Ron Smith AKA Smoudge, survivor in HMAS Canberra at the Battle of Savo Island

Hi mate - not sure if you are interested but my dad was on the Canberra - he can be contacted at - poppyron@ozemail.com.au
I've sent him the link to your site - Mark

Hello Mark,
Thank you for your message, it is always good news when I hear of an ex Canberra sailor, especially so when they are still going strong.
You will see from my cc to you that I have written a note to your Dad, and hope he will get in touch.
I will try the Museum in Astoria Oregon, thanks for the information.
Best regards, 

Your son Mark tells me you served in HMAS Canberra.
I would be pleased to hear from you, and if you were on board for the Battle of Savo Island on the 9th. of August 1942, could you please share your remembrances of that night?
I hope all goes well at your end, do write and tell me about yourself.
With best wishes, 
Mac. Gregory.

Hi There Mac,

One of the bigger surprises of my life this morning when my youngest son phoned and told me to expect a mail from a fellow survivor. I was delighted to hear from you. May surprise you to know I remember you quite clearly and actually had a photo of you stepping ashore from the Sydney Daily Telegraph of August 20 l942. Sadly time, moths and maybe a mouse or two have caused it to vanish but I still remember it. Nice to know there is one more survivor still around. From all that you no doubt gather I too was aboard that night almost 63 years ago. No idea where time has gone.
Well that was a night I'll never forget and haven't let Vet Affairs forget either who after I had a session with a psychiatrist decided I was suffering Post Traumatic Stress which hit me rather suddenly and gave me a Disability Pension which keeps a little fruit on the sideboard.

