The Royal Australian Navy aviation and legal communities are mourning the loss of one of their legends, Commander Geoffrey Vickridge, RAN (Ret'd), who passed away recently after a battle with cancer.
Geoff served in a variety of roles in the Royal Australian Navy over his forty-four years of service.
After joining the Navy in January 1958, he spent several years as a junior sailor before obtaining the academic qualifications required for commission.
He was promoted to Midshipman in 1964 and during basic officer training, his career took another turn when he was selected for pilot training and then transferred to become a Navy Observer (now known as a Maritime Aviation Warfare Officer).
He resigned from the permanent Navy in 1974 to undertake legal training and then returned to continue his service from 1984 on the Reserve Legal Panel in Western Australia, as well as serving as the honorary Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Western Australia.
Over the course of his career, Geoff served in Australia, the United Kingdom, Malta, Canada and the United States of America and retired as Commander Vickridge on the eve of his 60th birthday.
As a Lieutenant, Vickridge was serving in HMAS Melbourne (II) in 1969 when the US Navy destroyer USS Frank E Evans collided with the Australian warship.
The two ships were participating in combined Exercise SEA SPIRIT in the South China Sea, when in the early hours of the morning Melbourne proceeded to flying stations and Frank E Evans was ordered to take up station aft as plane-guard.
During the manoeuvre, Frank E Evans steamed under Melbourne’s bow and the destroyer was cut in two.
Seventy-four of Frank E Evans’s officers and sailors perished – most of them in the forward half of the ship, which sank almost immediately.
Following the collision, Lieutenant Vickridge jumped into action, rigging fire hoses and scrambling nets before boarding the stern section of Frank E Evans to carry out a thorough inspection of the shattered forward compartment, before searching the berthing area for additional survivors.
While in hospital recently, Geoff was awarded the US Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal in a bedside ceremony, recognising his meritorious achievement on 3 June 1969 and heroic actions following the collision of the two ships.
Geoff Vickridge passed away peacefully on Friday 8 March 2019, surrounded by his family.
Senior Naval Officer Western Australia, Commodore Brett Dowsing, commented on the remarkable life and career of Commander Vickridge.
“Commander Vickridge lived a life of honour and achievement, upholding all that we value in the Royal Australian Navy.
“His heroic actions after the collision of the Melbourne and the Frank E Evans was typical of a man of action and of care for others.
“He was the best of us,” Commodore Dowsing said.