I enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy soon after turning 17 years of age. It was 1943.  Within the space of  a few weeks I reported to the R.A.N. Communications School at Flinders Naval Depot (known today as HMAS CERBERUS) located in the State of Victoria. Here I was to be trained as a Navy Signalman.  On completion of course we were to be proficient in all facets of Naval Signals including  basic Telegraphy.  We were taught how to read and send messages, accurately, and  at a pre-determined rate of words-per-minute, both in Morse Code, using Signal lamps, and also Semaphore, using small red and yellow hand held flags. We also had to learn the alphabet flags of the Naval Code of signals.  This consisted of a flag representing each letter of the alphabet, and a pennant for each number from 0-9, plus several other special Flags and Pennants  peculiar to the Navy.  Lastly there was the International Code of Signals, used by all merchant ships, and these consisted of the same flags but representing different letters of the alphabet.  For example, Naval flag ‘A’ was flag ‘Y’ for Merchantman.


Upon successful completion of my course I immediately volunteered for the “N” Class (Destroyer)  pool at Trincomalee, Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon) where the British Eastern Fleet was based.  I was fortunate that I gained first pick, and was I drafted to HMAS “Quickmatch” - a “Q” class destroyer.


This was considered the ‘plum’ place to be, along with five “N” class and two “Q” class Australian Destroyers also based there. A Destroyer is one of the smallest ships of the fleet. They are fast; they are well armed, and usually carried torpedo tubes.  Their function is to screen the fleet, to protect merchant ship convoys from submarine attack, provide naval Gunfire Support and Anti-Aircraft cover. Destroyers are often referred to as “greyhounds of the sea”.


Upon arrival, in Ceylon I was stationed at the Royal Navy barracks at Lanka for a fortnight before, being sent to Trincomalee by train.  I soon settled in to shipboard life aboard “Quickmatch” and began my watch keeping duties immediately.  The Communication Department consisted of 5 Signalmen, 5 Telegraphists, and 2 Coders.  During this period in naval history Signalmen were the only lower deck ratings that worked on the ships bridge. All messages and signals, received either visually or by telegraph are placed on printed forms and kept in a file by the signalmen on watch on the bridge. Here I was, not yet 18 years old, relaying ordersdand telling the Officer of the Watch what he had to do.  It was not until years later that I realised that it was an enormous responsibility for a kid to do.  But it was the job we had been well trained for, and I think we did it well.


After 6 months watch-keeping at sea I was entitled to apply for a Promotion Course to a higher Rate, and so I was taken by ships pinnace to HMS “Quilliam” and went before the Flotilla Fag Officer for examination. He turned out to be none other than the Marquis of Milford Haven, who asked me a few questions from the Fleet Signal Book, all of which I answered correctly. I passed and was sent back to my ship for a practical Semaphore or Morse test.


This was fairly simple and I have never forgotten it. The text was... “Friends, romans, countrymen, send me four ears; I come to marry Caesar not to raise him. What good men do is drink absinthe from clear cut crystal castellated goblets.”  I got it right. The real purpose of this was not just to see if I was efficient, but also to not fall into the trap of anticipation.


Our work at sea varied from fleet exercises, actual attacks on Japanese bases in Malaya, anti-submarine patrols, and of course convoys of merchant ships. The war in the Mediterranean area had virtually ended and ships were using the Suez Canal. On many occasions we picked up convoys at Aden, and took them to Bombay or Colombo (or both). The largest convoy we had consisted of nine passenger vessels, including some of the illustrious P & O and Orient liners like Strathnaver, Strathedan, Strathmore, and Otranto.  These ships were said to be transporting the AIF 7th and 9th divisions back. By this time “Quickmatch” had sailed from Trincomalee on 37 occasions. Whilst some of these were boring, there were some exciting and humorous events.


At the entrance to Trinco Harbour (not unlike Sydney) a single destroyer was moored every night, bows seaward, on ‘emergency’ duty. Steam for normal speed was maintained to allow dispatch to sea in a few minutes. Steam for full speed was kept at 30 minutes. This was to allow for any ships in distress at sea to be reached as soon as possible. With 50 or so destroyers at Trinco, we only did it once, but for the first time in months, help at sea was needed.


A serious medical case with the First Lieutenant of “S” class submarine, HMS “Statesman” had arisen and in 15 minutes we were at sea to rescue him.  “Statesman” was in the Bay of Bengal between India and the Andaman Islands, and was to remain stopped and submerged for protection. We estimated our arrival in the given position at dawn. We arrived a little early and used our Asdic equipment to find it. There was a heavy swell, and suddenly “Statesman” surfaced a few hundred yards on our Port beam. She found us first.


It so happened that I was on duty on the bridge and so I had to go in the ships lifeboat to signal where necessary.  This boat was a heavy wooden craft, not unlike those used in our surf clubs. It was rowed by 7 seamen, whilst I crouched in the bow with a pair of hand flags, an electric Morse signal lamp, and a very heavy battery hanging around my neck.


