- Whitehouse, John
- Biographies and personal histories, Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Canberra I
- March 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In 1944/45 John Burfield was Lieutenant in Command HMS Byron, but in 1936 he was a Midshipman aboard HMS Danae. He gave me this account of Christmas in South Australia, 1936 – taken largely from his Midshipman’s Journal, which was written up at the time.
WE HAD THE HONOUR of being sent to Adelaide to represent the Royal Navy at the South Australia Centenary celebrations in 1936, together with HMAS Canberra, some destroyers who were also on the China Station, and HMAS Yarra. On the morning of Christmas Eve we landed two platoons of sailors and the Royal Marine Band (in those days every cruiser had a Marine Band), together with some of Canberra’s sailors for a March Past in the city. I have a photograph of the event of us all looking very regimental with Canberra in the background. Then, during the evening, the ship was decorated with gum tree branches – as it was summer in Australia and holly and mistletoe being somewhat out of season.
On Christmas Day morning it is traditional for Captain’s Rounds to be conducted by a posse of the ship’s youngest ratings who make the customary tour round the ship. I have a photograph of our troupe that Christmas. On the left is Boy Hare in the Master at Arms frock coat and sword, next to him is Boy Roberts in the Commander’s jacket and then comes Makee Learnee Sometimes who was the youngest of the Chinese crewmen, about twelve I should think, who polished the brass strips on the quarterdeck but who intended to work his way upwards; he is wearing the Captain’s coat. Then there is Boy Roberts dressed as Commander (E).
Then lunch, and Pipe Down. In the afternoon four of us from Danae and two chums from Canberra played tennis with Mr. and Mrs. Walters who lived about ten miles outside Adelaide in the heart of the wine growing country. We were shown round the cellar, reputed to be the first to be built in South Australia. It was built under a mound of earth, with seaweed lining the roof to keep the wine – brandy actually – cool. We were all invited to stay the night so we rang up the ship and got permission from the Torpedo Officer to get the first bus in the morning. We spent the night on camp beds on the verandah – All Night In, unheard of for a Midshipman!
On Monday 28th December, Danae left harbour in company with Canberra and set course for Glenelg, about twenty miles down the coast. We anchored and dressed the ship overall. Then we laid on a little pageant representing the landing of the first Governor of South Australia in 1836 from HMS Buffalo. There is a monument at the end of the pier commemorating the event. The high point from the point of view of our seaboat’s crew was the necessity of carrying the ladies ashore to keep their feet, and dresses, dry.
In the evening the Wardroom, and the Gunroom, were invited to a Reception at the Continental Hall, Wayville where we were introduced to the Premier, the Hon. Butler and his good lady wife.
Tuesday, 29th December. The ship was illuminated overall with lights around the ship’s hull and up over the masts, and the searchlights sweeping around. The ship’s company had a Ball at Glenelg.
On New Year’s Eve two of us went up onto the bridge and blew 1936 away with a fanfare on the sirens, after which Mid. Main rang 16 bells on the quarterdeck to be followed by bacon and scrambled eggs in the wardroom.
New Year’s Day, 1937. A Reception on board for HE the Governor and Lady Duggan, Lord and Lady Hartington the Premier of South Australia and Mrs. Butler.
The quarterdeck was screened off with canvas, and the canvas disguised by all the signal flags we had. The Captain gave a speech extolling the virtues of the Royal Navy and the British shipping which it protected and the Premier replied to the effect that he would pass this information on to the South Australian Education Board.