CAPT David Hamer DSC RAN

The Age' Wednesday 16 January, reported David Hamer's death.
James Cunningham, records David's wartime service as a gunnery officer onboard ships in the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, and in particular his service in the cruiser, HMAS Australia, where, following the battle of Lingeyen Gulf in January 1945, he was one of four officers of that ship awarded a DSC. Cunningham referred specifically to the action in which Hamer was awarded his decoration.
He wrote: 'he stood up in a gun turret behind the bridge and broadcast to the ship's crew the approach and attacks by the kamikaze pilots, with all hell literally breaking out around him.' No so generally well-known, but Hamer's action was probably the only occasion in the Pacific war where anyone in the RAN actually came close to being recommended for a VC. In a letter, dated 9 Feb. 1945, to the Naval Liaison Officer in London, CAPT J. Foley, RAN, the assistant to the Second Naval Member, CAPT C. A. Parker, wrote:
'I should not be surprised to see some really hot recommendations come in as a result of the last (Lingayen Gulf) action. Young Hamer showed up particularly well. One of my informants - who possibly is quite ill-informed (he was!! JB) - told me that Hamer is being recommended for a VC!'
** Hamer's full citation read:
'For outstanding efficiency, coolness and courage during the whole period of the operation. His handling of the AA lookouts and constant instructions to the AA gun positions through the Action Broadcast System over a period of 7 to 9 days was exemplary. 'His orders and instructions were given calmly and clearly and did a great deal to give confidence to the AA guns' crews. His team of lookouts were well-trained and made many visual sightings of enemy aircraft when radar had missed them. 'On one occasion when it appeared certain that a suicide plane would hit the Air Defence Position, he maintained his place and carried on directing the ship's AA fire calmly and without flinching. The wing of the plane passed within some 15 ft of his head.'
Hamer's conduct merited a personal endorsement from the Commodore Commanding Australian Squadron, Commodore Harold Farncomb, RAN. He had written:
'I personally observed this officer throughout the operation and entirely subscribe to the above. His conduct was outstanding in every way.'
In WWII, all gallantry recommendations for RAN personnel were forwarded to the Admiralty for final assessment. As part of this process, Clause 3 of a February 1942, Commonwealth Naval Order, CNO43/42, covering administrative procedures for gallantry honours and awards, was issued specifying that 'the nature of the award is not to be suggested' by RAN COs.
Thus, it was most surprising to find that RN COs had been - since at least early 1941 - authorised to specify whether their recommendations were for decorations, or the lowest category award, the Mention in Despatches (MID). Thanks to CNO43/42, it took three years before RAN COs were given a similar authority to suggest whether the gallantry was worthy of a decoration or MID, the battle of Lingayen Gulf marking the first occasion where RAN administrative procedures for gallantry honours and awards fell into line with those on RN ships. Quite why no one had bothered to query the existence of this anomaly throughout this period has never been satisfactorily explained, nor is it ever likely to be.
For Hamer to have had any chance of being recommended for a VC would have required the cooperation of three men, his CO, CAPT. John Armstrong, RAN, Farncomb and the administrative Head of the Navy, the First Naval Member, Admiral Sir Guy Royle, RN. Based on what Armstrong had written for Hamer's citation, he had clearly set the ball rolling for Hamer's decoration. If he were aware of Farncomb's endorsement, he might have felt sufficiently encouraged to have whispered in Farncomb's ear, suggesting that here, there was scope for a potential VC award. The next stage would have entailed Farncomb proposing to Royle that, by dint of his Flag Officer rank, he (Royle) might consider the possibility of making a VC recommendation to the Admiralty on Hamer's behalf. Well, we certainly know that Farncomb endorsed Hamer's conduct but whether he, in turn, discussed the possibility of a VC recommendation with Royle is not known. And, except for the mention of the rumour contained in Parker's letter, that is as much as we are ever likely to know.
Throughout the time of his secondment to the RAN, Royle was seemingly reluctant to go into bat on anyone's behalf over the issue of a VC - whether it be Robert Rankin, Teddy Sheean, Hec Waller or John Band. Royle's reluctance was probably the major reason why no one serving in the RAN in the SWPA was ever recommended for a VC, let alone received one.
As far as being able to pursue this matter any further is concerned, Royle's family claimed in 1980 that they knew of none of his papers surviving. None have ever been traced.
In the event, Hamer received a third-category DSC award. In line with the Admiralty's policy of recognising good conduct, skill and leadership by ship COs when engaged in successful operations, Armstrong received a second-category, DSO award.
But as a junior officer, if Hamer was destined not to get a VC, he was decidedly unlucky not to be granted an award similar to Armstrong's.
** I am indebted to CAPT James Goldrick, RAN, for making Parker's correspondence known to me. (John Bradford)

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