On this day in 1964, the Royal Australian Navy aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne collided with the Navy's Daring class destroyer, HMAS Voyager, off Jervis Bay, killing 81 sailors and one civilian dockyard worker.
During the night of 10 February, Voyager and Melbourne collided when the destroyer passed in front of the carrier during post-refit sea trials. Voyager was cut in two by the collision, sinking with the loss of 82 of the 314 people onboard. This remains the largest loss of Australian military personnel in peacetime, and the subsequent investigations resulted in two Royal Commissions.
A report on the front page of the Navy News of 19 March, 1965, under the headline 'Queen Honours Voyager Men', noted the bravery and distinguished conduct of many men on the evening of the tragic incident.
Chief Petty Officer Coxswain Jonathan Rogers was posthomously awarded the George Cross, the highest bravery award then available in peacetime, “for organising the escape of as many as possible and encouraging … those few who could not escape … to meet death alongside himself with dignity and honour”.
There were two posthumous Albert Medals for Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea, awarded to Electrical Mechanic (Electronics) First Class William Joseph Condon and Midshipman Kerry Francis Marien.
The George Medal, in recognition of brave and distinguished contact, was made to Petty Officer Douglas Moore.
British Empire medals recognised the bravery of Leading Seaman Raymond Ernest Rich; Petty Officer Geoffrey Percival Worth; Leading Electrical Mechanic Brian Victor Longbotham; Leading Sick Berth Attendant John Rennie Wilson and Able Seaman Eric Noel Robson.
Queen’s Commendations for brave conduct and devotion to duty were made to Petty Officer Engineering Mechanic Edgar James McDermott; Engineering Mechanic Hugh Francis Gilvarry and Electrical Artificer Second Class Anthony Page.
On 50th anniversary of the disaster, Voyager survivors, and families and friends of those who died, went to sea in HMAS Choules and scattered poppies and rosemary where Voyager lies 20 nautical miles from Jervis Bay. Then Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, presented each family with a Navy bereavement pin and representatives from the Voyager Survivors’ Association, family members and members of the Navy laid wreaths at the foot of Voyager and Melbourne life rings.
In his speech to attendees, Vice Admiral Griggs said that it was important to acknowledge the loss, the pain, the courage and the remarkable nature of the human spirit shown on that night, and for those who survived every day since.
“I can only imagine the struggle that many of these men waged and some continue to wage over what happened that night,” he said.
That evening at sunset at the Royal Australian Naval College at HMAS Creswell, in the presence of the families, the ship’s bell was tolled as the name of every one of the sailors who died was read out and remembered.
This year again, we mark the loss and impact on the Navy family. Lest we forget.