodation alongside me when he suddenly turned and king hit me. I went down like a pole-axed cat and was unconscious for a while.  Others had witnessed it and jumped onto him before he could put the boots in.Fortunately it occurred on lawn, not concrete, and I did not suffer a fractured skull and/or cerebral haemorrhage.

It all became very messy. I was obliged to call out the Officer of the Day and the Master at Arms/Coxswain. Next day my assailant, now sober and contrite was, marched before Commander Schmitzer and given three months stoppage of canteen privileges. That meant he could not drink in the canteen - and everyone was pleased about that. I nursed a black eye for a week or two but no serious damage was done.

Thereafter my assailant behaved himself. He kept on drinking but never in the canteen. His mate, a stoker who enjoyed a drink, would buy beer for him. I later discovered him walking out of the navy-run supermarket that supplied the Navy families and others with the usual supermarket lines. You could also buy liquor there. He had a carton of beer under his arm. He immediately became hostile and, in a belligerent tone said, “Caught me again, Hay, you bastard. And I suppose now your going to run me in again?”

“No, sport.” I replied. “You are barred from the wet canteen but the skipper did not say you couldn’t buy grog here. Just don’t take it into the mess and don’t let me see you drinking.”

He never gave me any more trouble. However, years later, when I was a fifth year medical student, I did a secondment to work with an orthopaedic surgeon in Port Hedland. One Friday night we went into the South Hedland pub for a drink on the way home to his place for dinner. Who should rush up to shake my hand and full of “Hail fellow, well met.” but that same bloke. He was out of the navy but still in the grip of the grog. At least he didn’t bear a grudge. He brought me a beer and we reminisced for a while but neither of us raised the issue of me being king hit in New Guinea. I never saw him again.

I was very fortunate, too, in having Surgeon Lieutenant Brian McDonnell as The Boss. He was a great bloke. About my height but chubbier, then, he smoked, (I didn’t), was married and had a couple of kids. He lived with his family in a house right behind the hospital. We learned to respect each other. He was an excellent role model and very easy to work with. There was a formality about our respective roles but not stifling. I always knew where I stood and was very comfortable with that. He was a human being first, doctor second and naval officer third. His wife, Diedre, was a very pleasant young lady and would often come over to the hospital at brew time when we all gathered on the hospital veranda for a cup of tea. Brian was very supportive when I informed him I held an ambition to become a doctor. He gave me every encouragement and certainly never sledged me. When I graduated, many years later, I rang him at his home in Brisbane to let him know. He was then an obstetrician-gynaecologist.

Another officer arrived about half way through my year at Tarangau – Lt Cdr Bob Hollister. He was the First Lieutenant, ex-Royal Navy, fairly formal but one of the good guys. I didn’t have a great deal to do with him then other than part of his job was to ensure the Junior Sailor’s mess was run properly and he attended the monthly mess committee meetings. He never interfered and was usually very helpful. We developed a mutual respect that developed into friendship, a few years later, when he was posted to Leeuwin, and also after I paid off.

I tried to further my education at Tarangau by undertaking a correspondence course in a couple of university entrance subjects – physics and mathematics I think. It didn’t work out very well. I would study at night in the hospital. Between finishing an assignment and sending it off weeks would elapse before I had any feedback. Sometimes I would have two or three assignments in the pipeline; other times I would fail to maintain my schedule and fall behind with nothing in the pipeline. But, at least it did keep me interested and in a learning frame of mind.


Apart from the kellick of the mess thing, my duties required me to run the native hospital and the laboratory. I was also the overseer of the native labourers and hospital boys. My day always started with the clinic at the native hospital. The staff would line up all the natives with problems that they could not handle and I was expected to do so. It was mostly tropic ulcers and minor trauma plus every kid had worms and the mums would bring them in when the worms started wriggling out of the kids mouths or bums. There was a native male midwife who would report to me if he had delivered any babes during the night.

Natives with problems that neither the staff nor myself could handle we would pile into the back of the ambulance and drive up the hill to the “big” hospital for Brian to have a dash at. He was pretty good.

Because of the prevalence of intestinal parasites I started doing a survey of all the native kids faeces. The staff would collect specimens for me and my laboratory assistant would do all the preparation and I would examine the specimens under the microscope. I kept detailed records of what I found which included practically every intestinal parasite known to man. We would put all the kids with positive slides onto worm treatment.

I was also responsible for maintaining a blood group register and blood bank. Whenever there was an emergency and a patient required blood I had to consult the register and send boys out to get hold of the people with the required blood group. I would then collect a litre of blood from each, cross match it and set up the transfusion while Brian prepared for surgery. The nursing sister gave the anaesthetic. With the blood transfusion up and running I would scrub and act as assistant surgeon. It was all fascinating stuff and I loved every minute of it. One complication about transfusions was that the natives would only donate blood if they knew the recipient was from their tribe.

Down at the native hospital I got the boys to set up a vege garden. About the only thing that would grow well was runner beans so we had dozens of bean plants. The hospital patients and their families were free to pick the beans for their own use. I also got them to build a thatched roofed little out building where the patients could sit out in the fresh air looking out across Seeadler Harbour. When I left Tarangau the natives held a send off for me in this little hut.

Manus Island had been occupied by the Japanese in 1942 and liberated by the Americans in 1944. When I was there, stuff left over from the war was everywhere. Up until a couple of years before I arrived navy people could help themselves to fully functional American jeeps from a pool of them left there. Just behind the hospital we found an old trench with thousands of rounds of ammunition in it. The yanks built a huge airstrip on the eastern end of the island and we would often drive out there on weekends. It was mostly overgrown with jungle but the tree roots could only penetrate the sand that covered the compacted coral of the airstrip. They would fall over in a stiff breeze. We once found an American machine gun around which the trunk of a tree had grown. For reasons that now escape me we spent hours cutting the gun out of the tree. It was useless being completely rusted up.

It was part of my job to meet new arrival junior sailors at the airport. One day I picked up a bloke called Roger McDonnell and took him back to the mess. By chance he was in the same four bed “donga” as me and I sat on my bed chatting with him as he unpacked his gear. He put a photo on the bedside cupboard saying, “That’s my wife.” I knew her from Penguin- she had been a WRAN there.

A few weeks later she arrived and they moved into married quarters.  Roger and I had become friendly and the three of us would occasionally enjoy one of Cora’s meals together. Many years later we met again when Maureen and I went from Tasmania to Sydney for a reunion at Penguin. They were still happily married and had two daughters. I haven’t heard of them since.

Update 2019: - I am in the habit of enjoying a convivial ale with two other Navy retirees one of whom was a communicator (radio guru). A few months ago I casually enquired if he ever knew Roger. Of course he did and gave me Roger’s email address. My email was well received and we have tick-tacked several times since. I introduced myself as a Blast From The Past.

HMAS Tarangau actually stood on a satellite island, Lombok, at the eastern end of Manus Island. Between it and the main island was a narrow channel. One day Roger O'Donnell and I sailed a lakatoi, (native canoe he had brought), down this channel. We found literally hundreds of war-time landing craft that had been driven into the mangroves and abandoned. They were in a sad state of decay and we dared not walk on them for fear of falling through the rusted steel. I took a lot of photos but dropped the camera into the water in the bottom of the canoe and that was end of that.

Malaria had been eradicated from Manus in recent years due to the control of mosquito breeding and the use of prophylactic medication. We all took quinine tablets once a week, I think. However, in 1965 the navy started a building program of some sort and brought in a lot of native workers from the mainland. They brought malaria with them and it was plasmodium falciparum – the most dangerous of the malarias. The local natives adults had residual immunity from earlier times, their kids had no immunity and we suddenly had an epidemic of malaria on our hands, especially among the native kids.

We got everyone, including all the natives onto quinine, or something like it, with good effect but inevitably some fell through the cracks. One morning a woman presented at my morning clinic with a six year old boy in her arms. He was obviously in extremis with a raging fever and unconscious. The most likely diagnosis was malaria. I immediately got them into the ambulance and took them  to the main hospital and got the boss. He put up a drip and started intravenous antimalarials while I took some blood and dashed off to my laboratory to make a blood film, stain it and examine it under the microscope for malaria. The red cells were full of malarial parasites.

