CAPT David Hamer DSC RAN
Age' Wednesday 16 January, reported David Hamer's death.
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
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
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)