More than 40 people recently attended a commemoration service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne to remember the souls lost when HMAS Voyager (II) sunk.
On 10 February 1964, the Royal Australian Navy aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II) collided with the Navy's Daring Class Destroyer HMAS Voyager (II) off Jervis Bay, resulting in the deaths of 81 sailors and one civilian dockyard worker.
In attendance at the service was Pedro Rich, a former Warrant Officer Physical Trainer who received the British Empire Medal for Gallantry for his actions the night HMAS Voyager sank.
Commodore Greg Yorke, the Senior Naval Officer Victoria, delivered the address.
Commenting on the brave actions of Warrant Officer Physical Trainer Rich, Commodore Yorke read from the citation.
“In recognition of his brave and distinguished conduct when HMAS Voyager was sunk, after collision, in assisting with the maintenance of morale of survivors in the ship and the orderly evacuation of the sinking ship, in rescuing a man who was drowning, for leadership and devotion to duty in organising the boarding of life rafts, for taking charge of life rafts containing survivors, and maintaining the morale of survivors in great adversity.”
Warrant Officer Physical Trainer Rich described his actions to Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio station 3AW prior to the service.
“I remember that day 56 years ago. I’m thankful that I was lucky enough to get out alive.
“Initially I didn’t realise what had happened. I picked myself up after I had been knocked around a bit. At that time the forward section was upside down. Everything was blacked out and it was confusing.
“I went towards the hull and thankfully found a way out. I called out the sailors in the cafeteria where I had been. I pulled a couple of them out and we made our way and finally got out into the water.
“We arranged in a group treading water and helping those who couldn’t swim or weren’t good swimmers.
“After a while a life raft inflated at the surface and we swam and got in. After about two hours a boat from the Melbourne came and picked us up.
“I was lucky, I knew my way around the ship (I had been on board for three years) and I knew the ship like the back of my hand,” he said.
Chief Petty Officer Coxswain Jonathan Rogers was posthumously 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.”
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, resulting in 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.
The service was arranged by the Scrap Iron Flotilla Association with the support of the Naval Commemoration Committee of Victoria.
Commodore Yorke ended the moving address.
“At the end of that evening, HMAS Melbourne was damaged but received no casualties. HMAS Voyager lay on the ocean floor, in two sections, 600 fathoms or 1100 metres below the surface, having taken 82 souls and leaving 232 alive but severely traumatised men.
We honour them all today,” Commodore Yorke said.