The family sat with the boy all day but his condition did not change. I was the duty SBA that night and decided to stay in the hospital. I was sitting with the boy and his family at about 7 pm when he suddenly had a grand mal seizure. He stopped breathing and his heart also stopped. I sent the duty native hospital boy to get Brian and started CPR including mouth-to-mouth. Brian came at the rush but, after examining the boy, told me I was wasting my time and the boy was beyond resuscitation. I was shattered.

We cleaned him up and wrapped him in a sheet then loaded his little body and the parents and one or two others into the ambulance and took them back to his village. It was in the jungle only a few kilometers from the navy base. It was well and truly dark when we got there with the only light coming from a few fires and torches. The whole village had heard the boy had died and were all standing around wailing and crying and carrying on. We handed over the body and the relatives and they walked off and left us. The duty hospital boy had refused to come with me.  He told me he was terrified because he was a mainlander, not a Manus boy, and said he would be blamed for the boy’s death and the villagers would kill him. He assured me they would not kill me – which I was relieved to hear. I have never forgotten the details of that experience – my first experience of death.

Anzac Day 1965 fell on a Sunday and required us to travel 14 miles, in a navy bus, to the civil settlement at Lorengau and take part in their memorial service and march. We all got dolled up in our ceremonial white bell bottoms with blue collar and white jacket plus white gaiters around our ankles etc etc. Off we went and attended the service then marched through the small town with its little bunch of dignitaries, including Commander Schmitzer, standing on a makeshift dais. The native navy had a small drum and bugle band and they led us, blowing and banging to their hearts’ content and making a nice old racket to boot. It was all good fun and when it was finished we were invited to the local social club for a drink. I am told we had a great day.

I woke next morning, still in my what-once-were whites, on a table under a house. (All of the houses were of tropical design and stood on stilts.) The early tropic sun blazed into my dry, bleary eyes as I sat up and tried to work out where the hell I was. I didn’t have a clue whose house it was or what part of town it was in. I wandered out onto the road and headed off, on foot, towards where I thought the town might be. I was correct and got there about a half hour later to find it deserted and no one up and about yet.

I have no idea why but I then decided to walk back to Tarangau – 14 miles away. I set off and got about a mile out of town when I realised I was dehydrated and in a pretty bad way. I sat down under a palm tree and waited for a vehicle to come along. What came first was a bloody great big “bush kanaka true”. Bush kanakas were real natives who lived in the jungle and had precious little to do with whites. This one was wearing only a loin-cloth of sorts and carrying a machete. I got a sinking feeling in my already churning belly. I recall thinking that at least he might put me out of my misery.

But no! He walked up to me, looked closely and said, “Masta, you got big pella sik.”

“You’re not wrong, mate.” I replied. “You got warra?”

“Nogot warra masta. Me kissim coconut.”

With that he shinnied up a coconut tree with his machete and cut down two or three coconuts. They thudded to ground close by. He slid down the tree, grabbed a coconut and slashed at it with his machete removing the green husk from one end. Then, with a might swipe, he lopped the end off. Coconut milk squirted everywhere but he then handed it to me. And I gulped it down. Talk about nectar of the gods! It was cool and sweet and tasted like coconut – of course. I drained the milk while my new-found-friend slashed another in preparation for me. I swallowed that too and began to feel better.

This, literally, wild man then sat down next to me and we had a bit of a yarn in pidgin English. While we chatted he chopped some flesh out of one of the coconuts and told me to eat it. I wasn’t going to argue and it was good. After about an hour or so he said goodbye and walked off into the jungle. A short time later a navy ute turned up from the base. They were looking for me and most of the other junior sailors who were missing from the base. I got in and we went back to town, rounded up the others and returned to Tarangau.

It was Monday, 26 April 1965 and, of course, a public holiday. I showered, shaved and crashed out on my bunk and spent the day there. A few of us managed to get to the mess for dinner that night but all we got was a tin of camp pie and a tomato each.  The cook too, had been in Lorengau all night and was not capable of knocking up a meal.

The afore-mentioned Polly Perkins caused me a bit of grief one weekend. For some reason he went across to Lorengau on Friday and did not return despite the fact he was rostered for duty over the weekend. This did not come to my attention until Sunday. I contacted the Officer of the Day and requested permission to take a Land Rover and go looking for Pollie in Lorrengau. He duly agreed and away I went. Pollie wasn’t hard to find. I thought I would start at the club and there he was. He was as full as a boot but, as he always was, was cheerful and quite happy to return to Tarangau with me. I took him back and put him to bed.

Pollie was charged with being absent without leave and had to front the Captain, for whom he worked. His Divisional Officer, the Supply Officer, had to defend Pollie. I was required to give evidence to the effect I had found him in the club at Lorrengau and had brought him back. That officer  the bastard, tried to make me the villain by suggesting that I was derelict in my duty by not going to get Pollie on the Friday night. But Schmitzer was having none of that and pointedly told him so. Anyway, Pollie got a few weeks stoppage of leave, which didn’t mean a hell of a lot at Tarangau, and it was all forgotten in no time. I haven’t heard of Pollie since I left Tarangau. He was a good bloke.

On many weekends when not on call for the hospital we would muster anyone available, including native staff, get a Land Rover or two and head off out through the jungle to a randomly selected beach. There we would have a barbeque and a few beers. The native boys would often dive for the beautiful trochus shells. They were once part of the currency used by the indigenous people before the Europeans came. In 1965 they were a souvenir avidly sought after by us Europeans. The natives were only too pleased to get them for us or to sell them to us.

On one of these R & R expeditions we went out to the tip of the peninsular that formed Seeadler Harbour. It was a long trip and, after we had our barbeque we decided to callinto the native village we knew was there. As was the custom we paid our respects to the chief. I was surprised that he knew who I was – “Lik lik docta.” That was pigeon English for “little doctor”. He asked me to have a  look at his daughter who, he said, had fallen into the fire the night before. I knew his daughter because she was epileptic

and had been into the hospital a few times. She was grossly obese and seemed to be accident prone.

I agreed to see her, of course, and was flabbergasted to find her almost covered in very severe burns varying in depth from first to third degree. She was really in a bad way. It seemed she had had a grand mal seizure the night before and fell into a campfire. The event was not witnessed and it must have been some time before she was found.

She was laying on an old mattress and we lifted it and her onto the back of the Land Rover. The natives didn’t smell too flash at the best of times but the additional smell of burned flesh was almost overpowering. A couple of her family got in with her. Our native boys and a couple of my mates elected to stay behind. I told them I would send another vehicle out for them. We drove as fast as we could and got her into the main hospital and called Brian McDonell out. He was amazed she was still alive but set about doing what he could. We got a couple of drips into her and started pumping in antibiotics and fluids. We worked on her almost every minute of the day for a week or more. We were all amazed that she came good and, eventually, went back to the village sadly, severely scarred, but alive and with no other physical deformity. All of the burned areas were no longer black but pink and/or white, which must have been very distressing for her. Had we not called into the village after our barbie there is no doubt she would have died of infection and fluid loss.

There was a reclusive white man who lived in a palm-thatched hut on the road to Lorrengau. The hut sat alongside the bridge that crossed the channel between Manus and Lorengau. Whenever we were passing that way we would call in to say g’day and have a drink with him. I forget his name or how he came to be there but, apart from being an alcoholic, he wasn’t a bad sort of bloke. He enjoyed Bundie, as most of us did only he enjoyed it more, more of it and more often than we did.

It’s a funny thing about the rum. It was never issued in the Australian navy as it was in the Royal navy and, before going to Tarangau, I never bothered with it. It is generally thought to be good for warming the blood and great to have on cold winter nights. In fact we found it to be most enjoyable in the humid heat of the tropics. We drank as much rum and coke as we did beer. Always it was with coke and ice and never without a generous slice of lime. Limes grew wild in the jungle and the native boys would bring them in for us whenever we wanted them. We made a welter of Bacardi rum because we got it very cheaply up there – I don’t know why. There was also a dark rum with the brand name Negrita. It had the image of a negress on the label and the native boys hence called it “Buka Merri” – Black Lady. That rum really “got into your mouth” which means it was extremely tasteful.

