Extracts from James Dixon's Diary, a WW1 sailor serving in HMAS Australia, flagship of the RAN

This work is dedicated to Leading Seaman James Dixon RAN.

He served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1913 to 1919, and spent WW1 in the RAN's new Battle Cruiser HMAS Australia 1.

This work has only been possible on two counts:

  1. James kept a 207 page hand written diary about his service in the RAN.
  2. This diary has been lovingly maintained by his only child Joyce Harvey.

It is my earnest hope it will continue to remain in the possession of his daughter, and three grandchildren, and one great grand daughter, as a testament to a good humoured sailor whose integrity was never in question.

James served his country with both dedication and dignity in the Great War.

James Dixon's Medals
James Dixon's WW1 Medals.
Left to right, 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.

At 18, James Dixon joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1913, and after initial training was drafted to the spanking new Battle Cruiser, HMAS Australia, flagship of the RAN fleet.

HMAS Australia 1
HMAS Australia 1

Although I believe it was illegal, he maintained a hand written diary over his six year stint in the service. It passed at his death to his only child, Joyce Harvey a long standing friend, who has recently trusted me with her precious document so I may make extracts from it, and upload them to my Web Site: AHOY. Mac's Web Log, to ensure they are not lost to posterity.

James Dixon's Diary: Scan of page 186, the article continues below.

WW1 service men and women have died, and with them their stories that helped to shape our nation in its early days after Foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia on January 1st. 1901.

I strongly believe that a record such at this one from James deserves to be preserved, hence this attempt to pay tribute to a young RAN sailor who soon found himself and his ship mates serving in the unforgiving North Sea, far from home and family,with the ever dreaded coaling ship always  looming close by.

James joins the RAN.
James Dixon joined the Royal Australian Navy when he was only 18 on April 15, 1913. After a 6 week training stint at the Williamstown Naval Depot, he went off to join HMAS Encounter the following May.

HMAS Australia 1, Battle Cruiser.
Laid down in the Yards of John Brown and Company in Scotland on June 26, 1910, to be Commissioned on June 13, 1913, this new Battle Cruiser mounted 8 by 12 inch guns, 14 single 4 inch guns and carried two submerged torpedo tubes to fire an 18 inch diameter torpedo. The coal bunkers carried 3,170 tons of coal. This new acquisition for the fledgling RAN arrived in Sydney, as the Fleet Flagship on October 4, 1913.

Australia 1 Ships Bell
Australia 1 Ship's Bell.

James Dixon as a very young seaman, now joined this pride of the Australian Fleet on November 19, 1913.

War and service in New Guinea.
Britain declared war on Germany on Tuesday August 4, 1914, as part of the British Empire, Australia also was at war. Australia with other fleet units sailed north to seek out the German naval ships, but to no avail, she coaled ship at Port Moresby. This operation was always a nightmare for any ship's company, it was a dirty job, covering the sailors in every nook and cranny, plus the ship, in fine coal dust, then when the actual coaling was complete, there remained the need to clean ship both above and below decks.

Now the flagship sailed off to Noumea, another coaling and the escort of two New Zealand troopships to occupy German Samoa.

These days we tend to forget how active Germany was in our Australian sphere of influence prior to WW1, in New Guinea and around many islands in the Pacific.

Australia sailed from Fiji in company with HMAS Melbourne on September 2, 1914, to rendezvous at Rosiland Island with Submarines  AE 1, AE2, Encounter, SydneyParramatta, WarregoSwan, plus the trooper Berrima, with members of the volunteer Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force ( ANMEF ) on board, Grantala a hospital ship, and colliers to total 14 ships in the convoy. 

Hospital ship Grantala
Hospital ship Grantala.

Their destination Rabaul to capture the German wireless station. Both Herbertshohe and Rabaul were secured by this force. 

Trooper Ship Berrima
Trooper Berrima,carried ANMEF to New Guinea September 1914.

Our Submarine AE 1 disappeared off Rabaul on September 4, and her wreck has still not been found in 2008.

Submarine AE1
AE 1 lost off New Guinea 1914, and never found.

Prisoners from the fight at Rabaul were taken onboard HMAS Australia, after spending time in the NG area, the ship sailed for Suva arriving on October 12.

The inevitable coal ship found 1,700 tons loaded between 1330 ( 1. 30 PM ) and 0300 ( 3 AM ) the next day, the flagship had an extreme appetite for consuming coal, between October 15, and November 3, James records no less than 7 coal ships, taking into her bunkers 9,624 tons.

The ship sailed eastwards to Mexico, where she met up with 3 Japanese cruisers and  HMS Newcastle,  in WW1, Japan was on our side, in contrast with the distant WW2, when that country precipitated war with the United States with her cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1942. Off went the Squadron to the Galapagos Islands, but the German Asiatic Fleet no where to be seen.

