The Admiral Went Too Far - Foibles of Naval Officers

An extract from my service in the Royal Australian Navy

Welcome to The Admiral Who Went Too Far - Foibles of Naval Officers.

The Hub below is an extract from my autobiography, Tom's Karma, which covers my life from date-of-birth until I turned sixty. This particular piece covers my Navy years - I served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1954 until 1960. Of course, the Navy of the 1950s, that's over half-a-century ago, was still very Draconian. The RAN's officer ranks were made up to a great degree on British Officers from the R.N. who, for some reason or another, thought that they were still able to run ships like the infamous Captain Bligh. Such attitudes, of course, made for all sorts of silly ideas which the average Australian matelot could only shake his head in disbelief.

HMAS Sydney - Australia's Flagship in 1955

On the flagship the dreaded navy officer reigned supreme.  It was a long, long pecking order and everyone got pecked.
On the flagship the dreaded navy officer reigned supreme. It was a long, long pecking order and everyone got pecked.

The last bastion of privilege without merit

The navy officer, in the 1950s, represented the last bastion of privilege without merit, I thought. And still think. They were waited upon by the lower-deck sailors: waited on at table; had their clothes laundered, pressed, and laid out; had their beds made and their showers and toilets cleaned. Their demeanor, most often, was haughty and high-handed. Not only did they accept such service, they deemed it their divine right. It was not uncommon for a cook or a steward to be called out at one o’clock in the morning, because a lieutenant decided he wanted to eat steak or be served a pink-gin in the wardroom at this ungodly hour. Moreover, it seemed they held in contempt any enlisted man- with the occasional exception of very senior chief petty officers. I can recall being told of the deep anger aroused when a supercilious naval officer once made the following announcement over a loud speaker system to a crowd gathered dockside”-

Officers and their ladies; petty officers and their wives, ratings and their women..”

Parades and inspections - Admirals loved 'em.

Our flagsip again.  Very easy to all stand nice and still when the water is smooth.   Trying doing it in a swell.  It's quite comical.
Our flagsip again. Very easy to all stand nice and still when the water is smooth. Trying doing it in a swell. It's quite comical.

This arrogance had its upside with the sailors

This arrogance had its up side with the sailors. Officers, particularly very senior ones, often became the base for many an enlisted man’s jokes and mess deck stories. A tale comes to mind where an admiral on an aircraft-carrier decided to hold a party. Such parties, of course, only extend to officers, officers wives and friends, and various socialites. Enlisted men were never considered, let alone invited. They serve.

He wanted a 'water setting' inside the ship


In this particular instance, the admiral wanted to create an unusual and favorable effect. After all, many dignitaries would be attending. He wanted a water-setting, inside the ship. In order to do this, the admiral ordered that the after lift-well, at the base of the carrier’s hangar-deck, be filled with water. Water lilies and ferns where to be distributed all round. The party would be held in the huge, high-ceilinged hangar. Into the water, in the artificially-made pond above the lift-well were placed, six ducks. These were to swim around creating “atmosphere.

'Buff 'em up. Let's make 'em Navy-like"

The admiral looked over the scene, just prior to the arrival of the first guests. It met with his approval. Well, not quite. It was the ducks. They looked drab. They looked dirty. “Just not bloody good enough - chief! Chief steward!

The story goes that the admiral went too far on this one. The order was given. He wanted those ducks scrubbed. “Soap and water. I want those damn birds white and gleaming. Let’s make ‘em Navy-like.”

Here she is again in full sunlight. Yep, I served on her for a while

The art of serving on a big ship is to successfully hide yourself away from those who want to give you a paint pot and brush.
The art of serving on a big ship is to successfully hide yourself away from those who want to give you a paint pot and brush.

Arrogance, yes, but no one queries the excathedra edict of an admiral

This was duly done. No one queries the excathedra edict of an admiral. Only trouble was they washed all the water-proof oils off these feathered creatures. When the stewards put those ducks back in the water they all drowned. Each and every one of them sank without a quack to the bottom of the pond.

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