- Rowell, J and Richmond, C
- Ship histories and stories, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Cape Leeuwin
- March 1976 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One trick of the enemy was for snipers to remain on sunken hulks in harbours and fire on landing craft going ashore. In addition to her other duties the Leeuwin was required to provide boarding parties to assist Allied troops in searching these vessels and the opportunity was also taken to scrounge enough coal for the galley. On one of these occasions the party met up with American servicemen outside a closed door and after conferring for some time somebody enquired if that area had been searched, and on the door being opened a member of the opposition was revealed. A short burst from an automatic weapon followed and the war was over for another member of the enemy forces.
When General Douglas MacArthur’s famous promise ‘I will return‘ was fulfilled and the Allied Forces re-entered the Philippines, the crew of the HMAS Cape Leeuwin made the proud claim that their ship was the first Australian vessel into Manila Bay. At the time of her entry American paratroops were landing and the big guns of Corregidor were still in enemy hands and barking their defiance at the Allied liberation forces. Certain members of the crew of the HMAS Cape Leeuwin were awarded the Philippines decorations on the recommendation of General Macarthur for having served in that theatre of war.
This country was indeed fortunate to have available in her time of need such a sturdy vessel, manned by an efficient crew of specialists, commanded by Captain Noel Buxton. It is doubtful if a search anywhere would have revealed a man more suited to the task.
Captain Noel Buxton was born in New Zealand almost eighty years ago, and was a true old salt of the ‘ships of wood and men of iron‘ era. He served his time before the mast on those great sailing ships of the last century. In World War I he was an Anzac serving at Gallipoli in 1915 and later transferring to the Royal Navy. He volunteered for enlistment on several occasions during World War II before his ship was taken over by the Navy in 1943. The members of the crew had complete confidence in his ability and volunteered for enlistment and to serve under his command.
A man of medium height, of very powerful build, quietly spoken with rather a gruff voice and a firm believer that actions speak more loudly than words. His tastes were simple, with money or rewards of any kind seldom if ever occupying his thoughts and his satisfaction was complete in the thought of a worthwhile job well done.
His ship was always secure and prepared for almost any emergency. He demanded efficient work and good seamanship but was as fair and honest as a human could be. No man was ever asked to do a task that the skipper was not capable of doing and willing to join in, and at times do singlehanded. Crew members have been heard to say that ‘no praise was too high for Bucko‘ as he was affectionately known. In short, he led his men by his own personal example. He passed away a few years ago as quietly as he lived, and it was pleasing to see that his popularity still remained as former crew members of his old ship, retired Lightkeepers and past and present members of the Brisbane staff gathered with members of his family to wish him a last sad farewell.
One Brisbane resident with perhaps the longest association and who is a most enthusiastic Leeuwin man is shipwright Frank Rowell, who literally knows every inch of the vessel. Frank joined the Service in 1930 and served in the vessel continuously from the following year until the 1950s. Even after leaving the Service his association with his old ship continued in her general maintenance and overhaul in his position with Peters Slip, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. He has kept a record of her wartime service and together with information compiled by Captain Buxton which passed to his son, it is possible that the full story of the HMAS Cape Leeuwin could be published and retained for historical purposes.
How often has it been said that being a young country we are without the traditions of the older ones. This Department and Australia should be very proud of the HMAS Cape Leeuwin, her Captain and crew, who upheld the finest traditions of the British and Commonwealth Navies which should serve to inspire those who follow in the new Cape ships, should the need arise, which we sincerely hope it does not.
Here is a challenge and opportunity for an interested historian, and no doubt the Department would give any possible assistance to ensure that the Cape Leeuwin is not forgotten, and to honour and perpetuate the name of a great Officer and gentleman, her Wartime Commander – Captain Noel Buxton.