came out in 1788 and in Tasmania if you were descended of convicts you weren’t looked upon very happily. As a matter of fact my forebear was supposed to be a sergeant in the Queen’s 77th Foot Regiment and there was never a Sergeant Saltmarsh and never was a 77th . Anyway my father worked on the land and I went
to school at a place called Cressy. We lived in Epping Forest in those days and I went to school at Cressy because I couldn’t get to the school at Epping because I was about 4 ½ miles from home and I was only six years of age so I lived with my grandmother went to school at Cressy. And then when Granny died in 1928 I went back to
to Epping Forest School. And I’d always wanted to join the navy, so I worked around as a farm hand for some years in 1938 I tried to join the navy but Tasmania was on a roster or not a roster but a quote system to join the navy, the permanent navy that is. So I didn’t make it in 1938 but then I tried again in 1939
and got through and one of my reasons for wanting to join the navy was because I had an uncle in the navy and he was chief physical training instructor and he used to come over to Tassie [Tasmania] on leave with his medals and his braid and all the rest of it and I thought it would be a good thing if I join the navy. So on the seventh of August 1939 that’s what I did
and being a Tasmanian and living in the north, we came over to Melbourne to do our medical. But if you lived in the southern part of Tassie, you did your medical in Hobart, and that’s something I never quite understood and once you came over here of course, you stayed for a fortnight, used to come over by ship of course. You stayed a fortnight, so you had a fortnight’s holiday if you wanted, then go back. And a friend of mine who tried to join the navy couldn’t pass his medical,
he did that. And we were working together on a farm. And from there of course I went down to Flinders Naval Depot and did my initial training as a seaman in gunnery and torpedo and parade ground stuff, and then in early 1940 I got appendicitis,
so went to hospital and I didn’t go to sea until May 1940. And in May 1940 I joined the [HMAS] Canberra and we sailed off and one of my first ports of call, foreign ports of call was Capetown and that was a magnificent sight, going in the early morning with a flat, dead flat sea and the Cable Mountain in the background. And you know, its
a memory that stayed with me or a view that stayed with me all my life. A about three years ago, Vera and I went back just to have a look, and it’s nothing like…the mountain is still there of course, but the foreshore was quite different to what was in 1940.
from Cape Town and one of the things that struck me, they had the prisoners all working. And they all had red shirts on and they were all working around, and the guards were standing there with assagais, you know the short spears that the Africans have. But Durban was a nice very too but Capetown was well, it was different of course.
One of the few places, well, it was the first navy places that I’d been to with a lot of coloured people, and the whites weren’t terribly popular in some places there, but was still a nice place to be. So from there on the Canberra we went around the South Atlantic and the German
pocket battleship, the Admiral Scheer, was in the locality and well I for one, was hoping we didn’t meet her because she had 11 inch guns and we only had 8 inch guns, so I thought we would be tremendously out gunned, not get very close at all, if we got away at all. So I stayed on the Canberra until
October 1941 and then I went, I was drafted to [HMAS] Vampire. And Vampire had come out of the Mediterranean and was doing a refit in Singapore. And you might recall, they were called the Scrap Islands tour, VNW destroyers and the steward. And we did our working out trials
and we took General Percival up to Borneo, it was called British North Borneo in those days and the White Raja was the man. Anyway we took General Percival up there because there was signs that the Japanese were getting a bit excited and likely to, you know, come down that part of the world and we brought him back and then
we did ordinary working out trials and so on around the area. And I do recall while we were doing that, we had, we used to call them the Panatrope System a broadcast system on the ship and because we were not getting into port at all, they started playing ‘If I Had the Wings of An Angel
‘Over these prison walls I’d fly.’ And they played it over and over and over again and the first lieutenant said, “That’s enough of that, you can’t play that.” So the smarties thought, we’ll play the American national anthem, which they did and then he said, “Well that’s fair enough, but if you’re going to play the American National Anthem then you’ll have to stand to attention while it was being played.” So that finished that episode.
to bolster the forces there and unfortunately the Indomitable ran aground in the West Indies and had to go to America to be fixed and they arrived in the battleships and destroyers arrived in Singapore on the eighth of December and we went out, there was supposed to be some Japanese landing
so it went out to look for them and we were hoping that we would have cloud cover so that we could get in close to them. They were supposed to be landing at a place called Kota Baru, which is on the east coast of Malaysia. And we went looking as I said and couldn’t find them. And in fact they were landing much further downstream or down the coast as I should say.
