FRANK B WALKER
JOINING THE NAVY
JOINING THE NAVY
In 1938, when war seemed imminent, Frank Bartley Walker joined the Sydney University Regiment as an infantry private.
Immediately after the war broke out in 1939 the regiment was mobilised and they went into camp at Menangle racecourse, where they lived in tents.
As part of their training they did a bivouac from Menangle to Bulli, which involved route-marching all the way there and back, sleeping beside the road, in the fields, anywhere (except in a bed, of course).
When they got back to Menangle they were pretty exhausted, with blisters on their feet and aching muscles everywhere. Frank was lying in the tent he shared with five other blokes, one of whom was Gough Whitlam – he was at Paul’s, which was adjacent to Wesley, so Frank already knew him.
A visitor to their tent was Roe Cutler and they were discussing what they would do in the war.
Frank said that his recent experience of marching had convinced him that it would be better to be carried to the war, so he would join the Navy. Gough said he agreed about the walking part, and said he would join the Air Force. Roe Cutler said he would stay in the army and Frank remarked: “That would be bloody silly, Roe. A big bloke like you would get his head or his arm or his leg shot off”, which proved to be quite prophetic.
Frank joined the Navy, Gough joined the RAAF and Roe stayed in the Army. Roe got his leg shot off in Syria earning the Victoria Cross in the process. He subsequently became Governor of NSW.
Frank served as an anti-submarine officer for nearly six years in minesweepers and corvettes in dangerous waters. He managed to find time to write two books about naval life, which were published in 1943 and 1944.
On 19 January 1944 Frank was promoted to Lieutenant (Gazetted 14 March 46, page 622)
Frank's Certificate of Discharge states that Lieutenant Frank Bartley Walker, who entered the Royal Australian Navy for full time War Service on 20th day of August 1940 served as a Commissioned Officer from 20th day of August 1940 to the 14th day of December 1945 on which he was demobilised. The Discharge Certificate states that officer's service included Active Service at Sea.
Asked why he joined, Frank replied: "It wasn’t really idealism that prompted my generation to defend Australia. It was simply that we grew up knowing it was our duty to if the country was threatened. I suppose I would do the same today if I was young enough, although in the light of Vietnam and Iraq I would need to be convinced that the cause was just."
The Royal Australian Navy has now named one of its new submarines after Ordinary Seaman Sheean. It is the first time in naval history that a warship has been named after a lower deck sailor, and the Navy's decision to honour Sheean in this way was undoubtedly influenced by Frank's book HMAS Armidale The Ship that Had to Die.
Sheean's home town was Latrobe, in Tasmania, and Frank's ship was the corvette, HMAS Latrobe, so it was fitting that in 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking of HMAS Armidale, the Latrobe council paid Frank the honour of inviting him to Latrobe to deliver the Anzac Day address.
At the end of his speech Frank proposed a fund for a memorial to Teddy Sheean and made the first donation. As a result, a splendid memorial to Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheehan now stands in the main street of Latrobe, and a replica of the memorial has been presented to HMAS Sheehan.
Corvette magazine 2008
Nearly a corvette admiral
It may surprise members to know that their former editor, Frank Walker, nearly became an admiral in
charge of a fleet of corvettes. This is how it happened, in Frank's own words:
It was 1948 and I was in New York on loan to Reuters from the Sydney Morning Herald. I had been covering the United Nations debate on Palestine and Australia's foreign minister, Dr H.V.(Doc) Evatt, was chairman of the committee that recommended that Palestine should be partitioned and a state
of Israel established.
The UN General Assembly accepted the recommendation and I wrote in an article: "They will still be fighting over this in 50 years' time". Since it had gone out on the Reuters wire it appeared in newspapers all over the world and for a few days my phone ran hot.
Among the first callers was the Doc himself and I can still hear him snarling: "You don't know what you are bloody well talking about!" I can also hear myself replying: "I know bloody well how we would feel if they chopped out a chunk of the Australian coast and gave it to the Japs. That's how the Arabs feel about this." After that the Doe and I were never terribly friendly.
Another caller, however, was extremely friendly. He had a distinctly Middle Eastern accent and invited
me to lunch. I accepted, assuming it might lead to some sort of story. He designated a restaurant on
Eighth Avenue, which rather surprised me as Eighth Av was quite a sleazy area. When we met, he apologised profusely for his choice of restaurant and explained that it was important for him not to be recognised. I hadn't recognised him anyhow and was still trying to puzzle that out when he proceeded to tell me my life story, and it was bang on.
After running through my early days, he said he knew I had served in a corvette during the war. Then
came the bombshell. He said he represented a group of countries that had bought some corvettes left over from the war and they would like me to command one of them. I could name my own price and choose my own crew and name their price, too.
We would be required to intercept ships carrying Jews, tackle Jewish warships and bombard Jewish
settlements on the coast. My looks must have betrayed any feelings because my price immediately went
up — I could command an entire flotilla of corvettes, he said. After I showed still more reluctance, he said I could even be the admiral in charge of all their corvettes.
For a brief moment I had a vision of myself pacing the quarter-deck of a corvette with a telescope
under my arm, gold braid up to my elbows and scrambled eggs on my cap. I saw myself on the bridge,
master of all I surveyed, ordering spectacular fleet manoeuvres. But then another vision floated before
me. This time I saw a stumbling, bumbling lieutenant of a certain corvette whose star sights frequently
placed the ship on dry land, whose station-keeping scared the be-Jesus out of neighbouring ships, who
had trouble remembering the nautical rules of the road (was it 'Green to green and red to red, perfect
safety, go ahead', or 'Red to red and green to green, perfect safety, go between'?) and who was so seasick that when everybody else was frightened the ship would sink, he was frightened it wouldn't. It was part of my life story that my host obviously did not know about.
That second vision settled it. I decided that for all the money in the world I would not serve in a Navy that would have me as an admiral. I packed away the vision of the telescope, the admiral's uniform and the scrambled-egg cap, muttered something about preferring to stay on dry land, thanked my host for the lunch and vanished into the sleaze of Eighth Ave., never to become an admiral.