When I returned to Australia it was readily available in the navy wet canteens and in liquor stores ashore. I would often buy a bottle, when I could afford it, and make it last for ages. Nowadays I rarely see it although I did spot it in a liquor store in Brunswick Junction, of all places, when I was passing through there a year or two back. I brought two bottles – just for old times sake mind you.

I used to write home to Dad & Mum fairly frequently keeping them up-to-date with what I was doing. Mum would dutifully write every week or two and occasionally,  sent  up a fruit cake in a tin. Dad wrote now and then. I think they were worried sick about me. We were told that we could ring our families on Christmas Day, 1965, using the navy’s radio phones in the radio shack situated on top of a high hill. A bunch of us dutifully got up there on Christmas morning and waited our turns to use the phone. It was a pretty ancient arrangement and, if you did get through, you heard more static than family voices. For some reason I didn’t get through to Collie and had to abandon the attempts as lunch time approached. I wasn’t going to miss out on the roast turkey and trimmings, not to mention the session in the mess to follow.


There was a civilian meteorologist based at the airport. He was Australian, lived at Lorengau and was married to a Maori girl. He would often call into our mess for a beer after work. One Saturday night he came over with his wife and she had her sister with her. The sister was about eighteen and very pleasant both to look at and to talk to. All the blokes in the mess tried their hardest to impress her and so did I. She was the only single young woman we had seen, or were likely to see, in twelve months. Strangely enough, I won. I grasped an opportunity, when no one else was trying to impress her, to invite her out and she accepted. All I could offer her was a beach picnic which I duly organised for the next day, Sunday as she was returning to New Zealand during the week. I got a Land Rover, a few cold beers and a picnic lunch Ian Waterhouse, the cook, kindly knocked up for me. I picked her up from her sister’s place in Lorengau and off we went to a secluded little beach I knew. We spent a very pleasant afternoon. It was, of course, all very proper. Late in the afternoon I took her home, received a peck on the cheek for my troubles and never saw or heard from her again. I was the envy of all the blokes in the mess who were waiting for me with bated breath in anticipation of a blow-by-blow description of the orgy that never happened.

The navy divers at Tarangau would occasionally talk about a huge crater in the bed of theharbour and it was said that an American ammunition ship had blown up there during the war. While doing some internet research about Manus when writing this epistle I

came across a report of that event. The ship was named Mount Hood and had been at anchor in the harbour when it suddenly just exploded. 800 people died in the event. The internet site contained two photos taken of the exploding ship. Judging by the photos it must have been a horrifying cataclysm. The photographers must have:

1) Been handy with their cameras and,

 2) Possessed more guts than common sense to stand there taking photos and staring

death in the face.

The divers were a crazy lot, as all divers are. We would occasionally have a barbeque at the junior sailors mess on a Sunday afternoon. Everyone including officers and wives and children were welcome. The divers would go out in a boat early in the morning and burley up fish into seething masses. They would then throw an explosive of some sort into the schools then scoop up the stunned fish in their thousands and bring them up to the mess. We would select whatever fish we wanted and just throw it whole and not gutted onto the barby. Turned once then placed on a plate the skin would just peel off and the guts was always shrivelled up to nothing. Delicious.

One day Brian detailed me off to escort a pregnant lady, the wife of one of the sailors, on a flight to Rabaul. She was in the very late stages of her pregnancy and Brian considered her to be high risk so he wanted her delivered in Rabaul where the medical facilities were a bit better than ours. God knows what he expected me to do if she went into labour aboard the old DC3 – I didn’t have a clue! By the grace of God the trip was uneventful and I duly delivered my patient to the Rabaul hospital.

I had to stay a couple of days for a connecting flight back to Manus. I checked into the hotel then wandered down to the Rabaul Club. I was surprised to find Dave Angus, the diving officer from Tarangau there. He was a tall skinny Lieutenant who had came up through the ranks and wasn’t a bad bloke. We had a beer and he then told me I had to accompany him on a visit to a Russian survey ship that was tied up alongside in the harbour and was holding an open day. It turned into something of an adventure. We were both dressed in civvies and joined the queue of locals crossing the gangplank to get aboard.

The areas the visitors were permitted to walk through were lined with red cord. We no sooner turned the first corner than Dave lifted the red cord and shoved me under it and quickly followed. We wandered around all over the ship passing occasional Russians who seemed to ignore us. I was terrified and envisioned us being arrested and “disappearing” for ever more into some gulag in Russia. If not shot!

Then we found some more red rope, slipped under it and rejoined the crowd. Dave told me over a beer, back at the Rabaul Club that he had seen nothing of interest or suggestive that the ship might be spying. When I asked about the seemingly excessive array of radio aerials he said that was normal and that all Russian ships acted as spy ships monitoring every foreign radio station they could. I was pleased to have got off the bloody thing and crossed “Become a spy” off my list of life goals.

Flying out of Rabaul was something of an adventure in itself. I left there in a DC3 of course and after we taxied onto the runway the pilot turned the nose into the wind. It didn’t seem to worry him that that pointed us more or less at 45 degrees across the runway. At that angle, looking from my window along the runway I was stunned to see, seemingly at the very end of the runway, the local volcano towering high into the sky.

The pilot cranked both piston engines up to peak revs then let go the brakes and started moving across the runway. Then, with a lurch, he straightened up and we tore away down the runway towards what I knew to be certain death on the side of that bloody great volcano. The plane lurched into the air, dropped back onto the runway momentarily then leaped up again and, this time, stayed in the air. Then, suddenly, there was water beneath us. “Biggles” flung the plane onto its side in a very tight turn, straightened up and levelled out. There, beside and below us was the volcano. We had missed it.

At the end of my time at Tarangau I flew back to Lae via Rabaul and went through that same harrowing experience again. On that flight, though, we flew south along the west coast of New Britain and the pilot did a couple of loops around another volcano. The difference here was that this volcano was in full eruption. I doubt I will ever see the awesome likes of that again. Certainly, in the 53  years that have passed since then I have never seen anything like it. The stupendous might of nature chucking huge globs of red hot larva high into the air and belching colossal volumes of  smoke and ash and gases. We could smell the acrid fumes in the plane.


It was a fitting memory to take with me on my departure from New Guinea.

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First view of Manus - Momote airstrip

Dr McDonnell, me, Chief West

Hospital front entrance

Tarangau Hospital 1965.jpg
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The hospital from the air.

Some of the hospital staff.


Yours Truly - young (24), fit as a mallee bull, slim and happy as  Larry.


Tropic ulcer on a native child's foot.

Beach/jungle BBQ.


USS Mt Hood Explosion

©2019                                                                 HMAS Leeuwin (Again)                                     Dr Ken Hay MB BS D(Obst)RCOG


The first thing I did after returning from Manus in January 1966 was to spend a bit of time in Collie. I brought a new, cream-coloured Volkswagon Beatle from Ron Butcher, the local VW  dealer.  Later I  booked a room in the Raffles motel at Canning bridge in Perth. I lived there for a week with the air conditioning in the room running on frigid and flat out. The cleaners would reset it when I was out but I always got it going at its coldest before going to bed and piled every blanket I could find onto the bed. It was just that I had left Australia in the middle of summer, returned in the middle of summer and spent the intervening year in the tropics. I had forgotten what it was like to experience cold and to sleep with blankets on.

I had a month or so of leave to fill in and spent it catching up with old friends including a trip to Geraldton  to see the McPhees. I moved into the Junior Sailor’s Mess at Leeuwin, after leaving the cold comfort of the Raffles, and used it as a base with free accommodation. We could do that sort of thing in those days.

On completion of leave I went back to work in the sick bay at Leeuwin. I’m now not sure who else was in the Sick Bay. Alf and Bones had both left in 1965 while I was at Tarangau – never to return. I suspect Mick Tiller the doctor was still there but it might have been Doug Candy. I think Les Hart was the Chief Petty Officer Sick Berth Attendant but I can’t recall the others. I think Carmel Scarfe was the nursing sister.

I soon found myself Kellick of The Mess again. The Commander was a guy called Benge (pronounced Bee-Onj-Ay). He was a Fleet Air Arm pilot and, as I discovered in about 2005, was married to a doctor. He was a good bloke in stark contrast to his predecessor and he took an active interest in the welfare of the Junior Sailors. He was not at all happy with the condition of the Junior Sailor’s Mess which was housed in a WW11-vintage wooden hut immediately adjacent to the sick bay.

