Gentlemen Cordite, Lieutenant Commander Warwick
edited by Nicholas Bracegirdle
The Letter - From CPO Cooper to Nicolas Bracegirdle
23 FEBRUARY 1994
Lt. Cdr. N. Bracegirdle
Would you please excuse mistakes and typing errors. It is the Typewriter and not me.!!!
When Lt. Cdr. Vic Jeffreys, who is the Public Relations Officer at H.M.A.S. Stirling, our Western Australian Naval Base, which is only about three kilometres from where I live, told me that you wanted to get in touch - I was highly delighted. I have never met Vic but the pleasure is to come.
Your very newsy letter told me many things which I had no way of knowing, especially of your Dad's funeral. There is no need to tell you how well liked and respected he was by all who knew him, let alone us old Shipmates of "Shropshire". I also note with great pleasure that the personality of your Dad has been passed on to Nicolas, who has gone to all the trouble to contact his Dad's old Shipmates.
It is a little cumbersome to type with one finger when one has so much to say. I could go on for hours relating events and experiences which came my and our - your Dad's - way.
Our careers in the Service dovetailed several times, me as a lowerdeck man and Braces as an Officer. First on H.M.A.S. Stuart. I was an Acting Leading Seaman - I had been the Coxswain of the Admiral's Barge on the Flagship HMAS Canberra when I came up for confirmation. It was a brand new Divisional Officer who told the Captain that he didn't know me enough to recommend me. I was stood over, much to my embarrassment - and drafted to the Stuart. In due course I came up for Confirmation. Captain Lilly looked at me sternly when his Secretary, a young Sub. Lt. Bracegirdle spoke up and gave me the highest recommendation and praise. I was confirmed as Leading Seaman. I reminded Braces of this in a letter written to him a couple of years ago but I think he had forgotten.
I am only relating this in passing as I vowed that if ever it was in my power to return that favour, I would do so.
I did just that while serving on H.M.A.S. Shropshire as his Chief Gunners Mate. In that long letter which I wrote to him, I didn't' say why, but I outlined what was done. If the letter is still among his records it is worth reading.
Then I posted a Publication which I had especially copied called "By Skill and Valour". It detailed the names and Citations of all those who were decorated in World War I and II. Braces' name and story were prominent. It wasn't a book to be destroyed. I also enclosed a book which I had written and had published called "The Mystery of Santa Cruz Island". In his latter years he never acknowledged receipt of it but it must have arrived as I addressed it well.
In my 23 years of service in the R.A.N. I served in many theatres of action. In 1934-5, during the Abyssinian Crisis, when the League of Nations applied sanctions against Italy, we on H.M.A.S. Australia were part of the blockading fleet based at Alexandria. After 18 months it fizzled out and we went home. I was a young P.O. Gunlayer and was sent to Flinders Naval Base for a 12 months course as Gunner's Mate.
Upon qualifying I was drafted to H.M.A.S. Voyager of the "Scrap Iron" flotilla where I remained for 3 years. When war broke out in 1939 we were dispatched to the Med. immediately, and stayed for over 2 years. We knew the Med. from one end to the other. Based at Malta until Italy came in, then Alex., with the Easter Med. Fleet. We would return from a convoy and then out with the fleet and were in every action right up to Alemain when we broke down with engine trouble inside Tobruk during the siege. Braces was the Gunnery Officer of H.M.A.S. Perth and would have had some torrid tales to tell when the Jerries came into the Middle East.
Upon returning, or I should I say limping back, to Australia we were all given a few weeks leave and I was drafted to F.N.D. Here I was back at Instructional Duties, classes of Junior Reserve Officers, WRANS, old sea Captains, etc. My bosses were Lt. Cdr. (G) Roberts and Lt. (G). Bracegirdle
In Alexandria cameras and films were cheap and I had bought an 8mm movie camera and projector and taken shots of everything which were tangled up in. The Censor grabbed the best, but what I had left was interesting.
At Flinders your Mum and Dad lived in a house on the grounds. One day your Dad asked me would I mind giving them a Show at the house that night. Here I was introduced to your Mother, the children were put to bed, and the show went on. I understand that your Mum had been a champion fencer.
The time passed on and the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour and we had another enemy. Things looked bad for us and they were especially when, among other things, we lost H.M.A.S. Canberra.