And then on the 10th December, whilst we were still at sea, looking around, an aircraft was… or an aircraft cited us, so our open being undiscovered was blown and they reported obviously that we were there and the Japanese
aircraft torpedo bombers from land base, from the 22nd Squadron I think it was Japanese, came out and attacked the two big ships. But before the torpedo bombers attacked, there was a high-level bombing run and they dropped some bombs, and one of them, or maybe more than one, hit the [HMS] Repulse. It didn’t do much damage to her
as far as sinking was concerned but then the torpedo bombers came in and they came in from all angles and they used to come in to about 4-500 yards and drop their bombs and their torpedoes. And it was a bit of a thrill to be an escort destroyer alongside the two battleships and to see the torpedoes passing underneath you, because we only drew, our depth in the water was only
11feet 8 inches, whereas the battleships were 21 and 26 feet. So they would be set to their depths but still gave a bit of thrill, particularly at night and in tropical waters when the dolphins would come to the ships. You know they were attracted to ships and they would be coming to you in a straight line and you’d say well let’s hope they are dolphins and not torpedoes from a submarine. Yes so…
we picked up survivors. Our ship the crew picked up 225. Our fellows were diving into the water, we had one of our boats down and our boys were diving into the waters and picking them up. And there was some painful wounds in the seamen and of course one of the things about it was,
you didn’t know whether they were dead or not until you pulled them out, and of course if they were dead, well then we left them there, because you had to pick up the fellows that were still living. And one of the big problems there was fuel oil, you know, it floats on top of the water and it was quite thick. And it was bad for the survivors who was splashing around in the water. It was also pretty tough on our boys who were trying to pick them up
And we brought them on board of course, laid them out on the deck, took them into our mess decks. Some of them very badly burnt from super-heated steam which they had to drive the engines and the skin would just be hanging from them and I remember in our mess decks and sitting on our lockers, they were saturated
with fluid from the burns and so on and from the oil fuel. It was quite a messy business actually. So we took them back into Singapore. Actually there was 850 sailors lost in that engagement, between those two battleships. And we took them back into Singapore and some of them were sent up to, given a rifle, a 303
and a few rounds of ammunition and sent up to the peninsula to fight the Japanese. And one person I know in particular was Stoko[?] and he was given the job of driving the train, which he could do of course. So we stayed around for a while and then in January, the 26th of January… actually the 25th January, there was a report
that some Japanese were landing in at place called Endau Bay on the east coast of Malaysia [actually Malaya] down nearer to Singapore and we took off with another destroyer the [HMS] Thanet in company and we went into look at Endau see what was going on there and when we got there, there was a Japanese cruiser and 6 destroyers and
some troop ships and it was rather a hot reception that we got because we fired our torpedoes at one of the destroyers but we were too close, so that just went underneath. And the Thanet also fired some torpedoes and the same situation because you know they’d only been about 50-100 yards away from us and by the time the torpedo hit the water,
it wouldn’t have had time to adjust itself to its right running depth. So, much gunfire took place on our behalf on an on the cruisers behalf and we.. at one stage we were steaming along and there was three of us inline, there was the Vampire, the Japanese destroyer and the Thanet behind it. And the Japanese destroyer was signalling to us and I remember our yeoman signaller asked the captain,
“What do we do?” because he just said they were signalling and the captain said, “Answer.” So he made the ordinary answer sign which is just the letter ‘T’ on a light, the Jap just pulled out and started firing and then the poor old Thanet disappeared. And we dropped the smoke float to distract the Japanese and to give us a bit of protection to get away
and we did and of course, there was no way that we could go back and look for survivors of the Thanet for a start it was dark, and also, had we with the volume of Japanese warships in there, wouldn’t have made it either. So we scampered back to Singapore. And then after that we did just ordinary patrol work, convoy patrol work and escorts and so on, and of course you know
