David Mattiske - Captain Nichols

Running time
5 min 37 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


David: Morotai, big bombardment. The Japs had already fled. Americans moved in and walked across the country. We go back to Biak on the way back to Admiralty Harbour, Admiralty Islands and Showers our captain, now is to be relieved. We had been told we were gonna get a captain from the Royal Navy. Ooh, don't like that. Australia didn't have many captains capable of commanding a cruiser in action. Saturday afternoon at Biak, out comes this American barge. And on board comes Charles Arthur Godfrey Nichols.

We're all looking around, you know, from a distance, "What's this bloke like?" Divisions next morning, it was a Sunday, we're in the safe harbour, we do our little church service and count the divisions. Then captain's rounds. By this time I'm smart enough, get out of the way. So, I'm up on B deck, not down on the fo'c'sle. Around he comes, bugler, followed by the captain. Guy Griffiths our officer was there with Trunky Cantrell and a couple of the leading seamen. Nichols walks up and instead of saluting, he goes and says "Good morning, good morning, good morning, Gentlemen. Nice to see you." I thought, "Hello, hello, hello, this bloke's interesting!" Everybody loved him. We worshiped the ground he walked on.

Speaker 2: So he was a good pick.

David: I have never, ever seen a leader like him. He guided us through the Philippines Campaign. He never had to shout an order. He would go in, "Would you mind doing this? Do this? Thank you, thank you." A devout Christian, a brilliant navigator. Years later, I kept in touch with his family because they knew of me as a lookout and the writer of the history. He had passed on, but the whole family, absolutely delightful people. Top of the world. His eldest daughter became a very close friend of me and my wife. We used to stay with her in Kent when we were in England.

Speaker 2: It's a very...

David: Very touching, very moving occasion.

Speaker 2: It's a very moving story.

David: Yep.

Speaker 2: And he brought everyone home, on the Shropshire, too.

David: He brought everyone home. I think this is worth recording. In a day and age when people have given up a lot of their basic motivations and faith. After the big Leyte battles, we're heading for Lingayen Gulf. By this time, the kamikazes were at their top and still had lots of expert pilots. We arrive off Lingayen Gulf with the cruisers and the battleships and destroyers. The main force is a day behind us. Three days behind us. It's still dark. Nichols gets on the blower. He said, "Gentlemen, we know what we're up against. We've got three hard days ahead. I'm asking you now, if you see them coming at you, keep firing even if you think they're gonna hit us. Keep firing, keep firing, don't stop. All right, thank you, yep."

He said, "Years ago, I think it was the Civil War 400 years ago, Lord Somebody said to his men before a battle a prayer. "Dear Lord, we will be busy this day. If we forget you, do not thou forget us." That vast force was in there for three days. Out at night, back in day. Shropshire was only one of four ships not hit. The Australia was hit five times. Unbelievable. If that's not divine intervention, I don't know what is.

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