Close to the Panama Canal, the Japanese cruisers parted company. The canal was closed to ships over 430 feet long and drawing over 24 feet, thus Australia needed to round Cape Horn to reach the South Atlantic. In rough weather and early into the New Year of 1915, Australia arrived in the Falkland Islands at Port Stanley.

Britain colonises Falklands.
Not withstanding any claims by Argentina, Britain went ahead in 1842, declaring a Colonial Administration over the Falklands, which at that stage had strategic usefulness because of their proximity to Magellan Straits with its passage from the South Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean via Cape Horn. In 1845 the town of Stanley was established, and Britain has remained ever since.

The strategic position of the Falkland Islands
The strategic position of the Falkland Islands

German Supply ship.
January 6 found SS Elenore Woiermann, a German Supply ship in sight, her 99 crew were taken on board Australia, and the enemy ship sunk by gunfire.

Off to England via St Vincent.
By January 19, St Vincent was reached, and the Executive Commander announced that Plymouth was the ship's next port of call, arriving on January 28, 1915.

What an adventure for the young James, here he is, his country at war with Germany, he is serving in his Navy's new Battle cruiser, and now he has arrived in the "Old Country" In those days the Australian population was very much tied to Britain's apron strings, and Britain was "Home."

Both my parents were English, and I had been born at Geelong, but my Mother always wanted to return " Home to the Mother Country."

Before the cinemas started to show a film, the anthem "God Save the King" would be played, and the audience stood. They were very different times to the ones we are now living in today in Australia.

At Plymouth, the ship docked and naturally coaled ship, 2,300 tons were required to fill her bunkers.

Now Australia made her way up the English coast, with a new experience, snow falling, to anchor in the Firth of Forth on February 19.

Rosyth Naval Base, Firth of Forth
Rosyth Naval Base, Firth of Forth

There was a frenzied time of both cleaning and painting ship in preparation for the visit of King George V on February 27, and all hands marched past His Majesty.

Before the Regal visit, all were issued with a postcard depicting both the King and his Queen, a normal action in those days, unlikely by the year 2008.

King George V
King George V

Routine of exercises, coaling and cleaning ship.
Although at war, the current routine of firing guns and fleet exercises were not too dangerous or taxing. After being at sea, coal ship was always close by around the corner.

Snow to a depth of 4 inches covered the upper deck, and Australia's company must have yearned for some of the sunshine available back home.

Snow fight on deck of Australia
Snow fight on deck of Australia

Death of crew.
Several crew members died during February 1915, to be buried ashore in Scotland.

James Dixon
James Dixon as a Leading Seaman with his first good conduct badge, his Gunnery Rate, and
four WW1 service chevrons, taken at Bendigo, Victoria by Bartlett Bros in February 1920.

Dull Routine.
April and May of 1915 found Australia under harbour routine, off to sea with the Fleet for sweeps in the area around Scotland, very little to report, but always the need for more coal, then cleaning ship, and often painting her.

Mid July, the ship was near Iceland in very cold weather, joined up with the Grand Fleet briefly for the inevitable exercises at sea, but the Fleet soon departed.

Off Iceland at this time of year, day light lasts almost all night, but now back to harbour.

On July 8, hands were landed ashore from each ship to attend a lecture by the Archbishop of York, James makes no mention of the subject, I assume he did not attend.

Floating dock at Invergordon.
On July 15, Australia entered the floating dock at Invergordon, and both watches were each granted 4 days leave, with free rail fares.

July 22, all on board again and the ship sailed for Scapa Flow to anchor there the following day. Some gun firing using both the 12 and 4 inch armament.

After coaling ship, James reports that Leading Seaman Peebles dropped dead, he had a growth on his heart.

Ship in Invergordon Floating Dock
Ship in Invergordon Floating Dock

Torpedoes fired.
Practice torpedoes were fired, and the first off was lost sight of, boats were sent off to search for it. Now to lose a torpedo from a practice firing is a big deal, it will result into an enquiry, and all the torpedo staff are under a cloud, and if not found, also will not do the Captain any good.

In the event, after getting under way, the ship sighted the missing fish and recovered it, all breathed a sigh of relief.

I qualified as a Torpedo Anti Submarine specialist in RN schools post WW2. I had spent all of 1947 and the early months of 1948 at Royal Navy schools scattered over the British Isles qualifying as a TAS Specialist Officer. On my return to Australia I was appointed to the Tribal destroyer HMAS Warramunga as Flotilla TAS Officer on the staff of Captain D.

It was usual to perhaps fire one or two torpedoes in practice per year, but not for my Captain, he ordered the full outfit of 8 torpedoes to be prepared and fired. No sooner had the last one been squirted off when he demanded, " Tell me on what bearing, and how long before you expect the first torpedo to surface, and it plus the other seven had all better come up."