 He authorized me to spend money on modernizing the interior and making it more congenial. I got the wood panel walls papered with a, reasonably aesthetic, brick look-alike, painted everything else and modernized the bar replacing the wooden shutters, with which it was secured every night, with a mesh grill. The jarrah wooden floor was sanded and sealed and a small dance floor installed. It certainly did look a heap better when we were finished.

I made myself a bit unpopular with some of the Junior Sailors by banning them from urinating outside the mess. This was a common habit for many, especially the heavier drinkers, who considered too much the fifty meter walk to the nearest toilets. It had reached the point where the whole area stank of stale urine. It wasn’t long before I had to reinforce the point after I came upon a sailor breaching the new rule one night. I ran him in and Commander Benge threw the book at  him.


My time as a leading hand there didn’t last long. On 13th May 1966 I was promoted to the rank of Acting Petty Officer. This meant I moved into the Senior Sailor’s mess with my own cabin. I also wore crossed anchors on my left arm as the badge of rank. However, I still had to wear bell bottom trousers and the stupid round caps. Some three or four months later I put a request in to the Commander to change into round rig - as the peaked cap and double breasted suits were called. He granted the request.

Nothing much exciting happened in the next 12 months. I worked in the sick bay effectively running it as Les Hart was mainly occupied running the bar of the Chief’s & PO’s mess. I remained on the sick bay duty roster. I enrolled at night school at Fremantle Technical College, which wasn’t too far from Leeuwin, taking Leaving Certificate subjects. I got involved with the Divisional Staff – those who looked after the Junior Recruits – and joined them on OXP’s in the bush and at Garden Island on weekends.

On one such trip to Garden Island I caught sixteen salmon from the back beach. I commandeered a volunteer work party of Junior Recruits to help carry them back. I recall there were a number of officers there with their families and I baked a couple of the salmon and shared it with them. They reckoned it was wonderful but it was probably just the wine talking. We did another,  longer,  trip to Pemberton with a bus load of JR’s once. One Easter we took a couple of trucks loaded with JRs to Collie to go marroning at Wellington Dam.  I occasionally accompanied sports teams, playing away from Leeuwin, as zambuck or first aid officer.

One such was a trip to RAAF Pearce with an Aussie rules footy team. Navy won and the RAAF team  was so impressed that they broke tradition and did not invite us to a mess for a drink after the game. So went to Chequers – the local pub. Now most of the team were Junior Recruits and couldn’t drink and most of the sailors had driven up by car. Some, me included, had travelled in the bus with the JR’s. I was the senior person on the bus. We stayed longer than we should have and a few of us had a few more beers than we should have – but we were celebrating a win, mind you. We did keep the JRs off the hard stuff.

Anyway, when the bus got back to Leeuwin, long overdue, the Officer of the Day was awaiting our arrival. I was dead to the world on the back seat and he had to shake me to wake me up. I wasn’t drunk – just tired of course. I got a right old bollocking from the OOD but he didn’t run me in and that was kind of him.

And so it was until the middle of 1967 when I was again asked if I would consider going back to full time Divisional Staff. Consider it? Strewth, I grabbed the opportunity firmly by the throat with both hands and was duly removed from the sick bay – hallelujah! – and joined the staff of Marks Division , Junior Recruit Training. The down side was the Navy did not replace me in the sick bay which meant the staff were in three watches rather than four. I did not lose any sleep over it as it was simply the luck of the draw. But I was not at all popular with the sick bay staff.


To the best of my knowledge no other member of sick berth staff was ever previously put into the position I then occupied. It may have happened since – I do not know. I was a little apprehensive that my peers – other Chiefs and Petty Officers might have given me a hard time but they did not. Even the Gunnery Branch guys who usually ran all the parades and ceremonial stuff were supportive.


I started in Marks Division in about June 1967 working with Len Yagmich – a Chief Petty Officer Cook – (see below), a Petty Officer engine room artificer Bill Lozowy, an Able Seaman – Shorty Gibson and a Lieutenant Commander school teacher whose name I also forget but who wasn’t a bad bloke.

Yaggy, as Len was known, had been in charge of the galley when I was at Leeuwin in 1964. The galley was immediately across the road from the sick bay and every morning at six o’clock Yaggy would turn up for work. We could hear him all over the place shouting and screaming at the poor suffering cooks and galley hands. He was an alcoholic then but, when I returned in 1966, he had given away the grog completely and was a different person. He later told me his wife had delivered an ultimatum – choose between her and the grog but he could no longer have both. He chose her – which was a good thing.                   

Yaggy and I got on very well indeed. I soon slipped into the routine of looking after the junior recruits. The routine was unchanged from how it was when I was in Rhodes Division in 1964. There were about eight hundred JRs all together now and we had about 120 in Marks Division. Every three months, thirty or so from each division, who had completed their training, would leave Leeuwin to join the fleet and be replaced by thirty brand new kids off the streets from all over Australia.

Marks Division accommodation consisted of a two story brick building, only about a year old, with each floor divided up into cubicles that held four JRs, with two double bunks, and four large, wooden lockers. At one end there were toilets and showers and a stairwell connecting the floors. At the other end there was a fire escape . At the foot of the stairwell was the divisional office, of meager proportions, and containing a couple of tables and several chairs. Outside the office there was a large wall-mounted blackboard where daily orders were posted and messages of a general nature, chalked up.

We had an incentive scheme for the JRs to keep their cubicles clean. We inspected them every day after the JRs had left for their daily routines of instruction or “working part of ship”. Each was scored for cleanliness and tidiness. On Friday mornings we would tally up the scores and those two or three cubicles with the highest scores won a prize – usually a large chocolate bar we would buy from a local supermarket with funds from a small kitty provided by the navy. The winner’s names were chalked up on the blackboard. All too often the same names would appear and we had to  introduce a “most improved’ prize to give the others something to aim at.

In October I was given the new class of kids to look after. I watched them get off the bus on the parade ground, bewildered and fatigued after their train ride across Australia and complete with pimples, long hair, grubby jeans and joggers and a small bag of their worldly possessions. They were mine and my job was to turn them into sailors.

In October 1968 all except two of them, (these two had dropped out somewhere along the way), with me in charge, boarded the Westland train at Perth station and set out back across Australia. I delivered them to their parents at stations along the way finishing up in Brisbane. They would take due leave then join the fleet or go to shore stations for further training. One of them, Brian Adams, went on to become the first ex-Junior Recruit to attain the rank of Rear Admiral and later CEO of SAAB Australia; Gary Deuscher  and Gary Chapman – both outstanding JRs did well in the Navy and post Navy but, sadly have now crossed the bar. One lad was reported to have committed suicide in a Sydney Park after being repeatedly sexually molested by an officer on a ship. Ken Gillespie was killed in a car smash near HMAS Cerberus, near Melbourne, in 1969. Others have crossed the bar but most, as far as I can determine, are still alive.

Shortly after my taking charge of the class Lt Commander Bob Holister took over as Divisional Officer and my direct report. He was the Executive Officer at Tarangau when I was there. We got on extremely well. We trusted each other implicitly and he gave me free reign over my class and the other JR’s in the Division. We had very little trouble but two incidents still bob up in my memory.

One was an administrative thing. Every morning we would walk through the boy’s accommodation and every morning I was disgusted at the state of the corridors. Old newspapers, magazines, books, chocolate wrappers, empty cigarette packets etc lay strewn over the floors. They were simply swept out of the cubicles into the corridors and left. The expectation was that the duty sweepers would clean it all up during the day. It was the same in every division right across Leeuwin. I discussed it with other Chiefs and PO’s and always got the response that it was ingrained and there was nothing that could be done about it  and it was harmless anyway. I recalled that, as a recruit, I had been trained to keep our accommodation scrupulously clean if only because rubbish in a ship’s mess deck could clogs up pumps if the ship was damaged in warfare, collision or other mishap.