A month or so later while I had a class at Instructions a messenger interrupted and told me that I was wanted at the Gunnery Office. Wondering what it was about I went to the Office and was called in. The two Gunnery Officers were present and looked at me sharply, then Lt. Bracegirdle spoke up:
"Since the loss of 'Canberra' the British Admiralty have given us an equivalent class Cruiser in England. I am going to her as "Guns", and I would like you to come with me and be my Chief Gunner's Mate. What do you say to that?"
Without hesitation I said: "Yes Sir".
I seem to be writing my autobiography but it seems to run parallel to your Dad's.
It seemed that key personnel were gathered together and our Draft notes came out. We were sent to Sydney and joined a large American Transport Troop Carrier called U.S.S. Washington, a converted luxury vessel and having put to sea it seemed no time when we were passing under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, America. Across America by Pullman train to Brooklyn. After a week we joined a British Troop Carrier "Materoa" and alongside the dock next to us was the luxury French vessel "Normandy" lying on her side, a wreck. We got across the Atlantic in a convoy to arrive at Bristol in England. Then by train to Chatham Naval Barracks late that night.
A few days later HMS. Shropshire came in and was dry docked. A week or so later she was christened HMAS.
Our Captain Collins sent for me one day and asked me what the Ship's Company thought of a name change for the vessel, so it stayed H.M.A.S. Shropshire. Ten months later, when the Admiralty had us fitted with all the latest technology available and despite Lord Haw Haw, we proceeded up the English Channel to Scapa Flow. Six weeks of trials of every sort and we deemed ourselves to be the most efficient fighting ship that there ever was.
At Greenock they replaced some gun barrels and we were on our way. Capetown, Durban (where they loaded us up with an abundance of fresh food), then Fremantle, Sydney for two weeks getting all war supplies, etc., and we were off to join the Australian Squadron at Milne Bay in New Guinea. From there on, we became part of the American 7th Fleet.
The Yanks seemed to look upon us as mugs for a while until we did a practice 8" firing and then, later on at Leyte in the Philippines when the Jap Kamikaze where knocking off ships all around us, the Yanks suddenly found out that the good old Shropshire was reporting 92% of approaching air raids.
One such suicide plane crashed into the sea alongside us missing the bridge by a mere 18 inches. Had it hit - you would have been minus one Dad. Another one came down at us right out of the blue, one quiet afternoon, somehow got through the radar screen. The Gun Captain on our Multiple Pom Pom was right on the ball and spotted him coming and opened fire, blowing him to pieces in mid air. That was Leading. Seaman Roy Cazali and he won the DSM for his bravery.
Well Nicolas, I am going to knock off the War talk. I have just been talking to our President of the Canberra Shropshire Association W.A. Branch and when you and Mrs. Nichols come to Australia in October for the celebrations etc., a group of West Aussies will make themselves known to you all. Our President is Mr. Keith Nordahl of No. 66 Todd Avenue, Como. W.A. 6152. He has a son who is a Pay Lt. Cdr. in the R.A. N. and will make himself known to you and Mrs. Nicols at Canberra.
Incidentally, I met Mrs. Nichols at Hobart during the bi-annual reunion about ten or so years ago when Captain Nichols and his wife were invited out. Mrs. Nichols approached me with a pad and biro and explained that Lt. Cdr. Bracegirdle could not attend but would I write him a few lines on the pad. This I did, saying how I wish he had been present, and a lot more. Our President on the phone said that he thought that you had a brother living in Sydney?
I remember well when Shropshire arrived in Sydney, the Governor General came on board with his Staff Officer, a Captain Bracegirdle. That would be your grandfather, would it not?
Well Nicolas, I had better finish off this garbled letter. Thank you so much for writing to me - your letter will be passed around to all the boys to be read with interest, as were your Dad's letters. (This da-- typewriter - wants putting in the Rattle for disobedience!)
I wish that I were 50 years younger, there is a terrific amount of adventuring yet to be done in the world and I find that the spirit is willing but the body week. I should have talked this letter on to a tape, I could have said a lot more. I may sound a little discontented with my lot but I am not, I still have my sense of humour!
I hope that you are able to come to W. A. as I would like to meet you and have you share our hospitality. I see that you are surrounded by a bevy of beauties in Caroline, Belinda and Isobel. You will never be lonely.
So I will conclude. Will you please give my kindest regards to Mrs. Nichols, Nicolas. When I met her in Hobart, those years ago, I told her that she had a likeness to that dear old lady actress, Dame Margaret Rutherford, and she thanked me for the compliment.
Thank you again, Nicolas, for writing to me.
All the best to yourself and family,
From yours sincerely,
ARTHUR COOPER, J.P.