I did a quick calculation in my head, and responded " On green 20 ( ie 20 degrees on the starboard bow ) 3.5 minutes SIR! " Those were the longest minutes I ever spent on the bridge of a warship.

But close enough and on time up popped No. 1 to be thankfully followed by its 7 mates.

Well said my Captain," Don't just stand there be off and collect them."

I certainly knew the fear of losing a torpedo under practice conditions, but was pleased all turned out well, but I digress.

Leading Seaman Peebles buried ashore at Scapa Flow.
Leading Seaman Peebles was buried ashore at Scapa Flow, I would think at the graveyard in the town of Kirkwall, James was part of a field gun's crew and had to march some 4 miles for the burial ceremony. The brief stay at Scapa over, the ship returned to Rosyth.

St Magnus Cathedral and grave yard at Kirkwall Orkneys
St Magnus Cathedral and grave yard at Kirkwall
Orkneys, building started in 1137, yes in 1137.

August to December 1915.
Unfortunately August started with the death of one of the ships's Officers, Mr Hodgkinson, and a funeral party escorted the body to the train station, and " He was sent down the line."

On August 15, all hands fell in for the presentation by the Admiral to Able Seaman Kinniburg of a Distinguished Service Medal , awarded as a result of the battle between the German Cruiser Emden, and our HMAS Sydney.

He had gathered up burning cordite to throw it over the side, but had been badly burned himself.

The Admiral's speech is reported as very good, he finished by calling for " Three cheers for the Empire. "

Although the light cruisers, destroyers and the 1st. Battle Cruiser Squadron all go to sea, Australia stays moored under harbour routine.

Now Admiral Jellicoe visited the ship on September 28, its back to Scapa Flow for the inevitable torpedo and gun exercises, another somewhat dreary month gone, and by October 8, the ship is back at Rosyth.

In harbour it was often the practice to rig anti torpedo nets to protect the ship's side from an enemy torpedo firings.

November dawns and with it snow, landing parties are regularly exercised ashore, but Australia does not spend too much time at sea, but close to the month's end, all the Battle Cruisers are at sea, exercises for gun crews, and up to Scapa Flow, but soon the Firth of Forth beckoned arriving there on December 8.

Battle Cruisers anchored in Scapa Flow
Battle Cruisers anchored in Scapa Flow

One imagines that both the ship and her crew longed to visit new ports, to vary the monotonous grinding routine of exercises both in port and at sea, coaling ship, cleaning up and painting the super structure ravaged by the coal dust.

Orkney sunset, Scapa Flow
Orkney sunset, Scapa Flow, British Navy Fleet Base WW1 and WW2.

I remember Scapa Flow.
Scapa Flow was often shrouded in dense fog, high winds were common, and as a Midshipman operating one of the ship's power boats the weather made coming alongside a ship a hazardous undertaking, it was always a relief to finish one's watch with your boat intact, and having not been on the blunt end of the Commander's wrath for smashing up one of his precious boats.

For me, Scapa Flow always invoked a feeling of mystery, as if it were withholding secrets, but you were never going to unveil them. I enjoyed the rugged terrain and the wilderness that obtained, and can still cast my mind back to those quite momentous days of 1940.

Christmas day 1915 in harbour.
Cold ham for breakfast, a church service in the forenoon, now Christmas lunch, turkey, potatoes, sprouts, mince pies and pudding, all consumed in a decorated Mess Deck.

Cake with tea at 1530 ( 3.30 PM )
The first mention of Australian mail arriving on Christmas Day is made, including parcels. So far from home, often in dreary weather conditions, a fairly deadly routine, mail from home would have been a great morale booster.

In WW2 when I too was serving in UK waters in HMAS Australia 11, mail arriving very infrequently made it a truly wonderful day.

Now it is 1916.
January 5, the 1st. and 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadrons went out to sea, to be later joined by the 3rd, BCS, but within three days had returned to the safety of the harbour.

Now and then James writes that the ship took in oil, it must be that oil is used to augment the supply of coal.

An announcement posted on the notice board read" The Commonwealth regrets that parcels for the ship's company went down when Geelong collided in the Mediterranean with another ship." This loss would have been a blow to morale.

Australia spent a good deal of time in harbour at short notice for sea, thus all had to stay onboard, no leave, no sport ashore, no landing parties ashore for training.

January 26, Australia at sea as part of the 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadron, screened by a host of destroyers, on return to Rosyth leave is to be granted, and cap ribbons of two Depots, Victory, Vivid, plus HMS were issued for the crew to wear on leave. In WW2, the Royal Australian Navy issued HMAS cap ribbons instead of ship names on ribbons.

Back in harbour by the month's end, and prior to anyone going on leave the Captain warned his ship's company not to talk when ashore about any of the ship's movements.

On February 1, off to South Shields at Newcastle to enter a floating dock.

On Leave.
James granted a week's leave and visited both Birmingham and Liverpool, which he says was most enjoyable. Just to be in a totally different environment must have recharged his batteries, but how quickly those seven days must have sped past.