Because of the very heavy swell, and the large bulbous nature of a submarine hull, the boat bumped heavily against the upper deck, and then slithered down the hull with a crash. After several fruitless attempts, and with the patient strapped tight in a “Heath Robertson” stretcher, it was decided to throw him bodily into the boat! Three of our seamen stood up and caught him on a count of three, and we were away. But not before we were all soaked to the skin, and the boat damaged. By the time we entered Trinco Harbour (in Trincomalee) the patient had been operated on and his appendix removed.


Another event was soon after we had a new Commanding Officer. “Quickmatch” was his first command, and of course he was rather nervous, particularly when operating close to other ships under way.  The real test came when we had to refuel at sea from an Aircraft Carrier.  This required that we close within 20 yards, and to receive a heavy fuel hose for connection.


This is normally a fairly simple operation provided that the ships turn into the wind. All went well, the hose was connected, and pumping began. However when ships get too close, and especially with a small and large ship involved, a depression between the two can develop, and the ships can collide. (Put two matches in a glass of water and see what happens)


It so happened that we got a bit too close, the Captain panicked and ordered too much opposite rudder. We pulled away sharply, the fuel pipe tightened and parted, showering heavy black boiler fuel over the port side, from the waist aft.


It happened also that that the Captain’s pinnace received about six inches of fuel, and the decks and all equipment on the port side were suddenly painted black. Very black. It was the seamen’s task to clean it all up, but only after we had reconnected and completed refueling.  I was glad that I was a signalman and only had to watch, as high-pressure seawater was used to clean up. Pollution was not a factor in those days.


One thing that we were never told about during training at Flinders Naval Depot was the matter of meals on board a small naval vessel. All ships to a destroyer had 2 cooks, whose task was to make bread, and cook whatever the sailors in each mess came up with. In other words we had to battle for ourselves. Each day according to a roster, a crewmember would go to the gallery and get whatever was available, usually a chunk of raw meat and some vegetables. When prepared it was returned to the gallery for cooking.


When fresh food ran out, it was a question of tin openers, powdered milk, powdered eggs, and dried fruit etc. With none of us having any cooking skills, there were some surprising results. It emerged that I was the most resourceful and I used my scant skills to my advantage. For example, a female cousin in Sydney would send me recipe pages torn out of “Women Weekly”, which were a great help.


became the champion scone maker, but with no self-rising flour I had to add baking powder, but how much? When I reached perfection I was able to swap watches on the bridge with a shipmate, provided I made scones or some sort of sweet concoction. The scones were very popular, provided they were eaten on the same day as made. If not they turned into rocks. One ungrateful mate suggested that they could be used as cannon balls in our 4.7” guns.


Fresh water was also a problem at times. Whilst we had a large storage tank and condensed sea water continuously, the equipment slowly salted up and daily production fell. The boilers had first call. It meant that sometimes we had to shower with salt-water soap.


Eventually the war in the Burma area ended and the British Eastern Fleet was ordered by Churchill to transfer to Sydney, and become the British Pacific Fleet. Many of the old ships that were based at Trinco (many of them World War One relics) were sent back to England, whilst many others more modern and no longer needed in the Atlantic or Mediterranean, were sent to Sydney.


The British Pacific Fleet consisted of 6 aircraft carriers, 4 battleships, 10 cruisers, and 40 destroyers. There was also a fleet of 146 merchant vessels organised as “The Fleet Train”, consisting of fuel oil, aviation fuel, and water tankers, all forms of victualing, ammunition, and general supplies, etc.  These ships eventually plied from Sydney and Brisbane to the Fleet. Only the tankers were allowed to reach the fleet for refueling whist underway. All others were at a safe distance at sea, and were approached by individual fleet ships as a sort of ferry service.


As part of this newly formed fleet “Quickmatch” and “Nizam” were ordered from Trinco to Sydney via Fremantle for refit. As “Nizam” had much lesser cruising range than “Quickmatch”, it was necessary to refuel at Addu Atoll, a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean, about 500 miles south west of Colombo.  Here a tanker that had been torpedoed, with only the forward part sinking, was towed into Addu and used as a refueling point. Unfortunately it was empty. “Nizam” had to remain until a replenishment tanker arrived.


In “Quickmatch” however, the Captain called a conference with all his officers and Chief Engineer to consider traveling alone to Fremantle. Everyone was asked to individually plot a course and speed that would get us there. Out came the charts and slide rules and the next day it was agreed that we had sufficient fuel to make the journey provided that we cruised at our most economic speed. So off we went.


Out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, we intercepted a merchant ship that we thought should not be there. Naval vessels receive twice daily reports of friendly shipping movements civil and naval, broadcast in code at midday and midnight. These originated from Colombo and Fremantle and according to our information this ship was unknown.