on the 15th February the Japanese actually took over Singapore. We weren’t there at that time, we were on our way to Columbo. And I remember it well because my birthday was on the 14th of February and Singapore fell on the day afterwards but we were out of the place by them and on our way to Colombo
And one of the ships that was with us, the [HMS] Prince of Wales, was a destroyer called [HMS] Tenedos, the British destroyer and she was also at a Colombo and she was sunk there along the wharf, but not when we were there sometime after. Anyway from there on we went around to Trincomalee
and there was an aircraft carrier there, the Hermes, HMAS Hermes and we were to bring her back to Australia. So on the 8th April, we set off for Australia and then we got reports that there were Japanese in the area and we came back into Trincomalee
and then on the 9th , now I may be wrong there, might be one day after, we were in company with the Hermes, acting as escort destroyer when Japanese dive bombers appeared and they actually ignored us for a time and they concentrated on the Hermes and she went down and I believe they lost 206
of her crew in that effort. And when the Hermes was down, they thought, ‘Well we’ll better had a bit of a go at the small destroyer.” so they started bombing us. And they used to get up in the sun, so when you looked up there you are looking directly at the sun and you couldn’t see dive bombers until they were too darn close and you could actually see the bomb when they released it, you’d see this little black ball coming down towards you.
Anyway we got a few hits and we had to abandon ship. And I remember, my action station was on the bridge and I was the director operator on the bridge and the story, well not the story, the theory is that when you’re on a ship and when you have to abandon ship, then you go down the high-side
and you don’t dive, you walk down into the water and you see the reason for that is so that you don’t get debris and all that sort of stuff falling all over you and damaging you and also, you’re away from the suction of the ship when it is sinking. And the order to abandon ship was given and I took off and I dived and then halfway down I thought, “I shouldn’t be doing this.” so I tried to straighten up you see
and I hit the water at rather unusual angle. Anyway I managed to carry on and we all had to wear life belts. Whenever actions stations were sounded we had to wear our life belt, not inflated but we had to have it with you. And I had one with me, but it wasn’t mine it was somebody else’s, and it had been left out in the tropics, to my knowledge for three months or so
and so of course it was perished. So I didn’t have a life belt. So when I met my mate in the water, we decided to sit on an oar and it would just balance the two of us to about here and we got sick of that afterwards because it was a bit restrictive, so we decided to swim. And in the swimming bit, I took off my shoes and socks, took off my overalls because it’s all so much more comfortable, the water was
warm of course, being in the Bay of Bengal, took off my shoes and socks and my overalls and was swimming around my underpants and singlet. But my friend and I were running what was called a sewing firm and that is we did the sewing. See we had a sewing machine and I remember we had a profit of 25 pounds each, which we took with us, and I put my wallet down the top of my singlet you see
and after being in the water a few hours the elastic in my underpants decided to give up the ghost, so I lost my underpants and I lost my wallet, but I didn’t realise it actually until there was a hospital ship, the Vita, came around and she lowered boats to pick up the Hermes’ survivors and she also picked up our survivors. And when I got to the boat to climb into the boat
that come down to pick us up, I realised I didn’t have my wallet and I didn’t have my underpants, so it didn’t matter because there was a bloke in the boat and he said, “Right-o mate, grab the oar.” so I had to start rowing and start helping him row the boat. And when we got to the hospital ship there was nurses on the gangway and one handed out a cup of chocolate, hot chocolate and the other one handed
out a packet of cigarettes, Blue Capstan cigarettes with the Red Cross emblazoned on the back you know. What about today, you wouldn’t get that today would you? And somebody said you know, “Weren’t you embarrassed about having no pants on?” and I said, “Nothing to see anyway after 6 hours in the water.” Yes, but one thing climbing into the boat after being in the water for some hours, a steeled hull boat,