Return to the grind.
Undocked on February 9, escorted by 4 destroyers back to Rosyth, during the month a few days at sea, but nothing of note to relate.

Visiting the Front.
Sailors from Australia were selected to visit the front, I guess in both France and Belgium, each one was away about three weeks, on their return to the ship they gave talks to the ship's company about their experiences. As a ship is manned by the exact number of personnel, Officers, Seamen, Stokers, Stores people etc needed to fight the ship, I am unsure how the holes in the action watch bill were plugged to cover any off the ship to visit the front.

In March of 1916 Australia was under quarantine for mumps, back to Scapa again, now a well worn route, the Firth of Forth/Scapa and back again.

Often thick fog was about, and it made fleet manoeuvers both difficult and dangerous.

Several days were spent at sea in support of the Harwich Force ( about 18 destroyers ) gun crews in Australia at General Quarters for long periods, 26 hours in one spell.

The light cruisers and their destroyer escort are always off to sea, then return to the harbour at Rosyth.

Coaling, cleaning, painting the ship take up an inordinate time for the ship's company, otherwise its route marches ashore, evolutions in harbour, for the crew, out nets, in nets, away all boats, pull round the Squadron, it seems that these tasks were ordered to keep all occupied. Very little contact with the enemy.

April 22nd. prepare for sea, out with the fleet, the BC New Zealand in heavy fog rammed Australia on her starboard side, off she steamed only to cross the ship's bow and be hit by Australia close to her A turret.

The ship now docked at South Shields again, both port propellers were chipped, but this Dockyard were unable to fix that problem, and Australia sailed south to the Thames, and then on to Plymouth by May 4, here 11 days leave was granted.

May 29, the ship undocked and two days later sailed with 2 destroyers west about Ireland and back to Scapa Flow.

On June 3 news reached the fleet of a large naval engagement and three Battle Cruisers and other craft were sunk. This of course refers to the Battle of Jutland where the Battle Cruisers Indefatigable, Invincible and Queen Mary were all sunk, in addition 3 cruisers and 8 destroyers were lost.

Battle Cruiser Invincible sunk at Jutland
Battle Cruiser Invincible sunk at Jutland

Casualties were horrendous, killed 25 Officers and 5,769 sailors, 485 wounded and 165 POW's.

On the German side, 1 Battle Cruiser, 1 pre-dreadnought Battle Ship, 4 light cruisers, 5 torpedo boats all sunk. 2,115 sailors dead, and 80 wounded.

Jutland medallion
Above; the ubiquitous Jutland medallion, struck by Spunk and Sons in 1916.
Jutland Medal
Found in a variety of sizes and metals. This one; white metal, 45mm diameter.

HMS Iron Duke
HMS Iron Duke
Admiral Jellicoe's flagship at the Battle of Jutland.

Who was the victor at the Battle of Jutland?
Jutland was the only major naval battle of WW1, although the Royal Navy lost more men and ships than did the Germans, it is generally considered that the German Navy were the losers, their fleet never again in WW1 put to sea again.

Jutland medallion
King George V with Admiral Sir David Beatty
who commanded the Battle Cruisers at Jutland
Jutland Medal
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe in command
of the Grand Fleet at Jutland

King George V visits HMAS Australia again.
On June 16 1916, King George V again visited Australia in the company of Admiral Sir David Beatty, once more the ship's company marched past His Majesty.

The rest of this month was spent in harbour.

July dawned and 53 tons of blue metal was loaded, to be placed around the ship's magazines.

Rain was prolific this month, interestingly a work party from the ship was sent off to the Lion, in dock, they were put to work chipping the paint work rust, and then repainting her. I would have thought there was enough maintenance aboard their own ship without having to go off and work on a thought there was enough maintenance aboard their own ship without having to go off and work on a Royal Navy ship, but there is no note of dissent in James diary.

On July 20, the Bishop of London at a muster of the ship's company offered up a prayer that should Australia see action, the crew might come through the experience all right. In my cynical way, I am sure that made everyone involved feel fine, a prayer will fix it all!

No action casualties.
August 5 found the ship at sea with Lion. Tiger, Princess Royal, New Zealand, and Inflexible, destroyers laid a fine smoke screen which lasted some 15 minutes.

Back to Scapa the next day, 10/11 days of target practice shoots at anchor, and out in Pentland Firth, back to the Forth by the 17th.

The next day off to sea again with the 1st. and 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadrons each of three battle cruisers and Australia part of the 2nd. BCS, later the Grand Fleet joined them.

The Germans are at sea, reportedly some 20 miles off, Nottingham is sunk by a torpedo, now at 1430 ( 2.30 PM ) the enemy is in sight, James reports seeing 2 or 3 of the German Fleet.

Falmouth picked up a torpedo, but can steam off to Newcastle.

