Derek Holyoake was three months old when his parents moved to Australia from England in 1924. He joined the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in July 1940, for what would be a career spanning almost thirteen years.
In January 1941 Derek joined HMAS Hobart, which sailed for the Mediterranean in June to replace HMAS Perth. As part of the Mediterranean Fleet, Hobart supported the North Africa campaign, including taking part in the operations to relieve troops from Tobruk between August and October 1941. In December 1941, Derek's ship was transferred to the Far East, arriving in Malayan waters in January 1942. Hobart departed Singapore in February 1942 to operate with the Dutch, British, American and Australian forces in the Dutch East Indies.
Derek remained in the RAN after the war and was selected to be a member of the original crew of Australia's first aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney, travelling to the United Kingdom in 1948 with his shipmates to collect the ship and sail it out to Australia. Promoted to Leading Electrical Mechanic in 1949, Derek served aboard Sydney during her operational deployment to Korea in 1951–52.
Working as a Leading Electrical Mechanic aboard the Sydney, Derek's team was responsible for the maintenance of the ship's electrical systems and testing flight deck communications before take-off. Derek recalls one instance in which his team were required to work continuously for twenty-four hours to repair a lift motor.
Thinking back on his time in Korea, Derek recalls the sea and snow storms were most feared by those aboard the ship. Derek was aboard the Sydney when she weathered Typhoon Ruth and remembers enduring two days of frightening big seas, gale force winds and water sloshing around the mess decks. The water also entered the ships ventilation shafts, damaging electrical equipment. Derek was impressed by the efficiency of the Japanese engineers who worked to repair the damaged equipment within two days.
Derek took his discharge from the RAN in June 1953. As a civilian he undertook government sponsored and subsidised trade training to qualify him as a civilian electrical mechanic. Continuing his studies, he became a trade training teacher for the Victorian Department of Education. Derek retired from teaching in 1984 and moved to Tuross Head on the New South Wales south coast, where he worked part-time as an electrical contractor.
In 1995 Derek and his wife returned to Queanbeyan, where he now lives. Derek is an active amateur radio 'ham' operator and a volunteer at school wreath-laying ceremonies at the Australian War Memorial. He thinks the ACT is a 'vibrant and exciting place to be' and often rides his Vespa 300 on Wednesday rides with the Ulysses Motor Cycle Club.