I resolved to do something about it, got Bob Holister’s support and announced to a “clear lower deck” of the entire Division, on a Thursday afternoon, that the practice had to cease forthwith. No threats or promises – it just had to stop and I told them why I had been trained to keep my mess desk clean. Nothing changed on Friday morning. My next move, with Bob Holister’s approval, was to “clear lower deck” of the division, at 1600 Friday afternoon, and announce that all leave for Marks Division was cancelled for that weekend. Any further leave would be, and remain, subject to their accommodation being immaculate at all times. I simply made the announcement, informed them that I was the duty Regulating Petty Officer for the weekend, then dismissed them.

Marks Division was not a happy Division. I walked through the accommodation early Saturday morning to find they had learned nothing, so far, from the leave stoppage. I then commenced a series of “clear lower deck” parades on the parade ground to muster and check that all JRs in the Division were still aboard. (It was very easy for enterprising JRs to get out of Leeuwin simply by climbing the fence behind the shipwright’s shop where the fence was out of view.) 

I held four or five such parades, the last being late in the evening. After that a few JRs asked if they could speak to me together. I agreed and took them into the office. They wanted to know what they had to do to get me to stop the parades and to get back to a normal leave routine. I told them that they would not be getting leave next day, (Sunday), no matter what and that for things to return to normal all they had to do was ensure their mess deck accommodation was immaculate at all times. They thanked me and left.

Sunday morning I walked through the accommodation and found it immaculate with each JR fully dressed and standing to attention at the end of his bunk. My presence was formally announced by a Leading Junior Recruit – Gary Chapman, I think. I inspected the entire dormitory and found nothing wanting. Returning to the entrance I told Chapman that the penny appeared to have dropped and we would see what would happen thereafter.

I called one parade during the afternoon of that Sunday. I told Marks Division the performance that morning was excellent and that they had set a new standard which they had to maintain. And maintain it they did. Never again did we see those corridors in anything but immaculate condition. I have no doubt the lessons learned that weekend served those boys well when they joined the fleet. I was criticized a little for punishing all of the boys in the division when not all were guilty. The fact was all were guilty – even those who repeatedly won prizes for cubicle cleanliness. The issue was sweeping rubbish into a corridor rather than sweeping it up and putting it into bins.

I do not recall if that incident had anything to do with the visit to Leeuwin, a short time later, by Prime Minister John Gorton. But visit he did and not only that but he was taken to Marks Division dormitory and “inspected” the kit of two JRs laid out for the occasion. I distinctly recall standing alongside Gorton while he puffed on a cigarette and stared vacantly at the kit laid out on the floor. His mind may have been on affairs of state - or Ainslie Gotto for that matter – but it was painfully obvious it was not on the kit of those poor JR’s.

The other incident occurred on Garden Island on an OXP. I had arranged to take a work boat, as many JRs as wanted to go and a few mates from the Chiefs and Petty Officers mess to Garden Island on the Friday afternoon returning on the Sunday one summer weekend.  There was a collection of old wartime wooden huts on the shores of Careening Bay that we could use for accommodation and the kids could do as they wished as long as it was safe and legal. As was the custom we took a few cartons of beer for the staff and stored them in the galley fridges. I took a half  bottle of rum and some Coca Cola.

On the Saturday evening we put on a barbie for the boys and had a few quiet beers afterwards but toward the end of the evening the remaining beer disappeared. A quick look around found the beer cans – minus the beer – under the windows of the JR’s dormitory and an empty rum bottle. I was disgusted. I got them all out of bed and paraded them outside. I read the riot act to them, told them of my disgust and that they would hear more of it in the morning.

At 0600 I paraded them again, took them to the wharf and loaded them onto the workboat. This I drove to the north end of the island, four or five miles away  and, when in safe swimming distance, ordered them into the water and to be back at the camp before I was. They all were. We then packed up and returned to Leeuwin well ahead of planned time. I paraded them again, between dormitories, not on the parade ground, where any other JRs could hear what I had to say. I again expressed by disappointment and disgust that they stole from staff, me and my friends, who were treating them to a weekend away in our own time. I informed them they had betrayed a trust that would never be regained. Then I dismissed them.

A deputation approached me with apologies and an amount of money they had collected. I accepted the apologies but declined the money. They asked when they would be charged with some offence. I told them they would not unless Lt Cdr Holister insisted. I told him about it first thing next morning and he agreed with my approach. And that was the end of it.

I had seriously considered officially reporting the incident and thereby initiating official action and the probable discharge from the service of some, if not all of them. However, I considered that it was, basically, a spur of the moment, stupid prank committed by a number of high quality junior recruits who would take on board the seriousness of their prank and the full on, no-holds-barred reaction from me focusing on the betrayal of trust, shame and disgust I laid on them. Time proved me right.

There were a number of very contrite, embarrassed JRs around the place for a quite a while and mood of the entire division was very subdued. I knew that not all of the JRs had stolen or consumed the beer but to try to single anyone out either way would have had adverse consequences. I don’t think there was any rough justice administered but I do believe some strong lessons were learned.

In the following winter and we took some boys up into the Darling Ranges near Serpentine, south of Perth. We had a three ton truck and a Land Rover 4 X 4. We camped out under tarpaulins strung up between trees and surrounding a large campfire. There was a permanent creek nearby and nothing else but jarrah forest  and a few infrequently used vehicle tracks which all connected to the one road – Scarp Road. It was itself only a gravel road but was used fairly frequently. One enterprising lad produced a hand-held fishing line and managed to catch a small trout from the creek.

On the Sunday morning I decided to give them a small cross-country navigation exercise to undertake while a small group of volunteer JRs and the staff packed up the camp and restored the site to its original condition. All of the lads returned by the appointed time – 1200. All, that is, except one JR Ansell. A good lad, quite intelligent and very capable but he was absent from the muster. No else recalled him leaving the group. We spent the afternoon with small groups retracing the morning’s steps and the Land Rover cruising up and down the bush tracks. Eventually we found Ansell alive, well and uninjured walking along   Scarp Road although walking away from the camp. He had become detached from his group and got lost but, aware that all the tracks led back to the road he had followed one. Unfortunately, he went the wrong way and it petered out. He had the good sense to retrace his steps and keep going until he came to the road then, unfortunately, turned in the wrong direction.

Anyway, all ended up well. We had to call into the navy’s ammunition depot at Byford, manned 24 hours a day by Naval Dockyard Police, and ask them to call Leeuwin to advise the officer of the day that we were safe and well and on the way back albeit a bit late.

Over Easter 1968 we again took a group of JRs, the truck and the 4 X 4 on a tour around the south west.

Another interesting situation arose as we began rehearsing for a ceremonial parade through Perth for whatever reason – I forget – but we were to finish up at a cathedral. Anyway, the Gunnery Officer – in charge of the whole shooting match - came into the Divisional Office one day looking a bit sad and embarrassed. He had to inform me that because sick berth staff were considered to be non-combatants I could not carry a cutlass on parade and therefore could not participate in the forthcoming march through Perth.


By chance I had considered this issue might arise and studied up on it via the Navy “Bible” – Queen’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions and also the Geneva Convention. These tomes stated clearly that non-combatants may carry side arms for the protection of their patients. I told the Gunnery Officer this. He was a bit surprised and said he would look it up and get back to me. He did and rang me later that day to say I was right and I would be marching in the parade and carrying a cutlass. (But I had a price to pay – as follows.)

One of the funniest episodes of my naval career occurred during that march through Perth. I don’t recall the occasion but I know we had to march west along Hay Street, (before it became a mall), south in William Street then east along St George’s Terrace. It was during the summer months because I was wearing white uniform. I was also carrying a cutlass, leading my class of Junior Recruits.

As we marched proudly along Hay Street my underpants, being fairly old and overdue for replacement, began to slide down. With each stride the elastic inched further down over my hips. Eventually they ended up draped over the crutch of my trousers.

There wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it except ignore it and keep on marching, proudly, at the head of my class with cutlass upheld. Eventually, however, the undies began creeping down to the extent they began to limit the length of stride I could take. My pace became shorter and shorter. I could hear the kids in the front row of the class whispering as loudly as one can whisper, “Step out Sir! Step out!” I couldn’t and the whole parade behind me began to slow down while the classes in front, and the band, began to draw away.