That evening an enemy torpedo attack developed, but all missed their targets.

The Battle Fleet were never close enough to properly engage the enemy ships with gunfire, all to no avail, and by the 20th. all ships were safe and snug back at Rosyth.

A gun loading competition was held, and surprise, surprise, it was won by the Stokers.

Censorship of outgoing mail introduced.

Censorship of sailor's outgoing mail was introduced in late August 1916, I do not know why it took two years of war before this measure was taken.

September 4, went to sea with two other battle cruisers, light cruisers and destroyers, a floating mine was sighted on the port bow in foggy conditions but was happily avoided.

Back at Queensferry by the 6th. coal and clean ship, on occasions picture shows are held on the upper deck, but the titles shown do not get a mention.

After presenting prizes for a boxing competition, the Admiral spoke about the Battle of Jutland, he believed it was but half of the battle, and thought the other half was still to come as the German Fleet would have another go. In hindsight we know he was wrong, as the German Fleet never ventured out to sea again.

September 22, a number of Australian soldiers came aboard, for what purpose is not noted.

September 30, 1st. and 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadrons to sea, a new airship was flying close to Australia on her starboard side.

Airship guards a convoy WW1
Airship guards a convoy WW1

October 1 at Scapa Flow, high angle gun crews closed up for a possible German Zeppelin raid, but it did not happen. In wartime, a great deal of time is spent at one's action station in case an event comes to pass, more often than not it turns out to be in vain, but the Captain cannot take any chance on not being ready for all possible circumstances.

Sub Calibre target practice both under way and at anchor at night using searchlights to illuminate the target.

On the 7th. the 12 inch main armament each fired 6 rounds out in Pentland Firth,

Old Man of Hoy
Old Man of Hoy - Evening light dusk red sandstone
seastack and sea cliffs Pentland Firth.

Then both BC Squadrons sailed for the Forth to arrive by October 10.

Winter clothing was issued on the 17th..

November 1 found both BC Squadrons at sea, with Australia's Squadron scheduled to attack the 1st. BCS, and James reports that his group were reported as the winner.

The 3rd. found both groups back in harbour.

The Chaplain General of Australian Troops came onboard to address the ship's company he related about Australian troops on duty and ashore, he said that the Australian people are very proud of the Navy for what they have done and are doing.

The Admiral added his bit and called for three cheers for the Chaplain, who later talked to Western Australian members aboard Australia.

No doubt all designed to keep up morale, I do not think that back home, the Australian people would have much idea of what their Navy was doing or may do, but it sounds good.

Another sailor dies.
We have another death recorded, Able Seaman Owens, cause unknown.

HMAS Sydney arrived on November 16.

On November 28, James notes a change of command in the Grand Fleet, with Admiral Sir David Beatty taking over from Admiral Sir John Jellicoe.

James now had some leave, crossing over the Forth bridge in both directions, but how long he had, or where he eventually went is not recorded.

Captain Ratcliff was replaced by Captain Backhouse.

Christmas Day 1916.
During Christmas dinner the new Captain visited James' mess to wish all a Merry Christmas, he was thanked with three cheers.

Rear Admiral Levison the Admiral in command of the 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadron on January 7 1917 inspected all hands at divisions, he told his crew he was aware that Australia took a leading part in the capture of German possessions in the Pacific.

At this time, snow is prolific around and on the ship. January 13, all the Battle Cruisers, light cruisers and attendant destroyers are at sea, but only for a very short time, back in harbour in 2 days.

Australia's cable party must be very good at coming to anchor or securing to a buoy, they get so much practice in both areas.

Battle Honours painted on ship's fore superstructure.
Battle honours for Rabaul, Samoa, and German New Guinea have been proudly painted on the ship's fore  superstructure. It is a ship's way of flaunting what it has achieved in the way of Battle Honours, in WW1, thus far.

By the last day of January, the fleet had sailed again for Scapa Flow, exercises there as usual until February 9, this time streaming paravanes.

This image shows a paravane.

The paravane was a device developed to destroy naval mines. It was strung out and streamed from a towing ship. If its wings or the tow cable snagged the cable securing a mine, then the mine and the paravane would be brought together and the mine exploded harmlessly. The cable could then be retrieved and a replacement paravane fitted.

By WW2 the paravane had been refined, one each side of the ship was towed from a shoe lowered down the ship's stem. Each paravane carried cutters designed to cut any mine mooring rope that the towing cable directed into them. The severed mine now floated to the surface and could be blown up by gunfire, thus not damaging the paravane, and it did not need to be replaced.

In HMAS Shropshire I often streamed and recovered her starboard paravane.

In this picture I am standing on deck close by,
the cutting mechanism can be noted above the paravane.

The fleet had returned to the Forth by February 10.

Sunday February 18, the new Captain at divisions asked a number of individual ratings what they thought of the Navy, unfortunately the responses are not recorded, but would a sailor tell his Captain what he really thought?

