Former Warrant Officer Steward Allen Guthrie has experienced challenges, adventure and near misses, and during a recent visit to HMAS Cerberus, he shared tales of life in the Navy when the men were made of steel, scrubbing the deck meant sanding it with holystone, and sailors slumbered in hammocks.
In April 1938, at the age of 18, Allen Guthrie signed up to serve his country, commencing a distinguished career spanning 35 years in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).
Mr Guthrie enlisted as a Steward, commencing training at a vastly different HMAS Cerberus. Now 94 years old, he reflected on the changes to both the eager young Allen and Cerberus itself.
“It’s hard to comprehend. When I first got here it was smaller, there was an urgency to get you through your training and to get our ships commissioned. But gee whiz, it was a rush to look out through the heads and know that you’d soon be joining the fight,” Mr Guthrie said.
Mr Guthrie was welcomed at the Warrant Officers and Senior Sailors Mess as both a valued ex serviceman and a former President of the Mess. A morning tea was held in his honour, and over a brew Mr Guthrie shared some of his history, explaining how lady luck had smiled on him.
After completing eight months of training Mr Guthrie was posted to HMAS Sydney (II), serving from December 1938 to May 1939. From there, he was posted to HMAS Perth (I) until July 1941, then on to the Destroyer HMAS Nizam.
While serving on Nizam in the midst of the Mediterranean action of World War II, then 21 year old Leading Steward Guthrie learned of the sinking of the Sydney when he saw a copy of the ‘Egyptian Gazette’ with the words ‘Sydney Sunk, All Souls Lost’ emblazoned on the cover.
“I knew quite a few of the men lost. Several of them joined the Navy when I did. They were just boys some of them, very young men. Smiling, healthy, young men. That’s how I last saw them, that’s how I still remember them,” Mr Guthrie said.
Several months after learning of the sinking of Sydney, Mr Guthrie faced another shock on hearing of the sinking of HMAS Perth during the Battle of Sunda Strait in March 1942. Mr Guthrie had volunteered to transfer to the Nizam and remain in the war zone so that another sailor could return home on the Perth to marry his sweetheart.
After the war Mr Guthrie was again fortunate in his circumstances, escaping injury while posted to HMAS Melbourne during the tragic collision between Melbourne and HMAS Voyager in February 1964.
During his 94 years Allen Guthrie was raised under the arm of the Salvation Army, served the Royal Australian Navy for 35 years and was blessed to have had 71 years marriage with his late wife Winifred. Allen Guthrie reflects on a full and fortunate life and shares his memories with those who’ll listen, honouring those who have served.
Imagery is available on the Navy Image Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20141925.