With a superhuman effort I managed to keep marching and actually tore the offending undergarments enough for me to take a normal pace and catch up.

We finished up at the cathedral in the Terrace just behind the law courts. We had to attend a service there. As soon as we were dismissed the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, a good bloke, grabbed me and started ripping me up for toilet paper. I started laughing and interrupted him, “The elastic broke in my underps, Sir, and I couldn’t step out.”

“What?” he exclaimed, and I repeated myself. Thereupon he was silent for a few seconds then a grin crossed his face, then a laugh. “For Gawd’s sake, Ken, (he always addressed me by my given name except when protocol demanded the formal rank and name), get yourself some decent underwear.” And he walked away.

Johnno, as that officer was called by the blokes, was an ex-RN (Royal Navy), gunnery officer who switched to the Royal Australian Navy at the end of his career. He had come up through the ranks after joining the Royal Navy as a boy seaman – the equivalent of our Junior Recruits.

Shortly after he arrived at Leeuwin we took him on an OXP. That’s Navy speak for Over Night Expedition. These were camping trips in the bush. We would take a class or division of junior recruits into the bush and camp for a night or two. The kids were taught a range of survival and other skills and, generally had a bloody good time. We were cooking steaks on a large sheet of steel plate over a bush fire on the first night. Johnno just couldn’t get over it and he wanted to know all the details of bush cooking.

In the week before that march, when my underps fell down, he had called me down to his office. Given that the parade ended with a church service he had to go through the records and determine who would go to which church. That, usually, just meant dividing the Protestants from the Catholics. He was quite disturbed to have discovered that I was registered as an agnostic. He was a staunch C of E, (Church of England), of course, and couldn’t understand that one such as me was registered as an agnostic.  The poor, old bloke was quite put out about it all. (For the reasons as to why I was so registered see the section on Tarangau.) Anyway, I didn’t have to go into the cathedral.

My best mates at Leeuwin, at this stage, were Graham Offord, Barry Brownrigg,  both physical training instructors, and John Ridgeway who was a communications technician, (he fixed radios and things, I think, he was always a bit hush-hush about what he did), and a few others. There was John Thompson, too, a diving Petty Officer about whom I will relate more later. We would all leap out early in the morning and drive across to Port Beach for a run and a swim. We played a lot of squash and golf. I could always beat the PTI’s at squash which annoyed them a fair bit and they would delight in thrashing me at golf.

There were a lot of others, too. Many of them were married and lived ashore in Navy houses. The Chief’s and Petty Officer’s mess was very active, socially and we all mixed at functions quite frequently.

At one of these functions a close mate turned up with an attractive young lady. It turned out we were related via the Bunbury branch of the Hay family. My mate came from a tiny village near Bunbury. Anyway, at the height of the festivities in the mess the lady and I found ourselves engaged in conversation. As it was hot and noisy we moved out of the mess onto the lawns – in full view of many others out there I might add. Now my mate, always the nicest guy you could hope to meet most of the time, was known to get a bit nasty on occasions when he had a few drinks. He chose that night to have a few drinks and get a bit nasty. He came charging out of the mess looking for his lady, spotted us among the others, rushed up king hit me! By the grace of God we standing on lawn – not concrete.

I was out like a light for a short while. He was bundled out of the mess and she drove them home.  The Mess President was a bit put out and approached me to learn if I intended reporting my assailant. I had no such intention and let it go. Next morning my assailant mate came to see me remorseful and apologetic and we shook hands and forgot it. Well, I put it behind me anyway. A year or two later he and the lady were married - I was a proud groomsman.

Mum & Dad came to Perth a few days later and I had dinner with them at the Freeway Motel - complete with my bright, shiny black eye. Strangely, they never asked how I got it.

There was another mate who was a diver and known as a different sort of bloke. He was single and something of a renowned misogynist. He drank hard, played hard and had a weird sense of humour. We became pretty good mates. He was still in the navy when I was in  final year medicine. He had been seconded  to the US Navy in Hawaii for a couple of years returning when I was mid-way through final year. By this time, due to changed economic conditions and rampant inflation as a consequence of Goof Whitlam’s disastrous government, I was just about broke. I knew I could ask Dad for assistance and would get it but I didn’t want to do that. I discussed my predicament with a couple of Navy mates “in confidence”. A consequence of that was, as soon as the diver returned from Hawaii he rang me and invited me for a drink at the Leopold Hotel in Canning Highway. As we sat chatting he slid an envelope along the bar to me. “What’s this?” I asked. “Heard you are doing it tough. That might help to tide you over.” he replied. The envelope contained a thousand dollars. I repaid him as soon as I could get a thousand together after starting work at Fremantle Hospital.

Sadly, he let us down something cruel a few years later and about that I will say no more.


Every Wednesday afternoon was sports day for the JR’s. The sports ground would see various sports in progress depending upon the season. The squash courts, tennis courts, badminton courts (in the drill hall) would also be hives of activity. It was a routine that two SBA’s would be in attendance at the oval with first aid gear etc.

One such Wednesday, prior to me joining divisional staff, I received a phone call in the sick bay from a rather irate PTI, (Physical Training Instructor), demanding I send an SBA to the footy ground immediately because a JR had broken a leg. “You’ve got two SBA’s down there now! How many do you want?’ His reply chilled me – “There are no SBAs down here!”

“I’m on my way.”

I ordered another SBA to contact the motor pool office to despatch the ambulance urgently to the sports ground and shot down there on my bike.

Sure enough there was a JR with an obvious fractured femur lying, extremely distressed, on the turf. It was a compound fracture – one sharp end of the bone was sticking out mid thigh.

We injected some morphine, got the leg into a Thomas splint, (I don’t think they are used now.), which resulted in the protruding bone being pulled back near to its normal position, bandaged the wound, got him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. As we drove through the gates I reported the two missing SBAs to the Master At Arms then proceeded to Hollywood Hospital.

When I returned to Leeuwin I was told the missing SBAs had gone ashore to a hotel and returned aboard inebriated and were rather shocked and astounded at being arrested and charged AWOL before the Officer of The Day. Later on they both came to the Senior Sailor’s Mess demanding to see me. They then in high dudgeon bemoaned their fate and became quite aggressive. I warned them they would find themselves in more trouble if they persisted and they left. The Commander punished them with stoppage of leave.

On another occasion I was Duty Regulating Petty Officer which required me to attend the parade ground at 1600 and administer discipline to the “Men Under Punishment”. I arrived to find about a dozen or so JR’s lounging about, called them order and to fall in on the parade ground which they did. I noticed among them, in particular, two JRs who were big, nasty and renowned as bullies. The entire group then proceeded to ignore every order I gave them. They just stood there.

I tried repeatedly to get them to obey my lawful orders but was ignored. It became apparent to me that this was a mutiny – whether they knew that or not. I then stood immediately in front of one JR and, in a loud voice that all could hear, ordered him to double (run) to the Gangway, report to the Officer of The Day and inform him the Men Under Punishment had mutineed. He did as he was ordered. The others became a bit restive but it was only a few minutes before the Officer of The Day, the entire duty watch and the Master At Arms and his men attended in a hurry.

The result of it all was that the two bullies had, prior to the muster, bullied the others into ignoring my orders. They were locked up in the cells. None were charged with mutiny but all with wilful disobedience of lawful orders and given more punishment parades to attend. The two bullies were discharged from the Navy. The episode was a salutary warning to all JRs in Leeuwin at the time that they were members of the RAN and subject to its discipline. Had they tried such a stunt aboard a commissioned ship the outcomes would have been much more severe.

In October 1968 the 21st Intake Graduated from Leeuwin. I was told I was to return to Sick Bay Duties thereafter but I did manage to persuade the powers that be that I should undertake escort duties on the train ride that would deliver most of them to their home capital cities. They would take all the leave they had due then report to the ships or establishments to which they had been posted.

So we got onto the train in Perth and, eventually, I got off, with the remaining sailors in Brisbane. An uneventful trip. I then flew to Sydney, took a few days leave there then home to Leeuwin. I had three months left to serve and returned to the sick bay without any thanks for my efforts training JRs..

