Don Anderson - Reflections on a life at sea

Running time
4 min 40 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


It was an experience that I was very glad to get but it's not one I would try and force on someone else. I experienced the service in the navy in every condition you could imagine because we lost two sailors in Bass Strait, spilled overboard…

We found that the sea was as pleasant as a lake when something thrown over the side would cause ripples along. We also experienced when the ships bows would go under the sea in fierce weather and the spray would go over, right over the ship and crust the mast in salt. The sea taught me a lot of things. It taught me the natural curve of the earth. That was interesting.

I tried to be interested in everything that was going on to learn but as I said, I was very grateful to see other places and learn how other people live and even though the five years was largely boredom I experienced a lot and sailed on ships under dangerous conditions when you went down in the mess deck, when you were on duty and you lay down on that steel deck, on top of the oil tanks, next door to the magazine and the steam in the engine and boiler room and you went to sleep accepting the fact that your shipmates on duty would be watchful and be prepared to help you survive and in all that time, as I said to you before, I never experienced any fighting or any arguments because they were very private. You had to be private and you had your own particular friends because when this fellow I spoke about who offered me a corner of his locker, we'd meet up at every opportunity when our ships were in the same place.

There wasn't many occasions but then you were free to talk about your own personal feelings but otherwise you kept it to yourself. So it was a case of lots of your thoughts and ideas being compressed inside because you had to live with these people in very very tight conditions. You'd have to experience it but that was what it was like. When we, on the Burma campaign, we'd pick up 400 British soldiers with all their equipment and they would be shoved in various parts of the ship.

We would have to leave our mess decks and live on the ship, not in the ship. I've always referred to; a true sailor refers to living in a ship. When people say what was it like living on board a ship, we didn't live on the ship. You don't live on houses, do you? You live in a ship. Sometimes there's such a variation and you would have something of it and that is in, a way of life at sea is totally different to a way of life on land.

It always has been and it always will be and that needs to be accepted if the two come together. Like Rudyard Kipling wrote when he said, he stated "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet".

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