Whenever at Rosyth there seems to be a lot of moving from anchor to moor at a buoy, then back again, I just wonder if these moves are designed to keep the hands occupied, or is it an example of very poor planning by the Port authorities who don't really know where to secure ships. Of course there is a great deal of leaving and reentering harbour by the light cruisers and their destroyers, but the Battle Cruisers do not spend much time at sea. If the German Navy stays put, snugly in port, there is really very little for the Grand Fleet and the Battle Cruiser Squadrons to achieve anyway.

It comes down to a matter of trying to keep up morale, whilst the continual coaling, cleaning and painting ship must become dreaded exercises for all concerned.

A lovely entry for February 29, at 1130 ( 11.30 AM ) the hands were paid, and with new notes.

March 1, the usual harbour routine, then out to sea at 0715 ( 7.15 AM ) on the 12th. sub calibre shoot and some 4 inch gun firings, but soon back to anchor by the Forth bridge by lunch time.

On to March 16, clear lower deck to have the Captain tell his crew about having to cut down on food, that could in no way assist morale.

March 24, off to Scapa Flow arriving the next day, torpedo firing, just exercise after exercise, it seems to fill in the days.

April 4, a full calibre 12 inch firing planned with New Zealand, a Battle Cruiser in the same Squadron, at sea a mist developed so back to harbour, the mist cleared, out to sea once more, it was snowing as the ship anchored on her return.

Now back to the Firth of Forth with the usual coaling, cleaning ship and painting well to the fore.

On the 25th. the ship's company voted for the Australian Federal election, not sure being so far away from home that anyone would have much idea of what the various parties standing might have to offer. Perhaps individuals had a party of choice and just voted accordingly.

29th. to sea, but back the next day after a rough trip with high seas running. April 6, a copper medal presented by the Admiral to one of the Midshipman, the medal from the King goes to a Midshipman selected by the ship's officers and the Captain. It is supposed to be gold, and after the war the copper one will be replaced by its gold counterpart.

Very little to report for most of April, on the 22nd. American journalists came on board. Some sailing was done using the ship's cutters, and James enjoyed that activity.

May arrives, and little is recorded for the month.

Mid June, off to Scapa arriving on the 14th. more sailing, James in the cutter, the crew landed, had dinner, lit a fire " To boil the fanny ( navalese for a billy )"

Back at the Firth of Forth by the 21st.

Following the old pattern of briefly to sea in the forenoon of the 3rd. to return to harbour again in the afternoon, a good deal of coal consumed for very little result.

On Sunday the 8th. James and 4 shipmates took away a whaler ( a 27 foot boat that could be rigged with a foresail, and a mainsail ) leaving the ship at 1000 ( 10 AM ) they were due back at 1700 ( 5 PM ) but actually did not arrive until 2015 ( 8.15 PM ) and all the crew were cautioned.

Model of a whaler rigged with her sails

Now in mid summer, cricket, football and swimming parties go off ashore almost daily.

16/17th. to sea and return.

Last day of the month, to sea and back routine after some gun exercises.

August 5, a notice calls for volunteers to man Imperial Submarines.

Diary skips some months.
The diary seems to skip from August to 12/11/1917, that evening when proceeding to sea, at 2255 ( 10.55 PM ) Australia collided with Repulse, and was forced to dry dock the next day. This ill wind brought 16 days leave for James from the 14th. whilst his ship is repaired, the damage is not recorded.

An aircraft on board.
A quite momentous event, the ship took on an aircraft on December 17, this would have made history, the first Battle Cruiser to ever carry an aircraft. The next day at sea for the usual gun firings, and the aircraft was launched from Australia. A fairly crude launching platform was built over the top of one of the 12 inch gun turrets.

Sopwith Aircraft launched from Australia
Sopwith Aircraft launched from Australia

Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter biplanes were introduced with the battlecruiser HMAS Australia being the first ship to operate this aircraft in April 1918. Despite or may be because of its apparent successes, the RN once again lost its Air Service. On the 1st April 1918, the navy and army air wings were merged once again, this time to form the Royal Air Force. (RAF).

To sea again on the 19th. with the 2nd. BCS, next day to meet up with the light cruisers and their destroyers, the task to protect convoys to Norway from Scotland and from Norway to Scotland.

It is interesting to note that in WW1, Britain did not introduce the convoy system until the first outgoing convoy from Britain on September 7, 1917.

But in WW2 she had learned the efficacy of convoys from WW1, and they were quickly put in place after war was declared on Sunday September 3, 1939.

Another Christmas Day. 1917.
Decorated the messes with flags and paper decorations after morning prayers, and " We did not have too bad a Christmas Day."

To sea on the 27th. for convoy duties, and on the 30th. a submarine was reported, James notes: " The Captain dashed to the after battery to give the gun's crew a range and bearing to use for firing at the submarine's wake."

