We wanted to have a crack at the Japanese
MORRIS WILCOXSON, 93
Morris Wilcoxson never expected to survive World War II. “It wasn’t that I was brave, it was just that I didn’t have the common sense to be scared,” he said. “I think everyone at that stage felt the Japanese were coming and it looked awfully formidable and all of us wanted to have a crack to stop them.”
He worked in the ship’s radio office, encoding and decoding allied messages. At one stage, there were 212 people on the HMAS Quiberon, a destroyer smaller than a Manly ferry.
“One room would accommodate 30 men,” he said.
“We all smoked, so the atmosphere was putrid. I slept on a stool. In the tropics, you’re so hot, your skin would stick to the wall. It was too hot to use your
hammocks; some people slept on the table, some on the deck.”
Mr Wilcoxson has two memories of naval life — the camaraderie and the tension, which are both inevitable when hundreds of men under enormous pressure share a tiny space for months.
“The camaraderie was fabulous,” he remembered.
“But I have no idea what we talked about now. At different times you’d be tense. Not because there was action — I always found that stimulating — but because you had threeeighths of an inch of steel between you and eternity. At night, when it was quiet, you’d hear the water swishing by.
“Only once did I wonder if there were any torpedoes or mines out there, but I got that out of my mind pretty quickly.
“I have seen people go off their nut and it’s not good — and it’s very contagious.
“If you dropped a teacup or over-stirred something, you’d shock everyone — really irritate them.”
But the friendships were just as intense and celebrated with vigour when, once every two months or so, the ship would dock and the sailors would race to the closest watering hole.
The friendships remained after the war. For decades, Mr Wilcoxson would meet up with 20-odd navy veterans. Each year, that number has thinned. Now there are only two of them left. “It is lonely, but you either give into these things or you don’t, and I don’t,” he said.
RAN destroyer HMAS Quiberon. World War II na vy veteran and Morris Wilcoxson (above far left). Picture: Tim Hunter.