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Guy Richmond Griffiths (1923–2024)

by Tim Barlass and Peter Jones

from Sydney Morning Herald

Captain Guy Griffiths, 8 May 1967, by Bevin Royce Stringer

Captain Guy Griffiths, 8 May 1967, by Bevin Royce Stringer

Australian War Memorial, NAVY13457

Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths (Ret'd), aged 101, was the last survivor in Australia of HMS Repulse, which was torpedoed and sunk in a Japanese air attack in 1941, along with the Prince of Wales off Malaya, with heavy losses.

From late 1973 to mid-1975, Rear Admiral Griffiths commanded the aircraft carrier Melbourne, which was flagship of the Australian fleet. In June 1976, he was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Chief of Naval Personnel.

Guy Griffiths was born in Sydney on March 1, 1923. He grew up in the Hunter Valley and descended from four pioneering, wine-producing families.

His childhood was that of a country boy with plenty of free time to muck about in the bush, go rabbit shooting or help with the harvest. He initially went to school at Rothbury Public and then West Maitland Technical College.

In the late 1920s, drought hit the area. Combined with the Depression and an outbreak of downy mildew, it made life hard for those in the wine industry.

At the time, the young Griffiths was conscious that the family "didn't have many pennies to rub together". Although he was mad keen on the machinery of wine producing, the hardships dampened any interest he had in following in his father's footsteps.

In 1937, he joined the Royal Australian Navy as one of 17 13-year-old cadet-midshipmen, selected from nearly 500 applicants. He excelled as a sportsman and gained colours for rugby, hockey, rowing and athletics and was made chief cadet captain of the College in 1939.

After graduating from the College in late 1940, he and four other graduates were posted for further training to HMAS Australia, which was currently in the North Atlantic. However, by the time they arrived in England and reported to Australia House, they were informed that the ship was somewhere between Cape Town and Fremantle, making on its way home.

In March 1941, the Admiralty decided the five midshipmen would progress their training in HMS Repulse.

The Repulse was involved in the search for the German battleship Bismarck; however, after all the high-speed steaming, it was low on fuel and had to detach to top up. While at anchor, news came through of the demise of the Bismarck. Griffiths later recalled: "The whole ship fell flat, and frustrated on not being involved."

On December 10, 1941, HMS Repulse was sunk off the east coast of Malaya by a Japanese air attack while in company with the battleship HMS Prince of Wales.

In an interview with this masthead in 2020 ahead of Anzac Day commemorations, much diminished by the Covid pandemic, Griffiths said: 'I don't have to go to a memorial to think about the loss of the Repulse.

"It wasn't a day for rejoicing, I can tell you. It was a dark day, a very dark day for the Royal Navy, losing the battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse.

"The Prince of Wales had 1612 people on board and lost 327, but on Repulse, we had 1309 and we lost 513. We went down quicker than the Prince of Wales - we were not so heavily armed.

"We were hit with five torpedoes in a fairly short time and the old lady listed to port. Then, of course, there's a lot of water coming in, she eventually rolled over and sank stern first, so people didn't have much time to get on deck and get overboard.

"I was down below, but I was lucky in coming up in time to get through what people normally call a porthole - we called them a scuttle. The list wasn't too much for me just to get through that and then slide down the ship's side and into the water, which was warm.

"People have asked if I was worried about sharks. It wasn't a thought at the time. Survival was closer to the point."

After rescue, Midshipman Griffiths was posted to the battleship HMS Revenge. He was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in 1942 and, in early 1943, he served briefly on the destroyer HMS Vivian before joining the cruiser HMAS Shropshire, on commissioning, in May 1943.

During the next two years he saw action in the South-West Pacific, including the battles of Leyte Gulf, Lingayen Gulf and Surigao Strait during fighting to liberate the Philippines. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1944 and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in May 1945.

After the war, he completed the specialist course in gunnery at HMS Excellent (Portsmouth) then conducted two years' exchange service with the Royal Navy at HMS Drake (Devonport) before returning to Australia.

