We wanted to have a crack at the Ja­panese


The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OUR ANZAC LEGENDS SPECIAL TRIBUTE -

Navy coder

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.

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