Monday, September 21, 2020

Pandemic dashes Anzac Day plans but not spirits for WWII hero

Pandemic dashes Anzac Day plans but not spirits for WWII hero


It was an illustrious career. From late 1973 to mid-1975, he was in command of the aircraft carrier Melbourne, which was flagship of the Australian Fleet. In June 1976 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Chief of Naval Personnel.

On Anzac Day he has marched in Sydney as the head of Navy. This year he is resigned to the idea that it is probably better to stay at home.

“It is quite possible to think back to those days. I don’t have to go to a memorial to think about the loss of the Repulse,” Rear Admiral Griffiths said.

At the time of the attack, he was a midshipman. “It really wasn’t a day for rejoicing, I can tell you,” he said. “It was a dark day, a very dark day for the Royal Navy losing the battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse.

“The Prince of Wales had 1612 people on board and lost 327, but in Repulse we had 1309 and we lost 513. We went down quicker than the Prince of Wales; we were not so heavily armed as a battleship. We were hit with five torpedoes in a fairly short time and the old lady listed to port and then, of course, there’s a lot of water coming in, she eventually rolled over and sank stern first so people didn’t have much time to get on deck and get overboard.

“I was down below but I was lucky in coming up in time to get through what people normally call a porthole but we called them a scuttle. The list wasn’t too much for me just to get through that and then slide down the ship’s side and into the water, which was warm.

HMS Repulse of the British fleet enters Sydney Harbour in 1924. Credit:SMH

“People have asked me over a number of years, was I worried about sharks? My response was it wasn’t a thought in my mind at that time. Survival was closer to the point.”

This year the RSL has come up with alternative ways to commemorate ANZAC Day, both in the lead-up and the day itself, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ideas include recording a video of yourself reciting The Ode or sharing a message of support for veterans on social media. There are also calls to “light up the dawn” with candles on April 25.

Acting president of RSL NSW Ray James said while it will be very different to previous years, “there are still many ways to acknowledge ANZAC Day and ensure Australian servicemen and women are appropriately remembered”.

Rear Admiral Griffiths said: “I just sincerely hope that that we never, ever, forced into another world war. It’s a non-productive event. There’s lots of lives lost unnecessarily, people disturbed or wounded and with memories for the rest of their lives.”

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