From 1950-52 he served as Gunnery Officer on aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney and saw service in the Korean War from October 1951 to January 1952. Griffiths was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in mid-1952 and posted as the gunnery officer on the destroyer HMAS Anzac; later that year, the destroyer operated in the Korean conflict and he saw further active service. Griffiths undertook the Royal Naval Staff Course in 1954 then served on aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne during 1955-56.

Griffiths was promoted to commander in late 1956 and posted as the staff officer of operations and intelligence on the staff of the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet. In late 1958, he was posted to the navy office in Canberra as deputy director of manpower.

In 1961, he became commissioning commanding officer of the destroyer escort HMAS Parramatta. This was followed by duty as the director of tactics and weapons policy at navy headquarters in Canberra.

In 1964, he was promoted to captain and, in December 1965, he took command of the guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart. The ship saw action in Vietnamese waters in 1967 and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

The citation noted: "Throughout this intense period of operations, Captain Griffiths' coolness under fire, prompt manoeuvring, fine example and excellent leadership inspired his ship's company to perform all the tasks assigned to HMAS Hobart with maximum efficiency and outstanding effect."

Under his leadership, Hobart also received a commendation from the Secretary of the USN, the first for an Australian ship.

In part, the citation read: "As an element of Task Unit 70.8.9, HMAS Hobart provided the naval gunfire support for United States and Allied forces on shore in the Republic of Vietnam and, as an element of Task Group 77.1 in the Gulf of Tonkin, supported naval operations against North Vietnamese logistics routes and lines of communication.

"Undeterred by frequent, vigorous, accurate enemy shore fire, Hobart was responsible for the destruction of numerous enemy installations, earning an enviable reputation as an aggressive, eager and dauntless member of the United States Seventh Fleet."

From late 1967, he served in Malaysia as naval adviser to the chief of naval staff, Royal Malaysian Navy, and in 1970, attended the Imperial Defence College in London.

In 1971, he was posted as the navy's director-general of operations and plans in Canberra and was promoted to commodore in the same year.

From late 1973 to mid-1975, he commanded the aircraft carrier Melbourne, which was the flagship of the Australian Fleet; the ship also participated in Operation NAVY HELP DARWIN after Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Day, 1974.

In June 1976, he was promoted to rear admiral and appointed chief of naval personnel. In January 1979 he took up his final posting in the navy as flag officer of the naval support command. In June 1979, Rear Admiral Griffiths was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) "for service to the Royal Australian Navy over a period of 42 years and particularly as chief of naval personnel".

Rear Admiral Griffiths retired from the navy in January 1980 after 43 years' service. He was married to Carla, had a son, Guy, and a daughter, Erica, and his interests included golf, skiing, reading and family history.

He was a director of the Australian Vietnam War Veterans Trust (1985-2003), life member of the Naval Historical Society of Australia and patron of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse Survivors Association.

In 2010, a new accommodation block at HMAS Creswell was opened and named the Griffiths Block in his honour. Of his passing, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Mark Hammond said: "We remember a distinguished officer and leader who dedicated 43 years of service to our navy family from 1937 until 1980. My thoughts are with the Griffiths family."

To mark Anzac Day in 2020, he told this masthead he had planned to attend functions in Britain with his son: one on the new aircraft carrier Prince of Wales by invitation of the captain; then as patron of the Repulse/Prince of Wales Survivors Association, the annual reunion in Torquay.

"My son said he was coming with me," Rear Admiral Griffiths said from his Castle Cove home.

"I think he wanted to make sure the old bugger got home. Now because of the virus, it has all been cancelled."

A funeral with full naval honours is expected at Garden Island.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Guy Richmond Griffiths

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tim Barlass and Peter Jones, 'Griffiths, Guy Richmond (1923–2024)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/griffiths-guy-richmond-34463/text43272, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Captain Guy Griffiths, 8 May 1967, by Bevin Royce Stringer

Captain Guy Griffiths, 8 May 1967, by Bevin Royce Stringer

Australian War Memorial, NAVY13457

Life Summary [details]

Birth

1 March, 1923
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

5 March, 2024 (aged 101)

Cause of Death

general debility

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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