the skin pulled off your knees as you rubbed up against them. Anyway from there we went into Colombo, we arrived there at about midnight, got some shorts and a shirt and a cap of course, so you could do your saluting bit, a hammock, a blanket and we went up to a rest camp called Betaloa,
on the opposite side to Kandy in Sri Lanka as it is now, and we stayed there for 16 days and we came back to Colombo and stayed for a few days at a place called St Joseph Barracks, which was actually a school and then got onto the Dominion Monarch and came home. And we arrived outside Sydney Harbour the night
that the Japanese midget subs were attacking and of course we wondered why we couldn’t go in, they wouldn’t let us into the harbour. We were, you know, sailing up and down outside in the ocean and when we got in next morning of course, we knew why. The [HMAS] Kuttabul had been sunk by a sub torpedo so then were off-loaded and sent home. My home port was Hobart of course
and I went down to Hobart and I got 28 days leave, survivors’ leave, and when I was in Sydney in Balmoral, HMAS Balmoral, the paymaster called me up and gave me 25 pounds from the King George’s Fund for ship-wrecked sailors and he gave me the money, and gave me a little prompt of what I should
do with it, “Don’t spend it rashly son, put it in the bank.” Of course 5 pounds in those days which is only $10 today, but it was a week’s wages of course, so I got five weeks wages. And then I went on to after I finished….while I was down in Hobart, I had to go on submarine
patrol duty and it used to fascinate me because it was on an ordinary launch and we used to go down the Iron Pot at night and I had a .303 and five rounds of ammunition and I often wondered what would happen if a submarine surfaced, what would I be doing about it, you know.
I stayed down there for a few days and then I was drafted to the [HMAS] Deloraine and it I stayed on the Deloraine for about three months and then I was drafted to the [HMAS] Swan. And I stayed on the Swan for a while
and I was on the Swan that the war artist came on board and did the painting and there was a bit of a story about that. We were asked to close up the gun in full battle dress, you know, that was with our tin hats on, anti-flash gear and our overalls and anti-flash gloves on and of course I was the only one that didn’t have boots on
and I should have because I was captain of the gun. And it was all very fine until the captain saw it and then he called for me and said, “Why aren’t you properly dressed, everybody else has got boots on, but you haven’t?” And I would have thought the miserable artist would have painted me with a pairs of boots on, but he didn’t. So I got a bit of a reprimand for that for not being properly dressed. Anyway I
stayed on the Swan for a few months. I had a bit of time on [HMAS] Brisbane while she was up there doing some repairs and from the Brisbane I went to the [HMAS] Norman and that was in April 1944 and I joined the Norman. And then we took part in the campaign in Burma. We were also out here
in the Pacific up towards Japan and around the islands up there. And also we were we went back down to South Africa to Durban again. Then after the war finished in August ’45,
I came back to the depot down at Cerberus to gunnery instructors’ course or gunner’s mates’ course as it was called in those days, and that was a 15 month course. Then I stayed in depot as a staff instructor and I was on the parade ground one-day and I collapsed and I had pneumonia and I went into hospital
then I’d developed TB [tuberculosis], so I stayed in the navy bit longer and then ultimately I was discharged from the navy in April ’51, physically unfit for able service. So then I came out of the navy and then… what do you do as a job? They didn’t want professional murderers or
professional killers, so that wasn’t on, so a friend of mine was actually working for the navy department in the naval stores and he spoke to the deputy director there and I went along for interview and he said, “Yes, that’s true, I can come on.” and I remember very well, he said to me, “Now Mr. Saltmarsh, you were a chief petty officer in the navy
and you’re coming here into the public service so you have to start at the bottom of the promotions scale.” and he said, and if I were to join the navy I would have to start as an ordinary seaman. And I wondered about that, being the deputy director of naval stores if he went into the navy whether he would start off as an ordinary seaman. I doubt it very much, anyway. Because I had TB, I couldn’t become a permanent public servant,
I had to wait for 4 years and 10 months and that was a bit sad because you know, all the fellas my age were getting on and going up the ladder and so on. So I hung around until the time elapsed and then I was promoted and one day I was… Thursday you know is a great day for public servants. You a public servant?
