A retired Royal Australian Navy sailor handed over his 16th bell-rope designed for a naval vessel at a ceremony held for future destroyer Hobart’s provisional acceptance by Defence.
Using a skill he learnt during his early days in the Navy, David Morse has made the bell-ropes for ships of the Australian and New Zealand fleets, creating each by hand at his home.
Joining the Navy at age 15 as a Junior Recruit at HMAS Leeuwin in January 1962, Mr Morse served in many ships during his time, including the previous HMAS Hobart, a Charles F. Adams class guided missile destroyer.
“Sitting on watch in the boat space as sea boat crew in the 1960s, there was little to occupy yourself with in downtime,” Mr Morse said.
“To pass the time we would make up lanyards and belts out of cord with our seaman’s dirks.
“The old hands passed down these skills, which also served the dual purpose of training us in the art of knotting, which is essentially what a bell-rope is,” he said.
Mr Morse served in the Navy for 21 years, paying off as a Warrant Officer Underwater Control, a branch no longer in service.
Aside from the destroyer Hobart, Mr Morse served in HMA Ships Vendetta, Yarra, Duchess, Perth, Parramatta, US Navy ships Hull andTurner Joy.
The early bell-rope models he made were very basic, using only white cord.
“They could be best described as functional for their purpose,” Mr Morse said.
He would usually hand over these models to the Executive Officer or Chief Boatswain onboard after the ship was handed over.
During the build of New Zealand’s first Anzac class frigate, HMNZS Te Kaha, Mr Morse created a slightly more elaborate bell-rope, including black and white representing the national colours of the island nation.
“I was going on leave at the time of handover, so I left the bell-rope with my office clerk and asked him to hand it over on my behalf,” Mr Morse said.
“When I returned from leave I was told that the presentation had been incorporated into the ceremony, and that it had been received so well, the shipyard anagement had requested I create one for all future ships.
“Although they offered reimbursement, I never charged for my time spent making the bell-ropes,” he said.
This was despite the fact Mr Morse makes them himself at home, taking around three months per creation.
Mr Morse has made bell-ropes for the two Adelaide class frigates built in Williamstown, HMA Ships Melbourne and Newcastle, all ten Anzac frigates, HMNZ Ships Canterbury, Otago and Wellington, which were also built at Williamstown, six Royal New Zealand Navy patrol boats, and both Australian amphibious assault ships, HMA Ships Canberra and Adelaide.
His most recent bell-rope, the one designed for Hobart, as with all previous ones, has been made unique to the ship, and in proportion to the bell itself.
“At the top of the rope is a metal thimble, which has been worked with a coxcomb of seven cords, representing the corners of the Federation Star,” Mr Morse said.
“The section below that is worked in green and gold to represent the national colours of Australia.
“The ‘Royal’ in Royal Australian Navy is represented by the gold crown in the centre section.
“The crown has two bands, the upper green as the national colour, and the lower navy blue representing the Navy.
“The lower section has been worked in crimson and white, representing the previous Hobart’s official colours,”
“Finally, there is a band representing Australia’s indigenous peoples’ colours,” he said.
After leaving the Navy in 1983, Mr Morse worked in a variety of roles at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard in Victoria, until retiring in 2011.
During his time here he advanced to Superintendent Outfitting in charge of painting, insulation, cladding and floor coverings.
It was during his 27 years in the Dockyard he made the bell-ropes for the various ships, occasionally making some additional ones requested by the ships to be used a working bell-rope, similar to his original creations.
“There were also requests for a smaller, wardroom bell-rope for HMA Ships Ballarat and Toowoomba,” Mr Morse said.
At the Dockyard he was also responsible for the training of onboard launch crews of new vessels, docking and undocking of vessels into the graving dock, sea trials deck and boat crews, and fulfilled the role of sea trials bridge watch-keeping officer.
Mr Morse has been married to his wife for 50 years, who he credits for sticking by him through thick and thin, despite his long periods away at sea.
Together they have three children, a son who joined the Royal Australian Air Force and still serves, a daughter who originally joined the Navy but has since left, and another daughter who married a naval officer.
They also have seven grandchildren.
“My family always said that I never really got out of the Navy, I just changed jobs.”