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Affiliations with the Royal Navy and Admiralty

Introduction

It should come as no surprise that there were strong relationships between the infant RAN Armament Supply organisation and its equivalent in the Royal Navy (RN). When the assembled ships of the new Australian fleet first entered Sydney Harbour on 4 October 1913, the Naval Ordnance Depot, Spectacle Island, was newly transferred from the RN. Moreover, it continued to store and maintain RN (or "Imperial") stocks, an arrangement that continued until the 1970s. The author of this page, as a ledgerkeeper in the late 60s, recalls having separate "Commonwealth" and "Imperial" stock ledgers, as well as rubber stamps to be used to denote which account particular vouchers were to be posted to.

The armament of that first Australian fleet was also of Admiralty design. It was not until the 1960s that this changed to any degree. It therefore made perfect sense for RN practices, documentation and policies for ammunition to be adopted in their entirety. Thus, when the RAN issued its first Navy Order relating to Cordite Testing (no. 96 of 1912), one paragraph read:

"4. Commanding Officers are to take special care to ensure that the regulations as to the stowage, examination, etc., of ammunition on board ships-of-war as laid down by the Admiralty are complied with. The Admiralty orders on this subject as issued will be supplied to Commanding Officers, and are to be carefully studied."

Although Australian production of naval cordite commenced during World War 1, local production of ammunition was insignificant until World War 2 and even then, it was uneconomical to manufacture some specialised ammunition, or ammunition required in small amounts. Thus, Australian ammunition stocks tended to be a sub-set of Admiralty stocks. Ammunition defects were thus more likely to arise in RN service and consequently Admiralty instructions regarding restrictions, withdrawal, testing and maintenance were almost invariably adopted by the RAN.

Some historical information on the origins of the Armament Supply Department of the RN is located on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary website.


Personal Affiliations

These practical relationships were enhanced by the affiliations of the early Directors of Naval Ordnance and Directors of Ordnance, Torpedoes and Mines, who initially were either RN officers on loan to the RAN, or retired RN officers commissioned into the RAN. Depot executive staff were also of UK origin. The first RAN Officer-in-charge of the Naval Ordnance Depot at Spectacle Island, James Creber, had been the occupant of the equivalent position with the RN. As a Gunner RN, he was appointed in charge of the Spectacle Island in 1904. From then until 1918 he was in charge of Spectacle Island, except for the period 1908-1912 when the position of Officer-in-charge was held by a civilian officer, due to an Admiralty policy change. During this period Creber was the Inspector of Warlike Stores, and he was again in this position in 1920.

John Hayes, who succeeded him in 1919, was an Irishman who had extensive previous service with the RN before being appointed to the RAN for 3 years as a Chief Gunner on 12 December 1912.

Another key individual from the first half of the 20th century was William Montague ("Monty") Hine, who was to steer the Armament Depot, Sydney through its leisurely expansion in the 20s and 30s and then oversaw its hectic World War 2 expansion and operation. Hine was the son of Lieutenant Commander Montague Hine, RN, Retired. The RN Navy List of 1908 shows Montague Hine, then a Chief Gunner, as serving in Sydney. However his son was first employed in the Ordnance Depot at Sydney (i.e. Spectacle Island) in 1913 following 11 years experience in Royal Navy Depots (including Priddys Hard) and in the Admiralty Gunnery Branch.


Exchange Postings

From a fairly early date RAN executive staff were sent to the UK for training and to gain experience working in RN Armament Depots. For example, although John Hayes was an experienced Chief Gunner, there is an indication on his service record that he visited the UK for training in preparation for his appointment as Officer-in-charge at Spectacle Island in 1919.

Alan McDonald, later to become the first Director of Armament Supply, went to the United Kingdom for training in 1936. In the days of travel by ocean liner, these overseas postings normally took at least a year. After World War 2, Naval Armament Supply Cadets spent a year in the UK on the expiry of their their 3 years of university and technical college studies.

As early as 1929 the Navy List shows an Admiralty officer serving on exchange with the RAN; in this case, Alan Pritchard, at Spectacle Island. However exchange, in both directions, became entrenched during and after World War 2, and survived the "Americanisation" of the inventory in the 1960s before petering out in the last 2 decades of the century.

During World War 2 the affiliation between the RN and RAN was strengthened through the exigencies of war. The Armament Depot at Byford was heavily reliant on UK staff evacuated from Singapore, whilst the Depot at Darwin also appears to have had a significant presence of UK civilian staff. They had, however, been given temporary commissions to enable their deployment to an operational area.

The British Pacific Fleet

The despatch of the British Pacific Fleet to Australian waters in 1945 resulted in a major joint logistics effort between the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy.


Food for Britain

A non-operational example of how these various affiliations played out in wartime is that of the "Food for Britain" fund. Many years ago the author of this page sighted a sporting trophy at RANAD Newington that had been presented in 1948 by the RN Armament Depot at Priddys Hard in the UK in appreciation for the support provided through the Food for Britain Fund, an initiative undertaken within a larger community effort to overcome food shortages in post-war UK.

"Food for Britain" Shield Presented by Priddys Hard Armament Depot in 1948

The RAN Armament Depot, Sydney Newsletter of May 1948 reported that:

"On April 22nd 1947, at a General Meeting of Depot employees it was resolved to inaugurate a fund, by voluntary subscription, to be known as a "Food for Britain Fund" for the purchase and despatch of Food Parcels to Armament Depots in England. Priddys Hard Armament Depot was "adopted" for this purpose and a first consignment of 269 parcels was despatched on the 15th August, 1947. Subsequent consignments have brought the grand total of Parcels forwarded as at 31st May, 1948 to 1,245-No. at a total cost to the Fund of £649.0.0 The Fund is still functioning with a view to each one of the employees of Priddys Hard, totalling 1,711, being a recipient of a Food Parcel. "

The Newsletter for November 1948 reported further progress in meeting the target.

This story has an unhappy end. Placed in a store room, the trophy survived the migration of the Newington Main Office from Building No. 6 to Building No. 201. There, one day in the 1980s, it was thrown into a rubbish bin as junk by someone (we won't go there!) who did not appreciate its significance.

Fortunately, a photograph had been taken of the intact shield prior to its demise.


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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au