As is usual in all medical circles the Leeuwin sick bay had mountains of paper work. There were 800 Junior Recruits at Leeuwin plus about 100 or more officers and sailors of all ranks. Each had a medical file. Each medical file had to document every attendance at the sick bay including routine medical examination, vaccinations and treatment of each and every medical condition or injury.

Initial attendances were usually recorded on daily running sheets but these had to be typed up in triplicate on a special Navy form. One copy went into the individual’s locally  held medical file and two, I think. Were sent off to Navy Office. None of the sick bay staff, including me, were trained typists. I discovered there was a huge backlog of reports that had not been typed up and tried to fix it. Despite our best efforts we did not make much headway.

I approached the doctor and suggested he make moves to get us a full-time typist- receptionist. He agreed but, a few days later, informed me he had discussed the matter with a senior officer who decided against such a move. No alternative was offered. I continued to struggle with the day-to-day running of the department and the mountain of typing.

I gave the matter some serious thought and decided to put in a request to see the Commodore to state a complaint about the conditions of service. It was risky but was a process included in Queen’s Regulations and Navy Instructions as a legitimate passage for sailors to air grievances. The doctor was a bit shocked but passed it on up the chain of command. The fact was that once initiated the process had to take its course – all the way to the Commodore’s table where I duly found myself standing.

As I recall the Commodore was “Silver Jim” Ramsey, he had a fine head of white hair and was a renowned and respected officer though-out the Navy. (Post Navy he became the Governor of {I think, Queensland}, but suffered a premature death while still in office – I think).

Anyway I had to put my case to him. I did it earnestly and respectfully and emphasised that the efficient, service-like management of the sick bay was being jeopardised by a mountain of typing. He asked a few questions, mulled over it for a while then announced that he thought my case was justifiable. He turned to his secretary, (a Lieutenant Commander and, I later discovered, was the senior officer who had advised against my initial proposal), and asked him to make the necessary arrangements. So, not much later, a young, civilian lady typiste joined the sick bay staff. That Lieutenant Commander later had occasion to castigate me over trivia – it was the only revenge he could inflict upon me.


One of my most enduring memories of the Royal Australian Navy was a trivial event that occurred at Leeuwin a week or two before I paid off.

I was riding Sick Bay One, (the Sick Bay’s bicycle), across the parade ground when I saw a Commander approaching. He was the senior instructor officer, or head master, of the school teachers whose duty it was to educate the Junior Recruits in the three R’s.

I was preparing to salute him as I rode past when he raised his right hand signalling me to stop which I did as I saluted – as I was bound to do. He saluted back and said, “Hay, I understand you aspire to doing medicine when you pay off.” His tone was imperious, as it usually was, and he said it as a statement not a question.

I replied, “It is Petty Officer Hay, sir.” - as I was quite entitled to correct him and he could do nothing about it. “Yes, sir. I have passed the Leaving Certificate and have been admitted to Medical School at the University of Western Australia.” He wasn’t much interested in a discussion and the thought of congratulations had not entered his head. He replied, “Be that as it may, my advice to you, Hay, is to maintain your station in life.”

My response was, “Advice may be given but it does not have to be accepted. I do not accept yours.”

I did not, could not, address him as sir again and I rode off without saluting. I expected some repercussions but none came.

Six years later, after I had passed the final year exams, the Navy News representative at Leeuwin, a Chief Bandsman, wrote up a story about my success and had it published in Navy News – the official newspaper of the RAN. He told me he had obtained the address of the now retired Commander and sent him a copy of the issue containing the story. It is now available on line -


One day in January 1969 Graeme Offord, Barry Brownrig ,(both PTIs), John Ridgeway  (a radio technician), and I took a “make and mend”  - that is, an afternoon off.  We went up to Perth and ensconced ourselves in the front bar of a pub in Barrack Street between Murray  and Wellington Sts. I think it was called the Railway Hotel. It doesn’t exist any more. We were there to catch the earliest edition of The Daily News, Perth’s afternoon newspaper which has long since gone to the wall. That paper contained the last of my Leaving Certificate results and determine my future. If I had failed  then Plan B was to  re-enlist in the navy.

About mid-afternoon a paperboy entered the pub with the papers. The heart was thumping away at a great rate as I hastily brought a copy and flicked through to the Leaving results then perused down to my name. I had passed! There was back-slapping and hand shaking and congratulations and the beers were lined up. We all got very inebriated that night.

The formal notification came by mail a week or two later. It contained all of my Leaving Exam results and the total score that determined the level of university entrance. I had enough to get into medicine with very little to spare.


I left the Navy on February 12th 1969. I loaded all of my possessions into my Volkswagen beetle, said goodbye to all of the sick bay staff and drove out of HMAS Leeuwin. Thus ended what was, until then, the most significant nine years of my life. There was much about the Navy that I didn’t like, some things that I hated but much that I loved and enjoyed. Given my life over I would follow the same course.

I must add here, that although my formal time in the RAN had finished, I remained a member of the Chief’s and PO’s mess at Leeuwin for many years. I often went down there late on a Sunday afternoon, after a hard weekend studying,  for a few quiet beers with the blokes I knew and met newcomers to the mess as well. The blokes all supported  me to the hilt and gave me every encouragement. I appreciated that very much. They helped me celebrate the passing of the annual exams. I met Maureen in that mess.


Post Script.

Fast forward, now, forty three years to 2009 when a Rear Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy, Brian Adams, published Paper Number 29 of Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs entitled - HMAS Leeuwin: The Story of the RAN’s Junior Recruits. I was not aware of this until 2 April 2011 when I received an e-mail from Alan Rodgers another Petty Officer who had also served at Leeuwin when I was there. Alan had been one of the prime movers and organizers of the 50 year celebration of the first intake of Junior Recruits at Leeuwin.

Anyway, it was just an ordinary e-mail circulated to numerous others advising of certain events in ex-Junior Recruit circles. However, there was an internet link to Brian Adams’ book which I opened just out of curiosity. Browsing through the list of contents I noticed a chapter, Leeuwin Staff, and went to that. Browsing through that, on page 80, my name leaped out at me with the words, “... Members of each intake have memories of a good sprinkling of individuals whose behaviour and treatment of the boys was exemplary. A fine example of such men is Petty Officer Sick Berth Attendant Ken Hay who served  as a divisional staff member at Leeuwin in the late 60s. Lieutenant Commander ‘Johno’ Johnson, a transferee from the Royal Navy and Leeuwin’s long term Gunnery Officer is another.”

I was astounded, humbled and proud. Rear Admiral Adams was a junior recruit at Leeuwin in 1968. For my name to be mentioned in conjunction with Lt Cdr Johnson’s is high praise in itself. He was a real officer and gentleman. No other staff member is mentioned by name in the book.

I e-mailed Alan Rodgers and asked him if he would pass on my appreciation to Brian Adams. He forwarded the e-mail to him and I had a response the same day. It contained some very kind words:


"I have to be honest and say that what I wrote in the book about you was not just my personal opinion. The great majority of former JRs who trained in Leeuwin during your time there would share my views it.  I would say that there would be very many who hold you in very high regard indeed for the compassionate and fair manner in which you treated them.


It is a pity we did not meet at the memorial unveiling last year.


Warm Regards


Brian Adams"


He also sent me a copy of the book and wrote, in the frontispiece, the words

“Dear Ken,

            It was a pleasure to hear from you. Your mention in this book is extremely well deserved. Many former Junior Recruits are better men for having been associated with you.

                                                                                                Warm regards,

                                                                                                   Brian Adams

Brian Adams was the first ex-Junior Recruit to attain the rank of Rear Admiral and Deputy Chief of Navy  in the Royal Australian Navy. Another, Russ Crane, who enlisted as a JR in, I think, 1972, (long after I left), achieved the Rank of Vice Admiral and Chief of Navy retiring in 2011.


And, in 2015 – 47 years from 1968 – I was invited to lunch in Perth with three ex-Junior Recruits of Marks Division and their ladies. Long story short – one of them very sheepishly presented me with a bottle of rum and confessed it was him who had stolen mine on Garden Island all those years ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                End (I think).

HMAS Leeuwin (Again)
Memorial Speach
Marks Div.jpg

Some Admiral or other and me behind him.

Ken's Kids.jpg

Some of my Class on their last night at Leeuwin.

