In a small country town, an hour from Melbourne, American-born sculptor Richard Yates is making his mark on the Australian Navy’s new fleet of destroyers, hand carving the battle honour boards for the future HMA Ships Hobart, Brisbane and Sydney.
A battle honour board recognises historical honours awarded to a ship, and are inherited by all ships of that name. For example Hobart II inherited Second World War honours of her namesake, from the Coral Sea, Borneo, Indian Ocean, East Indies, Mediterranean, Savo Island, Guadalcanal and the Pacific, but generated her own during the Vietnam War. Hobart III will inherit all nine.
With a combination of angle grinders and hand-held rotary tools, Mr Yates spends more than 300 hours carving out the foundations of the boards, before finishing the boards with sandpaper, stain, paint and lacquer.
“Navy commissioned me to make the boards for the new destroyers, and after delivering the first board for HMAS Hobart in June, I am now working on Hobart’s second board which will be ready in August,” he said.
“The reverence to these boards is immense, and knowing the high regard these boards are held in by the ship’s crew makes me humbled to be asked to work on them.”
Mr Yates hand selects New Guinea Rosewood for the boards, and uses carefully placed dowels to join the small pieces in to slab large enough to carve.
“Paul Burnett, Manger Navy Badges, sends me a full scale plan of each board which I use as a template for the board, but it is up to me how I go about the actual carving. This way I get to really connect with the work and I love doing what I do.”
After the last sculptor for Navy retired on completion of amphibious ship, HMAS Adelaide’s board, Mr Yates was contracted to provide boards for the new ships, a total of five boards (two for Hobart, one for Brisbane and two for Sydney).
He began sculpting as a hobby in 2005, and has been shaping metal and timber professionally for the past seven years.
Honour boards are often displayed near the gangway of a ship for ceremonial occasions or on a prominent bulkhead, so all may know the history of ships of that name.
For more information about battle honours visit the ships’ histories section of the Navy website http://www.navy.gov.au/fleet/ships-boats-craft/available-ship-histories.