This year marks the 55th anniversary of Australia’s worst peacetime Naval disaster.
On February 10, 1964, during a naval training exercise off the South Coast of NSW, in the dark of night, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne collided with the destroyer HMAS Voyager.
The collision cut the much smaller HMAS Voyager in two and despite the massive rescue effort, 82 crew of HMAS Voyager, including the Commanding Officer, lost their lives.
The disaster was the subject of two Royal Commissions with the second Royal Commission concluding that a range of issues led to the disaster with the Commanding Officer of HMAS Voyager being medically unfit for command and the time of the collision being at the top of the list.
Stories of bravery and sacrifice surfaced in the aftermath of the collision and perhaps none more stirring than that of Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Jonathan Rogers.
CPO Rogers was on board HMAS Voyager and was organising evacuation from the ship. He realised that he was too large to fit through an escape hatch, however continued to ensure the evacuation of those that could escape. When it was evident that the water had beaten them and no more could escape, he led those with him in prayer and hymns as they died. CPO Roger was awarded the George Cross (posthumously) for his actions.
Those that lost their lives on that fateful night, and the survivors, were remembered on the 55th Anniversary of the disaster by the Nambucca Valley Naval and Mariners Association.
Members of the association held a moving service at Stuart Island where the Nambucca Valley Naval and Mariners Association Secretary/Treasurer, Mr John Kent, led the group in words of commemoration and the casting of a wreath of native flowers into the Nambucca River. The service was a fitting tribute in keeping with the aims and objectives of their association who commemorate past ship mates who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country.
The Nambucca Valley Naval and Mariners Association brings together former and serving members of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and the Australian Merchant Marine and welcomes members from other Commonwealth and allied navies. Mr Kent explained that the association provides a strong social network for former members of RAN and Merchant Marine and their families.
Association member, Mr Allan Willey, who spent time with both the RAN and Merchant Navy, added that the group is also there to support each other when needed. Alan’s remarks were supported by Mr Davis Benn who traveled up from Newcastle for the commemoration and the BBQ that followed, such is the strength of the camaraderie within the group.
The Nambucca Valley Naval and Mariners Association has other aims beyond social and commemorative events. They serve to promote Naval and Mariner career options to young people in the Nambucca Valley. They are also positioned to lobby for fair and just pensions, repatriation and health benefits for seafarers.
The association also supports and encourages the existence of a strong Australian Merchant Navy employing Australian officers and sailors. If you consider that you may be eligible to join the the Nambucca Valley Naval and Mariners Association and you would benefit from the camaraderie on offer, they meet at a variety of locations on the Sunday third of each month. To find out more please call Mr John Kent on 0412 258 701 or email email@example.com.
In memory of those lost on HMAS Voyager:
The Naval Ode
They have no grave but the cruel sea
No flowers lie at their heads
A rusty hulk is their tombstone
Fast on the ocean bed
We will remember them
Lest we Forget