I was one of the 8 A.S.D.I.C. operators aboard Canny and with the late Able Seaman Ray Young was the Action Operator. You may not remember it but the AS Cabinet was in the Cable Locker Flat with a hatch that could only be opened from the outside. During Action Stations there was a man posted on top of this hatch to get us out in case of problems. On the night in question both Ray Young and I were in the cabinet, Ray sending out signals while I kept a listening watch for hydrophone effect or propellor noises. I picked up a lot of propellor noises and called the bridge to report and spoke to the best of my knowledge to Lieutenant Commander Hole who was the Gunnery Officer. He told me to ignore as they were all on our side and then the ship shuddered, our lights went out and the action lights came on and Canny developed a slight list and came to a halt. We guessed what had happened and listened with a bit of a shock to the rapidly fading footsteps of the man who was supposed to let us out. Spent a lot of time with a lot of mates looking for this bloke when we were on the Barnett but never ever found him. Fortunately for us one of our fellow operators, Leading Seaman Ted Johnson made his way to us to make sure we were OK and opened the hatch. Never moved so fast in my life. Made my way to my mess deck which was a shambles and for God only knows reason, took off my watch and placed it in my locker. Probably a bit rusty now together with my camera which was full of shots of the invasion plus my new Tiddly Suit with Gold Badges. Never ever got another one.
Got on deck and met up with an old friend of mine who I had worked with prior to the war named Stan Glossop and we stayed together until Chicago opened up with a salvo of Star Shell and we thought it was Nip and both dived for the deck. Forget whether it was Patterson or Blue that was alongside at the time and she took off in a hurry and dropped a few fellers into the sea. I had my respirator on, the only idiot who did so and finished up with a rope round my waist and a fire hose sent across from a Yank destroyer and down to the lower deck to douse the fire. Couldn't even find any and was eventually hauled back up and promptly hurled the respirator into the drink. Wont tell anyone will you.
Got together with my mate Ray later and we made our way to the Quarterdeck where some officer asked us if we could swim to a cutter that was a bit low in the water, bale it out and get it back to the ship for the wounded. Only problem was that it had no bottom in it and we lost interest although Ray suggested we should try swimming to shore where we could see what looked like a campfire. Luckily we didn't since later we found it was a Japanese position and we both finished up aboard Patterson where I was given the best coffee I ever tasted served in what appeared to be a pudding basin and a large ham sandwich.
We were taken to that Yank transport Barnett with all the others and heard a pep talk later about how we had won a magnificent victory and believed it too till we found out the actual losses. Until we reached New Caledonia we worked mainly carrying wounded to the Sick Bay until I developed what was thought to be appendicitus which caused a bit of a kerfuffle since they were running out of anaesthetic. Finished up packing my tummy with an ice bag wrapped tightly round me and it all settled dow. As a matter of fact the apendix stayed where it was until 1963 and was only removed then while I was having major surgery for Bowel Cancer. Got over that too.
I'll never forget the President Grant which took us to Sydney and the only good part of that voyage was the frozen oranges we were given when we first boarded her. Oh of course the Marine Uniforms too were pretty good.
Lots of other memories about Canny, some good others not. Remember the time we bacame Flagship with Rear Admiral Crutchly or was he a Vice. We had Divisions and I was in the Forcastle Division during his inspection. At that time A.S.D.I.C. was extremely hush hush and we were not allowed to wear any badge except a Torpedomans. When the mighty man sighted mine he asked the Skipper if there wasn't a Torpedomens Division. When the Captain told him yes he asked me if I was a Torpedoman and I said NO, BEING A VERY TRUTHFUL PERSON. "Then why are you wearing that badge?" said the first Admiral who had ever spoken to me. I told him I was an A.S.D.I.C. and he turned to the Captain and said "I didn't know you had a set aboard this ship." Then told me he had been commanding officer at H.M.S. Osprey which was the top AS School in the UK, wanted to know where the cabinet was, came and inspected it that afternoon, was most impressed and I became Captain of The Admiral's Heads with an extra sixpence a day. Still had to do watches though.
After our leave Ray and I reported with all the rest and were told we would be going to the UK to pick up Shropshire. Then we were informed since there was no AS in Shropshire we would be short of a good trip. Later it was found there was AS aboard but by then it was too late for us and another crew was sent. Actually Ray and I did well being sent to work at a most secret spot that I never found out about until only recently when a Professor who is head of science at Queensland Uni and is a puter friend of mine told me what we were doing. We were kept together throughout the war and finished as AS crew aboard H.M.A.S. Nizam with the Eastern Fleet returning to Sydney as part of the British Pacific Fleet in January 1945 and tied up alongside Shropshire. I threw a line and on the other end was Stan Glossop. Saw the war out in Nizam and then H.M.S. Quadrant and after Pussers went into the NSW Fire Service which was screaming for ex-Naval men. Spent 34 years with the Brigade and ended up having someone else clean my boots and polish my helmet. Since my retirement my wife and I have lived on the South Coast of New South Wales within sound of the surf at night and are both growing old gracefully. She was a 17 years old chorus girl entertaining the troops when we met through her brother who was lost in the Sydney and have been married for 62 years, have four kids, ten grandkids and just one great grand-daughter.
Am closely involved with Legacy and the RSL and meet regularly with someone else you may remember. He is Henry Hall, an AB aboard Canny and finished up a Two and a Half. His action station was in the Forward Control and he was there when we copped it. Lucky to get out. Have you ever read the book, "Lost Ships of Guadalcanal" Henry's photo is in it. Looks very smart but now he is a little bearded man who wears his uniform whenever he can and keeps on insisting that he and I are the only remaining survivors from Savo. Will be at a conference with him next month and will tell him there is another one.
One more point that may interest you. I have been in contact with the Curator of a Maritime Museum in Astoria on the west coast of the US. We have exchanged a lot of information regarding the four ships including USS Astoria and he had a report on the battle sent to me from a retired Colonel in the US Air Force who was aboard Astoria as an observer in the Solomons. He told me he was convinced Canberra was accidently torpedoed by USS Bagley which you may remember was our "Chummy Ship" in harbour. Reckons he saw the whole thing so there's one more Buzz to start.
Well this has been more an autobiography than anything else and hope you never went to sleep reading it. Once more it was great hearing from you, one more link with the past. Would love to hear from you again when you have time to spare and will be sure to tell Henry about your contact with me.

Best regards, 
Ron Smith AKA Smoudge

Terrific to hear from you.

At this URL: http://ahoy.tk-jk.net/macslog/CanberraandtheBattleofSav.html  
you will find my story on the sinking of the Canberra. It was published by the Naval Historical Society of Australia.

There are still a number of our survivors left, Bruce Loxton who was a Midshipman, was badly wounded on the bridge but survived to go on to be a Commodore, Bruce wrote "The Shame of Savo," the best definitive account of the Battle I know, in it, he proves I think, beyond any doubt that we picked up a torpedo on our starboard side that emanated from USS Bagley, the USN has never refuted his claims. All the Japanese fire came in from the port side, and all their torpedoes loosed off at us missed their mark.

