- Editorial Staff
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Hobart I
- June 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
News of the death of Prince Philip was received with great sadness when he recently crossed the bar just short of his century. Not only was he a magnificent consort to Her Majesty but a popular and respected naval officer who contributed much to many of our lives.
It was by unusual circumstances that His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Greece first came to know Australians. He entered the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth as a special entry cadet on 4 May 1939. After graduating as a midshipman on New Year’s Day 1940 he and six other midshipmen and one ordinary seaman were bound for HMS Ramillies, then escorting troop convoys from Australia and New Zealand to the Middle East.
Britain was facing a German naval threat in its own waters and the Atlantic, but in the early days of the war, before the fall of France and while Italy was neutral, British and French forces remained supreme in the Mediterranean. Accordingly Allied troop transports still called at southern French ports and made voyages to the East via Suez. The affectionately known ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’ comprising HMA Ships Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager and Waterhen was based at Malta and provided escorts between Marseilles and Suez.
In one of the coldest winters on record, when the Thames froze, the Prince Philip cohort made their way from Great Britain to the Middle East. With assistance from historian Captain Peter Hore RN Rtd. their journey has been reconstructed across the Channel to Cherbourg and thence by train to Marseilles. Here they joined the troop transport Neuralia which sailed on 6 February 1940 bound for Aden, where on 17 February they transferred to HMAS Hobart for passage to Colombo, arriving on 22 February. When Neuralia sailed from Marseilles she would have been escorted by one or more of the ‘Scrap Iron Flotilla’, hence this is most likely to be our first unrecognized dealings with the Prince.
The history of Hobart (I), has a foreword by Prince Philip in which he says: ‘I had a fleeting acquaintance with her (Hobart) in January 1940 when I took passage onboard from Aden to Colombo as a midshipman on my way to join my first ship HMS Ramillies’.
This history contains another snippet recorded by Leading Telegraphist Frank Sutton who says: ‘Before leaving Aden, we embarked eight (sic) midshipmen for passage to Ramillies, one of these was HRH Prince Philip of Greece. Some of the midshipmen who were joining their first ship were somewhat slow in turning out in the morning – the AB responsible for lashing and stowing their hammocks asked the First Lieutenant what he should do about it. He was promptly told to tip them out, which he had no hesitation in doing.
As a consequence, the AB rather annoyed Midshipman HRH Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. Despite this temporary fall from grace Prince Philip later became an honorary member of the HMAS Hobart Association.
The elderly battleship Ramillies, in urgent need of attention to her main engines, was unexpectedly ordered to Sydney’s Garden Island Dockyard. After refit of three weeks Ramillies returned to convoy escort duties via Melbourne, Fremantle and Colombo where on 12 April the Prince departed to join HMS Kent, and later on 1 October HMS Shropshire, before joining HMS Valiant in Alexandria on 2 January 1941. So as a handsome 18-year-old midshipman Prince Philip met a number of Australians, leaving many young hearts aflutter, and seemed to have enjoyed a little Down Under hospitality before the many return visits he made here in later life.
Step forward thirty years when Prince Philip’s uncle and mentor the Earl Mountbatten of Burma became the first honorary member of the Naval Historical Society of Australia shortly after it was formed in 1970. We therefore can count an Admiral of the Fleet amongst our august members.
Another association with Prince Philip came about as one of our founding members, Lieutenant Commander Peter Churchill RN Rtd., was a 1939 term mate of Prince Philip at Dartmouth and they retained a friendship. One of Peter’s treasured mementoes was a letter (with salutations in manuscript) received from Prince Philip, then at Windsor Castle, which reads:
News has reached me that you are about to celebrate your 90th birthday on 11 May 2011; mine follows on 10 June. There cannot be many of us left from our entry to Dartmouth in 1939, so I am delighted to send you my congratulations and very best wishes for the occasion.
This friendship paid dividends to the Society when our then President Lew Lind was looking for an important person to unveil the memorial to HMAS Parramatta (I) at Garden Island. Going through official channels a request was made for Prince Philip to undertake this during his visit as Fleet Reviewing Officer to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Australian Navy on 4 October 1986. As the program was fully committed the request was declined. Lew, a man of great determination, then tried an unofficial avenue of communication. A like-minded Prince found a window in his busy official program and kindly conducted the unveiling ceremony at Garden Island early on the evening of 3 October 1986. Such is the mark of the man we so fondly remember.
HMA Ships Hobart, Stuart, Vampire, Vendetta, Voyager & Waterhen Reports of Proceedings for January & February 1940, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
The HMAS Parramatta Memorials, Naval Historical Review, Naval Historical Society of Australia, Sydney, December 2020.
The Service History of Royal Navy Warships in WW2 – January & February 1940.
Eade, Philip, Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life, Harper Press, London, 2011.
Lind, L. J. & Payne, M. A., HMAS Hobart: the Story of the 6-inch cruiser HMAS Hobart 1938 – 1962, Monograph – Naval Historical Society of Australia, Sydney, 1971.