Doug Gilling - The Yachtsmen Scheme

Running time
3 min 26 sec

Department of Veterans' Affairs


I'd done a small amount of sailing, I had, in fact. There were two ways that you could get into the Royal Australian Navy, one, to go straight into an anti-submarine course. I had actually passed that course and then they said to me, I was nineteen at the time, they said "I'm sorry. You passed. We'll call you up when you're twenty."

That was still another seven or eight months away so I said "Nuts to that". I wanted, you know, I wanted to go and so a friend of mine who was already stationed down at HMAS Rushcutter said "Why don't you have a go at the yachtsmen scheme?" And I'd already done a couple of races in his father's boat so that was the extent of my yachting experience. I was in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve in a scheme which was called the yachtsmen scheme and that was in existence from March 1940 until March 1942, and in that time, there were 500 yachtsmen went over there. We were nominally called yachtsmen because we were supposed to be sufficiently aware of the sea so that we could do service in small vessels, particularly in Europe.

And the basis of that was that you virtually, they wanted to be sure, firstly that you weren't going to be seasick, and they had a particular need of those people, because of the success of the people that had boats in and around the South and East coast in England, to get the British Expeditionary Force out of Dunkirk, and it was long thought that the yachtsmen were really an integral part of getting a great many of those soldiers away. I think they got a quarter of a million people away from the whole of the British Expeditionary force from Dunkirk.

And on that basis, they suddenly thought, these guys are not in any service at all, so they probably would be useful for us in manning small vessels particularly. And the basis of the yachtsmen scheme was that you, if you were under 25 you would go in as an ordinary seaman, rating in other words. If you were over 25, you were a bit unfortunate because you went in as an officer, but their experience was when they got to England, they didn't get to sea but they got into the bomb disposal squad. And quite a number of them, some of the most heavily decorated Australians in Britain, or certainly in the navy. So it didn't pay to be over 25.


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