A retired Lieutenant Commander who left his mark on generations of Navy personnel has passed away at the age of 95.
Henry ‘Nobby’ Hall died at his home in Currarong, on the New South Wales south coast on 25 June.
He was just 16 when he joined the Navy in December 1938, and spent 20 years of his 43 year career at sea, serving on 10 ships.
He earned the name ‘The Unsinkable Henry’ after one of the ships he was serving on was torpedoed and two others were involved in collisions.
He was onboard HMAS Adelaide when it collided with the merchant vessel SS Coptic en route to Noumea in 1940, and HMAS Mildura when it collided with the SS Berwickshire in Sydney Heads in 1941.
He was also onboard the first HMAS Canberra which was heavily damaged during the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942, for which significant commemorations will be held this year.
Canberra was supporting the US assault on Guadalcanal when the ship was struck by 24 shells, her engines knocked out, all power lost and communications disabled.
Her captain was mortally wounded, and 74 of the 819 crew were killed with 10 dying later of wounds.
Reflecting on this event at a commemoration in 2013 Lieutenant Commander Hall described it as hell on earth.
“Here I am at age 20, four years in the Royal Australian Navy, in the Solomon Islands and under fire from an unidentified enemy,” he said.
“Everything is awfully wrong, I’m in the midst of madness, sounds never heard before. Screams of horror and pain, flying glass, shrapnel whistling through the air at great speed, tearing into flesh and bone.
“A bucket list of death and destruction,” he said.
He was then transferred to the USS Barnett, one of the destroyers that came alongside to take survivors.
Onboard he assisted the Commander Surgeon in caring for the wounded and was honoured with a mention in despatches for his ‘skill, resolution and coolness’.
In 2014 Lieutenant Commander Hall was a special guest at the commissioning of Australia’s first amphibious assault ship, and namesake of his former ship, HMAS Canberra, where he found much to admire.
“Apart from the ship, what impressed me most was the crew, their vitality, motivation and awareness,” he said.
“They were all bright eyed and bushy tailed, and put on a magnificent show.
“It was a great day for the Navy, a great day for the country,” Lieutenant Commander Hall said.
He was also well known in his local community, a regular attendee at events at both HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell.
A ong relationship with Albatross began with his promotion to Petty Officer Airman Meteorological and transfer to the fledgling Air Branch in 1948.
He was promoted to Chief Petty Office Meteorological in 1953, commissioned as Sub Lieutenant Aviation in 1957, promoted to Lieutenant in 1963 and Lieutenant Commander in 1970.
In 1979 he was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services as the Beecroft Range Officer.
Following his retirement in 1981, Lieutenant Commander Hall continued to serve his community, as secretary and president of the Nowra RSL, with Legacy, as patron of both the Naval Association of Australia Shoalhaven sub-section and the HMAS Mildura Association, as a Rotarian for more than 30 years and as a men's peer health facilitator for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
In 2010 he was invested with the Medal for the Order of Australia for his service to veterans and families.
Lieutenant Commander Hall was a popular fixture at Naval events wearing his impressive array of medals with great pride and was always eagerly sought out for his wealth of great stories, old fashioned charm and abundant wit.
Lieutenant Commander Hall proudly led the Currarong Anzac Day march every year since 1968, in later years on his mobility scooter.
Many Currarong residents would have first learnt the story of Anzac Day through listening to his stirring speeches as children.
He also developed a close relationship with Shoalhaven High School, participating in their Anzac Day service every year and becoming an honorary School Captain.
Navy’s family has lost a stalwart.