In September 2015 a ceremony was held in Mosman, Sydney to unveil a memorial to the now defunct Australian Navy Hospitals and those who worked in and were treated in them. Given I had served in all three of them as a Sick Berth Attendant and in two as a Reserve Medical Officer I was asked to be guest speaker. The speach follows below. It was published in full in the June 2018 issue of the Naval Historical Society's Naval Historical Review.



Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour and privilege to be asked to speak at this ceremony and to witness the culmination of the project to establish this memorial.

The project was conceived in 2013 over a lunch in Secret Harbour, WA, attended by John & Barbara Rae, Ian & Jan Lorimer and my wife Maureen and me. John, Ian and I had served together at Cerberus and Penguin in the early nineteen sixties. At the lunch we discussed the closure of the naval hospitals at Penguin, Cerberus and Tarangau – on Manus Island where I served through 1965. We came to the conclusion that there should be a memorial to those hospitals and to those who served in them.

John committed to do something about it and set about the recruitment or, more precisely, the shanghai-ing of Ron Rosenberg as President of the New South Wales branch of the Naval Health Services Association, Jim Chapman, Jock and Tina Heath and others all with the able assistance of Barbara. And here we are today.

And I must say that without the optimism, dogged persistence and determination of John & Barbara the whole thing would most likely have been just another bright idea the flame of which flared, fluttered and died.

Now, back to the navy hospitals and, by way of example I will focus on Balmoral Naval Hospital but most of what I say applies also to the Cerberus hospital.   I am acutely aware of, and ask you to bear in mind, that the time frame for my comments began 55 years ago. Also, the inevitable and continuous processes of change have rendered my navy incomparable with today’s navy.

Balmoral Naval Hospital was more than just a place where ill and injured sailors, of all ranks, were sent for medical or surgical treatment. In my view, the presence of that hospital, and the others, projected a powerful image of a navy that cared for and looked after its people in sickness as well as in health.

It also enabled the ill and injured sailors to be treated without leaving the comfort zone and the camaraderie of the mess decks. While in hospital they were in the company of and were treated by their peers.

These hospitals were the prime training venues for Sick Bay Staff. There was a Medical Training School at both Cerberus and Penguin hospitals. We junior Sick Berth Attendants learned the basics and the refinements of good nursing care under the supervision of some wonderful, old school, nursing sisters like Matron Maud Jones and Sisters Patti Vines, Barbara Lawry and Carmel  Scarfe and others. We learned to understand and to dispense compassion. We learned the tolerance and patience required to nurse the ill and injured.

We were instructed in the ways of the navy by senior Sick Berth Attendants like Chief Petty Officers George Powell, Ron Josey,  Doug Hay (not related), Reg Black, Les Hart and Bill Pope. Most of these senior sailors  were World War Two or Korean War veterans.

There were senior doctors like Surgeon Captain Brian (BTT) Treloar, Surgeon Captain Armstrong and Surgeon Commanders John Cotterell and John Mitchell. Then there were a number of very junior, inexperienced Surgeon Lieutenants mostly serving out four year, post graduate, navy scholarship  commitments. They were not much older than us and some envied our lifestyle. They contributed to our medical education. Many of them, after completing their naval service, went on to become highly respected specialists in various fields.

We worked in the hospital wards on general nursing duties and did the occasional one week of night duty. We were rotated through outpatients, laboratory, x-ray, specialist clinics, medical stores and ambulance escort and attended lectures in the Medical Training school.

After we had proven our worth most of us now Able Bodied Sick Berth Attendants were seconded off to places like Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to be trained as Laboratory,  Operating Theatre and X-ray Technicians – among other disciplines. There was no formal or structured learning process – we just went off and learned what we could. It was probably not the best way for us to learn those skills but we did it and brought the skills back to the navy – and sewed on our right arm rates.

Penguin was certainly not a bed of roses but, in the best traditions of the services everywhere, we made the most of it and it helped build our characters. As junior sailors we lived in an open mess deck housing about thirty people devoid of privacy with just a single wooden locker and a bunk to call home. Relationships were sometimes strained but I never did witness a mess desk fight. We learned all about tolerance. We worked in two watches which meant we could only go ashore on alternate nights and alternate weekends. Our average age was about 21 and, while we were working, our long haired, red blooded, sun tanned, civilian peers flopped about on Bondi Beach and raised Cain in Kings Cross etc. We resented that - and tried our hardest to offer them a little competition. The wet canteen was only one flight of stairs away and the entertainment highlight of each week was watching The Flintstones on a black and white TV set up in the mess hall. We were  lucky to see the screen through the pall of smoke.


There was the occasional drama – at about 1030 on 11th October 1960  HMAS Woomera, while dumping obsolete ammunition, blew up and sank with the loss of two lives about 20 miles off Sydney Heads. We were still undergoing training but most of us, still wearing our hospital whites, were despatched to the wharf at Penguin and put aboard a workboat. Surg Commander Mitchell was also there as well as a few seamen. The boat got under way and we progressed through the heads and out into the Pacific ocean. After some time we saw a navy ship approaching. We had no radio so a seaman rating climbed onto the roof of the workboat with a couple of us holding his  legs and proceeded to semaphore the ship using two sailor’s caps. It turned out the ship was HMAS Quickmatch and she had all the survivors aboard and was proceeding post haste into Sydney. So we turned about and wallowed back to Penguin.

And, of course, Balmoral Naval Hospital played a significant role after the Voyager disaster. I had been posted to Leeuwin only a few weeks before. Don Nash, one of my contemporaries was still there and wrote an excellent account of his involvement that was published in LtCdr Jeperson’s book, “Constant Care”.

We endured Penguin for about three and a half years during which time sailors who had enlisted with us in other branches had been posted to ships at sea - many for the second or third time. Then, eventually, our postings started to come through and we went our separate ways but sharing friendships that have lasted lifetimes and countless memories both good and bad.  And I never did go to sea.

The hospital at Tarangau was different. There we cared for navy personnel, their wives and children and the civil administration population at Lorengau. Then there was the estimated 14,000 indigenous population of Manus island. They rarely required our services but when they did it was usually serious stuff.

Our one doctor worked hard at general practice medicine, surgery and obstetrics. The Nursing Sister administered anaesthetics. There was one Operating Theatre technician, a Chief Petty Officer Pharmacist Rate and one Laboratory Technician – me. When we had serious surgical problems my job was to arrange blood transfusions by taking blood from donors, doing the blood groups and crossmatch then scrubbing up to assist the doctor. We did have the support of  civilian indigenous  and some PNG navy people trained in these various fields. Another of  my roles was to supervise the Native Hospital where we admitted those with non-life threatening illness but requiring admission. Seriously ill native patients were admitted to the main hospital. The native hospital had a maternity ward run by a very competent native male midwife.

The nearest medical help was at Rabaul but only rarely did we need it – usually for worrisome obstetric patients.

My experiences there, with the support and encouragement of an enlightened and extremely competent doctor, Surg Lt Brian McDonald, cemented my ambition to become a doctor.

The early nineteen sixties were relatively quiet  in terms of hostilities and natural disasters. The Vietnam War was still ramping up but it wasn’t long before some of my peers were on active service there with the helicopter squadrons serving ashore or in the destroyers on the gun line. The period since has seen medical staff who were trained in the navy hospitals serving in all sorts of hot spots involving hostilities and natural disasters. Some made the supreme sacrifice. This memorial honours all those who made the supreme sacrifice before, during and since the nineteen sixties, is a memorial to the navy hospitals and acknowledges the service of all health professionals who have served in the Royal AustralianNavy.

The Naval Hospitals – as we knew them - no longer exist. But they live on in the memories of those of us who lived and worked there; those who simply worked there; and those who were treated there. And they played a major role in the formative years of many impressionable young men and women.

It is not my place to comment on today’s Navy Health Services – I know little of them and there is nothing to be gained in comparisons of the ways of the nineteen sixties with the ways of today.  And 50 years hence the navy will not be comparable with today’s navy. Change is inevitable and continuous

To close, it is my hope and wish that this memorial will become a perpetual reminder that an old fashioned navy hospital once existed near this place. Perhaps, from time to time, an occasional school teacher will bring students here, show them this shrine, and the others, and ask them to research their history.


Thank you.

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