It was decided to challenge. Since I happened to be on watch I switched on our starboard 20-inch carbon arc signaling lamp and flashed WBA . Any friendly ship would know what that meant. There was no response and within seconds the ship disappeared into a heavy rain shower. We had no radar at that time (to be fitted in Sydney) and we could not afford to use too much fuel to chase it. There was also need for caution.


We reduced speed and turned very slowly towards where it was seen. This allows the least target area but also allowed us to load both forward guns. It was about 10 minutes before the rain cleared, and the mystery ship was nowhere to be seen.


It was eventually seen steaming westwards the reciprocal of its previous course. We had no alternative but to use up some fuel to put it into gun range and having done so fired a shot over its bows. They decided to obey our request to stop and identify itself. It turned out OK and it was just as surprised to see us as we were of it. It was headed for Fremantle with gold bullion from UK. The reason of course for us not knowing its identity in the first place was because we were out of radio range from both broadcast stations.


The British Pacific Fleet had all gathered in Sydney and Brisbane and we sailed for Manus in the Admiralty Islands, which was to be our base. From there the fleet worked northwards attacking various Japanese occupied countries and islands carrying out bombardments at Leyte Gulf (Philippines), Iwo Jima, Formosa (Taiwan), Okinawa, Sakashima and also mainland Japan itself.


The Okinawa campaign began from Ulithi in the West Caroline Islands and it was our first and only joining with the US Navy. Over 1000 ships comprising naval vessels hundreds of landing craft of all types and thousands of troops sailed at dawn for Okinawa. All day they sailed past us in a continuous stream. Our turn came at 3pm when we weighed anchor and joined the escort. It was an amazing sight. We disengaged the following day and with the British Fleet turned north again.


On August 6th 1945, the fleet was turned onto an east-south-easterly heading and continued all day without zig-zag!  This puzzled everyone aboard, for,  at this stage of the war, we were just 1700 nautical miles from mainland Japan. The next day we were advised the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. IThen again on August 9th on Nagasaki.


Attacks by the British Pacific Fleet on the Japanese mainland continued with carrier borne aircraft bombing by day and the Battleships closing inshore at night to carry out bombardment with their huge guns, then retiring before dawn. These ships were escorted by destroyers, including us in “Quickmatch”.


“Quickmatch” was later allocated to Air/Sea rescue ship for the aircraft carrier HMS “Victorious” which meant that we kept close station close and during flying operations we closed to 250 yards astern on the starboard quarter. There was always a danger when taking off, particularly with the 'Avenger' bombers, that they may finish up ditching into the sea due to the weight of their bomb loads and the high (sea) swells. And since it was also required for them , immediately after launching from the deck, turn out of the path of the carrier there was always a chance of  the lower wing tip hitting the crest of a wave, or even the propeller blades, which would crash the plane into the oggin in a large flurry of white spray.


It was our job then to increase speed, pick up the pilot and then sink the aircraft by gunfire or by ramming, thus removing it as a navigation hazard. This also applied to aircraft flying on. This was easier in theory since they would have dropped their bombs and would have much less fuel. A problem sometimes, was that they had been hit with some of the aircraft damaged. They may still be able to fly but when speed was reduced a few seconds before touch down the aircraft would stall and splash!! Again we would rescue the pilot and sink the plane by gunfire or by ramming.


I spoke to rescued pilots on several occasions most were only 18 or 19 years old. I asked if they would be stood down for a while and their answer was, as long as an aircraft was available, they would be in the air again the next day. This was to ensure that they did not lose their nerve.


The Aircraft were Supermarine Seafires (navy version of a RAF Spitfire), Vultee, Vengeance and Corsairs. During this time the fleet aircraft carriers were subject to daily Kamikaze suicide attacks and all 6 carriers were hit, some more than once.


Came the Japanese surrender, the fleet entered Tokyo Bay and “Quickmatch” was anchored about 300 meters abeam of USS “Missouri” on which the surrender ceremony took place.


Shore leave was granted, and I proceeded ashore with some of my shipmates only to find complete and utter devastation, all buildings and structures either burnt out or reduced to rubble.  Trams and buses were burnt out and stood simply as steel frames. 


As for the the Japanese people themselves, whilst we were unable to communicate with them, they showed no aggression towards us and because of some smiles they gave us, we got the feeling that they were glad it was all over.


“Quickmatch” had two distinctions. Firstly, it was the only Australian ship to actually take part in the final actions against Japan, and secondly, it was the only destroyer to see out the entire British Pacific Fleet Campaign, from the time of leaving Sydney to the day of surrender.  “Quickmatch” claimed one sunk midway between Aden & Bombay.


Those of us serving as crew spent over 6 months of continuous sea time having not set foot on dry land until leave in Tokyo.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Navy, saw some of the world and made many friends that endure to this day.


Yours Aye

Max Hayles - Signaller R.A.N