when I was only a little fellow, that sailors could do anything, you know. They could do black-smithing, they could do boat building and splice ropes and all this sort of thing, you know, they could swim. I must tell you about my swimming experiences. In my day anyway we had to do a swimming test call, the PTT, pass provisional test, and that’s the way
it’s entered on your records and we had to do it with a duck canvas duck uniform on. We didn’t have to wear boots or shoes or a cap, but you had to swim the 60 yard pool that we had down at the depot. And you had to float or tread water for two minutes you see. And in the navy, when you were a recruit, you always got very good advice from those blokes
that had been in about two weeks longer than you had. Anyway I had to go down and do my provisional test and one of my close buddies said to me, “Now when you get down there, tuck the top of your jacket into your pants.” because those jackets had a big ‘V’ neck on them, “Into the top of your pants, and when they say jump in the water, don’t jump, dive in, because if you dive in then you are on your way,
part of your way to swimming your 60 yards.” So I thought that was pretty good advice. But what I didn’t realise that when I dived in the top of my jumper filled up with water and here I am, spluttering and struggling to get out, to get going on swimming. And my uncle, the chief PTI, standing on the bank and here is me, with the name of Saltmarsh disgracing the family name, spluttering around, so he said to his PTI [Physical Training Instructor],
“Pull him out.” So they pulled me out and he said to me, “Right, for the next fortnight, at a quarter past four every day, you will be here to do swimming training.” so that’s what I did.
that all the port holes and scuttles are closed and all this sort of thing. So I did that, I got the storeman up from his mess and made him undo the stores so that he could see that all the scuttles were properly closed and then I went up to the bridge and reported it ready for sea, ship ready for sea, secured and ready for sea. And out we went, past the Heads at
Sydney Harbour and there was the southerly bluster blowing and the coxswain’s office was on the starboard side, on the right-hand side and we went up and we were going up north up to Brisbane, and the southerly bluster was coming up. What I hadn't done, I hadn't checked the port holes or the scuttles rather in the coxswain’s mess. And in those days our report books, captain’s report books,
first lieutenant’s reports, vittling’s books, were all done with indelible pencil. And when the sea water came in through the scuttle and it splashed all over the books and the captain held his reports, held his reports on…yeah.. Thursdays, that’s right, and the coxswain of course
told me I wasn’t a very bright spark but he didn’t do anything officially. And of course when he presented the captain’s report and request book you know, nice and smudged with the indelible pens all over it, the captain said, “How did that happen?” So he told him what happened, so then I was called for, down to see,
well brought up. They had a table, the master of arms or the coxswain would stand behind the commander or the captain or whoever, they called you by name and then read out the charges see. So I was charged with neglect in that I didn’t close the scuttles. And I thought, “Well this is it, I’m going to get a big wallop for this.” and the captain said, you know, told me I was a bit of an idiot and all the rest of it and said, “I will award you
number 19 punishment.” And I thought, ”Hell, what ‘s that?” And what it was, number19 was an entry on my record that I’d been awarded number19 punishment, not why I’d been but just that I been awarded 19 punishment. And you know where ever I went after that, when they looked at my report they’d see I had number 19 and they’d all say to me, “Why was that,
why did you get that?” because it was an unusual punishment and there was really no punishment at all except you had to tell why it happened.
they sailed, they sailed from Cape Town to Colombo from Colombo to Singapore and they arrived there on the 8th December. Anyway we went up the coast looking for a landing at Kota Baru
and as it turned out there wasn’t a landing at Kota Baru but actually further down the coast at Quonton, which was where the Japanese were supposed to be, and the admiral in charge of the Force Z as it was called, was Sir Tom Phillips, and he hoped to go up the coast to meet this supposed landing at Quonton
and do it under cover of darkness or we often had cloud or fog in that part of the world, for some reason I don’t know, but often you had flog around that close to the coastline. And he hoped to go up there and to surprise the Japanese but as I said earlier along, a couple of Japanese planes were sighted and they blew our cover.