Two destroyers went after the contact with depth charges, but no result, the fleet sailed on to Scapa Flow and coaled ship on arrival.

No record from January to February 18, 1918.
Perhaps James was getting tired of recording the familiar routine of Australia, as nothing is recorded for January to February 18, 1918.

18th. to 23rd. convoy work with 40 merchant ships in very rough weather.

We now jump to March 25, convoy work to wind up at Scapa Flow on the 29th. and loading 1,500 tons of coal in rough weather, the collier alongside parting her securing hawsers, finished this task after a long struggle.

Now on to April 16, firing all weapons, and going to sea with the 2nd. BCS for additional convoy work to coast of Norway.

I would judge that the protection of convoys would be a welcome chore after all the mind numbing exercises many in harbor over several years of war.

April 10, Andrew Fisher, three times Prime Minister of Australia, and now the Australian High Commissioner in London, and in charge over the last two years of WW1. He came on board with Rear Admiral Booth representing the RAN in London.

Andrew Fisher, three times Prime Minister of Australia
High Commissioner in London Andrew Fisher.

The ship's company marched past and Fisher addresssed the troops.

21st./24th. convoy duties at sea, with another convoying stint at the end of the month.

Gun firing practice at Scapa, ship again under quarantine, what for? not stated.

In and out of harbour for several times this month.

Some of Australia's crew had volunteered for the Zeebrugge raid, and they were addressed by Admiral Sir David Beatty on board Queen Elizabeth.

Bust of Earl Beatty in Trafalgar Square
Bust of Earl Beatty in Trafalgar Square

Zeebrugge raid April 1918.
Zeebrugge was an outlet for German U-boats and destroyers based up the canal at Bruges, and the British planned to sink three old cruisers Iphegenia, Intrepid and Thetis, in the channel to block it. These would have to pass a long harbour mole (a causeway or pier), with a battery at the end, before they were scuttled. It was decided therefore to storm the mole using another old cruiser, HMS Vindictive, and two Mersey ferries, Daffodil and Iris II, modified as assault vessels. Two old submarines were to be used as explosive charges, under the viaduct connecting the mole to the shore.

The attack went in on the night of 22-23 April, under the command of Commodore Roger Keyes. Vindictive was heavily hit on the approach, and came alongside in the wrong place. Despite much bravery by the landing party, the battery remained in action. One submarine did succeed in blowing up the viaduct, but the first block ship was badly hit and forced to ground before reaching the canal entrance. Only two (Ipheginia and Intrepid) were sunk in place.

Much was made of the raid. Keyes was knighted, and 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded. The Germans, however, made a new channel round the two ships, and within by mid-May.

Zeebrugge raid
Zeebrugge raid

More short sea trips, the aircraft flew off its platform over one of the main armament turrets on June 18, more sea time, coaling, cleaning ship, at Scapa at month end.

At sea with the 2nd. BCS carrying out a throw off shoot at speeds of 25 knots, no doubt chewing up the coal reserves at a great rate.

The aircraft sent up to do some spotting of the fall of shot, then back to Queensferry where King George V visited ships in the fleet to present medals, including two Distinguished Service Medals to Leading Seamen Busto and Stapel who took part in the raid on Zeebrugge. Much was made of this event that really did not warrant the outcome there. All a bit like the Gallipoli landings, where once again failure was hailed as a great event.

We are now at the fag end of the Great War of 1914-1918, a high light this month, a Brazilian Admiral visits the ship. August 12, and the Minister for the Navy, Joseph Cook came on board, he was away from Australia for 16 months with the Prime Minister Billy Hughes, and we have the usual march past by the ship's company.

August 22 at sea, but back in harbour by the 24th.

August 27, a boat's crew from Australia challenged one from Lion to race over 2 miles for a 400 Pound stake, a great deal of money at that time, and the Australia crew were victorious.

The month ended with a stint at sea, then coaling, cleaning and the inevitable paint ship.

Both Captain Backhouse and Rear Admiral Leverson were leaving the ship, and they spoke to the ship's company about their happy times in the ship.

The Commander also going was short and sweet, saying I am also leaving: " Ship's Company quick march."

Off to Scapa Flow again by the 8th. drills and exercises there till returning to the Firth of Forth by 25th.

Next day at sea to meet 6 United States mine layers, escorted by 12 destroyers, the layers put down their deadly cargo and back in harbour by the 28th.

Last day of the month at sea to meet with the Grand Fleet, and Bulgaria has surrendered unconditionally.

By the 1st, back at Queensferry with all of the Grand Fleet.

At sea next day to meet the Mine Layers coming down from Scapa Flow, and they laid another mine field, James reports the mines on board the layers bumping down their rails prior to be being pushed off the stern, make an awful rumbling noise.

The aircraft flown on the 8th, but had some engine problems to crash in the sea, injuring her pilot.

