PA3260 Stoker Peter John DONALDSON
Peter John DONALDSON was born on 18 September 1924 at Edwardstown, S.A., the eldest of two children of John Stuart DONALDSON and Isabella DONALDSON (nee Macdonald). He was educated at Black Forest Primary School and Thebarton Boys’ Technical School. Leaving school at the age of 13, Peter commenced employment in 1938 with E.S. Wigg & Sons as an apprentice compositor.
Peter enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve soon after reaching 18 years of age and commenced his naval service at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria, on 20 October 1942. At Cerberus, he completed both his recruit and stoker training and was one of four of his Stoker II intake to complete the Engineer’s Office Course, qualifying him as an Engineer’s Writer (clerk).
In June 1943, Peter was sent by rail to Perth to join the Bathurst Class Minesweeper HMAS Dubbo. This Sydney-built Corvette was commissioned on 31 July 1942 and had a wartime crew of 100. She was one of the escort and anti-submarine vessels based at Fremantle. Long periods at sea could be dull, and often uncomfortable, but a necessary task. On one occasion, in very rough weather, Peter watched the inclinometer gauge show Dubbo roll 57 degrees to one side. Soon after joining his ship, it rescued survivors from sister ship HMAS Wallaroo on the night of 11 June 1943 which had been rammed and sunk during the night by US Liberty Ship Henry Gilbert Costin, 80 miles west of Fremantle. One of those rescued became a lifelong friend.
On 20 August 1943, Peter was promoted to Stoker.
Peter’s duties as Engineer’s Writer required keeping records for machinery running and maintenance, steaming records, engineering sailors’ divisional (personnel) records, the technical watch and station bill (rosters) and preparing correspondence. His largely clerical job meant he avoided some of the dirtier work such as cleaning the ship’s boilers. As a day-worker, he was not required to keep watches at sea in the engine or boiler rooms but helped share the workload by permanently standing the middle watch (midnight to 4 am) as an extra hand.
In April 1944, he returned to Adelaide by rail for leave, and then rejoined his ship. During September, the RAN received intelligence that two German U-boats sailing from Penang were bound for Australian waters. Dubbo, then at Onslow, and other escort vessels were concentrated to protect the port of Fremantle, which was a major American submarine base. She also escorted the submarine tender USS Pelias from Fremantle to Albany so it could continue supporting USN submarines from the safer port.
But it was nearly five months later on 6 February 1945, when the German submarine U-862 sank the American cargo ship Peter Silvester eight-hundred miles west of Fremantle. News of the sinking did not reach Australia for four days, when the first survivors were found. Dubbo and other ships of her group sailed immediately to search for survivors and the submarine. Whilst the submarine was not found, other ships rescued more survivors. However it took until 10 March, before the last lifeboat, and its survivors, were rescued by an US Navy submarine, nearly eleven hundred miles north of the position of sinking.
After two years in the blustery southern Indian Ocean, Dubbo’s crew would have relished the change of conditions as the ship was ordered north, arriving in Darwin on 21 March 1945. On Anzac Day 1945, the ship fired her first hostile shots at Japanese positions on Muschu Island, New Guinea, in support of the 2nd AIF’s 6th Division as it advanced towards Wewak. On 10 May, Dubbo landed troops of the Division’s Cavalry Commando unit at Dove Bay then, later in the month, while bombarding further along the coast, Japanese counter-fire fell uncomfortably close to the ship. June 1945 saw the ship supporting operations at Bougainville, where she fired her final bombardment of the war on the 10th. The ship sailed from Torokina on 10 July for Brisbane for refit, bringing its war service to a close.
In August 1945, HMAS Dubbo returned to the Solomon Islands to assist in clearing harbours and passages of Japanese mines. Similar duties followed around New Britain, where Dubbo and three other corvettes swept the passage into Rabaul in preparation for the Japanese surrender. As the ships approached the port at night, with their lights on, the crew earnestly hoped the Japanese were aware hostilities had ceased. Lieutenant-General Vernon Sturdee, General Officer Commanding of the Australian Army, signed the surrender document for Rabaul on behalf of the Allies aboard the British aircraft carrier HMS Glory on 6 September. Dubbo returned to Brisbane in late October for a long refit when Peter was able to enjoy four weeks leave.
After the war finished, the Corvettes were formed into minesweeping flotillas and Peter’s group, the 20th Minesweeping Flotilla, swept the east coast of Australia all the way down from New Guinea, to Tasmania, then to Port Adelaide, to make the seaways safe for shipping.
The flotilla consisted of the sloop HMAS Swan and 12 Corvettes. Peter was lucky enough to remain on board until the flotilla sailed into Port Adelaide in April 1946. He had a month’s leave and was discharged in May 1946 after three years and nine months in the Navy.
January 1946 saw Dubbo join many of her sister ships for four months of sweeping and destroying wartime defensive minefields laid along the Australian coast from Queensland to Tasmania. On 12 April 1946, Peter stepped ashore from Dubbo at Port Adelaide for the last time. Nominally attached to the Birkenhead Naval Depot HMAS Torrens, he took his outstanding leave and was discharged to shore on 21 May 1946 after nearly three years service on the one ship.
HMAS Dubbo returned to Sydney and was decommissioned on 29 April 1946, never to serve again, after steaming nearly 105,000 miles.
In 1947, Peter married Enid Marilyn HAND and there were three children of the marriage. After his wartime service, Peter was owner-operator of a fruit-veg delicatessen business until 1956. He then worked for Keswick Motors, later to become Dave Potter Motors, where he later served as a director on the Board. During this time, Peter continued a life-long association with cricket and in 2000, he was awarded the Australian Sports medal for services to cricket after an association lasting 50 years. In 1991, Peter and Enid retired to Victor Harbor; Enid died in August 2010.
Service file of PA3260 Peter John DONALDSON held by the National Archives of Australia ( www.naa.gov.au )
Personal records and papers of Peter John DONALDSON.
Compiled by the RSL Victor Harbor Sub-branch History Research Team (October 2012).