Noel Sanderson, also was a wounded Mid on the bridge, survived to be an RAN surveyor.

Charlie Walton who was a Leading Seaman Torpedoman is part of my Canberra/Shropshire Association Committee in Victoria, I am the President, and Roy Stevens who a Stoker when we were sunk is the Secretary.

When you heard propeller noises were they on our port side? of course our port escort Destroyer USS Patterson was about 2,500 yards on our port bow, with USS Bagley on our starboard side, but she was both astern of station, and beyond her proper screening distance, just prior to all the trouble starting, as the Officer of the Watch when Savo started, I had observed noting she was not in station.

When it all hit the fan, and the shells were arriving on board, the Navigator, LT Cdr Mesley relieved me as OOW, and I was trying to reach the Fore Control where my action station as Rate Officer was located, of course where Henry Hall was also that night. It was rather nasty, the Gunnery Officer Lt Cdr Hole killed on the bridge, the Captain mortally wounded, Loxton, Sanderson, and Lt Cdr Plunkett-Cole, the Torpedo Officer all wounded. Melsley and myself the only two bridge officers to get way with it that dreadful night.

The plot was wiped out, another hit on the flagdeck, the Walrus aircraft, ablaze on the catapult, the 4 inch gun deck on fire, I must have walked around about three incoming Japanese shells. In the Fore Control, I can recall looking through my binoculars at the rampaging Japanese cruisers, only about 3,000 yards away, blasting off at us, particularly one with a large trunked funnel, which I put down as a Mogami class heavy cruiser, and saying  My GOD THIS IS BLOODY AWFUL!!

We soon abandoned the Fore Control after all the lights had gone, and we took up a list to starboard, from the Bagley Torpedo ( of course then, we did not know where it came from ) I went below decks in the sick bay flat with only a torch to look for wounded, and suddenly we rolled to starboard, I thought it was all over, we steadied, and I made it back to the upper deck, very thankful. You have recalled the stupid Chicago incident, when Patterson alongside our port side, cut her lines and rushed off to sort out her cruiser, telling us Don't worry, I'll be back. She later took off survivors from the port side aft, and I leaped over to the Blue, to wind up as did you Ron, in the transport Barnett. On arrival in SDydney as the OOW when it all started I was summoned to appear before the Court of Inquiry, not a pleasant experience.

Two weeks leave, back to sea in the old cruiser Adelaide, then as a Lieutenant to Shropshire for Lingayen landings, and the nasty Kaikaze attacks over many weeks, Corregidor, Manila, the Borneo landings. We were in Tokyo Bay for the surrender signed on board  the US battleship Missouri, and Denise and I have been invited to be on board her in Honolulu next September for the 60th. Anniversary celebrations of that day in 1945, and we are of course going.

Post war, I qualified in the first course as a Torpedo Anti Submarine Specialist in UK over 1947 and some of 1948, spending some six months at HMS Osprey, that you mention with Rear Admiral Crace. Came home, and was Flotilla Tas Officer in Warramunga and Bataan, did some instructing at Rushcutter, and time at Navy Office in my specialist capacity.

Spent almost three years as Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General at Government House Canberra over 1950/1953, was promoted to Lt Cdr, and then went off to the Flagship The Carrier, HMAS Vengeance as Fleet TASO.

Married in December 1945, had 3 girls and a boy, and Gladys died in 1992 with bowel cancer, we had lost a boy at 10 days old with heart problems, and a girl at a month old with Meningitis, so I resigned in 1954 on conpassionate grounds, and was let go by the RAN.

Spent many years in marketing, then did a Bachelor of Health Administration degree with Uni of NSW, and spent 15 years in the Victorian Health field.

Had a triple by pass in 1992, and a spinal op resulting from a dive on the deck during a Kamikaze attack in Shropshire, type2 Diabetes about 1996, and finally got a 100% Disability Pension from VA about 5 years ago. All in all we manage.

I met Denise 11 years ago on a sunset cruise on the Zimbesi River in Zimbabwe, we got together in 1995, married in 1999, she had been a widow for 8 years with 4 grown up sons in Sydney, and we have an apartment in both Melbourne and at Lane Cove in Sydney, spending most time in Melbourne.

