Life in the RAN

Robert (Bob) Witt  R50295

Service:  Fleet Air Arm
Campaign: FESR
Period: 1954-1960

Joining the Royal Australian Navy

In 1954 and I found myself in Sydney after a long and varied career of fencing; ring barking; shearing; jackaroo and drover. As it happened I ran into my brother John who I hadn’t seen for many years. He was stationed at Nirimba and on the spur of the moment I decided to join up.  It took the Navy three months to eventually call me for a medical on 31 May, 1954.   On the train to Melbourne I was the oldest of the intake by four years but on that day a bond of friendship formed which was to last neigh on half a century.  Some are still mates, others sadly are no longer with us.  All are remembered as they were then, decent blokes, best of mates.

I can still recall my first impression of Melbourne – a cold hole in winter – and that of the HMAS Cerberus. My first trip to the mess hall was met with a warning ‘you’ll be sorry’ and hence with some misgiving I lined up with tray and slush slosh à la carte pusses scran in hand.  Needless to say I survived!  In all honesty training wasn’t that bad.  I didn’t mind the drill and doubling so much, nor even the constant change of step every few paces because one of the group had two left feet, it was the sadistic P.O. that was cause for concern. He would delight in turning us out at midnight where we would have to lash our hammocks and then carry them up to the West Gate, double time.  The purpose of this exercise escapes me but I guess as with everything the Navy does it had it’s purpose.

After 5 weeks we had our first run ashore. We booked into the Ushers and then took off to the Trocadero onto St Kilda. Downing a few ales we ogled Chloe hanging behind the bar.  We were after all, Matelots! I can laugh at it now but at the time we were deadly serious.

Eventually the time came for our first voyage on a manowar, well I suppose you could describe the HMAS Gladstone as a manowar, at a pinch, no offence intended. Then in September we Birdies migrated towards the warmer climate.  Or so we thought, we ended up at the HMAS Albatross.