At Scapa, the US 6th. Battle Squadron is in harbour, and all went off to sea on the 14th.

The word is that 3 heavy enemy ships are out ( in my Navy days, any rumour that reared its head in the mess decks was called the BUZZ, people would gather and ask: WHAT'S THE BUZZ? )

The 3rd. Light Cruiser Squadron is leading, the 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadron steams 6 miles astern of them, and the US 6th. Battle Squadron bringing up the rear, some 8 miles further astern.

Action stations sounded off whilst the mid day meal was in progress, turned out to be a British ship, Prince Arthur, and back to Scapa.

18th. the 2nd. Battle Cruiser Squadron staged a sailing regatta, the ship's pinnace came in 1st, and her whaler 2nd.

22nd. the aircraft flown off, and a torpedo was fired.

Fun and games on the 24th. too rough to come to her buoy, Australia let go her starboard anchor, but the cable parted, and the port anchor was quickly let go.

Suprisingly there is no mention of trying to recover both the cable and the starboard anchor.

27th. back to Scapa and the flag is transferred to New Zealand, on the 28th. announced that the ship's company will go on leave with a care and maintenance party left on board on return to the Forth.

James is off and visits Lancaster, Cardiff and Birmingham, he was on leave when the Armistice was declared on November 11, 1918.

To quote him: " The people nearly went mad with excitement."

His leave was up the next day, on the 17th. a Special Thanksgiving Service for the war's end was conducted.

Off to sea to meet surrendered German High Seas Fleet.

November 21. out to sea with the Grand Fleet to meet up with the surrendered German High Seas Fleet at 1100 ( 11 AM ) This must have been a great occasion, worth all the agony of those coaling, cleaning and painting sessions over four long years, at last it was all over, and we had won the fight.

On the 24th. the Squadron of the Grand Fleet passed close to the 2nd, BCS, as they steamed towards Scapa Flow.

December 3, and James is on his way home to Australia.

James left his ship on December 3 for Devonport Barracks, a month's leave to join Orsova on January 8th. The ship is carrying 1,500 troops, 150 passengers and 100 Sailors for the trip to Australia.

SS Orsova
SS Orsova

By the 12th. they were off the coast of Portugal, through the Mediterranean to Port Said on the 19th. traversed the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and Colombo by February 1st.

Home to Australia at last on arrival at Fremantle on the 11th. across the Great Australian Bight to Port Adelaide on February 18th. 

The Orsova entered Port Phillip Bay and James was placed in quarantine at Portsea on the 20th. for a week. It turned out to be quite a paradise, and James is ecstatic, plenty of sleep, good meals, beautiful weather, it was just glorious. What a contrast to years of Scottish weather, cold, rain, fog and of course snow in winter.

He did a lot of swimming, fruit and cigarettes issued daily, pictures turned on at night.

Into a spray room each day  to cope with any germs he may be carrying, but James could have taken another such week at anytime.

On February 27th, by car to Melbourne, and James made his way to the Williamstown Naval Depot where his saga had begun 6 years earlier, here he received his discharge papers, and said goodbye to life in the Royal Australian Navy. Two months leave, and his Official Discharge dated, May 2, 1919. 

For me it has been a privilege, to make this most enjoyable journey to view through the eyes of a young Australian Sailor over 4 years of WW1.

The single thing that has impressed me about James is the fact, that despite his mind numbing routine, and repetition of events over a very long period of time, there is not a single word of dissent written, not one complaint, he met every challenge to do his duty to his ship, his country and above all to himself.

He had passed his examinations for Petty Officer, but did not stay long enough in the Service to be promoted, and that is a pity, he obviously had leadership qualities of a high order. Without the ability and leadership of its Petty and Chief Petty Officers the Navy will never prosper.

I would have liked to have known you James personally.


Mackenzie. Gregory.


HMAS Australia prepared for sinking under the Washington Treaty
HMAS Australia prepared for sinking under the Washington Treaty

She was towed to sea by tugs and sunk along with her main armament in position 095 degrees, 24 miles from Inner South Head, Sydney, on 12 April 1924. Prime Minister Stanley Bruce provided a heartfelt eulogy that was widely reported on the night after her sinking:

In the prime of her service, this the first great ship of the young Australian Navy, was our contribution to the defence of civilisation. In her passing she symbolises our contribution to the cause of peace. We sacrifice her with a regret rendered poignant by the memory of her great service, but tempered with the hope that the world will see the magnitude of our offering, and the manner in which we make it, a measure of our practical belief in the principles enunciated at the Washington Conference, which constitute the only hope of a permanent international peace. The passing of Australia closes a glorious chapter in the history of the Australian Navy. We shall never forget that in the eventful days of 1914, when the fate of civilisation hung in the balance, it was the presence of Australia, manned by Australian seamen, that saved our shores and our shipping from the fate which overtook less fortunate nations.


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