My Ahoy web site takes a lot of time which I really enjoy. I have really bashed your ears long enough and must desist Ron.

Wonderful to hear from you, do please keep in touch.

Best wishes to you all.



Can't thank you enough for that terrific mail on your experiences at Savo. And thank you too for the extract from the London Times re Canberra. As a matter of fact my screen saver is a pix of Canberra sailing under not yet completed Harbour Bridge. Be around 1929 or 30 so was just after she arrived. Looks very trim anyway and was being towed by a couple of tugs.

Your work has been printed because a few of my mates here wanted to read it ( ex- pussers of course) and I hope you don't mind but I forwarded it on to another friend in the US who is a Professor of English in New York and whose hobby is World War 2. He is an absolute addict as far as war stories are concerned, is a veteran of Vietnam but reckons he has in his own words the greatest admiration for anyone who was part of the "greater generation" who served in World War 2. I think your story will have him drooling. Still waiting a reply from him.

Brought back a few more memories as well, particularly when you mentioned Lieutenant Commander Plunkett-Cole. He was commander of one of the N Class of the 7th Flotilla, Can't remember exactly which one now, could have been Nepal or Norman. Wasn't Nizam or Napier anyway.

You have had a very full life and guess what. My wife is a Gladys too and hates it. You have had plenty of ups and downs as well but then are not Robinson Crusoe as far as that goes. Was interested in you being Aide-de-Camp to the Governor General back in l950. Tell me who was it at that time. Gladys and I had Afternoon Tea at Yarralumla with Sir William and Lady Deane back in 1999 when I was granted an award as Outstanding Senior Australian. Think it was probably that I was the oldest person still able to walk without a stick. They were very nice friendly people and showed us through Government House but not their quarters which they said had a lot of knocked-about furniture, nothing like what we saw.

I never ever joined the Canberra-Shropshire Association for reasons I can't think of but was asked a few times by both Stan Glossop and the NSW Secretary Bill Robbins who had an adjoining locker to me in Canberra. Saw a fair bit of Stan in the latter years as he was an executive in a company building motor bodies. They were after contracts to build fire-fighting vehicles and Stan often called in on me to "pick my brains". Sadly he died some years back. Most of my mates were from interstate though Ray Young who came from Adelaide married a Sydney girl and settled not far from where we lived. He also reached the heights as a Two and a Half and retired to manage the Compass Centre which was a large retail conglomorate in Bankstown. We used to get together a lot, actually we were each others Best Man but split up when he and Betty moved to the North Coast and we went South. Both he and Bet have passed away now sadly.
Through the RSL and Veterans Affairs I have come into contact with quite a lot of Naval men and one of my best friends is Rear Admiral Neil Ralph AM DSC (rtd). Did you ever hear of him at all? He was Commissioner for Veteran Affairs in Canberra and both he and his wife Judi were interested in RSL Daycare. That is my forte and at a meeting in the Sydney office of the Department one day he was in attendance and it was suggested that I should "cultivate" him whatever that means. Anyway I made myself known to him and for some reason we clicked and have been friends ever since. Since retiring he and Judi have moved to live at Nowra not far from H.M.A.S. Albatross, the Naval Air Station he commanded as a Commodore and we continue to meet up at various functions. Afraid I did the dirty on him a few years back. We were both at a function for ex National Servicemen, he with a string of medals and me with none. He asked me why I hadn't worn mine because he said he felt like an idiot being the only one there with all that hanging on him. I apologised and mentioned that I had got the OBE the day before. "Great" he said "Well deserved". I didn't tell him it was the Over Bloody Eighty presented to me by family and friends at a party and I'm ashamed to say I still haven't enlightened him.

Be very glad to keep in contact Mac. You have brought back so many memories of those days so long ago. By the way, you mentioned you have a residence in Lane Cove. I was born in Gladesville and lived there all my life up to the war. Most of my youth was spent on Lane Cove River or Buffalo Creek in canoes and boats or prawning, digging for mud worms and fishing. Great days but what changes have been wrought in that part of the world. Prefer the South Coast now. Anyway terrific to get those mails of yours and certainly will keep in touch. Will mention your name to all and sundry and may find a few more old acquaintances.

All the best to you and yours,

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