And the next thing we knew, was about 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock in the morning, 11.20 actually, the Japanese high-level bombers went over and they dropped a stick of bombs on the Repulse and didn’t do much damage. It actually hit through the aircraft hanger. Of course, those battleships, as the Canberra did, always carried the aeroplane
for reconnaissance purposes. And then after that we saw aircraft low down on the horizon as I said they came in to attack and they hit the Repulse and they hit the Prince of Wales.
The Repulse was the first one to go and she got about seven torpedo hits. She got one early in the action towards the stern which made her not too manoeuvrable and then of course they then came into the Prince of Wales. And 85
aircraft took part in that attack. And some one said 34 in the high-level attacks. We had more than one level high-level attack and had a second high-level attack and there was what… 54 , 50-odd torpedo bombers and they came in from all angles, and they came in low down
and that’s the only reason that we could get a shot at them because on the Vampire, our gun had a limit elevation angle of about 45 degrees, it wasn’t much but the torpedo bombers coming in at our level almost, we could get a few shots it.
that’s the best we could do. And quite often we were at high-speed and we were taking evasive action. Our navigator, Beau Cartwright, was an experienced navigator. He had been in the Mediterranean area, so he knew what dive bombs and things were about. And of course the engine room people were working overtime and so are the
helmsmen and the telegraph men, because we not only did we go at full speed, we also changed speed and course quite often. But a bomb dropped behind the bridge where we had our vegetable locker and I can see the ASDIC officer picking up the onions and stuffing them down his shirt
you know and wondering why the hell he wanted those for but at least he had something to eat. And they wouldn’t have complained about his bad breath I wouldn’t think. But we were going around in a circle trying to you know, provide an evasive target, and after we were hit just behind the bridge
and also a bomb went through one of our boats and the captain gave the order to abandon ship. And when that came then we were preparing to jump over the side. The freeboard, the distance of the main deck of the Vampire would have been about 10 feet from the water, but I was up on the bridge and that would’ve
been 25 feet above the water I suppose. And as I said earlier when the order to abandon ship was given, I dived over the side instead of jumping over the side and halfway down I knew what I should have done. And then you know all the crew were then getting off the ship and I could see, knew one fellow
who was just stuck to his site and just couldn’t jump over the side, someone gave him a little push. And the crew we lost were all engine room crew plus a signalman. And the signalman had come to us through one of the British ships and he wasn’t really our crew, but he joined us. And then you know, we’re in the water and as I said, my mate and I was sitting an oar.
The first lieutenant had our football, Australian Rules football which he shoved under his jumper, or shirt I should say, and he used that to float around. And I believe that ball actually got back to Australia. But whilst we were in the water and the ship broke in half, and then there was an explosion, which we think was the boiler room or it might have been, I don’t know, it could have been
a depth charge, probably, but they would have been set safe so they wouldn’t have gone off, so it would have been the boiler room. So when then explosion took place we were in the water, it gives your tummy a bit of a tingle up because, you know, you get a concussion in the water. And as I say, the hospital ship picked up the crew from the
Hermes, survivors from the Hermes and then she came along to pick us up. But before that, before the ship came to us, we could see the shore, could see the palm trees fluttering around on the shoreline, and a few of us decided we would swim to shore. It didn’t seem to be too far and were we all pretty good swimmers because we used to swim a lot in the tropics and the ship would be in anchor the harbour and we would swim. Anyway we decided to swim to shore, but we were
swimming and swimming and nothing happened and actually we were in a tide-set. We went in and then we were coming out with it and that’s when the hospital ship arrived on the scene to pick us up.